Notable Downtowns to Visit in the Tennessee River Valley

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They say the downtown area is the heartbeat of a city. The Tennessee River Valley has compiled a list to give those in search of some of the best downtowns in the region to visit.

The Glenmore Mansion looks over the Historic Mossy Creek District in downtown Jefferson City

A visit to a downtown area is a way for visitors to learn more about a town’s beginnings and how it has contributed to today’s America.

Downtowns help define a community’s identity through charming main streets, historical accounts, distinctive architecture and cultural assets. The Tennessee River Valley is filled with historic and quaint downtowns appealing to today’s travelers. From Civil War sights and 19th century architecture to charming main streets and eclectic shops, the Tennessee River Valley has compiled a list to give those in search of some of the best downtowns in the region to visit.

“The downtown area has become the quintessential hub for a community,” said Julie Graham, spokesperson for the Tennessee River Valley Mapguide Council. “A visit to a downtown area is a way for visitors to learn more about a town’s beginnings and how it has contributed to today’s America.”

Jonesborough, Tenn.

Established 17 years before Tennessee was granted statehood, Jonesborough is a unique town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains and is the state’s oldest town.

History runs deep in this 18th century town. Its well-preserved Main Street takes visitors on a beautiful journey through the past. Walk where Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, John Sevier and so many others have been. One of the best ways to soak in the history and the charm is through a walking tour of the historic downtown area. Guided tours with a knowledgeable tour guide and self-guided walking tours are available.

Guided tours are offered on Fridays from May through October at 1 p.m. departing from the Chester Inn Museum. Costumed guides will discuss the history of the town, its people and the lives they built. Covering little known facts and the story of Jonesborough from past to present, tours last approximately an hour. Tickets are $5 per person and can be purchased at the Chester Inn Museum.

For those who want to learn about the town on a more leisurely stroll, grab a free self-guided walking tour brochure at the Visitors Center and take in nearly 30 spots all within walking distance throughout the historic downtown district.

Along with natural beauty one would expect from the Appalachian Mountains and historical significance that comes from being the state’s oldest town, Jonesborough has a rich storytelling heritage and today is known as the Storytelling Capital of the World. For many, Jonesborough is where the storytelling revival began and each year, thousands of visitors return to celebrate the time-honored tradition.

The National Storytelling Festival is the largest and oldest storytelling festival in the U.S. and the event that sparked the modern-day revival of storytelling in America. The festival began in 1973 when 60 people came to hear a few tales from the back of a hay wagon pulled up beside the town courthouse. In the decades since, those 60 people have grown to 9,000, and the hay wagon has been replaced by large circus-like tents. The festival is set for October 5-7, 2018, and admission is charged.

Paducah Wall to Wall Murals

Named the most popular tourist attraction in Kentucky by Trip Advisor in 2014, "Portraits from Paducah's Past" present a public art experience available at all hours to visitors. More than 50 life-sized panoramic murals by renowned artist Robert Dafford and the Dafford Murals Team stretch across the downtown flood wall. These murals showcase the history of Paducah, from its founding to the flood of 1937. One of America's most prolific mural artists, Dafford's work may also be seen in France, Belgium and England.

A designated UNESCO Creative City, Paducah presents a rich diversity of ongoing cultural offerings including live theatre at Market House Theatre, world-class exhibitions at the National Quilt Museum and Yeiser Art Center, art films and festivals and classical performances by Paducah Symphony Orchestra at the Carson Center. Stroll tree-lined brick streets to discover magnificent 19th century architecture housing an eclectic array of antique shops, urban boutiques and locally owned eateries.

The scenic riverfront at the heart of downtown is the site of historic markers, concerts and visiting steamboat dockings. The riverfront plays host to festivals throughout the year with Barbecue on the River, the Paducah Dragon Boat Festival and Touchdowns & Tunes Tailgate Party in September. The new Ohio River Boat Launch, City of Paducah Transient Boat dock and Greenway Trail enhance outdoor recreation opportunities and the contemporary experience of the city’s lifeblood.

Cadiz Historic District
Another quaint downtown worth taking a stroll in is Cadiz, an American small town located near the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area in Kentucky. On the east end of the historic downtown district is the City Cemetery and on the west is the West Cadiz City Park, which sets on the Little River. Additional attractions include a popular farmers market, antique malls, the Janice Mason Art Museum, which offers a different exhibit about every six weeks, specialty shops offering unique items to the community and a coffee shop located in a refurbished log cabin.

Many events keep locals and visitors entertained throughout the year including a monthly cruise-in, Music, Movement and Arts in the Park, Dining on Main in April, Music Fest in August, Trigg County Country Ham Festival in October, Christmas night parade and events along with Christmas in the Park in December. Musical entertainment can be found every weekend at Lakeland Jamboree and every Thursday at the Cabin Coffee Café.

Historic Mossy Creek District
The Historic Mossy Creek District was originally established in the late 1700's as the commercial district of what was then known as the town of Mossy Creek, now Jefferson City, Tenn. Located just a few blocks away from Cherokee Lake, this section of town sits on the banks of Mossy Creek that was named for the unusual, vivid green moss that is abundant there. The Historic Mossy Creek District has recently been a part of a grass-roots revitalization movement and was recently named one of the State's inaugural Tennessee Downtowns. Some of the buildings date as far back as the 1800s and include an old movie theater, mercantile and eateries. The district is located just 20 minutes from Knoxville and 30 minutes from the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

There is always lots to see and experience at the Old Time Saturday Festival October 6, 2018. Now in its 33rd year, the daylong event is held in the Historic Mossy Creek District and features craftsmen and vendors from throughout the region. Hours are 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. and admission is free.

Fort Oglethorpe Historic District

Some of the most intense fighting of the Civil War took place in Fort Oglethorpe, a town located in northwestern Georgia. Fort Oglethorpe’s historic district includes The Post area on Barnhardt Circle, which was an active U.S. Army Cavalry Post from 1902 to 1946 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Barnhardt Circle is also home to the original officer's homes, guardhouse, bandstand, and 6th Cavalry Museum. The original Hospital, Post Chapel, Post Exchange, Theater, and Gymnasium are located within walking distance. Walking tour maps are available at the 6th Cavalry Museum.

Within the city of Fort Oglethorpe, visitors will also want to visit the Chickamauga National Military Park, a scene where Union and Confederate armies clashed during the fall of 1863 in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War.

Today, Fort Oglethorpe welcomes visitors from all over the world who are not only history buffs but who have an appreciation for the outdoors and entertainment. Spend the day outdoors playing at Lake Winnepesaukah, home to the world famous Cannon Ball Roller Coaster. Lookout Mountain is located nearby and is full of opportunities for outdoor recreation and activities including hiking, sports, biking and sightseeing.

Along with these popular downtown destinations, the Tennessee River Valley offers a compelling story, captivating visitors with its little unknown facts, pristine, untouched areas and rich, authentic experiences. Save trip ideas and plan a trip easily with the Tennessee River Valley Geotourism MapGuide, an online guide of authentic places and adventures that have been recommended by locals.

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