I have driven Highway 40 from Memphis to Nashville many times. In fact, when discussing the trip I'm currently on, I often reference this drive. I tell people that when I was working as a tour guide I always rushed between the two cities because there is SO much to do in each, but I always wondered what was happening in between. Now I have an answer to that question, and the answer is A LOT. If you have the time to spare, making a day of this journey is well worth it. Here are just some of the things you should definitely check out on the way, with stops in Jackson and Brownsville.
The International Rockabilly Hall of Fame is a wonderful place. If you are looking for a museum to learn about music and read a lot, you should visit the amazing Memphis Rock and Soul Museum or the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville. Come here for the stories. Henry Harrison who runs this museum was friends with the likes of Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins and he has great stories about all of them. These are personal stories about the time he spent with these legendary musicians and offers a wonderful glimpse behind the curtain. Henry does have some neat artifacts, and if you're nice he might even let you play Carl Perkins' guitar, but it's Henry himself who is the star of the show here. Entrance is by donation, and you could easily spend an hour or more listening to Henry reminisce.
Madison County Courthouse
While you are in downtown Jackson, stop by this courthouse for a photo stop. The plaque out front tells how Davy Crockett told the citizens of Jackson that they could all go to hell, and he was going to Texas.
Jackson Bus Station
This is a classic Greyhound bus station right in the heart of Jackson. Built in 1938, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Casey Jones is probably the most famous train engineer in American folklore, but unlike many tall tales he was an actual person who actually did the things he was famous for. This museum tells the story of his short life and his rise with the railroad from apprentice telegraph operator to engineer. You will also see in great detail the story behind the accident that catapulted him to fame. Speeding around a corner, he saw a train stalled on the tracks up ahead and slammed on the brakes. He slowed it down enough so that the only one killed in the collision was him. The museum displays artifacts from Casey's life, the Jackson house where he lived and a reproduction of his famous engine. Admission is $6.50 and I thought well worth it. If you are just passing by, you can see the outside of his house and the train without paying admission.
If barbecue isn't your thing, you are bound to find what is at this all day buffet in Jackson next to the Casey Jones Museum. Whether you are there for breakfast, lunch or dinner, the prices are good and the food is excellent. Come hungry because there are a lot of options to choose from and be sure you save room for dessert.
Just off the highway at exit 56, the Delta Heritage Center is a wonderful information center, gift shop and museum. Even if you just stop in for a free cup of coffee and a clean restroom, it's worth the detour, but there is so much more on offer here. The museums include several rooms discussing the music of the region, a display on the cotton industry, and a room dedicated to the natural resources of West Tennessee. Out back are the onetime home of local blues legend Sleepy John Estes and the Flagg Grove School which Tina Turner attended as a child (see her High School yearbook inside the converted building). There are also plenty of travel brochures and a nice gift shop. The people working here are very proud of their area and incredibly helpful as well.
You should definitely detour into downtown Brownsville to check out Mindfield, the industrial art project of local artist Billy Tripp. Begun while Billy was mourning the loss of his parents, he just kept adding to it. It has become quite an impressive structure and has been called the Watts Towers of the East. The more you look at it, the more you see. It is an incredible project and also makes you think. It's not what I would call "beautiful", but it is certainly interesting and awesome in its scale.
Not far from Mindfield is Helen's Bar B Q, an old fashioned, slow wood smoked kind of barbecue joint. Helen is one of the few female pitmasters in the state, and she makes some mean barbecue. In addition to all the wonderful smoked meats, she also makes all of her own sides which are equally delicious.
That is certainly enough to keep you busy all day, and that just scratches the surface of what there is to do between Memphis and Nashville. What are your favorites that I missed? Please leave them in a comment below. Have a great trip and enjoy some great music and country cooking for me!