Yesterday while driving around in the middle of nowhere Tennessee, I noticed I was close to the small town of Pulaski. Even though the town is only about 30 minutes from my home, I hadn’t visited it in over 30 years. The only time I remember going through Pulaski was on a family trip in the 1970s. While on that trip, I saw a sign noting that the town is the home of the Ku Klux Klan and I asked my mom what that was. She told me a group dedicated to hate.
Ever since then, whenever I thought about Pulaski, I thought about the KKK. And I really, really don’t like the KKK.
But times change, and towns change, and Pulaski had long been on my list of small towns in my area to visit, especially because of how one small business owner dealt with a very public monument to the founding of the KKK (read about how a sign noting the birthplace of the Klan was reversed to counteract its message without erasing its history).
I drove to the small downtown district and the domed Giles County courthouse dominates the view. It’s exquisite. The architectural style of the building is French Renaissance, with a three-story rotunda with a vaulted skylight.
Built in 1857, this building survived the Civil War, even when Union troops occupied the town. According to a brochure I picked up on my visit, the Union forces threatened to burn down not only the courthouse, but the entire town, unless local citizens gave them $3,000–a huge amount of money during the Civil War. Thomas Martin, who founded the local Methodist college, paid the money and saved the town and its many beautiful structure.
After the war, and after Thomas Martin died, his son-in-law sued the town to recover the $3,000. He got it back and used the money to purchase the clock and bell perched atop the courthouse.
Unfortunately, the courthouse was closed so I wasn’t able to go inside the building to look at the dome and skylight, or the courtroom, which evidently is decorated with gold elaf trim and stained glass windows. I would love to tour this beautiful building so I have a good reason to go back during the week.
I parked near the courthouse to find the object of my visit, the birthplace of the KKK with the reversed plaque I wrote about here. While driving around looking for this nondescript building, I noted a gorgeous Victorian building that is now a bank. I would open an account here just to be able to visit such a beautiful building.
I also discovered that Martin Methodist College is in Pulaski. I’d never heard of it. I passed by this historic building that now appears to be dorms or classrooms.
One one street next to the courthouse is a monument to Sam Davis, a Confederate solider who was executed in Pulaski in 1863. Davis was carrying a message to General Braxton Bragg in Chattanooga, and some of the information he was carrying could only have come from Union General Grenville Dodge. Not only was Davis captured, he was considered a spy. General Dodge tried to find out where Davis got the documents, and offered to spare his life if he would reveal his source. In response, Davis said “If I had a thousand lives, I would give them all here before I would betray a friend or the confidence of my informer.”There are other historic sites in the area about Davis, including a small memorial museum at the site where he was executed by hanging. You may also visit his family home in Smyrna, TN.
A block away from the historic courthouse square is a small library with one room dedicated to the town’s history. I noticed this little statue outside the front door. Any library and museum with a statue of dogs reading a book is definitely worth visiting.
The museum room, curated by the local historic society, features some nice artifacts from the town and county’s history. I noted a great display of Native American artifacts, Civil War memorabilia, and many items people used in their everyday lives. Each item has a small card to describe it and its significance. I enjoyed looking at all of the items on display and reading about them.
On my way out of town I stopped by a cemetery that is now a park–but with headstones on display instead of located above actual graves. Fittingly, it’s called Old Cemetery Park. The cemetery was the first one in the area, with the first graves from 1817, and many of the town’s first prominent citizens are buried there. A startling number of gravestones are for children, some of them around a year old. Evidently the graves were not moved, but the gravestones were. A monument in the center of the park shows the locations of the graves. The park is lovely, but slightly creepy once I realized I was walking over unmarked graves.
The large limestone markers hanging on the stone wall were the lids to crypts. I found these the most fascinating part of the whole park. The writing and inscriptions were beautiful and touching.
There’s a wonderful sign at the end of the boardwalk that describes the Trail of Tears events that took place at this spot. 1,100 Cherokee walked over a bridge no longer there (you can still see the bridge foundations though) to continue on their way.
I’m really glad I finally stopped to check out Pulaski. It’s a pretty town with a fascinating past. I didn’t get to see nearly all of the interesting historic destinations in the town and I’m sure I’ll go back one day. If you find yourself in the area, there is plenty to see and do and is well worth a visit.
If you want to visit:
Giles County Courthouse: Open 8:00 am to 4:00 pm weekdays except for holidays. Call or email first to make sure the building is open. No fee to enter the building. The Sam Davis memorial is in front of the courthouse and you can visit it anytime.
Address:110 N. Second St.
Contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Giles County Museum: open Monday to Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 4 pm, and Sunday 1 pm to 5 pm. Closed Thursdays and on holidays. No admission fee but donations welcome.
Address: 122 S. Second St., Pulaski, TN 38478
Contact email: email@example.com
Trail of Tears Overlook: West of Old Cemetery Park on Cemetery Street. You can see the sign from the cemetery parking lot. There’s not really a parking place to stop at the boardwalk but you can just pull off the road.