The new Tennessee State Museum has been a big draw for tourism since opening in October at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.
It took years of a full-press lobbying effort by former Gov. Bill Haslam to get $160 million in state funding to jump start construction of the new Tennessee State Museum. Another $40 million for the project came from private funds.
The building is so new there are no signs on the outside to inform visitors what’s in store when they walk inside, but that hasn’t stopped 60,000 from visiting the museum in just three months.
It’s been a long, but rewarding journey for Ashley Brown Howell, the museum’s executive director.
“It’s been a great project to be a part of, and even more exciting, now that we are open,” said Howell.
Haslam bet a new sit for the museum would draw visitors not only from other states, but other countries as well. He was right.
The museum got a lot of press in the United Kindgom, with non-stop flights from London to Nashville. It translated into an even bigger tourist draw.
“From our very first weekend, we saw international travelers coming in, wanting to find out more about our history,” said Howell. “It’s great to welcome those folks.”
The 140,000-square-foot building houses thousands of artifacts, history of the state that goes back millions of years, geologically speaking, to more recent history like the time tunnel. Walk through it and you have a got a pretty good idea of 100 years of Tennessee history in less than an hour.
The stories may be part of history but are still timely today.
"It's a great reminder that some of the challenges we have today, challenges that we've had before, some stories they may know, we try to tell individual stories about Tennessee history, but also to engage in programs and films to be able to tell more," said Howell.
It's the interactive Civil War exhibits that draw the most people.
You work the table just like you would a smart phone, by tapping the screen on the table.
"You go to Warren County, you'll see an image of what they did in Warren County, make the screen larger and you’re able to read more about it,” said Howell. “We have highlights on the battle of Nashville, we talk about troops, enlarge the screen, we are able to see more information about that two-day battle.”
There is also an interactive screen where a Civil War soldier talks directly to you.
"This is the first time I've been without my regiment in 13 days," said the soldier on the screen.
"We get an overwhelming wow! We have heard comments about, this is not like anything in Tennessee, to, I don't even feel like I'm in Tennessee," said Howell.
The stream of tourists that the newly opened museum is bringing is adding a lot of life to the area around Rosa Parks Boulevard and Jefferson Street.
The museum is open every day except Monday and is free of charge.