On Friday. October 11th, we drove to Baileyton, TN where we spent two nights at Baileyton KOA. Although the distance was only 223 miles and over interstate highways most of the way, it took us over 5.5 miles due to a GPS-caused wrong turn, a multi-vehicle accident and multiple lane closures leading to long delays.
On Saturday we celebrated four years of full-time RVing. In the past four years, we have driven over 45,000 miles and camped in 44 states and 4 Canadian provinces. Although it hasn’t always been trouble-free, the positives have greatly outweighed the negatives. We initially committed to three years but, right now, we don’t see any end in sight for this lifestyle.
We drove to nearby Greeneville, TN to visit the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site which honors the 17th president by preserving his tailor shop and homes. We began the day at the Visitor Center where we watched a video and viewed a number of exhibits. Learning about Andrew Johnson’s presidency seemed timely in light of current talk of impeaching a sitting U.S. president.
Andrew Johnson was born in 1808 in Raleigh, NC. His father died when he was 3 and left his family in poverty. Andrew’s mother apprenticed him and his brother to a tailor when he was nine. His apprenticeship contract required him to work until age 21. However, after throwing rocks at a young girl’s house to impress her and then being threatened with a lawsuit by the girl’s mother, he and his brother fled Raleigh and broke their apprenticeship contract. The tailor offered a reward but they evaded capture as they traveled through the Carolinas, Alabama and Tennessee. Andrew eventually settled in Greeneville and opened a tailor shop. This tailor shop is now preserved in a brick enclosure that is attached to the Visitor Center.
Although he had received limited education as an apprentice, Andrew became very committed to learning. His wife Eliza taught him writing and mathematics and he joined debating clubs. By 1829 his tailor shop had become a popular gathering place for people to discuss current events and politics. Johnson’s interests turned to politics and he was elected alderman of Greeneville, then mayor. From then on, his rise was steady – to state representative, state senator and U.S. representative. In 1853 he was elected governor of Tennessee and was sent to the U.S. Senate in 1857. His political philosophy was based on a strict interpretation of the Constitution and a belief in states’ rights. This initially made him very popular with southern Democrats. However, Johnson believed that secession was unwise as well as unconstitutional.
In 1862, after Nashville was captured by Union forces, President Lincoln appointed Johnson as Tennessee’s military governor. For the general election in 1864, Republicans formed a coalition with those Democrats who supported the Civil War. They re-nominated Abraham Lincoln and chose Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, as his running mate. Johnson became president on April 15, 1885, following Lincoln’s assassination.
President Johnson clashed with the overwhelmingly Republican Congress, mostly over issues related to Reconstruction. He was opposed to Republican plans to impose military rule and black suffrage on the South, both of which he considered unconstitutional. Johnson vetoed a total of 29 bills, based on the grounds that Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority, but Congress overturned 15 of these. One of these was the Tenure of Office Act which forbade a president from removing, without consent of the Senate, federal office holders previously confirmed by the Senate. Johnson considered this a violation of the executive power bestowed on the president by the Constitution.
The radicals in Congress had long been looking for grounds to remove Johnson from office. When Johnson removed the Secretary of War in 1868, he was impeached by the House. The Senate trial lasted nearly two months. With 54 members in the Senate in 1868, 36 votes were needed to convict. Among the Republicans, the radicals had 35 sure votes. They needed just one more vote. All nine Democrats and three moderate Republicans sided with Johnson. There were seven undecided Senators who all ultimately voted “Not Guilty” and Johnson’s presidency was preserved. Johnson’s acquittal had great consequences for the future of the United States. Had Johnson been convicted, a dangerous precedent would have been set, allowing for removing a president from office for trivial reasons, such as political unpopularity. Interestingly, the Tenure of Office Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1926, thus vindicating Andrew Johnson.
Johnson returned to Greeneville in 1869, after Ulysses Grant was inaugurated. However, in January 1875, he was chosen to serve Tennessee in the U.S. Senate, making him the first ex-president to have done so. He died of a stroke six months later. His wife, Eliza, lived six months longer than Andrew, despite having suffered with tuberculosis for 40 years. She had passed her illness on to all five of their children, as well as the grandchildren, but Andrew never did contract the disease.
