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Last week, the good folks in Greeneville invited me to the opening of the Smithsonian’s “Journey Stories” exhibit at Nathanael Greene Museum.

Nothing could have prepared me for what I’d learn, taste and experience over the next 24 hours. Subsequently, it’s a tough story to tell, because it’s actually 3 stories in one. But I’ll give it a shot.

Story #1: What is “Journey Stories”?

For the past 400 years, the story of America has been one of courage, resilience, and continuous movement. From colonial emigration to westward expansion to the abolition of slavery, Americans have always relied on one staple of freedom: the right to move about as they wish.

“Journey Stories” is a traveling Smithsonian exhibit that documents these eras throughout the history of America. The interactive exhibit gives an in-depth look at what it took for our ancestors to pack up, say goodbye to loved ones, and reinvent themselves in a new setting. Through photos, “told” audio stories, artifacts, and first-hand accounts from travelers, “Journey Stories” documents the periods of colonization, early independence, slavery, westward expansion, railroads, flight, and even the modern transportation of commercial goods. It’s a testament to the bravery and can-do attitude that continues to define our country.

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Ready for a cool way to beat the heat? I know I am.  That’s why this weekend I’m heading to the Bristol Caverns. An underground river carved expansive caverns under the mountains 400 million years ago, and left some of the most beautiful caverns this side of the Mississippi.  In the early 1700s, the Native Americans used it as a hideout when they attacked unsuspecting settlers. And today, you and your family can see the stalactites and stalagmites of Bristol Caverns just about any day of the week.

An interesting bit that you might not know is that these caves are also home to Mayor Preston’s Chambers. About 80 years ago the Mayor would use these chambers during the summer to beat the heat. And now you and your family can do the same!

Paved, well lighted walkways wind through the vaulted chambers and along the banks of the ancient Underground River that carved these remarkable caverns from the hard core of the earth 200 to 400 million years ago.

Along the Underground River, you will be dazzled by dramatic displays of formations reflected in the streams waters.  You can also peer over Lover’s Leap, view the breathtaking Bridal Veil formation and stare in wonder at the dazzling formations of Entrance Hall.  Don’t forget to bring your camera!

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Any fan of American bluegrass would be familiar with names like Jimmy Martin and Doyle Lawson. What you might not know is that they come from a little one stoplight town in Hancock County, Sneedville.

Sneedville is home to the Vardy Community School, the only institution providing primary education to Melungeon children living in the remote mountainous areas along the Tennessee-Virginia border during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

After visiting the Vardy Community mission school you might wanna stop next door to see Mahala Mullins Cabin. I sure did. And when I did, I heard some amazing stories from Mahala Mullins’ great-great niece.

As the story goes, “Aunt Haley” was a big moonshiner. I don’t say big because of the amount of moonshine she made. Mahala was a big ole gal, weighing around 500 pounds! Her log cabin was situated right on the state line between Virginia and Tennessee. So whenever the “revenue men” would come to shut her down, she’d just pick up her stills and drag ‘em over to the other side of the house!

Mahala Mullins

Later on when she got too old to move back and forth she’d just sit there grinning at the lawmen and their warrants for arrest. She knew they’d never be able to transport her down the mountain. One deputy reported her to be “catchable but not fetchable.” When Mahala finally passed away she was so big, they had to build the coffin around her bed and carry her out of a hole in the wall that was meant for a chimney!

So next time your coming through Hancock County, stop by the Vardy Community and hear a tale or two about the mystery and heritage of the Melungeons of Newman’s Ridge!

Ever wanted to go back in time? To visit your predecessors, to witness critical points in human history, or simply see a way of life that’s long since abandoned?

In Johnson City, you can.

Welcome to Rocky Mount, a farmstead stuck in the year 1791.

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