The Last BIG battle of the U.S. Civil War?

© Take Life on the Road

Shiloh. Antietam. Gettysburg. Bloody and pivotal battles.

Earlier this month, we recounted some of our impressions of a scouting trip to Franklin, Tenn. We only briefly touched on the the remarkable story of the Battle of Franklin, which, arguably, was the last great battle of the U.s. Civil War.

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Historical marker at McGavock Confedrate Cemetery © Take Life on the Road

Certainly, it was a bloody battle. And though the Confederate forces won the battle on a tactical basis, this tangle in Middle Tennessee marked the strategic end of the War Between the States.

This blogger spent his formative years (and beyond) in Tennessee, yet the Battle of Franklin barely registered on my consciousness. Chattanooga (Union victory) and Chickamauga (Confederate triumph) were, of course, familiar, and we visited those battlegrounds. Bull Run and Gettysburg were quite familiar, too.

But Franklin, even though I traveled frequently into and through Middle Tennessee, remained off my radar. Until recently, I was more familiar with the minor skirmish at Stones River (Union win) in Murfreesboro than with Franklin’s claim to Civil War significance.

By the end of 1864, the restoration by force of the United States was all but a foregone conclusion. The rout at Chattanooga, Tennessee (Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, collectively known as the Battles of Chattanooga) in late 1863 allowed Union forces to move on to Atlanta.

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The Confederate Cemetery adjacent to the McGavocks’ family plot, Franklin, Tenn. © Take Life on the Road

There, Union Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman defeated Confederate Gen. John Bell Hood and successfully took the railhead and the city of Atlanta. Hood, unable to harry the Union forces, withdrew to Chattanooga, hoping to cut off Sherman’s supply lines. (By then, rail lines from the north were able to reach Chattanooga through East Tennessee, which was never really ever controlled by the rebel forces.)

Sherman, as much a strategist as a tactician, determined that he could abandon his supply lines and live off the land and embarked on his infamous March to the Sea. This left Hood with few options but to move North and try to seize Nashville. Between Chattanooga and Nashville lay the insurmountable obstacle of the Cumberland Plateau and some 60,000 Union troops deployed in the southern part of Middle Tennessee.

Geography had a greater impact than any civil boundaries might ever have. The paths of rivers had as much to do with military progress as any border might. Following the path of the Tennessee River to Florence, Ala., Hood marshaled his forces for a thrust toward Nashville.

Hood’s grand plan was to divide the Union forces with a lightning thrust northward. Roughly half of the Union forces were deployed in the southern portion of Tennessee, while the others were entrenched in Nashville, which had fallen to the Union forces by 1862.

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Front portico of Carnton, the homestead of the McGavocks at Franklin, Tenn. © Take Life on the Road

Gen. John Schofield skillfully evacuated northward, fending off Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry at Columbia, Tenn., with a goal of reaching Union lines in Nashville. But the rapid advance of Hood’s Confederate force made the retreat less than certain. The rebel forces advanced as rapidly as 70 miles in three days and by late November, Schofield was forced to stand and fight at Franklin. The bridges across the Harpeth River were insufficient to allow a retreat to Nashville, so Schofield ordered an entrenchment in the Union-occupied town of Franklin, Tenn.

Hood’s forces caught up late in the day of November 30, 1864, marshaling some 26,000 troops. Sundown would come at 4:30 p.m., but at 4 o’clock, the Confederate forces attacked a strongly fortified town. The attack was across 2 solid miles of open ground, at all times under the guns of the Union forces.

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Carnton in Franklin, Tenn. This back porch served as a mortuary for the senior Confederate officers killed during the Battle of Franklin on Nov. 30, 1864,

Nonetheless, the rebel forces penetrated the only open part of the Union front, along the Columbia Pike, and close combat ensued as darkness fell. In time, the Confederate forces were repelled, but the rebels took Franklin during the evening.