After leaving the Visitor Center, we walked to the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. Johnson chose to be buried atop a hill which he owned. He was buried wrapped in a US flag and with a copy of the Constitution resting beneath his head. His wife, their immediate family, and many descendants are also buried in this family plot. His gravesite remains an active military National Cemetery.
We then returned for a guided tour of the Johnson homestead which they had purchased in 1851. Although Tennessee came under Union rule in 1862, east Tennessee was still occupied by Confederates. Eliza and the children escaped through the enemy lines. The Confederates confiscated the house and used it as a hospital and army headquarters. As a sign of their displeasure with Johnson’s pro-Union stance, they left the house’s plaster walls covered in graffiti. The family did not return to the house until Johnson’s presidential term ended in 1869.
Our final stop in Greeneville was at the Johnson’s first home, which they owned from the 1830s until 1851.
After leaving Greeneville, we drove a few miles to Limestone, TN and visited David Crockett Birthplace State Park. The park housed an 18th century farmstead which featured a replica cabin of the type Davy Crockett might have lived in, animal paddocks and costumed living history interpreters. We particularly enjoyed watching the wildly-plumed fowl and the snoring hogs.
On Sunday we drove 233 miles to Nashville where we spent five nights at the Seven Points Corp of Engineers campground. Our drive was very similar to Friday’s. Although almost the entire trip was on interstate highways, the trip took 5.5 hours due to two long traffic delays.
On Tuesday we visited The Hermitage, the plantation home of Andrew Jackson, the 7th president of the United States, and his wife Rachel from 1804 until their deaths. We watched a video and then viewed exhibits dealing with his life.
Andrew Jackson was born in 1767. His father died three weeks before he was born. Jackson’s eldest brother, Hugh, died during a Revolutionary War battle in 1779. Jackson and his elder brother, Robert, began to help the local militia as couriers and they were taken as prisoners in 1780. Robert and his mother died from disease during the war, leaving Andrew an orphan at age 14 and strongly anti-British.
After unsuccessful efforts as a saddle-maker and schoolteacher, Andrew studied law under the tutelage of an attorney and was admitted to the bar in 1787. He got appointed as a prosecutor in the Western District of North Carolina, which would later become the state of Tennessee. He moved to the small frontier town of Nashville and met Rachel Donelson Robards. Rachel was in an unhappy marriage and had separated from her husband in 1790. Andrew married Rachel in 1791, although her divorce had not been finalized, thus making the marriage bigamous and invalid. Although they did remarry in 1794 when the divorce was finalized, the first marriage would be a source of controversy as Andrew began his political career.
When Tennessee achieved statehood in 1796, Jackson was elected as it’s only U.S. Representative. He was elected as U.S. Senator in 1797 but resigned the following year. He then served on the Tennessee Supreme Court until 1804.
Although he lacked military experience, Jackson had been appointed a major general of the Tennessee militia in 1802. During the War of 1812, he led U.S. troops in the defeat of British-allied Creek Indians, ultimately resulting in the addition of present-day Georgia and Alabama. Despite being outnumbered two-to-one, he led the defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans, the last major engagement of the War of 1812. Jackson was hailed as a national hero. He was ordered back into service in 1817 and, exceeding his orders, invaded Spanish-controlled Florida. Although criticized by many in Congress and President Monroe’s cabinet, his actions ultimately led to Florida being ceded to the U.S.
Jackson’s military exploits made him a rising political star. He was elected to the U.S. Senate again in 1823 and ran for President in 1824. Though Jackson won the popular vote, no candidate gained a majority of Electoral College vote, which threw it to the House of Representatives to select the President from among the top three electoral vote getters. Even though Henry Clay didn’t make it into the top three, as Speaker of the House he had enough influence to sway the outcome in favor of John Quincy Adams. When Adams then named Clay as Secretary of State, it appeared to Jackson and many others that these two had struck a “corrupt bargain” to defraud the American people of the president they wanted.
