November: A Month of Armchair Traveling

Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville

Tennessee Tower in downtown Nashville

Oh what a difference a month makes! Last month, I was speeding around Middle and East Tennessee in jeans and cowboy boots armed with a notebook and a camera conducting tons of fieldwork. Now, most days I can be found at my desk at the Department of Tourist Development in downtown Nashville garbed in a suit, dress boots and pearls.

Selfie at my new desk

Selfie at my new desk

These days, my travels are of the armchair variety – I comb over photos, articles, books and archives. I am thankful for this period of quiet reflection. It has allowed me to get a tremendous amount done in a short amount of time. I am gaining additional insights from the fieldwork. For example, “Going into my residency, I viewed importance and National Register-listing as synonymous. As a born-and-bred New Yorker, Nashville transplant, and academic, I privileged large, urban hotels listed on the National Register over small, rural establishments that are not listed. How mistaken I was! Regardless of their official status, historic hotels and inns provide inspiration for communities, linking the past, present, and future in wood, brick, and stone.” (For the full post on the Center for Historic Preservation’s blog, please see “Professional Residency: Providing a New Perspective on Historic Hotels”.)

White Hotel (1940) in LaFayette, TN

White Hotel (1940) in LaFayette, TN. It is not listed on the National Register.

I am also following up on sources identified while out in the field. For example, at the American Museum of Science & Energy in Oak Ridge, I became familiar with Ed Westcott’s photography through an exhibit. A search of the museum’s Tumbler account of Westcott’s photography brings up multiple images of the Guest House (also known as the Alexander Inn), one of the 25 National Register listed lodging properties in Tennessee. Knowing the geography of Oak Ridge and the site of the Guest House allowed me to identify additional photos that were not tagged. For example in the “Aerial view of Jackson Square looking toward the high school (1945)” it is possible to pick out the Guest House on the lefthand side right below the tree line. This photo shows the Guest House’s proximity to other buildings and will be helpful in understanding its historical and cultural landscape.

A significant amount of time has been spent familiarizing myself with the collections housed at the Tennessee State Library and Archives. I am happy to report that hotels and inns in Tennessee are well represented. I want to give a shout out to those who put together exhibits at TSLA – they are informative, visually stimulating, and showcase the depth of the collections. Not surprisingly, my favorite one is “Wish You Were Here: Retreat to Tennessee’s Historic Resorts.” Hotels are also mentioned in the ones pertaining to suffrage (Hermitage Hotel in Nashville), myths & legends (Reed House Chattanooga), and African American Legislators of the Nineteenth Century (Leon Howard of Shelby County served in the 43rd General Assembly was a porter at the Gayoso Hotel in Memphis as well as partner of a boarding house.) How can heritage tourism make better use of resources such as these exhibits at TSLA?

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