Updated: Nov 15, 2021
Welcome to the Next Migration.
Humans have migrated from one area to another since the beginning of civilization, whether it was in search of an abundant food supply, more agreeable climate, economic opportunity, or freedom from oppression.
It’s no different in 2020. Today’s “back to the land” movement is part of the same technology-driven, opportunity-fueled cycle that has uprooted and transplanted Americans for centuries. For prehistoric people, stone arrowheads helped expand hunting areas. For European explorers, stronger ships reached more distant shores. For American settlers, steam engines opened access to neighboring economies. This time around, broadband internet access frees us to live, work, and play anywhere we choose.
So, how did technology get us back to small towns?
Until the late 1800s, America was an agriculture-based economy. That meant that the majority of folks lived and worked in rural areas and small communities. Around the turn of the century, new manufacturing technology spurred the industrial revolution. Whether out of necessity or ambition, people left the small towns in droves to pursue opportunity and economic promise in newly thriving, industrial urban centers.
By the 1930s, city life had become crowded, employment was competitive, living was expensive, and the urban environment was unsafe for many. New technology in the form of cars, electricity, and telephones created yet another opportunity to migrate. Families began to leave the stress and expense of city life for the newly expanding suburbs, seeking tranquility, space, affordability, and safety.
By the 1980s, bland suburban life began to lose its appeal for many. Folks began ditching long commutes for a revitalized urban experience, leaving many suburban communities in decline. At the same time, the already-shrinking small rural towns took another big hit. The sprawling factories that had come to sustain their local economies closed down as production moved overseas. Urban areas became opportunity magnets once again, drawing folks back into city life by choice and by necessity. Rural America’s slow drain of talent and passion had officially become a huge leak.
In the 1990s, many small rural towns wisely began to pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and start a decades-long self preservation effort. They aimed to entice folks not by competing with urban life, but by contrasting it; showing off quaint town squares, unique shops, artisan makers and close-knit communities. By retooling downtowns, promoting unique attractions, and establishing new festivals and events, small towns laid important groundwork for what we now know as the “experience economy.” Towns got their footing again. Empty storefronts became one-of-a-kind shops and restaurants. Historic homes became Bed and Breakfast attractions. The next generation chose to stay put. And what began two decades ago as a trickle of tourists and weekend getaways is now a flood of new residents putting down ro
Once again, technology leads the next migration. Broadband internet access levels the playing field for small towns, bringing the conveniences, culture, and economic opportunity of urban living right into the heart of rural America. Opportunity is no longer tied to location, as online shopping, streaming entertainment, access to education, and the ability to work remotely have untangled the two forever. Access to affordable land and a resourceful, caring community no longer requires sacrificing economic opportunity. And that’s a big deal for small towns.
There’s no question that today’s COVID-19 crisis is the next catalyst for human movement. Families are emerging from lockdown and re-imagining life outside of densely populated, expensive areas. And they have their ticket out: almost overnight, a global pandemic has
made remote work a permanent reality for millions, just as broadband internet access is rapidly expanding into rural areas (including the 12 towns along the Natchez Trace parkway). The chance to leave the city or the suburbs without sacrificing a career breaks the final barrier to rural living, ushering in the next American migration. The communities in Nashville’s Big Back Yard represent a new lifestyle opportunity that will reshape the way America lives, works, and socializes in the future. “Back to the Land” is here to stay.
Explore Nashville's Big Back Yard:
Music City -
You know Nashville as the country’s hot “it” city, hosting millions of visitors each year and welcoming throngs of new residents each month. With a thriving economy, hot housing market, famous food scene, eclectic neighborhoods and true Southern hospitality, it’s no wonder Nashville feels like a smart move. And we haven’t even started on the music.
City with a Soundtrack
Country music might be what put Nashville on the map, but this city is an entertainment hotbed where all genres collide. Americana, bluegrass, rock, blues, hip hop, and jazz all have deep roots here, and live music follows you everywhere you go. Music history underscores just about everything, from the names of the buildings and streets to the iconic venues and storied sites. Nashville is an important slice of the Americana Music Triangle.