But Schofield had successfully restored the river crossings and by midnight, the Union forces had crossed the bridges and followed their supply trains into Nashville. Hood’s forces had suffered 6,252 casualties, including 1,750 killed and 3,800 wounded. An estimated 2,000 others suffered less serious wounds and returned to duty before the subsequent battle to take Nashville. “But more importantly, the military leadership in the West was decimated, including the loss of perhaps the best division commander of either side, Patrick Cleburne, who was killed in action. Fourteen Confederate generals (six killed, seven wounded, and one captured) and 55 regimental commanders were casualties. Five generals killed in action at Franklin were Cleburne, John Adams, Hiram B. Granbur, States Rights Gist, and Otha F. Strahl. A sixth general, John C. Carter, was mortally wounded and died later on December 10.

Tactically, Hood’s forces won the battle, although at great cost. His aim was to capture Nashville, proceed into Indiana at New Albany, and then to move eastward to join up with supreme Gen. Robert E. Lee and relieve the siege of Richmond. But the subsequent attack on Nashville was an unmitigated disaster. Hood retreated, ultimately, to Mississippi and his forces were never again a factor in the war.

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Among the gardens at Carnton, the McGavock Plantation in Franklin, Tenn. © Take Life on the Road

The impact point of the Battle of Franklin was the Carter House along the Columbia Pike. Today, it is preserved (bullet-holes and all) as a historical site. The nearby Lotz House is also a site that can be visited by tourists.

Carnton, the McGavock Plantation, is perhaps the most moving of the battlefield sites. Although the house itself was beyond the range of Union artillery, it was a central point of attack. By nightfall, it became a wartime hospital and its back porch served as a repository of the bodies of the many senior officers who perished in the battle.

Today, Carnton is an exemplar of both Ante-Bellum architecture and an incredibly impressive interpretive site for Civil War history. Our experience exceeded our expectations. The interpretive guide was knowledgeable and sensitive to the significance of the battle and the compassion of the estate’s owners, the McGavocks.

If one were limited to visiting only one site representative of the Battle of Franklin, Carnton should be the choice. The Federal-style house, a two-story, eight-room plantation house, is quite impressive. The McGavocks dedicated a portion of their estate to a cemetery adjacent to their family plots, in which are interred the Confederate dead from the Battle of Franklin.

The cemetery is open to the public. The Carnton mansion and adjacent garden (quite impressive are available for guided daily tours for a fee.

We were quite impressed with Carnton and its interpreters. If you only have one day to tour, Carnton is the best choice. Their museum (free) provides sufficient information, but the house tour is an essential for understanding the battle, the times, and the neutrality of honoring those men who fought for a cause they believed in.

For more information, consult @VisitFranklin on Twitter and visitfranklin.com.

In sum, Take Life on the Road strongly endorses a day-trip or longer to Franklin, Tennessee.

Historic Franklin, Tenn.

For us, Franklin, Tennessee, was an easy reach. In even the worst traffic, it’s 3 hours from our home base and we gained an hour because of a time zone change. Accordingly, we had a leisurely morning, knowing that an early arrival would leave us frustrated with many sites yet to open.

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The Square in Franklin, July 4, 2018. © Take Life on the Road

For a variety of reasons, we chose July 4th, the day that we in the U.S. celebrate our Independence Day, to head out for Franklin. Before departing, we talked with the folks at VisitFranklin.com, which might just be the best tourist visitors’ center we’ve encountered. They were so helpful we made it a point to visit their physical location to thank them personally. Yes, they were open on July 4th, as were most of the town’s businesses.

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A holiday in Franklin, Tenn. © Take Life on the Road

Downtown Franklin is less than 3 miles from I-65 south of Nashville, Tenn., about 20 miles from Tennessee’s State Capitol building. We chose to avoid the heavily commercialized area around Cool Springs Galleria and chose to enter Franklin along Murfreesboro Road. That’s the exit where our hotel was, too. AirBnB would be the only choice for lodging closer to the historic district.

But before traveling downtown, we thought we’d check out something called “The Factory,” which we knew to be near to a taco place we wanted to try. Read about it at a previous post, “Finding Lunch Grub in Franklin, Tenn.”

