greeneville, tennessee: andrew johnson national historic site & homeward bound

I left my sister’s house in Murphysboro and drove through Carbondale, population 25,900. The road took me past Crab Orchard Lake and Devil’s Kitchen Lake; I was surprised to find southern Illinois so chock-full of lakes. By 8:00, I was driving by the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge, wishing I could stop as I love wildlife refuges.  Sadly, I had a 7 hour drive ahead to Greeneville, Tennessee.

It was a long drive in Illinois past House of Judah, Lion’s Den Adult Superstore, Ferne Clyffe State Park, Shawnee National Forest, Dixon Springs State Park, Metropolis, and Fort Massac State Park.  Soon I crossed the Ohio River and was welcomed into “Kentucky: Unbridled Spirit.”

In my hour and a half drive through a corner of Kentucky, I passed the Purple Toad Winery, River Heritage Museum, Patti’s 1880s Settlement, and Clarks River.  Tim McGraw sang that the “highway don’t care.” There was the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area and Mineral Mound State Park.  Johnny Cash sang “Hurt,” a song that holds warm memories, and often brings tears to my eyes. I was on the lookout for escaping inmates near the Kentucky State Penitentiary.  Old Dominion sang “Said Nobody,” a song I love to sing along with because it makes me smile. Cadiz advertised itself as “Front Porch to the Land Between the Lakes.”  I’d never explored this area before, but there was no time.  I passed the Jefferson Davis Monument State Historic Site and then I crossed into “Tennessee: The Volunteer State.”

I always wondered why Tennessee is called The Volunteer State so I finally looked it up. Google knows all.  According to Culture Trip: “Tennessee earned the nickname after the state’s overwhelming involvement in the War of 1812. A little over 15 years after gaining statehood, patriotic Tennesseans were eager to participate in the war effort. With General Andrew Jackson – a fellow Tennessean – leading the charge, over 1,500 soldiers stepped up to the plate.” 

So much of history was intertwining on my Road Trip to Nowhere.  This new knowledge was now mixed with my newfound knowledge of the War of 1812 from my visit to Baltimore’s Fort McHenry (fort mchenry & returning home from baltimore before the pandemic).

Tennessee is an endless state when you’re driving west to east or east to west.  I passed the Robert Penn Warren Birthplace Museum, Fort Campbell Army Post, and Paris Landing State Park.  Alabama appropriately sang “Dixieland Delight.” By 11:00, I was skirting Nashville. Later I sailed past the Hermitage Home of President Andrew Johnson; I’d be visiting the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site at the end of this day’s journey.

Of course it was appropriate for me to be listening to country music as I drove around Nashville.  Hayes Carll sang “Chances Are” and Jason Aldean sang “Crazy Town.” At a rest area, I found a sign: “Welcome to the Soundtrack of America: Made in Tennessee.”  No doubt, Nashville is a music town. We had a grand time visiting Nashville in December of 2017. 

I’m always amazed by so many adult bookstores or superstores in the Midwest, an area of the country that claims to be so hooked on Christianity. Huge billboards advertised “Love Shack Adult Superstore;” this was only one of many. 

It was early October and the leaves were changing color a bit, or they were just dying and turning brown. Kudzu was taking over the trees along the Obed Scenic River.  I saw signs for Great Smoky Mountains National Park just past Frozen Head State Park and Clinch River. Apparently, according to a tour guide in Zion National Park in October 2020, Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in the U.S. 

Near Knoxville at around 3:20, Chris Stapleton sang “You’re as smooth as Tennessee Whiskey.” Before long, I passed Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg, and Cumberland Gap National Historic Park. Hayden Carll sang “For the Sake of the Song,” and before I knew it, I was at the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site by 4:35.  I’d have less than a half hour to see the site, but I could see more the following morning.

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site

Andrew Johnson National Historic Site honors the 17th president (April 15, 1865 to March 3, 1869) and preserves his tailor shop and homes.  His gravesite remains an active military National Cemetery.


statue of Andrew Johnson

Andrew Johnson is known for his belief in the Constitution, the Union, and the common man. 

Early Years

Andrew Johnson had humble origins. He rose from poverty and obscurity from his birth in 1808 in Raleigh, North Carolina. His parents were poor and uneducated; his father died when Andrew was 3 years old after saving two of his wealthy employers from drowning in an icy pond. The replica building shown below is based on Johnson’s birthplace — preserved in Raleigh, N.C.

A few years after his father’s death, his destitute mother apprenticed Andrew and his brother to a local tailor. After getting into a legal dispute with the tailor, he and his brother ran away at age 15. Two years later, Johnson returned to Raleigh to try to settle the dispute. Then he led his mother and stepfather over the Appalachians to Greeneville, Tennessee. 