The lights of Broadway and the sounds of the Opry keep most visitors occupied while they’re in Nashville. But there’s another side to Music City: outside of downtown’s buzz and frenzy you’ll find quiet avenues, lazy front porches and a little room to breathe. And it’s just a taste of what the Nashville’s Big Back Yard has to offer.
Picture-Perfect Village -
Leiper’s Fork is the poster child for charming rural villages. Located near the top of the Natchez Trace Parkway, this two-lane town checks all of the boxes: historic buildings, gorgeous scenery, working farms, friendly neighbors, down-home restaurants. The whole village is on the National Register of Historic Places and is protected by The Land Trust for Tennessee, saving it from overdevelopment forever.
Music City's Country Neighbor -
Situated just 28 miles south of Nashville, Leiper’s Fork sits just outside of Franklin, Tennessee. Packed with shopping and commerce and a cute downtown of its own, Franklin makes a great neighbor for those not quite ready to break up with city life. In fact, plenty of Music City visitors choose to stay in quaint VRBOs or AirBnB rentals in the village and day trip to Nashville’s attractions. With Nashville just up the road a piece, living in Leiper’s Fork means you can live “out in the country” and still have a Gucci store 18 miles away.
Chill Escape -
Being close to Music City has shaped this village into a well-known music celebrity refuge over the years; even Opry legends like Hank Williams Sr. found peace here in the village. These days, Hollywood is catching on, too. A quick Google search will tell you who’s settled here, but name dropping isn’t the Leiper’s Fork way. Stars can choose to live anywhere in the world; they relocate here because the community doesn’t make a fuss, and the locals are fierce about protecting celebs’ privacy. If you can make small talk with a world-famous actress while waiting in line for your Puckett’s burger without freaking out, you’ll do just fine here.
Live Music is King -
The anchor of the town is undisputedly Puckett’s Grocery, an old-time joint where you can order a burger and a beer off the grill and catch live music almost every night. Grammy-winning performers and songwriters love playing in this intimate, quirky spot. You never know who will take the stage on an open-mic Thursday, where the vibe is more Saturday night party than mid-week happy hour. Leiper’s Fork even has live music in its shops, like the Pickin’ Corner at Serenite Maison, where beautiful vintage instruments hang on the wall for visitors to play.
Village Life is the Good Life -
It’s been called “the most charming tiny town there ever was,” and for good reason. Classic country breakfast joint? Check. Country Boy Restaurant has you covered. Quirky gas station/ market/ restaurant/ hangout/ venue? You got it. Leiper’s Fork Market is your spot. Fancy coffee? Of course. Red Byrd serves the grounds you crave. Farm-to-table restaurant with local roots? Absolutely. 1892 serves up all sorts of foodie delights. Local artist gallery? Of course. Leiper’s Creek, Copper Fox, David Arms, and others show and sell an eclectic mix of fine art in a former gas station, restored 1860s home, and renovated barn, respectively. Southern antiques and curated vintage finds are plentiful at Serenitie Maison and Props. And every Friday night in the summer, the Lawnchair Theatre comes to life, showing free, family-friendly movies. Folks around here operate on “Leiper’s Fork Standard Time,” which is a lot like island time, if the surrounding ocean were rolling hills. And that’s just the way they like it.
Leiper’s Fork is tiny on purpose, a popular visitor destination, and a “famously secret” kind of haven. But those who live here know the one-in-a-million luck of finding such a close-knit, artists’ enclave, and they’re dedicated to keeping it that way. If you find property here, snatch it up quick!
Centerville is the seat of Hickman County, perfectly situated in the beautiful Duck River valley 60 miles southwest of Nashville. It’s the only incorporated town in the county, with 11 square miles of small-town living, a music heritage heartbeat, and an abundance of surrounding acreage and farm land.
Opry Inspiration -
The town of Centerville is best known for its famous daughter, Sarah Cannon, AKA Minnie Pearl. The legendary Grand Ole Opry member was one of the most popular comics of her time and one of the first leading ladies of comedy. Centerville’s spirit is baked into the Opry’s story, as Minnie’s character hailed from the town of Grinder’s Switch, a fictional version of Centerville.
