25 Fun Facts About Tennessee History and Culture

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If you’ve ever wondered, “What is Tennessee known for?” the answer is, well, quite a lot of things!

In fact, there’s a huge list of fun facts about Tennessee, including important Cherokee and Civil War history, Tennessee landmarks, famous Tennessee celebrities, and more. 

This beautiful state is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the southwestern section of the Blue Ridge Mountains and Appalachian Mountains, fantastic state parks, and other natural attractions.

There’s lots of great music in Tennessee, not to mention a plethora of Tennessee songs that celebrate the Volunteer State.

Popular favorites include the beloved classic “Rocky Top,” country hit “The Tennessee Waltz,” “Walking in Memphis,” and Chris Stapleton’s killer cover of “Tennessee Whiskey.”

If you’re interested in Tennessee trivia, read on for 25 interesting facts about TN, including facts about Tennessee history, Tennessee food and drinks, famous people from Tennessee, and more! 

READ MORE: Where are the Blue Ridge Mountains? A State-by-State Guide

What is Tennessee known for - Nashville Music
Nashville Music Venues, photo via Canva

Facts About Tennessee History & Culture Guide

  1. Tennessee History Facts
  2. Famous People from Tennessee
  3. State of Tennessee Landmarks
  4. Fun Facts About Tennessee
  5. Interesting Facts about Tennessee
  6. Tennessee Music Facts
  7. Tennessee Food and Drink Facts

READ MORE: 20 Ways to Celebrate Christmas in the Smoky Mountains (NC & TN)

Tennessee Flag
Tennessee Flag

1. Tennessee History Facts

1) Tennessee was home to the Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes for centuries before William Bean (the first European settler) arrived in 1769. The state’s name, meaning “where the river bends,” was likely derived from a Cherokee word.

2) Tennessee‘s nickname, the Volunteer State, came during the War of 1812, when volunteers made up the Tennessee militia. This idea was perpetuated during the Mexican American War in 1848, when President Polk called for 2,600 volunteers and a whopping 30,000 Tennessee residents showed up!

3) Famous symbols of Tennessee include the iconic flag, whose 3 white stars represent the 3 grand divisions of Tennessee– East, Middle, and West.

4) The Tennessee state flower is the Iris, while the Tennessee state bird is the Northern Mockingbird. The firefly is the state’s official insect, while the Tennessee state tree is the tulip poplar. 

READ MORE: 15 Beautiful Wildflowers of Tennessee (and Where to See Them)

Music in Tennessee - Dolly Parton Sings at the Grand Ole Opry
Dolly Parton at the Grand Ole Opry, photo by Sgt. Cherie A. Thurlby, USAF

2. Famous People from Tennessee

5) Tennessee was the birthplace of Senator Hattie Caraway, the first elected woman to serve a full term in the US Senate in 1932. In 1938 Caraway won reelection, defeating segregationist politician John Little McClellan.

6) Despite having childhood polio and scarlet fever (which caused infantile paralysis), African-American Tennessee sprinter Wilma Rudolph won 3 Gold Medals in the 1960 Rome Olympics, plus a Bronze in the 1956 Olympics. 

7) Famous actors from Tennessee include Morgan Freeman, Johnny Knoxville, Kathy Bates, and Megan Fox. But the most famous person from Tennessee may be Dolly Parton, the iconic singer-songwriter, actress, and entrepreneur. 

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Lookout Mountain GA/TN

Memphis Landmarks -Graceland Gates
Graceland Gates via Canva

3. State of Tennessee Landmarks

8) No list of Tennessee landmarks would be complete without mentioning Nashville’s Walk of Fame. Located along the Nashville Music Mile, the Music City Walk of Fame is a tribute to music industry titans from all genres of music. It’s an important Nashville landmark for anyone who wants to learn more about Tennessee’s music history.

9) One of the most visited Tennessee landmarks is Graceland, the former home of Elvis Presley. This iconic Memphis mansion sits on 120 acres, and celebrates the life of Elvis. It’s the second most-visited house museum in the USA (the White House is the first), and attracts around 600,000 visitors a year. 

10) In terms of natural attractions, Tennessee is home to 10,000+ caves and caverns (more than any other state in the US). Our favorite caves in Tennessee include the Bell Witch Cave in Adams TN, the Lost Sea Adventure in Sweetwater TN, and the Raccoon Mountain Caverns in Chattanooga.

11) The Tennessee River is the fifth largest river system and the largest tributary of the Ohio River. This 652-mile river starts in east Knoxville, at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad Rivers. Tennessee is said to be named after a Cherokee village, called Tanasi, which was located along the river.

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in Tennessee to Visit

Fun Facts About Tennessee - Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Newfound Gap in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

4. Fun Facts About Tennessee

12) The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is Tennessee’s only UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s home to 3500 plant species and the world’s largest variety of salamanders. The Tennessee Cave Salamander is the state’s official amphibian. 

