Off the Beaten Path. Way Off.

Vance Lauderdale's Mid-South Travel Guide



(page 2 of 6)

 

photograph by Joseph Argo | Trenton Teapot Museum

I wish I knew how Trenton, Tennessee, managed to promote itself before the teapots came, because they have latched onto that bizarre claim to fame and actually seem to enjoy it.

Perhaps I should explain that this little town of some 4,200 people, about 40 miles north of Jackson, Tennessee, is the self-proclaimed Teapot Capital of the World. In the 1930s, local resident Dr. Frederick Freed began collecting teapots, and soon amassed an astonishing collection numbering close to 700. These aren’t your ordinary teapots — white china things with a handle and spout. Freed’s collection focused on what are called “veilleuses-theieres” or “night-light teapots” — elaborate porcelain creations from the 1700s and 1800s, many of them illuminated from within by a candle placed in the base.

Beginning in 1955, Freed donated his entire collection to his hometown, and city officials did something pretty clever: They built a modern new city hall building, with room inside for the world’s largest teapot collection. When I visited Trenton awhile back (heeding the community’s curious 31 mph speed limit signs), I didn’t think I would be too impressed with anything as mundane as teapots, being a Lauderdale and all, but it truly is an astonishing display. At night, you can view the collection through the glass walls of the museum, and it’s a lovely sight.

And quite valuable too. As the museum’s website puts it: “It is not that the city of Trenton cannot afford a municipal building; it is more that the municipal building was designed as an art gallery, and when Trenton’s city fathers meet to discuss the city’s business, they do it amid the splendor of several million dollars’ worth of teapots.”

But the city didn’t just build a museum and stop there. They have created a whole civic culture and calendar around teapots. Good grief, even the city’s motto is “Trenton — a “tea-rrific place to live!” The weeklong Teapot Festival, held every year in late April and early May, is the town’s version of our Memphis in May, and features a calendar packed with teapot-themed activities, including the “Lighting of the Teapots,” the Teapot Grand Parade, a 5K race called the Trenton Teapot Trot, the Teapot Music Festival, block parties, pet parades, and — yep — even a tractor pull.

Here’s something I discovered about these teapots: They must have the power to bestow a long life. I say this because way back in the 1960s a woman named Evelyn Hardwood was named the first Teapot Parade Marshall. Later, she was named curator of the teapot exhibit (this was before it found a permanent home in City Hall). And in 1978 she was named the honorary curator of the new Trenton Teapot Museum — a post she held until she died in 2006 — at the age of 105!

 

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