Updated December 29, 2021.
How much do you know about the town where you grew up? I recently learned that I knew surprisingly little about Carthage, Tennessee! Maybe I shouldn’t admit that, but there you go. My home town is actually pretty spectacular; I just had to leave for a while to find that out. Here are some of the amazing things to see and do in Carthage and Smith County, Tennessee!
Here’s a little something few people know about me: I think architecture is fascinating! It tells you so much about the time and place in which a structure was built, and is an essential piece of a place’s history puzzle. From bricklaying style to pointed arches, from the interesting to the seemingly plain, architecture tells a story, and I’m here for it. Here’s some of Smith County’s best.
Though the congregation has been around since 1808, the historic United Methodist Church on Main Street dates back to 1889. It was built in the Greek Revival style and is on the National Register of Historic Places (NRHP). My favorite features are the lancet windows with the pointed arches. Fun fact: I went to pre-school here!
We’re kind of proud of Smith County local Cordell Hull! He got a call from FDR himself in 1933, at his office in Carthage, asking him to be Secretary of State. Hull accepted, and he served in that position during World War II. The bridge was completed in 1936 and is on the NRHP. Fun local fact: The bridge was originally white, the way it is today, but when I grew up, it was green!
This late Victorian-style home was built in 1889 by Calvin Davis and later lived in by Secretary of State Cordell Hull. It is on the NRHP, and it was recently bought by a high-profile citizen who is in the process of restoring it. Rumor is the home will soon be a museum, but we’ll have to wait and see!
That’s right… faux! As in, not a real lighthouse. It was actually a pumping station when it was originally built in the 1960s, but eventually it was no longer needed. The cost of tearing it down was far too expensive, so the mayor at the time came up with the idea to put a roof on it and make it look like a lighthouse. Presto! Faux Lighthouse, for the win.
When I was a little girl, I wanted to own the Walton Hotel, but instead of a hotel, I’d have a coffee shop at the bottom and a bookstore on the second floor! It was going to be great. I’m glad that didn’t happen, however, because then I couldn’t have stayed here on my recent trip! It dates back to 1904, and it’s been absolutely beautifully restored by the current owner. I highly recommend staying here on your trip!
The old Smith County Courthouse was completed in 1879 and is on the NHRP. It’s also one of the most iconic buildings in the county and was built in the Second Empire architectural style with a tall cupola, so you can’t miss it! It’s no longer the courthouse, which moved to a new location a few years ago. Currently, it’s the community playhouse, county archives, and gathering place for outdoor movies, concerts, and more!
I got to take a sneak peek inside the archives while I was there a few weeks ago, and it delighted my little history-loving heart. Their oldest archive book dates back to 1799! All the other county courthouses adjacent to Smith County have had devastating fires that wiped out their archives at one point or another in this history, so it’s extra special and unique to have the archives here that they do.
If you’re on Instagram, you know the significance of murals! I love that Carthage has several, and hopefully more will be coming to town soon!
Big Fish Mural
This very fishy mural was painted in 2018 by Jenny Penuel and Keith Williams, and you’ll find it right across the street from Roja’s Restaurant, just off of Main Street. The building’s owner, who happens to be Executive Director of the Smith County Chamber of Commerce, said it was just an eyesore for so long, and he wanted to change that. So he commissioned this mural, and the rest is history!
Lift Each Other Up
I love a good inspirational mural! This one is so pretty, and it’s a good reminder for all. It was painted in 2018 by local artist Carey Malone, and you’ll find it right around the corner from The Candy Bar. Pro tip: This is in a parking lot, so there may be cars parked here! Try to get there early in the day, before most businesses open, or just keep an eye out during your visit to catch it with no cars in front.
This one is part of the Smith County Quilt Trail. There are 20 of these beautiful quilt square murals scattered throughout the county, and you can find downloadable maps here to find them all! They can be found on several barns and small businesses throughout the county, like this one on the Teresa’s Gifts Boutique on Main Street. Teresa herself was the artist!
Do you know the history of your own home town? I thought I did, but I was wrong! I love these historical sites, and if you’re a history lover, too, I can recommend them to you!
This museum is inside Carthage’s old shirt factory, and if you look closely, you can still see needles scattered between some of the original wood floorboards! Here, you’ll find the history of the county, including its founding and a life-size statue of William Walton.
Some of my favorite sections include the Century Farm exhibit, highlighting local farms that have been in the same family for at least a century; the Deford Bailey exhibit, showcasing the local legend who was the only black founding member of the Grand Ole Opry; and the massive zinc sample on display, which underscores the importance of the zinc mines in the county.