Sarah famously said “Grinder's Switch is a state of mind – a place where there is no illness, no war, no unhappiness, no political unrest, no tears. It's a place where there's only happiness – where all you worry about is what you are going to wear to the church social, and if your feller is going to kiss you in the moonlight on the way home. I wish for all of you a Grinder's Switch.”
A Town set to Music -
Centerville still lives up to Minnie’s Norman Rockwell vision, and live music flows through every town event. The Grinder’s Switch Radio Hour leads the way with a town-square tradition that seems straight out of a sweet Southern novel. Every Saturday morning, talented local players—many of them acclaimed country songwriters—take the stage in a historic former hardware store to perform a live radio broadcast. The town fills the pews, the fiddlers fiddle, the strummers strum. Feet are stomped, hands are clapped, and spirits are lifted. Hear the broadcast on WNKX FM every Saturday morning.
Quaint, quirky, and growing -
Centerville is a family-friendly, close-knit community of lifetime residents, recent transplants, makers, teachers, and entrepreneurs. And love for this sweet town is catching on; folks are discovering its quirky charm, especially now. Centerville has become a best-kept-secret for Nashvillians and other city dwellers seeking a lower cost of living, slower pace of life, music-drenched culture and a little room to breathe.
Community of Creativity -
Santa Fe (pronounced Santa FEE, like TennSEE) is a best-kept-secret kind of place that draws all flavors of city dwellers. It’s pretty much exactly what folks picture when they dream of soaking up long country sunsets and keeping a few chickens on an honest patch of land. Located just 50 miles southwest of Nashville, this unincorporated community and its small neighboring villages knit together to form a friendly, connected mix of lifelong residents and eclectic transplants. For some, it’s a just-right blueprint for the modern rural escape.
Old Town, New Life -
There’s something about Santa Fe that draws creative entrepreneurs together. In the last decade, the town has welcomed a brilliant new crop of people leaving their corporate gigs to farm, create, or translate their urban experience to rural living. Makers. Healers. Shop owners. Growers. And of course, plenty of musicians.
Entrepreneurs dig in -
Here among the burbling creeks and forested acres, a midwife and physician blend conventional and holistic medicine via the Wild Healers podcast. A family leads curious visitors through a sustainable living experience, including a magical stay in permaculture “Hobbit Houses” at Forest Gully Farms. And plenty of next-gen farmers are homesteading and harvesting here. From the musician-farmer couple of the aptly named Farm and Fiddle to the Ivy League Peace Corps duo behind Athena’s Harvest Farm and Training Center, farmers in Nashville’s Big Back Yard are changing the world one crop at a time.
A Village gathers -
There’s no downtown to speak of, but the Santa Fe community certainly has its gathering spots. Nett’s Country Store and Diner is technically in the village of Bethel, and it’s served as a meeting place and family favorite for decades. Maybe it’s the Friday Catfish special, or the sweet tea, or the to-die-for pies that draw folks from all the way up in the big city. Or maybe it’s Nett herself, the area’s unofficial ambassador. (Local tip: she’s probably the best on-the-ground resource for local info). Locals and visitors also rave about the Santa Fe Diner, part country restaurant and part time machine, serving great burgers in an old white house straight from a movie set. Papa Boudreux’s Cajun Hideaway draws people from far and wide—some pretty famous— seeking its authentic Louisiana etouffee. And the hospitality extends all the way to the front door, with regular “bring a chair and a dish to share” Neighbor’s Nights hosted by the Fleishers at Athena’s Harvest.
Postcard-Perfect Living -
Mount Pleasant, Tennessee is one of the larger towns in Nashville’s Big Back Yard, with about 5000 residents enjoying its historic buildings, friendly attitude, and small-town charm. It’s darn near exactly halfway between Nashville and Muscle Shoals, making it an excellent hub for the smaller communities surrounding it and a popular spot for visitors from all over.