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Don’t miss Mojo’s Tacos in The Factory in Franklin, Tenn.

The Factory is a unique retail, dining, arts, and performance complex. Here’s the history, from its website:

The Factory was built in 1929 and served as the home of Dortch Stove Works, Magic Chef, and later the Jamison Bedding Company.  Recognized by the National Register of Historic Places, the campus was purchased and renovated by local developer Calvin Lehew in 1996, preserving many of The Factory’s original features and architectural details in a new mixed-use design.

Another change in ownership in 2012 led to a renewed vision and a mission-driven approach to revitalizing the property. The Factory at Franklin is on its way to becoming an interactive cultural destination for excellence in the performance and visual arts, dining, and retail experience.

We enjoyed a brief tour, though the artists’ galleries were mostly closed, or at least unmanned. We were mostly satisfied with our visit to Mojo’s Tacos – enough so that we’ll never pass by Franklin without at least considering the idea of grabbing a taco and a mojito. The day was off to a great start as we meandered to downtown.

What we didn’t know was that Franklin turns its downtown into a pedestrian paradise on July 4th, with the streets turned into a festival of crafts, food, games, and promotions (including politicians campaigning for Tennessee’s August primaries and general elections).

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© Take Life on the Road

The municipal complex provided free garage parking, as did the nearby county government complex. Given the heat of the day, we felt ourselves fortunate to be able to park under cover.

Franklin’s town square appears to be one of the “Lancaster” plan, a marker of Scots-Irish migration in the U.S. Instead of single block housing the county courthouse, the Lancaster plan encompasses at least 4 city blocks that surround a centering intersection of primary roads. Accordingly, the county courthouse (and the city hall) are on adjacent blocks.

Thus, the town square is, in fact, a giant roundabout with 4 outlet streets. Occupying pride of place is a plinth topped with a 6′ 6″ marble statue representing a generic Confederate soldier. Erected in 1899 by the local chapter of the Daughters of the Confederacy, he faces 3rd Street to greet visitors arriving at the local rail station.

This might be a good time to address Franklin’s fame as the site of a significant battle of America’s Civil War (1861-1865), The Battle of Franklin may well be the last major battle of the war, but it remains little-known outside local environs. There were more casualties and fatalities in this +/- six-hour battle than in the entire first 24 hours of World War II’s D-Day invasion of Normandy.

We’ll offer up a separate post conveying our impressions of the Battle of Franklin elsewhere on the blog.

May I pay a compliment to Franklin and its acknowledgement of its place in history, however? My bride’s family were indubitably Union folk from Indiana. I, on the other hand, have an ancestry that includes a hero of the Confederate effort. James Keelan (my relatives today spell it Keeling) was known as “The Horatio of the South” for his single-handed defense of a strategic East Tennessee bridge and subsequently was awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.

As we planned our visit, we speculated about what we might encounter in 2018 as we visited a Civil War battlefield site. Times change, of course, but we didn’t question whether we would encounter a glorification of the Southern cause, but when.

To our surprise, on our visit we found no semblance of glorification of the righteousness of secession. I had told my wife that she should punch me the first time we saw a display of the “Stars and Bars,” the Confederate battle flag. We saw none.

That’s not entirely correct, We saw none in Franklin, except as displayed in historic perspective through photographs. We saw not one Confederate flag during our visit to Tennessee. We did see some as we returned through Kentucky, but in Franklin, we saw nothing that would offend modern sensibilities.

Franklin’s downtown thrives. There is no other way to describe it. It would be the envy of any small city or town. We’re not big consumers, and other than a few postcards, we bought nothing. But Franklin’s downtown offers everything from high-end art to provincial souvenirs and there are no empty shops. We were startled to see an outlet for Anthropologie on Main Street.

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The Franklin Theatre on Main Street was a wonder. It serves as a live music venue for artists and for touring musicals, but also offers a repertory-like array of second-run and vintage films. On the day we visited, it offered an animated children’s movie, an Avengers film, a 50s classic, and a contemporary drama.

