Most of us driving north on Interstate 65 to Nashville see the interstate sign with the Columbia, Tennessee exit and pass it on by without much of a second thought.
But if you are looking for a unique day trip from the Tennessee Valley, go ahead and take that exit because Columbia is a unique little city with a rich history and a lot of flair.
Columbia lies about 45 miles southwest of Nashville and is the seat of Maury County. The city, which sits on the banks of the Duck River started off in 1808 and consisted of 4 total blocks. The city was incorporated in 1817 and existed for most of the next 150 years as an agricultural community though today, the city is much more of a tourist attraction.
Home of James K. Polk & Mule Day
James Knox Polk the former Tennessee Governor and 11th president of the United States called Columbia home, and his home is now a major tourist attraction for the city.
Other tourist stops are the numerous plantation houses that dot the landscape, the historically important Greenwood Cemetery, an active revitalized downtown, and the event that Columbia is most known for, Mule Day.
Columbia is the self-proclaimed Mule Capitol of the World, and they have carried on a mule day celebration of gigantic proportions since 1840.
In addition to an entire day dedicated to mules, the city in 1934 introduced the Mule Day Parade, which draws thousands of people from around the southeast. The parade attracts such a large crowd that on occasion the Department of Homeland Security lists the event as a possible terrorism target. When the New York Times revealed this in 2006 the parade saw an even larger influx of curious visitors.
Columbia, TN Must Sees
If you are thinking about a trip to Columbia (which I highly encourage or I wouldn’t be writing this) here are a few must sees:
The James K. Polk Ancestral home is the only house our 11th President lived in that is still in existence. It has been turned into a museum, offering a wealth of Polk and Tennessee history. The museum is easy to find being only a couple of blocks from the downtown.
After leaving the Polk home, venture down to the Greenwood Cemetery, which is the oldest cemetery in the city. The cemetery dates back to 1809 and is in a serious state of disrepair but still boasts an interesting selection of unique headstones, box graves, and historical graves.
Be sure to visit the grave of President Polk’s mother and also the grave of Jane Brown whose headstone tells the story of a Cherokee Indian attack where she was kidnapped and her husband and two of her sons were killed.
When you are done at the cemetery you are in walking distance of the revitalized downtown square where you will find Puckett’s Grocery & Restaurant an excellent choice for lunch or dinner. The only real way that I have found to describe Puckett’s to people is to say that it is “Cracker Barrel” designed for a hipper generation. If you go for dinner, be sure to stick around for live music from the old fashion stage.
Just next door to Puckett’s is The Old Curiosity Book Shop. From the inviting triangle chalk board sign out front to the Harry Potter posters in the windows, and the classic looking sign itself, just looking at the store is a treat, and once you enter, you will not be disappointed. A great selection of books of every genre, a well stocked regional section, an impressive collectible book section, and a great vibe, the store is a bibliophile’s dream. Be sure to climb the winding iron staircase in the back and check out the Stephen King section in the loft.
Another interesting stop on the square is The Wheel. This funky bicycle shop has been a downtown staple since 1973 and offers a variety of bikes. The staff is also great at recommending some good riding spots around the area.
Even if you filled up at Puckett’s you may still be looking for a sweet treat and Pie Sensations has your cure with any pie that you can conceivably imagine.
Historical Day Trip
There are many more places to explore downtown, and if you love history there are plenty of markers for you to read. But before you leave be sure to stop at the war memorial in front of the courthouse where you will find that Maury County sacrificed men in almost every engagement the United States has been involved in.
For those history or Civil War buffs amongst us that are headed back to the Tennessee Valley take the leisurely trip down Hwy 31 and read all of the historical markers placed commemorating the Battle of Nashville routes. It is interesting and provides a break from the monotony of interstate driving.
While I’ve only been able to touch on a few of the things to do in Columbia, these few things alone offer enough to keep you busy for an entire day, and make Columbia, Tennessee a wonderful and easy day trip.