Having grown up in Murfreesboro I've counted Oaklands Historic House Museum as a given in my life. I toured the Antebellum home as a middle-schooler, and in my 20s fell in love all over again with it at the annual Christmas Tour of Homes.
Now that I'm a parent, it's the beautiful grounds and creative programming that have brought me back with my children more times recently than the last several years combined. While you'd be hard pressed to find a poor time to visit, undoubtedly October is one of the best months to see it when a little more eerie mystery descends and the property's gorgeous foliage is on display. Here are eight great reasons to visit this month.
1. Oaklands Park
For me, what got me going back to Oaklands started with the playground (#momlife) at Oaklands Park. The play area and covered picnic tables might one of the more forgotten little people attractions in the city, especially if you're like me and live on the west side of Blackman. But a busy 2-year-old has me searching high and low for climbing apparatus, and when I realized Oaklands Park had it, away we went. A jungle gym sits right next to the pavilion with covered tables, bathrooms and water fountains, making it perfect for a morning outing and picnic.
2. The Arboretum
The Oakland Native Tree Arboretum walking trail is perfect for viewing fall foliage, and it's adjacent to the pavilion, so after the kids have climbed their hearts out I bring out their tricycles from the car and away they ride through the leaves. The Arboretum is certified by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council, meaning that the trees of the property are all cultivated and protected for educational, scientific and aesthetic resources, is open to the public, and all trees are identified with plaques. While my preschoolers may not quite get all that, we do have the chance to stop and investigate the leaves, buds, and seeds dropped from the indigenous trees along our way and snap a selfie with the 250-year-old oak on the property.
3. The Wetlands
The leadership of Oaklands in partnership with Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation continues to cultivate the green spaces of the property, including reviving the Wetlands—an important environmental resource for water quality and animal habitats. Connected to the pavilion and play area is a walking path down to the Wetlands where visitors can take in Maney Spring and the plant and animal life that make their home around it.
4. Heritage Gardens
This summer Oaklands added a charming garden and reception area in the back of the mansion. Available for parties and wedding rentals, the new space features an indigenous herb and flower garden cultivated by groundskeeper Connor Moss, and it's completely open to visitors to meander around the pretty beds. My kids enjoyed the fragrant herbs, and I made a few notes for what I want to plant next in my own beds. More garden space has also been planted in the front yard of the mansion, featuring raised vegetable gardens. Obviously fall means most of the gardens have ceased blooming, but they are still a good destination for a stroll and fun for little ones to run around and explore. Children will enjoy finding the iron sculptures surrounding the gardens, too—a Victorian couple in the front lawn, a soldier lounging in the grass next to the walking paths, and a horse and ploughman in the front garden.
5. Backpack Program
Begun this year, thanks to Local Girl Scout Ambassador Chloe Wakham's Gold Award Take Action Project, educational backpacks offer notes, activities and prompts to help children (and their parents!) explore the mansion and grounds in greater depth. My 4-year-old enjoyed the Jacob's Ladder toy in her backpack and hearing about period toys from the 19th century. This fall more activities in backpacks will include foliage guides and notes for learning about the indigenous trees and plants on the property. This is great for meeting history and science standards for homeschoolers and a fun way to give young visitors a little more focus in their visit.
6. Flashlight Nights
All month the mansion is arranged for the “Mansion in Mourning” exhibit, when guests can learn about the unusual mourning customs and Victorian superstitions surrounding death. The popular “Flashlight Nights” return October 24-26, from 7-10 p.m., where patrons of all ages can explore the dimly-lit mansion in the evening by flashlight, while guides dressed in traditional mourning garb are stationed through the house.
7. Clue the Party
Spooky, kooky, fun awaits adults (think date night, moms and dads!) for the second annual Clue the Party on Oct. 19 organized by Wild Goose Chase Events. Well-known locals will be dressed out as iconic Clue characters for a zany whodunit mystery play. Proceeds from the event benefit Oaklands Mansion and Murfreesboro Cold Patrol. Tickets at wildgoosechase.events/clue-2019/
On Halloween, children can trick-or-treat at “The Old Maney Mansion” from 4-6 p.m. (or until all candy has been given away) and have fun in the historic grounds free of charge. What better way to enjoy history than with sweets, friends, and a little mystery?
Tickets for events and information on new and seasonal special programming can be found at oaklandsmansion.org.
Laura Beth Payne is a writer mama living in the Blackman Community of Murfreesboro with her husband Nathan and their two children. Follow @murfreesboromama on Facebook and Instagram for more family fun in and around the city.