In August, the theater is offering B.J. Thomas and Chubby Checker in live performance on consecutive weekends. In October, they feature the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the Fisk Jubilee Singers.

Just south of downtown is the county historical museum.

We were struck by the commitment to preservation that was evident throughout the city. We drove around the residential areas and noted a distinct lack of vinyl siding on the houses. For us, that’s a clear sign that the city and its residents have a spirit of authenticity.

In outlying areas, of course, we saw plenty of signs of conformity and monoculture. A protestant mega-church occupied a major chunk of real estate. Traditional private schools like Battle Ground Academy were prominent. And in addition to “McMansions” in the more rural areas, we stumbled across a diversity of actual mansions occupying enormous horse farms and ridge tops.

But as a microcosm of American small-towns America, Franklin is hard to top.

Nearby to Franklin is the Natchez Trace Parkway, which we visited, too. Operated by the National Park Service, it is a limited-access parkway (roughtly 50 access points along its 444-mile length from Nashville to Natchez, Miss.) that, as closely as possible, recreates the major 19th-Century land route of the Mid-South.

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The Natchez Trace Parkway near its terminus in Tennessee, crossing Birdsong Hollow near Franklin and Leiper’s Fork, Tenn. Majestic.

Leiper’s Fork is the just a few mile south of the iconic bridge at Birdsong Hollow. It’s as rustic as you can imagine (our first gas stop had only a portable toilet – no fun when the temperatures are in excess of 100 degrees (F). The town has become a small artists’ colony revolving around the original Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant, which features live music and a traditional counter menu of “meat and three” country cooking. Separate owners operate a number of restaurants of the same name, including a seafood restaurant and a country cooking restaurant in Franklin proper. Do not miss a trip to Leiper’s Fork. It’s about 8 miles from downtown. We’d like to try the new 1892, a casual place off the main road. Its reviews are impressive. Next time.

Below, I offer a broader essay on Franklin and its growth. It’s worth reading, but has little to do with our 2-day visit.

The first time I visited the quaint middle Tennessee town of Franklin, it was just that – both quaint and just a town. In 1990, Franklin had a population of about 12,000. Today, the population is somewhere near 76,000, making it Tennessee’s 7th-largest city.

Yet, Franklin is contained and retains its rural character. Vast tranches of cash and industrial investment have made the city one of the richest in the state. Depending on your perspective, Franklin is between 10 and 30 minutes from Nashville, and many of the wealthiest people in the Volunteer State receive their mail in that zip code.

Like my current hometown, Franklin benefited from its late growth. Growth came late and thus there was no incentive in the go-go 60s and 70s to destroy the old and replace it with new. Yes, buildings remained vacant, but with no new demand, there was no incentive to destroy buildings erected in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Make no mistake. Franklin would never have grown without the dynamism of nearby Nashville. Music industry movers and shakers discovered the beauties of rural Franklin and secured their enclaves on the outskirts. The growth of the airport (BNA), and the ample transportation network of railroads and interstates made Franklin the next hot spot in a growing megalopolis.

Healthcare and health insurance companies are among the largest employers in the county, but the North American headquarters of Nissan is the most prominent. Thirty years ago, Franklin could only dream of being the home of such an international industrial powerhouse.

For all its current wealth, Franklin became a locus of retailing because its land was cheap but close to the Nashville area’s wealthiest suburbs. The West End of Nashville, including Brentwood and the neighborhood of Belle Meade were ripe pickings in 1991 when the Cool Springs Galleria opened. This massive retail complex is just a short jaunt from Nashville’s richest census tracts and continues to thrive in the face of national trends in retailing. If one were to eat at a different restaurant every evening, it would take more than a month to sample from all the restaurants in the Cool Springs area.

We avoid chains whenever possible, so we did not visit the Galleria are during our 2-day visit. Franklin proper, as defined by its downtown, offers more than enough choice for dining, especially for a short visit.



We make our living providing curated, guided tours. Contact us through our main page, takelifeontheroad.com or by email at takelifeontheroad@gmail.com if you want to join a future tour or even if you’ll be in our region and just want to get together for a meal.