Andrew Johnson and his family lived in a two-story brick house from sometime in the 1830s until 1851. In 1842, Johnson purchased his first slave, 14-year-old Dolly.  She was scheduled to be auctioned, but after she approached Andrew and asked him to buy her, he bought both her and her 12-year-old brother Sam. Dolly, her brother Sam, and Johnson’s other slaves worked in and around this little home doing the family’s cooking, cleaning, and other domestic chores.

Political Life

During these years, Johnson’s life changed dramatically as he ventured from the tailoring trade into politics. After being elected alderman of Greeneville, he became mayor.  In 1843, Johnson introduced a homestead bill.  It became law in 1862: anyone who agreed to live on and farm a 160-acre parcel of public land could claim ownership after five years (I wrote about the Homestead Act here: grand island, nebraska to topeka, kansas: wilber, beatrice & red cloud).

From then on his rise was steady — to state representative, state senator, and United States representative. In 1853, he was elected governor of Tennessee and was sent to the United States Senate in 1857.


Andrew Johnson’s early home in Greeneville, Tennessee

Johnson believed secession was unconstitutional. Southerners felt betrayed by him and he was nearly killed by hostile crowds during a train ride through Virginia in 1861.


Greeneville Union Convention

The Civil War brought hardships for the Johnsons. Johnson’s wife Eliza, other family and some slaves escaped through enemy lines during the Civil War.  They didn’t return until 1869, when Johnson’s presidential term ended.

Tennessee was under Union rule by 1862 and President Lincoln appointed Johnson, the Southern unionist, to serve as Tennessee’s military governor. The Confederates still occupied pro-Union East Tennessee. They harassed his sons and confiscated his property, using his house as a hospital and army headquarters.

Johnson believed in gradual freedom for slaves. According to local tradition, Johnson freed his slaves, including Dolly and her family, on August 8, 1864; as Tennessee’s Military Governor, Johnson proclaimed freedom for all enslaved men in Tennessee a year before slavery was formally abolished by the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.

Despite Johnson’s slow progress in restoring civil government in Tennessee, Northerners, impressed by his commitment to the Union, nominated Johnson as Lincoln’s running mate. This was done to win support in the upper South.  In 1865, Johnson became Vice President of the United States.

Johnson as President

Upon Lincoln’s assassination on April 15, 1865, Johnson became the 17th president.


Lincoln’s Assassination


Most Republicans were confident that Johnson would support a harsh Reconstruction program for the South. But with Congress not yet in session, he was able to fashion his own Reconstruction plan, modeled after Lincoln’s post-war plans, without interference from the legislative branch.

Johnson began appointing provisional governors and granting them impressive powers in return for their agreement to repeal the ordinances of secession and to ratify the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery. He stood by the Constitution in opposing the rights of secession from the Union by the Southern states. He was convinced that the seceded states were still part of the Union.  According to Johnson, the ending of the war brought the states back into their proper alignment with the Union; all that was necessary after the war was for each state to elect officers who would swear to support the Union and the Constitution. Johnson fought, in essence, for a lenient policy toward the South.

He opposed the 14th Amendment. He vetoed the Civil Rights and statehood acts for Nebraska and Colorado because he questioned their constitutionality. Amid great political turmoil, he reopened seaports, federal courts and post offices in the South.

The Republicans believed the defeated Southern states were territories to be ruled over until certain conditions were met, including the abolition of slavery, the granting of civil rights to blacks, and the establishment of solid political control by the Republican Party.  In effect, they saw the South as a conquered territory to be remolded by the government. Johnson, having never declared himself a Republican, did not wish to compromise with them.

Johnson battled with his most determined opponents, the Radical Republicans, led by Thaddeus Stevens in the House and Charles Sumner, Benjamin Wade and Zachariah Chandler in the Senate.  Stevens and Sumner held views on racial equality considered extreme in their day.  For these men, Johnson’s refusal to support their legislation – civil rights to former slaves and extension of federal assistance to individuals in need — marked the beginning of a long battle between the president and Congress. Johnson alienated even the moderates of the Republican party.  Rebuffed and angered, the Republican Congress overrode those vetoes and continued the battle with the president.

The Southern states faced economic crisis, with money invested in slaves or Confederate bonds gone, and Confederate money worthless. Plantations couldn’t afford to pay help since slaves had been freed. Land values plummeted and most white southerners blamed the Republican carpetbaggers, who had gained a reputation for corruption and aroused the bitter hostility of native whites.  Black leaders began to emerge and found political offices in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives. However, blacks never controlled any state government and faced growing terrorism from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan.

