Oddities and artifacts abound in the permanent collections of the free-to-the-public Tennessee State Museum, together they tell the story of this particular swath of the American South from 12,000 years ago to the early 1900s. The main exhibit space consumes the ground floor of the massive office tower at the James K. Polk Cultural Center, and is divided into six eras such as the “First Tennesseans,” “Civil War and Reconstruction,” and the “New South.” The Military Branch Museum, a vestige of the museum’s former nearby location in the War Memorial Building prior to its 1981 move, is run separately and offers an in depth look into major battles from the Spanish American War to World War II featuring weapons, uniforms, flags and personal items from Tennessee soldiers.
Among the more unusual finds in the main space are a 3,600-year-old mummy brought by Tennessean merchant marine to the state during the prosperous antebellum period, a Frontier-era log cabin showing colonial life, mastodon bones, a huge collection of quits, a hand-drawn Confederate battle field map, a covered wagon, a horse-drawn fire engine with brass water pump, Daniel Boone’s cutlery set and pocket knife, an early model of a flying machine, a moonshine sill, a model of a white wooden riverboat, Andrew Jackson’s personal items and a leather jacket once worn by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his role as a WWII General. Rotating exhibitions keep things fresh and have included artwork from Japanese museums, the original Emancipation Proclamation, photographs of Elvis and a collaborative exhibit with the adjacent Tennessee Performing Arts Center on Tennessee’s African American musical heritage. Though captivating for school children and adults, there is little interactive here to entertain families with very young children. Plans for a shiny new State Museum, proposed for a location along Bicentennial Mall a few blocks away, are in the works.
The Tennessee State Museum is located at 505 Deaderick Street in Downtown Nashville. It is open from Tuesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. til 5 p.m. and Sundays from 1 p.m. til 5 p.m. and closed on major holidays. The Military Branch across the street (301 6th Ave. N) is open 10 a.m. til 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday only. Some visiting exhibits may charge admission fees. Flash-free photography is permitted. There is no designated museum parking, but several state and public pay lots are located around 5th Avenue.