I have no excuse for my delay in writing about delightful Franklin, Tennessee. Honestly, each element of our visit deserves its own blog post and that’s why I’ve been hesitant to write up a comprehensive narrative. In addition, I made no particular effort to document the city in photographs – partially because I was the driver and partially because this was a very personal vacation trip for us. Yes, I was scouting for future tours, but @VisitFranklin does such an amazing job in promoting the city and surrounding Williamson County, I had no incentive to delay my own pleasure just to take prize-winning photos. Visit them on Twitter.

Also, it’s important to note that the days we visited were among the hottest on record. Crashing at the hotel each afternoon saved us from utter exhaustion.

Finding Lunch Grub in Franklin, Tenn.

We always want to make dining a big part of our tours and while you can look forward to a post about our most recent destination, I want to limit this post to food – specifically one restaurant.

We escaped town on July 4 (2018) to scout out sites for a future motor coach tour, destined for Franklin, Tennessee. We had researched the restaurant possibilities sufficiently to know that we wouldn’t starve or be limited to chain restaurants, so we felt confident we could find some decent food.

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Franklin’s on Central time, so arriving early wasn’t a priority. We would gain an hour along the way. By the time we arrived it was still a bit early (there) for lunch and the ambient temperatures were approaching 95 degrees with a heat index of 105. So we decided to check out something called “The Factory,” just north of town. We knew there was a taco place near there. We did not know it was inside The Factory.

The all-brick fascia of Mojo’s Tacos is marked by brilliant red neon. Posted on the glass is a menu, but these eyes couldn’t actually read it without pushing my head through the glass, Arrows pointed the way and that’s how we learned it was an order-at-the-counter kind of place. An attractive menu loomed over the cashier, so it was easy to make our choices.

Mojo patio

10 different gourmet tacos plus their trademarked “Puffy” were presented by name and briefly described. In addition, a daily special of Jerk Shrimp was available.

We couldn’t believe the prices. All the tacos are $4 each except for the Puffy. And you can ask to have your tortilla made puffy for just $1 more. The tortilla is flash fried, making it an air-filled treat. It’s worth it.

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Ann ordered the Baja Fish taco (beer-battered cod, shredded cabbage, and pico with a chipotle crema). I could have saved some money by adding chips and salsa to my taco order, but instead just asked for a full chips and salsa tray for $2. I ordered the Jerk Shrimp and the Fried Avocado and asked for them both to be made puffy.

Given the heat, we chose to dine indoors, but there’s a nice outdoor covered patio, too. Just guesstimating, the dining room seats about 30, with 10 more seats at a well-lighted bar where one can, I assume, get well lit. The patio might hold 30 more. That holiday morning, the place was hopping with families and people at the bar, but finding a seat was a breeze.

Instead of Coke and Pepsi, Mojo’s offers a unique self-service beverage machine featuring Maine Root Soda and other choices. I had the iced tea.

Ann, who has a strong preference for one soft drink, was less than thrilled with the taste of the offerings,

Mojo eats

I always start out at a new place intending to give it 5 stars and then work down from there for inefficiencies, annoyances, bad service, or less than satisfactory taste. These two customers sat, fascinated with the ambience of Mexican tile and modern woods and deeply anticipating being wowed.

Then our food arrived. We had ordered chips and salsa and three tacos. Our server arrived with a large tray of chips, a small bowl of salsa, and a tray holding three tacos. It was immediately clear to us (though apparently not to the server) that we would have to improvise with one “plate” between us (literally).

I whipped off sheets of unbleached paper towels conveniently set on the table and began building a platform for my tacos, because these were juicy and messy, if not overstuffed. Then we tucked in.

The tastes were divine, but the ingredients fell a little short of spectacular. Ann thought the fish was a bit rubbery, but then we knew they hadn’t been out that morning hauling in a net full of Middle Tennessee Cod. But for $4, what could we have expected? I do hope they battered the fish in-house, but today’s food purveyors can wholesale just about anything.

