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Long and lean, Tennessee stretches itself out 480 miles in length but is only 115 miles wide. The Mississippi on the west and the Appalachian Mountains on the east define it. A land-locked state, it is bordered by Kentucky on the north; Virginia and North Carolina on the east; Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi to the south; and Arkansas and Missouri on the west. Not surprisingly, Tennessee has a lot in common with all of its neighbors and represents an interesting cultural and historical mix Southern cultures.
There are three different regions, defined by the Tennessee River, which slices the state into thirds. West Tennessee, anchored at the extreme southwestern tip by the state's largest city Memphis, is the flattest part of the state and home to blues music, mouth-watering barbecue, isolated and beautiful nature preserves and, of course, Elvis.
The central part of the state, or middle Tennessee as it is commonly referred to, is higher in elevation but by no means mountainous. Characterized by lovely rolling hills and picturesque valleys, this section is dominated by Nashville, which is the state capital, the center of country music, and the home of the state's only NFL football and NHL hockey teams. Nearby, however, are many historic sites, plantation homes, and state parks that make a trip to this area of the state attractive even to visitors who have little interest in country music.
As one heads east from Nashville, the topography begins to change dramatically, dipping first into the 45-mile wide Great Valley of the Tennessee River and then rising to the state's highest elevation at Clingman's Dome (6,643 feet) in the Smoky Mountains. Besides the beauty of its mountains, eastern Tennessee boasts the city of Knoxville, home to the University of Tennessee and its 1998 national college football championship team, the Volunteers. Tourism is centered around the towns of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville, where visitors will find hundreds of accommodations, dining and shopping options, as well as lots of music and entertainment venues, including Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park. In the southeastern corner of the state is the city of Chattanooga, with its world-class 45-million-dollar Tennessee Aquarium, Rock City, and other family-friendly attractions.
Tennessee's first non-Native American settlers came to the state in 1768 and statehood followed in 1796. At the time three-fourths of Tennessee was owned by the Cherokee and the Chickasaw. The final treaty was signed with the Cherokee in 1835 and the Native American presence was soon a thing of the past.
The next pivotal period in Tennessee history came during the Civil War, with the state sharply divided on the issues of slavery and secession. The state ultimately did secede, though it was the last state to do so, and became the center of the western theater of the war, witnessing more battles than any other state except Virginia. Today, major battle sites such as Shiloh and Lookout Mountain draw thousands of Civil War history buffs to the state each year.
In 1920, Tennessee became the decisive 36th state to ratify the 19th amendment giving women the right to vote. In 1925 the infamous Scopes "Monkey" Trial over teaching the theory of evolution in school was conducted in the tiny Tennessee town of Dayton. That same year, the Grand Ole Opry debuted, beginning the state's association with country music that continues to this day. And in 1954 a young man name Elvis Presley recorded a song at the Sun Studios in Memphis and began the rock revolution in music. Both the Gra nd Ole Opry and Elvis' home Graceland are among the top tourist stops in the state. Graceland, in fact, is the second most visited home--after the White House--in the country. Another top tourist draw is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Today, the park is the most visited of any national park, with over nine million visits annually.
The real appeal of the state, however, lies in its friendly people as much as in its scenery, history, and music attractions. While the pace in Tennessee's cities can be as harried and impersonal as any urban area, visitors will usually find the locals welcoming and helpful both there and in the smaller towns situated in the beautiful Tennessee countryside.