13) Tennessee is tied with Missouri for the state with the most borders. The states surrounding Tennessee include Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Missouri.

14) Although best known for the Texas Battle of the Alamo, frontiersman Davy Crockett was actually born in what is now the mountain town of Greeneville TN. The area was previously part of the state of North Carolina, but by 1796 it had become part of the newly formed state of Tennessee.

READ MORE: The 15 Best Things to Do in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Interesting Facts about Tennessee -Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Cherokee NC
Clingmans Dome in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, photo by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett

5. Interesting Facts about Tennessee

15) At 6643 feet in elevation, Clingmans Dome is Tennessee’s highest point and the third-highest mountain east of the Mississippi. The lowest point in Tennessee is the Mississippi River, at 178 feet.

16) Northwestern Tennessee’s Reelfoot Lake was formed by a series of earthquakes in the Winter of 1811–12. They formed a depression in the land, which filled with water to create a 23-square-mile lake. The area is now protected as one of Tennessee’s 56 State Parks

17) Martin Luther King Jr was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis on April 4, 1968. The motel has essentially been frozen in time as a memorial to that fateful day, and is now a part of the National Civil Rights Museum.

18) Great Smoky Mountains National Par, which Tennessee shares with North Carolina, is the second most visited US National Park unit (after the Blue Ridge Parkway). Every year the park attracts more than 14 million visitors, who are drawn by the region’s rich history, natural beauty, and wildlife

READ MORE: The 10 Best Lakes in Tennessee to Visit

Tammy Wynette Tribute at Grand Ole Opry in Nashville TN
Photo courtesy Grand Ole Opry

6. Tennessee Music Facts

19) According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the Grand Ole Opry is the world’s longest-running radio program. Broadcast on Nashville’s WSM Radio, the country music radio show has been running weekly since November 1925. 

20) Founded in 1993 by the Nashville Songwriters Association, the Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival is a beloved annual event. Named after NYC’s famed Tin Pan Alley, this music festival allows rising stars from the USA and abroad to take the stage to appreciative audiences.

21) Nashville may be known as “Music City” for its place in country music history, but the mountain town of Bristol, Tennessee (which borders Bristol VA) is widely considered the birthplace of the genre. The 1927 Bristol Sessions featured the first recordings of bluegrass icons like Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and Bristol’s Birthplace of Country Music museum pays tribute to the town’s rich musical heritage. 

READ MORE: 40 Facts About the History of the Banjo (From Africa to Appalachia)

Famous Tennessee foods - Cotton Candy
Cotton Candy

7. Tennessee Food and Drink Facts

22) The sugary, colorful soda known as Mountain Dew was concocted by Barney and Ally Hartman in the 1940s. Though originally from the state of Georgia, the brothers headed to Knoxville and found that they couldn’t find their preferred whiskey mixer. So they made their own! The name Mountain Dew was actually slang for Scottish whiskey.

23) By law, all certified Tennessee whiskey must be manufactured in TN, filtered through maple charcoal, made from grain that’s at least 51% corn, and distilled to no more than 160 proof. Tennessee distilleries must also age it in charred oak barrels, store it in barrels at no more than 125 proof, and bottle it at no less than 80 proof. 

24) Tennessee is also the birthplace of cotton candy, which was originally called “fairy floss.” Strangely, it was invented by a dentist, William James Morrison. Although the original patent was registered in 1897, his cotton candy machine was unveiled at the 1904 World Fair in St. Loius. Morrison went on to be president of the Tennessee Dental Association. 

25) The flavorful combo of marshmallows, graham crackers, and chocolate may be best known today as s’mores. But  the same ingredients are used in MoonPies, which were created by Earl Mitchell in 1917 after a Chattanooga Bakery customer asked for “a snack as big as the moon” that could fit into a lunchpail. At just 5¢ each, MoonPies soon became a hit in Tennessee and beyond, and remain a Southern staple today! -by Emma Gallagher


Leave No Trace logo

We encourage anyone who loves the Blue Ridge region to learn about the Leave No Trace principles of responsible environmental stewardship. 

Stay on marked trails, take only pictures, pack out your trash, and be considerate of others who share the trails and parks you explore. 

Remember that waterfalls and rocky summits can be dangerous. Never try to climb waterfalls or get close to a ledge to get a selfie.

When you're exploring the wilderness, it's better to be safe than to be a statistic!

Born in Britain, writer/photographer Emma Gallagher lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of NC on a permaculture homestead with her husband, Jonathon. While traveling the world for 13 years, she fell in love with the natural beauty of the Blue Ridge region when she lived at an artist retreat in Burnsville NC before moving to Brevard. Today Emma lives near Stone Mountain State Park and Doughton Park volunteers at the Surry County Fiddlers Convention, and cares for the gardens at the Reeves Downtown School of Music in Elkin. She's also a volunteer for the Elkin Valley Trails Association, which maintains segment 6 of the Mountains-to-Sea Trail.