Johnson vetoed a total of 29 bills, most pertaining to Republican Reconstruction.  Congress overturned 15. Johnson defended the vetoes time and again on the grounds that Congress had overstepped its constitutional authority.

Johnson consistently opposed legislation designed to expand the federal government’s role in state governments’ affairs.  His staunch defense of states’ rights and limited federal government suited his Southern constituents and won their approval. Yet Johnson believed that secession from the Union was unwise as well as unconstitutional, which in turn alienated those supporters.

Johnson also opposed high tariffs, convinced they helped big business but made goods more expensive for the working classes. He fought federal government intervention in economic matters, such as road and canal building, even though they were popular enterprises in the mid-19th century. He felt too much government intervention would destroy the self-reliant spirit.

He had great faith in the ordinary working man.  He advocated using excess public lands for homesteading.  He supported public education. He also favored elimination of the electoral college in favor of a direct election process for the offices of president, vice president and U.S. Senators.

In March of 1867, he signed a bill establishing Howard University, an African-American institution of higher learning in Washington, D.C.

His administration was shaped by his unwavering belief in the Constitution. 

Foreign Affairs

During Johnson’s term, a new era of communications was opened up with the completion of the transatlantic telegraph cable between the United States and England on July 27, 1866.

In the spring of 1867, Russia sold its territory on the Alaskan peninsula to the United States for a price of $7.2 million for over 500,000 square miles. Even though congressmen thought the price too high, Secretary of State William Seward realized the value of the region’s natural resources. In April 1867, Alaska became a U.S. territory.

In 1867, the U.S. annexed the Midway Islands.  Napoleon III withdrew support from Maximilian in Mexico during the same year.


Congress passed the Tenure of Office Act requiring Senate approval before a president could remove an appointee. When Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton opposed his policies, Johnson declared the act unconstitutional — a violation of executive powers bestowed upon the president by the Constitution — and removed Stanton. He also believed that since Stanton had been appointed by Lincoln, not by him, he was not bound by the Act’s provision that the president could not remove federal office holders during the term of the president who appointed them without the consent of the Senate.

The radicals in Congress had long searched unsuccessfully for evidence of criminal charges to bring against President Johnson. On February 24, 1868, Andrew Johnson became the first president ever to be impeached by the House of Representatives for violating the Tenure of Office Act by defiantly removing the Secretary of War. A trial was held in the Senate from March to May 1868.  Johnson was acquitted by a single vote.

Impeachment is an accusation of wrongdoing. It does not mean removal from office.  Any civil officer of the United States can be impeached, but removal from office occurs only if there is a conviction by the Senate. To convict a defendant, two-thirds of the Senate members present must vote guilty.

His most far-reaching achievement was the purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867.

In December of 1868, he proclaimed general amnesty for secessionists.

Johnson returned to Greeneville in 1869 after Ulysses S. Grant was inaugurated.

Final Years

In 1875, Andrew Johnson became a U.S. Senator representing the state of Tennessee.  He is the only former president to return to the U.S. Senate. In the Senate, in March of 1875, he spoke out against the Reconstruction program and the political corruption of the Grant administration.

Johnson suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed a few months later.  Four days after that stroke, on July 31, 1875, he suffered a second stroke and died. He was only 66 years old.

In 1926, the Supreme Court ruled that the Tenure of Office Act was unconstitutional.  Johnson was finally vindicated for his removal of Stanton in defiance of that Act.


For dinner that evening, I went to Brumley’s Tavern inside the General Morgan Inn.  I had Brumley’s Crab Soup (she-crab soup), a Pinot Gris, a salad with arugula, candied walnuts, spring lettuces, strawberries, Bleu cheese, candied Georgia pecans, and apple cider vinaigrette, with shrimp added.


salad at Brumley’s Tavern

At the bar, I talked with a 91-year-old woman who drank Scotch at the bar every night.  She went sky-diving in May and broke her leg!

I also talked to a couple who sold their house in Detroit and bought a farm in Greeneville, with horses, goats, and all kinds of animals. Dale said he loved it and didn’t miss Detroit at all.  He was my age, having graduated from high school in 1974.  He said coming to the tavern and meeting bartender Tim was what convinced them to pick Greeneville. They’d been in the area for five years.

*Steps: 3,198; 1.36 miles.  Drove 464.4 miles.*

*Thursday, October 3, 2019*


On Friday morning I visited the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery. He was buried atop Signal Hill in 1875 wrapped in a United States flag, with a copy of the Constitution resting beneath his head. His wife Eliza is buried beside him under this monument erected by the family in 1878. Immediate family members and many descendants are also buried in the family plot.  It is now known as Monument Hill.

His eagle-topped obelisk reads, “His Faith in the People Never Wavered.”