The 1928 election was extremely nasty. Adams’ supporters criticized Jackson’s military record as proof of his tendency to revoke people’s rights and they seized on his marriage to Rachel as proof of his immorality. Although Jackson won in a landslide, the jubilation turned to grief when Rachel died 19 days later. For the rest of his life, Jackson blamed Rachel’s death on the slanders hurled at her during the campaign. Jackson was reelected easily in 1832 over Henry Clay.
Jackson’s two terms as president were marked by both good and bad. He survived the threat of South Carolina secession over high tariffs. He dismantled the Bank of the United States, which had held all the federal funds despite being privately owned. He utilized the power of the veto more broadly than any previous president, using it to shape his policy. He became the only U.S. president to pay off the entire national debt. While Jackson championed the causes of the common man and became known as the “people’s president,” this was only true for white people. In 1830, Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act which forcibly relocated most Native American tribes in the South to Indian Territory. He opposed the abolitionist movement, which grew stronger in his second term.
In 1835, Jackson was the target of the first U.S. presidential assassination attempt. A deranged house painter pointed two pistols at him but both misfired. Interestingly, when both guns were tested later, they fired perfectly.
Following his two terms in office, Jackson returned to the Hermitage and began putting it back in order. It had been managed badly in his absence by his adopted son. He remained highly influential in national and state politics for the remainder of his life. He died in 1845, at the age of 78, and was buried next to Rachel at the Hermitage.
After viewing the exhibits, we took a guided tour of the mansion, begun in 1821 and expanded in 1831 and 1834. After Andrew Jackson’s death, his adopted son’s gambling debts forced the sale of the Hermitage to the state of Tennessee. It was opened as a museum in 1889 and 95% of the furnishings on display are originals. The interior of the mansion is quite ornate and the rooms are very large. Unfortunately, photography was not allowed inside the mansion.
After touring the mansion, we strolled the grounds and gardens of the estate. Throughout our walk, we used audio devises that provided details regarding each stop. The plantation, which eventually totaled 1,050 acres, primarily grew cotton and was worked by up to 150 slaves. We were able to see the site of the Jacksons’ simple cabin where they lived from 1804 until 1821, later converted to slave quarters. We walked through Rachel Jackson’s garden and visited the tomb where Andrew and Rachel are buried.
On Wednesday Jan went to Cheekwood Estate and Gardens with Jess, Sheila and Michelle. Cheekwood is an extraordinary 1930s estate with a Georgian mansion and 55 acres of cultivated gardens and expansive vistas. They enjoyed touring the museum and walking through the botanical gardens that were decorated for the autumnal season.
On Thursday we went to Long Hunter State Park and hiked the 4-mile Day Loop Trail. Most of the trail was within a few hundred feet of J. Percy Priest Lake. That evening, we met Jason, Jarrod and Jess in downtown Nashville and had Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Gino’s East, one of our favorite pizza restaurants when we lived in the Chicago area.
On Friday we moved 25 miles to Grand Ole RV Resort in Goodlettsville, TN where we spent two nights. Jan enjoyed the afternoon with her cousin Lori. Jason and Jarrod came by in the evening. After listening to the live entertainment at the campground, we had dinner and then introduced the guys to the game Farkle.
On Saturday we went to La-Z-Boy and ordered a couple of recliners to replace the ones we have sat in for the past four years. We will take delivery when we return to Goodlettsville in mid-December. We had been looking at recliners for almost a year but had had difficulty finding good quality furniture that would fit in our RV. Jason and Jarrod came over again for dinner and another game of Farkle.
On Sunday, October 20th, we drove 205 miles to Heiskell, TN where we overnighted at the Escapees’ Raccoon Valley campground. We have stayed at this campground numerous times when we have service appointments with our RV dealer in Knoxville.
