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14 of the Greatest Things Tennessee Has Given Us (Plus 2 Horrible Ones)

Tennessee Food + Drink Entertainment Couples Activism
by Shannon Dell Aug 26, 2015

1. The largest treehouse in the world

Crossville, Tennessee is home to The Minister’s Treehouse, which is unofficially listed by the Guinness World Records as the world’s largest treehouse. Inspired by divine intervention as most crazy southern structures are, Horace Burgess began building the 97-foot-tall treehouse in 1993, which would go on to have 80 rooms, porch decks on every storey, a church that doubles as a basketball court, and a bell tower, all fastened together by 258,000 nails. However, in 2012, it was closed to the public for fire code violations, which in turn violated and mercilessly crushed a huge chunk of our childhood dreams.

2. The fastest internet in the country

Believe it or not, Tennessee is actually pretty progressive in the technology department. (I’m looking at you, Iron Man 3.) And in fact, Gig City is home to the Electric Power Board, which provides Chattanooga with power needs in cases of outages as well as super speedy fiber-optic internet to everyone in the city, 200 times faster than the national average.

3. The oldest hippie commune in North America

Founded in 1971 with the commitment to leading a spiritual and self-reliant lifestyle, the oldest still-active intentional community in North America, known as The Farm, came on caravans from California to Summertown, Tennessee for cheaper land, nicer people, and better winters than Michigan.

The Farm practices spiritual midwifery, permaculture, sustainable technology, as well as organic gardening and strawbale construction. Not to mention they’re a part of numerous organizations such as Plenty International, which helps indigenous populations and the environment; Kids To The Country, which brings at-risk children to The Farm; and the Swan Conservation Trust, which restores and preserves natural resources and wildlife habitat.

4. The most visited national park in the United States

In addition to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park being the first national park that was partially paid for with federal funds, it’s also the most visited national park in the United States. GSMNP has sick spots: Cade’s Cove, Chimney Tops, Rocky Top, Clingman’s Dome, Abram Falls, and has the most biodiversity of any similar-sized temperate zone in the world.

5. Bottled Coke

Sure, Atlanta, you gave the world Coke, but Tennessee leveled up and gave the world bottled Coke. In 1899, two attorneys from Chattanooga had the genius idea that consumers would rather drink their sugary, carbonated beverage from a frosty, glass bottle than from the fountain. And who would’ve guessed — they were right.

By 1909, close to 400 Coca-Cola bottling plants were operating around the United States, and by 1920, that number was higher than 1,000, later exceeding fountain sales by a long shot. And without Tennessee, how else would people have figured out to throw a sleeve of salty peanuts in a cold, sweet bottle of Coke? They wouldn’t have, and life wouldn’t be as great.

6. Music, music, music, and more music

Memphis is home to some of the most influential musicians in Blues and early Rock N’ Roll history. There’s W.C. Handy who is thought to have written the first commercially-successful blues song in a Beale Street Bar. Plus Bessie Smith, B.B. King, Elvis Presley, Muddy Waters, Ike Turner, Jerry Lee Lewis, Aretha Franklin, and Charlie Rich. And that’s just naming a few.

Then there’s Nashville, which is home to the largest vinyl pressing plant in the United States and the birthplace of legendary performers such as Duane and Gregg Allman, Johnny Cash, Martina McBride, Kitty Wells, and bands like Kings of Leon, Paramore, and The Black Keys. There’s Studio B, Jack White’s Third Man Records, Blackbird Studio, the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum, as well as the Fisk Jubilee Singers, an African-American a cappella ensemble who gave Nashville its title of “Music City” when they performed for Queen Victoria in 1873.

And, of course, there’s WSM The Legend, which is one of only two AM clear channel stations in eastern North America that still broadcasts music and is home to The Grand Ole Opry, the world’s longest running radio program. Founded in 1925, its slogan is ‘The Show that Made Country Music Famous’, and has hosted regular performers including Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, the Carter Family, Bill Monroe, Kitty Wells, Minnie Pearl, and Dolly Parton.

