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A shallow rectangle, only one hundred miles from north to south,
TENNESSEE stretches 450 miles from the Mississippi to the Appalachians,
and divides into three distinct regions. The marshy western
third of the state occupies a low plateau edging down toward
the Mississippi. Only in the far southwest corner do the bluffs
rise high enough to permit a sizeable riverside settlement -
the exhilarating port of Memphis . Tennessee's largest city
is a magnet for music fans, as the birthplace of urban blues
and long-time home of Elvis . The fine plantation homes and
tidy old towns of middle Tennessee 's rolling farmland reflect
the comfortable lifestyle of its pioneers; smack at the heart
of this is Nashville , still country music's capital, despite
upstart competition from Branson and Myrtle Beach. The mountainous
east shares its top attraction with North Carolina - the peaks,
streams and meadows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park .
Tennessee's first white settlers, most of them British Protestants,
arrived from across the mountains in the 1770s to settle in
the hills and hollows of the Appalachians. Initially relations
with the Cherokee were good. However, demand for land increased,
and confrontations throughout the state culminated in 1838 with
the forced removal of the Indians on the "Trail of Tears."
One of the main congressional opponents of this process was
Davy Crockett , familiar from legend as the heavy-drinking hunter
in a coonskin cap. When Civil War came, the plantation owners
of the west maneuvered Tennessee into the Confederacy, against
the wishes of the nonslaveholding smallhold farmers in the east.
The last state to secede became the primary battlefield in the
west, the site of 424 battles and skirmishes.
Despite economic development to rival any in the country, soil
erosion and farm mechanization led to a mass migration to the
cities in the years before World War I. The fundamentalist beliefs
of these transplanted hill-dwellers (whose folk and fiddle music
served to spark Nashville's country scene) influenced a prohibition
movement that kept all of Tennessee bone-dry until 1939, and
still sees a majority of counties forbidding the sale of alcohol.
The New Deal of the 1930s brought significant changes. In particular,
the Tennessee Valley Authority , created in 1933, harnessed
the flood-prone Tennessee River , providing much-needed jobs
and cheap power, and ignited the transition from an agricultural
to an industrial economy.
For such a popular tourist destination, Tennessee has disappointing
transportation connections. Amtrak only calls at Memphis, and
while Greyhound provides a reasonable service to major towns
and cities, traveling by bus through the small towns in the
east is very difficult. The airports at Memphis and Nashville
have extensive connections throughout the US, though fares between
the two are high. If you harbor fantasies of traveling by boat
along the Mississippi, note that only luxury craft make the
trip these days, at prohibitive prices.
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