Courtesy Sumner County CVB
Sometimes travel treasure lies just off the edge of the map.
The cities of the Southeast make great tour destinations, thriving with urban energy, sophistication and high-profile attractions. But downtowns aren’t the only places to find interesting attractions, tours and activities. In the small towns and suburbs that surround larger cities, some wonderful treasures wait for you to discover.
Although we have a tendency to lump these small destinations into greater urban areas, many have a distinct flavor all their own or offer a particular perspective on the culture and history that makes their region famous.
Sumner County, Tennessee, echoes the music and heritage of Nashville, and Marietta, Georgia’s history sheds light on the story of Atlanta and the Civil War.
In other destinations, small towns offer a respite from nearby cities. The Everglades around Miami are an antidote to the neon of South Beach, and Gaston, North Carolina, is a nature-lover’s escape from Charlotte. Groups will also find distinct attractions in Bessemer, Alabama, and North Little Rock, Arkansas.
As you plan your travels throughout the Southeast, make sure to look beyond the city limits for these great destinations.
About 20 miles to the northwest of downtown Atlanta, Marietta gives visitors a look at historic life in a small Georgia town.
“We still have our original town square, and we have museums, historic sites and shopping,” said Theresa Jenkins of the Marietta Visitors Bureau. “The square itself is a very picturesque destination, and it makes an ideal stop for groups. We have five museums that are either right on the square or within a block of it.”
Group visits to Marietta often begin with a trolley tour, which gives passengers an overview of the town and the nearby Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. After the tour, travelers get free time to explore the square, which has numerous shopping and dining spots.
The five museums surrounding the square add a fascinating and educational component to the Marietta visit. The Marietta Museum of History has artifacts from the city’s past, and the Root House Museum preserves the 1850s home of a middle-class merchant. Nearby, the Marietta Fire Museum houses antique fire department memorabilia, including an 1879 pump steam engine.
But the most popular stop in town is the Marietta Gone With the Wind Museum.
“It houses a private collection of movie and book memorabilia,” Jenkins said. “They have collections of props, posters and books, and the main focus is an original gown that Vivien Leigh wore in the honeymoon scene.”
The museum also has an exhibit on the African-American actors who played in the film, as well as Margaret Mitchell memorabilia.
Sumner County, Tennessee
Northeast of Nashville, Sumner County gives visitors a chance to explore local history and natural beauty while still enjoying the area’s legendary music heritage.
“We bill Sumner County as a place where you can go, relax, enjoy the beautiful lake scenery and enjoy the music,” said Barry Young, executive director of the Sumner County Convention and Visitors Bureau. “We’re known for Old Hickory Lake, where there’s a lot of fishing, boating and recreational activities. In addition to that, we have seven historic homes and two forts that groups can go see.”
One of the historic homes ties into the local music heritage. Country musician Conway Twitty built a mansion in the county and lived there until he died. Today, the mansion is part of a complex owned by the Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN). Groups can get a tour of Twitty’s home or attend the taping of a TBN television show or concert.
Groups also enjoy touring some of the pioneer and Civil War-era sites in Sumner County. Notable stops include Mansker’s Station, a re-created fort; Rock Castle, a 1794 home constructed of limestone; and Cragfont Museum House.
“Cragfont was built by a Revolutionary War hero, James Winchester,” Young said. “It’s known as the Mount Vernon of Tennessee. It was completed in 1802 and features a second-story ballroom and elegant gardens.”