Mojo plate

My tacos were great and I encourage any taco shop to explore the puffy tortilla option. It works.

The chips were quite clearly fried in the kitchen, but the tray alternated between bland and overly salted. The salsa was hum-drum, dark brown and finely minced. Perhaps the chips work better with the nachos, queso, or guacamole, but for us they served only as a means to put salsa in our mouths and to add tasteless calories.

We were road-tripping on a hot, hectic day, so we passed on the chance to try a mojito or margarita. Next time, we’ll call Lyft and try out the well-stocked bar.

The staff were pleasant and the dining room was clean enough considering it was mid-shift on a day when many children were on hand. The prices were insanely cheap. And the tacos were the best we’ve had, certainly for the price.

The plate fiasco almost moved the ratings bar down to 4 stars, but I would not want to discourage anyone from eating here. I really have no reason not to give them my highest recommendation. I’m certain that kids will love it – a kids meal includes a Paleta (fruit-ice-pop) and the whole meal is just $5 including a choice of a cheese quesadilla, a beef taco, or chicken tenders plus a beverage and a Paleta. Adult size paletas are $4.

If you’re traveling I-65, you should know that Mojo’s is about 4 miles west, but at least 10 minutes from the Interstate. GPS will come in handy, but there are really only about 2 turns to make. The traffic can be horrid. As you leave, go south through downtown. You can get back to the Interstate from there. It’s a straight shot.

I’ve included photos of the menu below. Read to the end and find out who Mojo is. Here’s a hint: it’s pronounced Moe-Joe, not Mo-ho as I had assumed.

Mojo’s Tacos
230 Franklin Road
Franklin, Tennessee 37064
(615) 435-3476
www.mojostacos.com

Mojo menu

Mojo bar menu

Da Vinci on the Road

What would you say if I told you that we could load you on the motor coach at 9 a.m. and by 10:15 a.m.we could have you standing in a chapel viewing Leonardo’s The Last Supper?

In Nashville, Tennessee, near Music Row (the area where country music publishers have congregated) and just off the campus of Vanderbilt University is a phenomenal little place that is completely worth a visit.

Upper Room frieze

The Upper Room Chapel®, Museum, and Garden was created by the United Methodist Church, which like many Christian denominations, chose to headquarter its publishing operations in Nashville. The chapel and its services are ecumenical, meaning worship are open to people of all Christian faiths and visits to the chapel are open to all.

You may recall that on the eve of his arrest, Jesus gathered his disciples for a “Last Supper” in an upper room. The story of that meal (possibly a Passover seder, but that’s arguable) as told in the Gospel of John is, in itself, filled with enough cinematic potential as to generate a movie. The Christ called out Judas on his betrayal, which to all the other disciples in attendance was still a mystery.

Thousands of years later, the polymathic genius Leonardo da Vinci created a mural at the refectory of the Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie to commemorate this event, at the commission of the Duke of Milan, circa 1496.

From this event come the core principles of most Christian practice. Catholics, among others, call the practice Holy Communion. Many more congregational groups call it the Last Supper. Whether you subscribe to the doctrine and theology or not, the artwork is affecting.

While it’s going to be difficult to travel to Milan, we can hop down to Nashville and see the carved frieze replica and can even worship quietly in the chapel that houses it.

Commissioned for the opening of The Upper Room Chapel in 1953, the woodcarving of Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper sets the mood and theme of the chapel. Fifty craftspersons worked for fourteen months under the direction of sculptor Ernest Pellegrini to create the work. It was carved from linden (basswood) and walnut and is 17 ft. wide and 8 ft. high.

Those dimensions are said to be just slightly smaller than the original painted mural, which today, as a simulated fresco, is suffering greatly from the ravages of time. The woodcarving at The Upper Room is masterful, too. The perspectives are deceiving – the greatest depth of the carving is only about 8 inches.

Upper Room Glass

The site also includes the World Christian Fellowship Window, a stained-glass construction containing more than 9,000 individual pieces of glass.

