About an hour west of Asheville is the town of Greeneville, Tennessee. This town is so close, so historic, and so easy to get to that you must visit it. And I do mean must.
GREENEVILLE’S ALASKAN AND MEXICAN CONNECTIONS
Greeneville’s biggest claim to fame is the home of Andrew Johnson, our nation’s 17th President. President Andrew Johnson was an ambitious individual who is one of the few Chief Executives to be tried for impeachment. You can read more about how his policies ran afoul of the political powers of the day by clicking here. It’s actually a fascinating tale of political power and bickering that is disconcertingly relevant.
President Johnson was actually born in Raliegh, but his family moved to Greeneville during his adolescence. He became a tailor and married a school teacher. He worked hard, succeeded, and eventually got involved in politics at a local level. He was elected to Congress, Govenor, and eventually Senator. His loyalty to the Union led President Lincoln to appoint Johnson, a Democrat, military governor of Tennessee.
Even though East Tennessee was pro-Union during the War, most of the state wasn’t. Democratic govenor Johnson was selected as Republican Lincoln’s running mate and avoided assassination on the same night as Lincoln. He decided to keep Lincoln’s cabinet but soon came to regret the decision. Although Johnson’s Presidency featured several foreign policy triumphs — the defeat of France’s puppet emperor in Mexico (which makes Johnson partially responsible for Cinco de Mayo), avoiding war with Canada, a real estate deal buying Alaska — he is most remembered as being tried for empeachment.
Okay, that’s the history and now you know more about Andrew Johnson than 75% of the people you’ll meet at your next party. I want to thank Microsoft’s Encarta Reference Library for many of the details and give it my whole hearted endorsement. It’s a tool everyone should have on their computer.
HOW TO GET THERE
There are four ways to get there. First, you can take U.S. 25 through Marshall. This is the “scenic route.”
Second, you can take I-40 West and get I-81 north to Exit 23, which will take 11E to Greeneville. This isn’t a bad route and takes you close to Gatlinburg.
The third route is I-26/ Highway 23 to Johnson City, then through Jonesborough to Greeneville. This route will take you near some of the best shopping I’ve ever seen, just off the State of Franklin Road, which you can follow back to 11E and on to Jonesborough and Greeneville. Jonesborough is Tennessee’s oldest town and somewhere you should also visit.
The fourth route also takes I-26/ Highway 23 north, but stops at the wonderful mountain town of Erwin, Tennessee. (Click here to read about Erwin’s M-60 tank you can have lunch with and click here to see video of it.) There’s a two lane road that goes straight from Erwin across to Jonesborough, where you can take a four lane all the way to Greeneville. This avoids the traffic in Johnson City but lets you enjoy Jonesborough.
WHAT YOU’LL SEE
We rolled into Greeneville late one winter day, weary from an hour on the road. (Not to mention an hour shopping in Johnson City.) Just down the hill from the Courthouse we found the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site. Standing there, on the corner of Depot and College I realized this was a piece of history you don’t see every day.
This is the home of a Governor, a U.S. Senator, Representative, and President. Even when you realize the bathroom, kitchen, and probably pantry weren’t attached, it’s still a strikingly compact structure by today’s standards. To me it speaks of the man Johnson wanted to be— a man of the people who chose to “walk with the people” instead of ride in a carriage on the day he was inaugurated as Tennessee’s Governor. (Thank you again to MS Encarta.)
Across the street from Johnson’s home is a replica of the cabin where he was born. Amazingly its not that much smaller than the home where he died. Here is the plaque in front of the replica with the story of his birth.
Today we live in a world pushing us to more and bigger, to newer and better. But how many of us will achieve the levels that this tailor from Tennessee reach. Not only was he President of the United States, he was also the only President to serve in the Senate after leaving the White House. He oversaw the purchase of Alaska and is at least partially responsible for Cinco de Mayo.
How many of us are investing ourselves in things that won’t matter ten, twenty, or a hundred years from now. Enriching future generations, providing for those generations, and serving our present generations are things that really deserve our investment. Those are the lessons I brought away from this town in the East Tennessee Mountains.
Here are a few web links you may find useful if you’re going to Greeneville.