History runs deep in Tennessee.
The Volunteer State is known for its whiskey, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and country music, but traces of its colorful past can be found nearly everywhere you look. Meeting planners who want to immerse their groups in the stories of this nation’s earlier days can consider these five historic venues.
Castle Events and Weddings
Franklin’s Castle Events and Weddings wasn’t always just a beautiful building where hit records were recorded. The facility has a sordid past, which makes it even more thrilling when groups plan events there. Chicago mobster and bookie John Welch had the mansion built between 1929 and 1932 and he laid low there when he traveled between Chicago and Florida. When in residence, Welch would host lavish illegal gambling parties to keep himself entertained. Because of the illicit activities held there, the mansion was built with a hidden passageway that led to an underground cellar where guests could hide if necessary.
After Welch passed away in 1945, his castle was turned into a gourmet restaurant that attracted Hollywood legends such as Bob Hope, Spencer Tracy and Betty Grable. It served as a riding academy for 30 years before being purchased by the Nuyens family in 1979. In 1983, Jozef Nuyens founded Castle Recording Studios. Over the past 30 years, the Castle has attracted many big names in music, including Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Snoop Dogg and Shawn Mendes. To get a taste of the Castle’s history, groups can have small events in the building and larger events outside on the lawn.
The Castle sits on 32 acres, from grassy fields to a cedar forest. Walking trails lead to a hilltop that has incredible views of the valley below. The venue features several multipurpose rooms, lounges and a full kitchen.
Customs House Museum and Cultural Center
Originally constructed as a federal post office and customs house in 1898, Clarksville’s Customs House Museum and Cultural Center is now home to permanent historical collections and traveling art exhibitions. The Postmaster’s Office exhibit explores the building’s past, how it was designed and how its employees handled a large volume of foreign mail that was delivered up the river from the city’s international trade in tobacco.
Explorer’s Landing was recently renovated and is a hands-on educational exhibit that fosters curiosity in children and tells the story of Clarksville’s past. The Family Art Studio inspires creativity with a 12-foot wall of LEGO bricks, geo-board, magnet magic station and light-up shape table. The Sports Gallery has displays of hometown heroes, including Ben Clark, the second-youngest American to summit Mount Everest, and Jeff Purvis, a famous racecar driver.
Events can be held in the Coca-Cola Café, a 24-seat space decorated with Coca-Cola posters and paraphernalia. The Geraldine Brame Turner Auditorium has a stage and theater seating for 196. It includes a large screen, two dressing rooms and Wi-Fi. Gallery spaces, including the courtyard, lobby and café, can be rented for evening events. There’s also an elegant dining room for small luncheons, receptions or dinners for up to 50 guests, as well as an executive board room that seats 20.
Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation
The Historic Sam Davis Home and Plantation in Smyrna was built around 1810 by Moses Ridley. It was renovated in 1850 by the Davis family and contains over 100 original family pieces. The floors, doors and most of the woodwork are also original to the home, which is on a 168-acre working farm.
Sam Davis earned renown as a Confederate Army scout who worked behind enemy lines. He was captured in 1863 with papers that contained critical information about Union troop movements that could only have come from the desk of Union General Grenville Dodge. Dodge put pressure on Davis to reveal his source in the Union Army but he would not give in, saying he would “rather die a thousand deaths than betray a friend.” He was hanged.
The property has several picturesque settings for events, with space for hundreds of guests. The backyard of the historic home is a secluded spot for a reception with large magnolia and maple trees to add shade and serve as a canopy for dancing and socializing. A gravel area is flat enough for large tents. The White Barn adds a rustic element to any event and can host groups of 100. The Creek House, which overlooks Stewart’s Creek, can host small parties or business luncheons. The Veranda, attached to the visitor center, overlooks the backyard and can accommodate 50 to 100 guests, depending on the type of tables used.
Oaklands Mansion in Murfreesboro began its life as a two-story brick building around 1815, with several additions made from the 1820s to 1860s. The first battle of Murfreesboro occurred just outside the gates of what is now Oaklands Park on July 13, 1862, with Union forces surrendering to Confederate cavalry inside the mansion.
Four families lived in the home until it was abandoned between 1954 and 1959. It was slated for demolition, but a group of 10 women formed the Oaklands Association to save the mansion from destruction. Now the mansion appears as it would have in the 1860s, and self-guided tours provide details from its 200-year history. The land surrounding the mansion is now a city park with walking trails, a spring, wetlands and a vegetable garden.
Several trees on the property are between 150 and 300 years old, and tours of the grounds can be arranged. Meeting groups can book events at Maney Hall and Visitors Center, which is named after the family that occupied the mansion during the Civil War. It was built in 2000 and can host groups up to 120. The cottage, the former caretaker’s house, can be used for parties and meetings of up to 20 people. Groups of 36 or fewer can gather on the patio behind the mansion.
When groups host events at Oaklands, they can add on a guided tour of the mansion, and the grounds are available for breakout sessions or meals.
Fiddler’s Grove Historic Village
Fiddler’s Grove in Lebanon is a collection of 55 historic buildings from around Wilson County that have been saved from demolition and relocated to the fairgrounds where the Wilson County Fair and Tennessee State Fair are held. It includes one-room log cabins, a small church, one-room schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, doctor’s office, Sam Houston’s law office, jail, gristmill and 1950s-era service station. Many of the buildings house exhibits, showing visitors what life would have been like during the different eras represented. Others can be booked for meetings or events.
Artisans and volunteer groups do demonstrations at the Grove, from fiber arts and weaving to blacksmithing and gardening. The blacksmith shop is one of the largest in the Southeast, and many different blacksmithing organizations meet there, which means someone is always forging something on the property. Master gardeners maintain all the flowerbeds and the demonstration garden and are happy to offer gardening demonstrations.
Groups meeting on property aren’t just getting an event venue, but a small slice of several eras.
The Veterans Building is the most popular venue on site. It can host groups of 150 and is a favorite for wedding receptions, parties and celebrations. Opry Pavilion can seat 250 and has a large stage, restroom and kitchen. Fiddlers Grove Pavilion can host about 200 guests for family reunions or picnics. Melrose Church seats 80 and features beautiful stained-glass windows. The entire property can also be booked for private events.