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You have to see this: 10 obscure local sites

Crystal Shrine Grotto

 First Tennessee Art Gallery

Crystal Shrine Grotto

The William B. Clark Conservation Area

A page from a 16th Century Bible at the Museum of Biblical History

The Old Powder Plant in Millington

You've taken the tour of Graceland, walked the river replica on Mud Island, and enjoyed the tulips at the Dixon Garden. But if you think you've seen all of Memphis' notable sites, we have news for you. In celebration of local adventures in nice spring weather, here is our list of obscure Midsouth locations.
1. Crystal Shrine Grotto. The Crystal Shrine Grotto is one of the most photogenic spots in the Memphis area and happens to be right in the middle of Memorial Park Cemetery. Created in the 1930s by artist and masonry master Dionicio Rodriguez, this man-made cave and sculpture garden is full of Biblical scenes (like a life-sized diorama of Jesus' story) and concrete sculptures of  trees, streams, and other natural elements. It's strange, and somewhat haunting (the cemetery surroundings are certainly at play), but it's beautiful and free to visit. 
   
2. Eagle Lake Canoe tours. Hidden in the Mississippi River floodplain just south of Meeman Shelby Forest is Eagle Lake. The heavy rains and the low-lying terrain filled often by spring floods create a beautiful swamp with a diverse ecosystem of cypress trees, fish, fauna, birds and reptiles. For the best experience, keep an eye online for canoe tours occasionally put on by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.  
 
3. Elvis' home, before Graceland. When Elvis Presley purchased his home at 1034 Audubon in 1956, it must have been a dream come true for a man at just twenty-one who had been living in public housing two years earlier. He dropped $40,000 ($348,000 in today's dollars) for the home, but just about a year later it was time to call U-Haul again for the Presley's final move to Graceland. Aside from the taller trees, the house looks much like it did 59 years ago. The neighborhood did experience a change after Elvis' neighbors at the time, Hugo and Margaret Dixon, passed away in 1974 and their estate became the museum and gardens. You can't tour Elvis' first Memphis house (it's a private residence), but die hard fans are known to drive by and get a view from the street.

4. The William B. Clark Conservation Area. Crossing over this Rossville swamp in the spring, it's not uncommon to see the diamond-shaped head and dark body of the venomous cottonmouth snake sunning itself. In the early summer just after sunset, frogs drown out any other noise. But 1,600-plus feet into the Wolf River-fed swamp, a boardwalk snakes like a cottonmouth about four or five feet above the always soaked alluvial mud, thick with trees. When it was built in 2001, designers assured its construction was designed with minimal impact to the environment, so people can walk into the swamp with no impact. The boardwalk ends at a small pond, a stop for waterfowl and a watering hole for the deer, raccoon and bobcat that call this home. 
 
5. Davies Manor Plantation. The oldest home in Shelby County is not, as many believe, the Mcgevney home on Adams, but is out east in Lakeland. There, before the 1830's, Joel Royster built an addition to what was a one-room cabin. Davies Manor Plantation is open seasonally and offers docent-led tours of the historic manor house and a self-guided tour of the plantation grounds. You'll learn about pioneer life in West Tennessee and the families that lived on the farm. Spoiler alert: Life wasn't easy.
 
6. University of Memphis' Institute of Egyptian Art and Archaeology.  In one room of the University's Art Museum, two Egyptian mummies lie, probably seldom noticed by students scurrying from the Communication and Fine Arts building. The Institute of Egyptian Art & Archaeology maintains a collection of over fourteen hundred ancient Egyptian antiquities. These artifacts are housed in the Art Museum, and approximately 200 of those objects, most ranging in date from 3800 B.C.E. to 700 C.E., are on permanent exhibition in the Egyptian Gallery of the Art Museum of the University of Memphis.
 
7. First Tennessee Art Gallery. In the lobby of the bank's large downtown branch on Madison Ave., a wealth of art waits. A unique collection of about 200 paintings, drawings and sculptures decorate the sprawling lobby, and each piece was either created by a Tennessee artist or celebrates the Volunteer State. The centerpiece of the collection is the Tennessee mural: 1600 feet of panels that celebrate the people and geography of the state. So go cash some checks and get some culture at the same time.

8. Fort Germantown. In 1863, most of West Tennessee had fallen to the Union Army. Troops built this fort in June of that year to help secure the Memphis Charleston railroad that ran a few dozen feet away (and still does), but by the fall the major action of the war had moved east. The battles of Shiloh, Memphis and Vicksburg had all taken place; Chattanooga, Franklin and Nashville had yet to happen. The Union troops left in October of that year and destroyed or took anything the Confederates could use. They would never occupy the fort again. Later -- 150 years later, to be exact -- it was rearmed, this time by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, with two replica 12-pound field Howitzer canons.    
 
9. Museum of Biblical History. This small museum on the Collierville Town Square can feel like a little goofy at times, with many replicas on display and a heavy Christian message. But give it a chance and you'll see a few quality pieces in the collection: An ancient menorah, pottery of the ancient Hebrews, Roman crucifixion nails, and a page from a 16th Century Bible by Swiss protestant theologian Huldrych Zwingli. The museum was founded 18 years ago and is run by a non-denominational board. 
 
10. The Old Powder Plant in Millington.  The newspaper once called this place "Shelby's Stonehenge," because of the two mysterious smokestacks jutting out of concrete pits dug into the desolate North Shelby County countryside. Chickasaw Ordnance Works had come and gone, and the article pointed out little remained to show for it. That article was from 1965, a mere 19 years after its closure. And in the fifty years since fields have turned into forests, with concrete relics grown over. The plant was built for the production of high explosive gunpowder and began operations in late 1940 when the U.S. was supplying first the French, then the British, and then our own troops munitions in WWII. In a near round-the-clock state of operation (save for Christmas Day, 1942) the payroll peaked at around 8,000 workers. Shuttered in 1946, today the old plant has an eerie feel. Enjoy this site from the road; it's private property, and there's no telling what kind of chemicals live in the soil.
 

Read more articles by Devin Greaney.

Devin Greaney is a Memphis-based freelance writer and photographer who has been published in the Memphis DowntownerDeSoto Magazine and others. He works full time as an Emergency Medical Technician and had an extensive knowledge of the history and geography of the MidSouth area.  
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