Cruising the Tenn-Tom Waterway from New Orleans to Nashville

Cruising the Tenn-Tom Waterway from New Orleans to Nashville

Most cruisers head to the Caribbean, but cruisers on American waterways gain a new perspective on the local regions and learn interesting facts. Tenn-Tom wateway is a project larger than the Panama Canal. The 234-mile waterway has ten locks-- it is five times longer than the Panama Canal. Who knew the "Castle on the Cumberland" is a state prison. Although we took a Blount Small Ship River Cruise, with their own pleasure watercraft can do this same itinerary.

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Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, affectionately called the Tenn-Tom Waterway was conceived in the 1700s, surveyed by the government in 1874 and executed in 1884. It was the largest earth-moving project in our history. About 310 million cubic feet of earth was removed to form the canal that connects the Tombigbee River in Alabama to the Tennessee River.

Commercial barges, passenger ships and personal pleasure watercrafts use the waterway.

Stops Along the Tenn-Tom Waterway

Our trip took us from New Orleans to Nashville.

Columbus, Tennessee

Our stop in Columbus, Tennessee took us to the first home of playwright Tennessee Williams. It has been beautifully restored in authentic colors and period furniture, some belonging to Williams's family. We learned more of Williams history. My favorite fun fact -- in 1932 Williams father forced him to quit the University of Missouri and go to work in a St Louis shoe factory where he met a co-worker named Stanley Kowalski. Kowalski later showed up as a character in Streetcar Named Desire in 1947.

Demopolis, Alabama

Sitting on the bank of the Tombigbee River in Demopolis Alabama is the historical Bluff Hall. It was placed on the National Register of Historical Places in 1970. The house, built in 1832 and add on to through the years. Surprisingly, it contains the best collection of period clothes I have seen. Nearby is the Trinity Episcopal Church, founded in 1834. It has one of the few stained glass windows that showing an angel with a human face. We made a tour stop at the famous Waverly Plantation, one of the most photographed antebellum homes in the South. The house sat vacant for fifty years and the story goes a hangout for the teens of the area. But, they so respected the southern traditions the house was not damaged, chandeliers and even mirrors hanging on the walls were left unbroken. Finally, in 1962, a family who dealt in antiques bought and slowly restored the grand plantation. The docents all dress in period costumes, even their children. This is a must-see, if you are in the area.
 Cruising the Tenn-Tom Waterway from New Orleans to Nashville

Pickwick, Tennessee

Docking in Pickwick, Tennessee, we toured Shiloh Military Park where the first of the "Bloody Battles" of the Civil War took place. The park's cemetery has many unnamed graves. In 1909 Commissioners, one from each military branch, were living and working from a tent located on the property collecting information on the battles and person's involved when a tornado blew through. Everything in its path was lost including trees and papers. A quilt belonging to one of men was found 40 miles away. Some important information, parts of our history was, as they say "Gone with the Wind".

Castle on the Cumberland

We cruised by a mammoth stone structure reminiscent of the castles along the Rhine river in Europe. We learned the Castle on the Cumberland River is a Kentucky State Penitentiary. Since its opening in 1889 it performed 163 executions. We docked and took a tour given of the grounds and museum by the warden.

The original electric chair is on display in the small museum. Twice a year it is moved back to the prison where it is tested and kept in working order for use when it is needed as prescribed by Kentucky law.

Tom Bevill Lock and Dam

On this particular cruise itinerary, we traveled through a lot of remote wilderness area. One of our most unique stops took place inside the Tom Bevill Lock and Dam. A gangplank was placed from the ship to the very close side of the lock and we disembarked to visit the Tom Bevill Visitors Center, which is located inside a reproduction of the Southern, Greek revival architecture style house, complete with grand staircase and rooftop cupola.

With a short walk, we were also able to visit the U.S. Snagboat, Montgomery docked just outside the lock. The vessel gives visitors a glimpse into a bygone era and way of life. The 180-foot vessel began operating in 1926 removing submerged stumps and fallen trees from the inland waterways of the south. The Montgomery was retired in 1982. The visitors' center provides information on the snagboat. Visitors can walk all of its decks inspect cabins and the bridge.

Cruising on the inland waterways gives tourists a new perspective, America from the water instead of the highway.

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Bobbie Green grew up in southern California. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalist Association. She is a freelance writer and has been published in various Senior Wire Publications, The Desert Valley Times, Nevada Magazine, Mesquite, Travel World International, and Besides enjoying her love of travel by doing it as often as she can, she enjoys photography and attends numerous travel trade functions. Presently she is enjoying desert living in Mesquite Nevada.

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: November 17, 2016

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