This story originally appeared in the Winter 2023 print edition of the Tennessee State Museum Quarterly Newsletter.
Two areas of our permanent galleries have exciting new updates. The First Peoples exhibition features a new display focused on the Southeastern Indian Salt Works at Sulphur Dell. Museum staff worked with Native American stakeholders to develop this display.
Sulphur Dell Display at Tennessee State Museum
In the Mississippian period, salt was an important trade item. The original site of the Sulphur Dell ballpark in Nashville, now home to the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team stadium, was the location of a major salt works. About 800 years ago, a network of trails connected Mississippian farming villages throughout the Southeast to this destination.
Mississippian Salt Production by Carlyle Urello, Tennessee State Museum Collection (2015.101)
Southeastern Indians used salt pans – large, thick, shell-tempered ceramic containers – to process salt. These pans often had fabric-impressed designs on their exteriors. This exhibit includes pieces of salt pans used at this site that bear impressions of different kinds of fabrics.
In the Forging a Nation gallery, Museum staff have rotated items related to First Lady Sarah Childress Polk. The Museum was fortunate to have a dress of Mrs. Polk’s on loan from the President James K. Polk Home and Museum in Columbia, Tennessee. The dress has been returned, and Museum staff reimagined this exhibit.
Sarah Childress Polk by George Dury, 1883, Tennessee State Museum Collection (73.108)
Serving saucer used at Polk Place about 1850, Tennessee State Museum Collection (4.13)
Additions to this case include George Dury’s portrait of Sarah Childress Polk, painted about 1850. The State Museum’s Dury portrait is very similar to another portrait of Sarah Polk in the White House Collection. Also added to the case is a saucer from the porcelain dining set the family owned and used in their home, Polk Place, in downtown Nashville. It is accompanied by a historic photograph of Polk Place, which no longer exists. This case continues to feature a pitcher that Lee-Sic, a Cherokee, presented to Sarah Childress Polk during her term as First Lady of the United States in 1845.
Sarah Polk case at Tennessee State Museum