7. The first self-service grocery store

Did you know that at one point, shoppers had to give their orders to clerks who then gathered everything from the store shelves? Tennessee called bullshit on this inconvenient way to shop and opened a Piggly Wiggly in Memphis in 1916. It was the first to provide checkout stands and price marks on every item in the store, making your late night runs for Honey Buns a much easier endeavor.

8. MoonPies, Little Debbies, and Goo Goo Clusters

Two graham cracker cookies stuck together by a marshmallow filling and dipped in chocolate? Sticky Honey Buns and gooey Fudge Rounds? A chunky concoction of marshmallow nougat, caramel, and roasted peanuts coated in milk chocolate?

9. Peyton Manning’s football career

Don’t forget where he got his start, Broncos.

10. TVA

In 1962, Walter Cronkite labeled Chattanooga as the “Dirtiest City in America.” Now, the Tennessee Valley Authority provides flood control and electricity to the majority of Tennessee as well as parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia at prices below the national average, aiming to be one of the nation’s leading providers of low-cost, clean energy by 2020.

11. Hot chicken

This one is only great if you like your tongue to be repeatedly stabbed by Satan’s scorching pitch fork and your eyes to bleed tears of regret. But for those who don’t like their meals to be accompanied by searing pain, you can opt out of the Shut the Cluck Up and order some milder seasoned poultry accompanied by heat-numbing pimento mac n’ cheese.

Either way, it’s damn good and damn hot.

12. Jack Daniel’s

It’s only the highest selling American whiskey on the planet. Not everyone around the world may know where Tennessee is, but everyone knows Jack.

13. Krystal’s, White Castle’s southern cousin

In 1932, during the Great Depression, Rody Davenport Jr. and J. Glenn Sherrill opened up the first Krystal restaurant in downtown Chattanooga with the intent to serve cheap food in a clean and courteous atmosphere. And thus those soggy, little square burgers were tossed in the steamer and thrown in sacks for your drunken 3 AM pleasure.

14. Overnight shipping of Memphis-style barbecue

There’s Carolina barbecue, Kansas City barbecue, and Texas barbecue. And then there’s Memphis-style barbecue, which Tennesseans hail as the best. Don’t believe us? Come to The World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, named by the Guinness World Records as the largest pork barbecue contest in the world. But if you can’t wait for a plate of slow cooked ribs covered in a dry rub of salt and various spices and lathered in barbecue sauce if you like it wet, you can always order overnight shipping from anywhere in the country through FedEx’s Memphis SuperHub.

And two bad things:

The Atomic Bomb

Today, Oak Ridge is home to two of the most advanced neutron science research centers in the world, but the little town 18 miles west of Knoxville wasn’t always a place of positive scientific research. Oak Ridge was chosen in 1942 as a site for developing materials for the Manhattan Project by the federal government since it had a low population to keep the project a secret, easy access by highway and rail, and affordable land.

The United States Army Corps of Engineers began to carve out 60,000 acres, nailing eviction notices on many residents’ doors. Workers assigned to the project were told they were working on uranium, but many had no idea what uranium even was. That is, until August 6, 1945 when radio broadcasts announced The Atomic Bomb being dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, making the United States the first and only nation to use atomic weapons during wartime and killing 80,000 people plus tens of thousands more from radiation poisoning. Three days later, a second bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, killing an additional 40,000 people.

And the KKK

Founded in 1866 in Pulaski, Tennessee, the Ku Klux Klan began to instantly infest almost every state in the South, encouraging white southern resistance to policies moving in the direction of equality through intimidation and violence. And even today, the hate group is still actively fueled by white supremacy in cities such as Woodbury, Nashville, Shady Valley, Memphis, and Johnson City. It may not be as bad as in Alabama, but it’s one Klan member way too many.

Tennessee, you really fucked up on that one. 


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