I’m not that great at math, but I love learning statistics. One of my favorites is that the state of Tennessee has 95 counties, spread across 3 distinct regions (East, Middle, West) and two time zones (EST & CST).
Growing up in rural, lower-middle Tennessee (town pop. of 30,000), you get used to hearing about the bigger cities, like Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Franklin, Murfreesboro, and Clarksville. It’s easy to remember the basic counties around you and the ones of the metropolitan areas, but who cares about the other counties or even knows what’s out there?
I’ve heard all the different middle Tennessee county names spoken aloud during the winter months when school closings were read in alphabetical order. The funny thing is, I’ve never really had context as to where these counties were or what happened in them until 2012. I came to the realization that I didn’t really know much about the region I lived and that 99.99% of Tennesseeans have never seen ALL the counties in Tennessee, let alone been to all the county seats.
This drove me to start exploring, starting with all the counties surrounding Davidson County, then to the counties that surrounded those. Once I got these easier counties scratched off the list, I decided to plan a day-trip to knock off all the counties in north-eastern middle Tennessee. In this trip, I went up I40 and saw Carthage, LaFayette, Gainesboro, Celina, Livingston, Byrdstown, and Jamestown before the 2 hour drive back to Nashville. After seeing these towns, I know I want to be one of the 0.01% that has been to every county seat in Tennessee.
Every county seat I go to opens my eyes more to history and more to the human condition and the fact that most of America, by definition, is rural. The way of life for those in these rural counties is completely different than what I am used to. For example, Pickett County has a total population of around 5,000 people. Less than 1,000 live in the county seat of Byrdstown. When I drove to the “town square” I thought that I had made a wrong turn or missed the courthouse. Instead, what I mistook to be a small county church was their courthouse & the desolation of the area became very apparent.
Being young and living in a metropolitan area can disillusion you to think that everyone deserves to have a 3,000 sqft house, have multiple nice cars, and make enough money to have whatever you want (and lots of stuff you don’t care about) and send your children to college without crisis. My ‘County Seat’ project fulfills multiple needs: the urge to explore, the want to connect with my family history in Tennessee, but most important it gives me perspective on life and hardship and how privelidged I am to have the opportunity to succeed.