Andrew Johnson’s burial spot at Andrew Johnson National Cemetery

The president’s burial site was designated a national cemetery in 1906.  The War Department developed and maintained it until 1942.  Its management was then transferred to the National Park Service and it is now part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.

I returned to the Visitor Center to get a ticket for the Andrew Johnson Homestead tour at 10:30.  Since I was early, I walked around the town of Greeneville.

The Valentine Sevier Home is the oldest house standing in Greeneville. Built around 1795 by Valentine Sevier, a wealthy political leader and philanthropist of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, it was later owned by President Andrew Johnson.

I found the rather strange Capitol of State of Franklin. The State of Franklin was an unrecognized and autonomous territory located in what is today Eastern Tennessee. Franklin was created in 1784 from part of the territory west of the Appalachian Mountains that had been offered by North Carolina as a cession to Congress to help pay off debts related to the American War for Independence. It was founded with the intent of becoming the fourteenth state of the new United States.

Below is a replica of the building which is believed to have served as the capitol of the State of Franklin from 1785 until 1788.  At constitutional conventions held here, competing proposals engendered bitter controversy and resulted in the first political pamphlets produced west of the Appalachians.  The Franklin Legislature, which also met here, challenged the authority of North Carolina by passing laws to levy taxes, raise a militia, establish courts, authorize the performance of marriages and open a land office.

I took a tour of the Andrew Johnson Homestead at 10:30. This was Andrew Johnson’s residence both before and after his Presidency. The house is now restored to its 1869-1875 appearance, the time period following Johnson’s return home from Washington D.C.


Andrew Johnson Homestead

During the Civil War the home was used by both Union and Confederate troops as headquarters. After the war, the Johnson family remodeled their home, bringing in new furniture, wallpaper, and gifts received in Washington. Many of these original furnishings and belongings are found within the home today.

(All information about Andrew Johnson is from signs as well as the website of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, all prepared by the National Park Service).

Before leaving Greeneville, I came across a funny fall display at United Methodist Church.


Flippin’ for Jesus


I left Greeneville at 11:15 and had a six hour drive home to Virginia. My Road Trip to Nowhere was coming to an end.

Continuing through Tennessee, I passed Wild Wilma’s Fireworks, Warrior’s Path State Park, and a sign “Bristol: Country Music’s Roots.” After a Fireworks Supermarket was the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol.  After gobbling down an Arby’s Classic Beef and Cheddar, I crossed into my home state: “Welcome to Virginia: Virginia is for Lovers.”

I’ve taken this route through Virginia many times.  I passed Emory & Henry College, Damascus, and Antiques at Winterhurst. A sign informed me I was “Entering Virginia’s Technology Corridor.” Pierce Brosnan sang from Mama Mia!, “When All Is Said and Done.” More kudzu gobbled up trees along the road. I passed Hungry Mother State Park and the Settler’s Museum of Southwest Virginia.

I saw a sign for the Stephen F. Austin Birthplace.  I’d never heard of him, so I looked him up.  He was an American empresario (1793-1836). He was known as the “Father of Texas” and the founder of Texas.  He led the second, and ultimately the successful, colonization of the region by bringing 300 families from the U.S. to the region in 1825.

An empresario is a person who had been granted the right to settle on land in exchange for recruiting and taking responsibility for settling the eastern areas of Coahuila y Tejas in the early 19th century. The word is Spanish for “entrepreneur.”

Austin inadvertently encouraged the spread of slavery into this territory.  Although Mexico banned slavery in 1836, Texas gained independence that year and continued to develop an economy dominated by slavery in the eastern part of the territory.

I drove up I-81 through the Shenandoah Valley passing the Draper Valley Pentecostal Holiness Church, Pulaski, Radford University, sunflower fields, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and muted fall colors in the surrounding mountains. Then there was Roanoke College, Natural Bridge State Park, Cave Mountain Lake, and Washington and Lee University in Lexington. 

Before long I was passing the Shenandoah Battlefield National Historic District and the entrance to Shenandoah National Park’s Skyline Drive.

Near Staunton, I passed the Frontier Museum of Virginia and the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum. Soon, I was sailing past more institutions of higher learning: Bridgewater College and James Madison University in Harrisonburg. 

The mountains were showing their colors and I was excited that I was returning home to fall!

By 5:17, I was on I-66E and had 58 miles to home. I passed the Shenandoah River, mountains, and Sky Meadows State Park.

By the time I returned home, it was 6:15.  I had driven a total of 7,505.6 miles on my Road Trip to Nowhere.  I’d never been so happy to be out of the car! 🙂

*Drove 412.7 miles*

*Friday, October 4, 2019*