This adorable little train depot has quite a history to tell since it was first built in 1880. Having been saved from demolition not once, but twice, it’s now a museum and occasional event center. Years ago, it was an antique shop a few miles down the road. When KFC bought the property, they offered to give the depot to the County, free of charge, if the County could move it. Without using any tax dollars, the County accepted donations and made it happen. A local roofing company paid for and installed a new roof, and it has new life today.
This cemetery is the final resting place of one of Carthage’s founders, William Walton, as well as his wife. He is the resident for whom the historic Hotel Walton is named. This site is one of many on the Walton Road Scenic Byway, which was one of the first wagon roads over the Cumberland Plateau–the frontier in the late eighteenth and early ninteenth centuries.
Keep reading: How Travel Blogging Changed the Way I Travel
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you already know I LOVE to support local businesses wherever I go! I also love encouraging others to do the same. Your dollars go further, you have a real effect on the people behind the small businesses, and you truly make an impact when you support local shops. Here are some of the small businesses Carthage has to offer, with more coming on the horizon!
Oh, the nostalgia! I love that this little candy shop is right in the heart of Carthage. You’ll find everything from vintage candy to ice cream, from milkshakes to fun coffees in here, and you’ll leave happy with a sugar rush whether you ate candy inside or not. They support other Middle Tennessee small businesses, which I love, and even their 50’s soda shop-style seating will give you the warm fuzzies. Don’t miss your chance to stop in for a treat.
This shop is conveniently located on Main Street next to the Candy Bar! As soon as you walk inside, you feel at home. I love their bright clothing for summer, especially in soft fabrics like the ones below! They also offer home goods and decor, jewelry, handbags, and gifts for everyone from your mom to the high school graduate in your life.
This boutique has been taking off ever since it opened, even during the pandemic! They recently opened a second location in Cookeville, a college town (where I went to college) about 45 minutes away, but the original is here in historic downtown Carthage. They sell the latest trends and classic pieces, too, including dresses, tops, jeans, jumpsuits, graphic tees, purses, jewelry, and more!
This newly-opened coffee shop is one I’ve been excited about since long before they opened! Carthage has needed a coffee shop and gathering place for years, and Virginia and her mom have done a beautiful job! Their shop is located right on Main Street in an old jewelry store (I remember that store from my younger days!), and they have the most amazing coffee and cinnamon rolls–which are sometimes more valuable than jewels, in my opinion!
This coffee shop also made this very important list!
The Best Local Coffee Shops in the USA
If you’re looking for a practical and pretty reminder from your trip, be sure to stop into Stephanie McCaleb Interiors. I love the bright, yet rustic feel of many of their products, like the wooden serving items and woven baskets below. They also sell candles, bath products, and gorgeous color block pattern textiles that roll up perfectly in a suitcase!
This boutique offers clothing, jewelry, candles, lotion–you name it! It’s the perfect place to find a little something special to remember your trip, or to find a special gift for someone back home. The owners also own the historic Walton Hotel on the same block, and it’s in the same building where their mother, Teresa, previously owned and operated an antique store. When she passed away, her son decided to keep the store but make it a gift boutique instead, honoring her legacy of giving generous gifts to those she loved.
More here: Small Businesses I LOVE to Support
The Great Outdoors
Tennessee is beautiful, and Carthage is no exception. Late spring and summer are my favorite times to be in my home state, and one day spent around the greenery and peaceful waterways will show you why.
Tennessee Kayak and Outdoor Co. is set up in what I remember being a gas station and car shop, but they’ve made it their own! They take care of the kayaks, canoes, paddles, life jackets, etc.; you just have to show up! They have several trips to choose from, whether you want to fish, kayak, or simply look for wildlife. (There are bald eagles living in the area who can often be seen from the water!) Brought your own kayak? Great! They can take you to the best put-in spot and pick you up as well.
This six-mile trail (one way) takes you from the Defeated Creek Campground up to the Cordell Hull Lake Overlook. It’s a steep climb, and you’ll want to bring water and bug repellent, but it’s worth it for the views! There is also a campground about halfway up where you can put up a tent and spend the night without a reservation.
This mountain biking trail is conveniently located at the Defeated Creek Campground, right next to the Bear Waller Hiking Trail! It’s nine miles total and consists of two loop trails linked together. It’s a moderate to expert rated bike trail, so be safe, and bring bug repellent!
If you just need to get out and walk through some gorgeous greenery, head across the river to South Carthage. There, you’ll find a mile and a half section of the Rails to Trails walking trail. It’s paved and flat, perfect for a morning run or a leisurely stroll. There’s parking and a beautiful gazebo at the start, so it’s easy to spot on South Main Street.
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