Historic Charm -
Downtown Mount Pleasant feels like a step back in time. It’s a designated Historic Commercial District, featuring lovingly restored storefronts surrounded by preserved homes, walkable side streets, and historic buildings and businesses. Since 1824, folks have gathered on the Square to meet friends, celebrate together, and conduct business; the same is true today. It seems like something’s always happening in Mount Pleasant, from music and public arts projects on the Square to festivals, theater events and Summer Porch concerts.
Entrepreneur Haven -
Small businesses are the backbone of Mount Pleasant, and the locals happily support their neighbors. From carefully curated boutiques and vintage shops to a historic dairy dip and bright, sunny coffee shop, this small town loves its local businesses and takes care of the entrepreneurs who make them possible.
Living History -
Mount Pleasant has a special music undercurrent. Visit the Mount Pleasant Grille downtown, a restored spot that once regularly hosted Eddy Arnold, Minnie Pearl, Roy Acuff, and other Opry members on its second-floor stage. Today, you can hear live music from local artists at almost every community event and gathering, or host your event in the Triangle Room, named for the Americana Music Triangle.
Mount Pleasant is situated on what was once Andrew Jackson’s Old Military Road, a route that transported troops from Nashville to New Orleans during the War of 1812 and saw hundreds of Cherokee journey through town after being forced from their homes to walk the tragic Trail of Tears. Look for the art installation honoring those who passed through town on the deadly march to Oklahoma, featuring brightly colored flower sculptures named after Cherokee women.
And just outside of town, tour Rattle and Snap, a beautifully preserved Antebellum mansion that tells the story of the town’s rich agricultural and phosphate mining history.
Hitch a Ride -
Mount Pleasant offers a unique public transportation experience via the MuleTown Trolley, a $1 ride between Mount Pleasant and the larger towns of Columbia and Spring Hill. Riders can request a stop anywhere along the routes and transfer for free. Where else can you hop from town to town on an old-fashioned trolley car?
Just outside of town, you’ll find more of the rolling hills and affordable acreage that makes Nashville’s Big Back Yard such a special place to call home.
Village Charm -
The Village of Hampshire is a quaint, close-knit town tucked into the hills between Columbia and Hohenwald, Tennessee, just 9 miles off the Natchez Trace Parkway. It’s a picture-perfect representation of life in Nashvile’s Big Back Yard, brimming with personality and hospitality. It’s so peaceful and sweet, you’d never believe Music City is just 50 minutes away.
Toast to Small-Town Living -
This is Tennessee’s Napa Valley. The soil and climate here are a little cooler and drier than the surrounding areas, ideal for grape growing and spectacular for winemaking. The Village of Hampshire is home to three award-winning wineries: Amber Falls Winery & Cellars, Keg Springs Wineries, and Natchez Hills Vineyard. They’re not just tourist attractions, though plenty of people cruise the Natchez Trace Wine Trail to visit each one. They’re also beloved local businesses, perfect spots for sunset picnics, scenic date nights, and a happier happy hour than anything you’ll find at a crowded pub.
Drink in the Scenery -
What’s a charming village without gorgeous views? Hampshire is surrounded by rolling hills and postcard-worthy farmland that’s an instant de-stresser. The farms around the village make up a thriving organic farming community, growing everything from organic blueberries and homemade honey to sustainably raised beef and pork. You don’t have to live on a farm to enjoy the fruits of their labor. Folks come from all over the county to get the first taste of the best the land has to offer at Hampshire’s bustling Farmer’s Market every Tuesday.
Authentic Charm -
Downtown Hampshire is movie-set version of a small town, with quaint shops and restaurants lining the small strip. Copperhead Creek is its anchor, displaying and selling one-of-a-kind handmade goods from local artisans. Most folks out here like a little space, with many building custom homes in the hollers and woods that you’d never see from the road. But like any true village, you’ll find that the locals have their natural gathering spots: the post office, the farmer’s market, and live music and festivals at the Hampshire Museum.
Community Feel -
Community starts early in Hampshire, with most of the village’s young folks attending its K-12 Unit School of Applied Sciences and Natural Resources. That means these kids truly grow up together and mentor each other in a small and attentive setting, all on the same campus.