Upper Room Museum

The museum, gift shop, and garden are open to the public as well. The Upper Room Chapel is open weekdays (except major holidays) from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Nashville is on U.S. Central time, allowing you to gain 1 hour of clock time if traveling from the Take Life on the Road® home base in Southern Indiana.

Rest assured, The Upper Room will be on a future tour. But if you are traveling alone, exit west on Broadway from the Interstate 24-65-40 cluster and head for Vanderbilt. When you reach the law school, look for a left turn onto Grand Avenue. The chapel is about a block to the east.

 

 

Öndvegissúlur

Here at Take Life on the Road® we can’t travel all the time. But we can share adventures we discover, even if we’ve never actually visited the places where these stories come from.

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Photo credit: Dr. Alan P. Newman

This story from Atlas Obscura, one of our favorite websites, evokes a bit of our travel philosophy. Read on.

It’s traditionally held that when approaching a coastline to start a new settlement, the Viking leaders would have an Öndvegissúlur pillar thrown overboard. Where it washed ashore is where the settlers would establish the new community, with the blessing of their gods.

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An Öndvegissúlur is a pair of ornately decorated pillars arranged on either side of the high-seat (throne) used by the head of a household in ancient Viking communities. When traveling large distances in their long ships, the Viking leaders would take their high-seats along as a mark of their position. The larger and more ornate the pillars, the higher the status of the owner.

At TLotR, we do a lot of research and planning. But we’ve also found many of our favorite tour destinations by doing what we call “orienteering.” That’s where you simply pick a direction and go, absorbing everything you find, and jotting it down for future reference.

This week, we’re leaving on a research tour and because it’s a national holiday (U.S. Independence Day), we’re in no particular hurry. That may allow us to wander a bit over the 3-day trip.

Sometimes orienteering can be a chore, especially when you haven’t internalized the map. If you’re in no hurry, no worry. But if you’re orienteering at the end of a long trip, you can find yourself delayed by hours.

Hot Springs NC
The kind of place you can find when you simply head out. Win a Take Life on the Road tote bag if you can guess where this is before 7/10/18.

A few years ago we were returning from a trip to visit family in East Tennessee. For speed, there’s really only one way to get from there to here – Interstate highways all the way. On this trip, I talked my companion into visiting two of the sites included on our Tour #1803 – Fall 2018 in the Cumberlands.

Kingstone Lisle Rugby

Up on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, near the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area (NPS), lies the village of Rugby, which we knew about but had never visited. For a couple, it’s an amazing place for a quiet getaway, with all the glories of a cabin in the Smokies. But it’s closer and far less crowded.

Rather than backtrack from there, I suggested we simply move north and west, which technically would get us closer to home base. I also wanted to see if Pall Mall, Tennessee, the homesite of WWI hero Alvin C. York, was worth the trip. It was a fun stop for us and we still had time to get home near sunset.

York Home

As we headed north, we had neither phone service nor GPS assistance, so when we hit a town square in Kentucky, we inadvertently started heading due west. Within about 30 minutes, we realized we weren’t seeing the things we had expected to see, and we were now committed to a long slog through south central Kentucky.

I’d love to report that we stumbled on some amazing places, but it was now twilight on a Sunday in, yes, south central Kentucky. Knowing full well that we couldn’t go too far west without hitting Interstate 65, we finally found food at a national chain restaurant and discovered ourselves to be still more than 2 hours from home.

In some ways, that’s the kind of travel we like, time permitting. We’ll see a road and tell ourselves that if we head, say, west from this intersection, we can’t get lost. Right? We have more happy tales than sad ones from following that philosophy.

Now that’s for personal and research trips. We would never let our tour participants experience that kind of uncertainty, no matter how rewarding it might ultimately be.

That brings us back to the traditional story of the Öndvegissúlur. As we build our touring routes, we sometimes throw ours overboard and let the vicissitudes of fate show us where we should go. And so long as it’s both a rewarding place to visit and not a fraught trip for our clients, we’ll add it to a tour.

In that way, we make a Destinations tour an unforgettable destination finder.

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