Monday morning we drove 25 miles to RVs for Less for service. We had submitted a list of 12 issues that needed to be addressed. We never have any idea how long the repairs will take so we just plan to stay on the dealer’s lot for however long it takes. In the past we’ve had to wait for the service people to finish work for other customers but, this trip, they got right to work on our rig. We did spend Monday night on the lot but, by early Tuesday afternoon, they had finished nine of the 12 items on our list, as well as an additional item that was identified while we were there. Parts needed to be ordered for two of the remaining issues and, since the parts wouldn’t arrive until Friday, we needed to find a place to stay for the next three nights. Late October is a very popular time to visit the Smokies due to the fall foliage so, when we had to find last minute reservations in the area, it proved very challenging. We tried 12 campgrounds before we were able to find an opening at Big Meadow Family Campground in Townsend, TN. The only condition was that we had to agree to move sites after the first night. So, after spending Tuesday night in site 64, the owner brought a tractor to our site on Wednesday morning and moved our rig to site 61 for the final two nights. The move required backing out of our site and around a tree so we were glad to let him do it for us.
After getting set up in our new site, we drove to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and, armed with our bear spray, hiked the 4.5-mile Walker Sisters Cabin Trail. It was a beautiful day for a hike and, although the trees were not as colorful as usual due to the dry summer, the trail was still quite scenic. We did not see any bears but we did spot a deer.
The story of the Walker sisters’ cabin is very interesting. John Walker, a Union Army veteran, and his wife, Margaret, moved onto the homestead in 1870 and raised 11 children there. When John died in 1921, the property was deeded to six spinster sisters (one died 10 years later) who continued to live there. In 1926, Congress authorized creation of the national park, allowing North Carolina and Tennessee to buy nearly half a million acres, most of which were privately owned. Parcels of land were purchased from families and timber companies. However, the Walker sisters refused to leave their mountain home. Finally, with the dedication of the park in 1940 and facing a condemnation suit, the sisters agreed to receive $4,750 for their land and the right to live out the rest of their lives at their home. It seems like the sisters got the last laugh. In 1946 the Saturday Evening Post published a feature article about the sisters. This led to a steady stream of tourists and a source of income for the sisters. One of the sisters died in 1962, at age 92, and the last surviving sister died two years later, at age 82. The cabin, as well as a corn crib and springhouse, are still standing.
Before reaching the Walker cabin, we reached the Little Greenbrier one-room schoolhouse which John Walker helped build in 1882. The building continued to serve as the community school for over 50 years, until 1935. Because there was so much work to be done on the farms during warm months, classes were only held in the winter for 2-3 months. The building also doubled as a Primitive Baptist church until 1925, with the church’s cemetery in an adjoining lot.
After completing our hike, we drove to nearby Gatlinburg and had an early dinner and did some shopping.
On Thursday we returned to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and drove Cades Cove Loop Road. A “cove” is a relatively flat valley between mountain ridges. Native Americans had visited Cades Cove for thousands of years but Europeans first began to settle the Cove in 1818. The population reached 685 in 1850, then crashed to 275 in 1860, before growing to 708 in 1900. In 1927, the states of Tennessee and North Carolina began to buy out the farmers, either willingly or unwillingly, to provide land for the national park. For over 100 years, travelers had entered and left the Cove by five narrow unpaved roads. When the national park was formed, the 11-mile, one-way Cades Cove Loop Road was built on the general route as a formerly unpaved two-lane road. Due to the popularity of the loop road, especially during peak tourist seasons like now, traffic moved around the loop very slowly. Scattered along the loop road are three churches, a working grist mill, barns, log houses, and many other faithfully restored 18th and 19th century structures. We had driven the loop previously so we didn’t visit all the stops this time. We mostly just enjoyed the scenery and fall colors. We did spot deer, wild turkeys and a hawk but were disappointed that we did not see any bears.
The weather forecast for Friday called for rain starting at noon so we got going early and returned to RVs for Less by 10 a.m. The rain held off long enough for them to install two new ceiling fans before noon. When the rain stopped later in the afternoon, they finished the few remaining repairs. Since we knew it would be futile to try to find an open campsite on a weekend night in the area, we got permission to spend another night on the dealer’s lot.