Passports take people on journeys to faraway places. But what if there is a special kind of passport right in your very state that can take you on a journey through time and Tennessee history right in the heart of the Tennessee State Capitol neighborhood?
The Passport to Tennessee History, launched in fall 2021, is a collective effort of all four sites that are a part of the passport’s journey — the Tennessee State Capitol, Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, Tennessee State Museum and Tennessee State Library and Archives — in the hopes that the passport will encourage more visitors to immerse themselves in state history and area activities.
“It’s just a perfect little area for a family to come to Nashville, learn Tennessee history and experience all that there is to see here, and the best part about these buildings is that it’s all free,” said Jeff Sellers, director of education and public programming at the Tennessee State Museum. “Well, that and all the Tennessee history you get, so maybe the Tennessee history is the best part, and free is the second-best part.”
“All of these places are great, and they’re here for Tennesseans,” Sellers said. “They’re also places that Tennesseans can be proud of. People visit Nashville from all over the world and are really, really impressed by this area.”
If someone wants to embark upon their Passport to Tennessee History journey, all they have to do is visit the information desk at any of the four sites and pick up a passport.
“And you get a stamp at your first venue, so there you go,” Sellers said. “You’re already on your way!”
He said that a lot of times people won’t know about the passport until they pick one up at the first venue they go to, and then they take on the challenge to get a stamp from each place and visit the other sites to see around the area.
“What people don’t realize is how much the state has invested in its heritage and its history here in this location,” Sellers added. “We have some of the most beautiful buildings and locations devoted to our state’s history, art and culture and natural resources. We have the state-of-the-art State Museum that’s brand new, we have the state-of-the-art State Library and Archives and we have a wonderful mall and natural park in the middle of it all: Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. It’s all crowned with the historic Tennessee State Capitol. And there’s just so much to see and do.”
Sellers said one of the biggest misconceptions many people have about the Passport to Tennessee History is they think they have to pay for it, when in reality the passport itself and admission to all four program locations are completely free.
Passports to Tennessee History are not just useful for collecting the colorful stamps, though. The passports themselves contain useful information on each of the four locations, including a short description of the site, address, hours of operation, phone number and even website.
Passport completists will also receive a 10% discount for the gift shops at the Tennessee State Museum and Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park as a reward for visiting all four sites, Sellers said.
The Passport to Tennessee History is especially popular to do during the summer months, Sellers added.
“It’s something to do in the summertime with your kids that’s educational, gets them outside, it’s free and it’s a family project they can work on together.”
If someone is looking for an upcoming date that would be a good time to complete the Passport to Tennessee History alongside another celebration, Sellers recommended Statehood Day on Thursday, June 1. He said there will be events going on all day at all four locations with games, crafts, cupcakes and other family-friendly fun.
Does this passport have to be done in one day? The answer is no, and often people will not visit all the sites at once, but Sellers has some tips for those who want to complete that feat.
“If you’re going to do it, get here early,” Sellers said, adding that people will have an easier time parking and crowds are smaller earlier in the day.
Speaking of parking, there is free parking available at both the Tennessee State Museum and Tennessee State Library and Archives, which is a bit of a rarity in downtown Nashville. For those wanting to complete the passport in one day, Sellers recommended they plan to park at and start their passport journeys at one of those two venues since it makes the most sense logistically (although they could also end their passport adventure at the venue where they parked if they want to make for less of a journey to their car in the end).
One more pro tip from Sellers: Do some online investigating before planning to make your visit. Especially over the summer when there are more concerts and festivals in the area, he recommended checking out what is going on at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, the Tennessee State Museum and Nashville Farmers’ Market right by the museum. A big event could be the reason for passport-goers to stay away or a reason for them to come on a specific day, but either way, research is key.
Sellers also mentioned some “don’t-miss areas” for people to make sure to see on their Passport exhibits at the Tennessee State Museum; the legislative library and the House Chamber at the Tennessee State Capitol; the interactive research tables and important state documents, including the three Tennessee State Constitutions, at the Tennessee State Library and Archives; and the big Tennessee state map at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park. He added that during the summer months, the water fountains at the state park are a popular spot for kids to bring their bathing suits to play in the fountains and beat the heat.
Sellers said one of his favorite things about the Passport to Tennessee History is seeing the excitement on kids’ faces when they get the passport. He also loves seeing people’s enthusiasm about visiting another location and getting that last stamp.
“They accomplished a Passport to Tennessee History, and maybe they’re a Tennessee history expert now,” Sellers said.
“I think, at the end of the day, it’s just a fun way to learn about and experience Tennessee history, its culture, its art and its nature,” Sellers said. “It’s just a great interactive way to experience all of that and learn about it, and it’s a fun way to come and enjoy what the state is providing you.”
The Passport to Tennessee History is available now at any of the four locations. For more information, visit tnmuseum.org/passport or tnvacation.com/local/nashville-passport-tennessee-history.