N estled smack dab in the geographic center of Tennessee, just 34 miles south of Nashville, sits the historic haven-cum-college town of Murfreesboro. The Battle of Stones River, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the Civil War (with nearly 25,000 casualties), was fought right here. Now part of the National Park system, Stones River National Battlefield is a must-visit for anyone with an interest in history. If you come, plan to spend at least two hours visiting the museum and taking the self-guided tour of the battlefield. Civil War history aside, Murfreesboro is probably best known as the home of Middle Tennessee State University, one of the state’s largest and most renowned institutes of higher learning—and its sprawling campus is well worth a look. But those two landmarks are just the tip of all that Murfreesboro has to offer: Visitors will also find some of the finest eateries, shops and craftspeople in the state, many of them located on the town’s Historic Square.
The Square is anchored by the Rutherford County Courthouse. An architectural gem built in 1858, it’s one of only seven pre-Civil War courthouses left in the state and a great place to start your exploration of the historic district. From there, you can’t go wrong if you stroll down Main Street—many of the town’s most diverse and delectable offerings can be found here and on surrounding streets—especially if you are hungry.
Simply Pure Sweets, a bakery and café that recently celebrated its first anniversary, offers a variety of sandwiches, fresh sides and other light fare. Or, indulge with a loaded biscuit, like the chorizo and cheddar, or the bacon and pepper-jack. Visitors will want to save room for dessert: “The croissants, cinnamon rolls and French macarons are all popular choices,” says owner Chantell Kennedy-Shehan.
Marina’s on the Square has been a Murfreesboro dining staple for nearly 25 years and is a can’t-miss choice for lunch or dinner. Its concept is simple—delicious and uncomplicated Italian comfort food offered in a setting that feels like home. Diners will find the menu loaded with traditional Italian favorites, including a large selection of pizzas and calzones.
If you’re craving barbecue, go directly to Slick Pig BBQ: Pulled pork, chicken, brisket—and of course ribs—are all on the menu here. Regulars rave about the smoked wings. And be sure to order a fried pickle with dip on the side.
When it comes to the Historic Square area, you’ll come for the dining indulgences…and stay for the shopping. As you step under the cheery striped awning and enter the Country Gourmet, you’ll find yourself in the midst of one of the region’s premier gift and gourmet food purveyors. Inside the Main Street store, visitors can find anything from limited edition Christmas ornaments to chocolate-dipped strawberries—when they’re in season.
The store’s diverse wares invite leisurely browsing, whether your weakness is olive oil, honey or kitchen accessories. Lush gift baskets are one of the shop’s trademarks; select a premade basket or customize your own with a variety of collectible items and/or tasty treats. And don’t forget the sweets. “The chocolates are probably what most people think of when you say ‘the Country Gourmet,’” says Chris Gerbman, whose wife, Karen Gerbman, is the owner. “We carry some of the finest chocolatiers and truffletiers in America.”
If handmade, one-of-a-kind furniture and décor is what you’re after, Vntg Handcrafted has what you need. The woodworking shop and studio is known for its custom builds and features vintage materials repurposed into modern furniture. You’ll find pieces with a modern, industrial feel, as well as farmhouse-style furniture and artistic pieces embellished with stained glass. Select your own piece of wood and the Vntg artisans can bring the custom furnishing you dream of to life.
Other historic district highlights include Funtiques, a furniture and décor consignment shop with an eclectic mix of antiques and new goods; Sugaree’s, a clothing boutique featuring both local artisans and trendsetting national brands like B.B. Dakota; and Murfreesboro institution the Past Time Barber Shop and Pool Hall, which has been around for an amazing 112 years! As the name implies, customers can get a cut, shave and/or trim, and play a free game of pool.
Want to extend your experience overnight? Just a few blocks from the Square is the picturesque Carriage Lane Inn, which also provides event spaces and catering.
Though Murfreesboro has much to offer, its biggest draw seems to be its blend of creative and cosmopolitan offerings in a relatively bucolic setting. Says Kennedy-Sheehan, “Murfreesboro is a small town and a big one at the same time. The diversity of the population and the welcoming feeling…is astounding.” And Gerbman adds, “Even though it has more than 150,000 people living in its city limits, it still manages to have a warm and welcoming small-town vibe. It’s populated with our family and friends…some we just haven’t met yet.”