“Our tagline says it all,” says Columbia, TN Mayor Dean Dickey. “There’s something good around every corner.”
And Mayor Dickey is absolutely right. The road weaving into Columbia is lined with quaint restaurants — like Truelove’s Pizza and Grits — and expansive green fields along the Duck River, giving the refreshing feel of a quiet respite from the big city. But tucked away just over 45 minutes south of Nashville, Columbia is bursting with culture, community and thriving businesses, new and old. This unique blend of rustic and modern makes it a perfect town for tourists and locals alike.
“Columbia is the county seat for Maury County and is the ideal city to live, work and play because of its central location just south of Nashville,” says Mayor Dickey. “It’s a nationally accredited Main Street community that’s got a strong sense of place with a rich history and beauty about it. Its affordability and business-friendly climate make it attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.”
Centered around its charming town square, Columbia’s shops, restaurants and recreation offer something for everyone. It’s easy to satisfy a sweet tooth with shops like Pie Sensations or Hattie Jane’s — mouth-watering artisan ice cream with the sweet smell of homemade waffle cones. Patrons can get a great meal right next door at Puckett’s, which offers iconic Southern barbecue or at Square Market & Café — a spot for classic salads, sandwiches and more. Need a quick pick-me-up? Muletown Roasted Coffee delivers fantastic coffee in a hip, modern store and collaborates with other local business to create treats like Hattie Jane’s delicious Mulekick espresso ice cream. Duck River Books is the main square’s quaint literary treasure trove, and Variety Records Shop, along with murals from days long past and an abundance of antique stores, sustains the charming legacy of the town’s earlier days. Other relics of the ’50s and earlier pop up throughout Columbia to display its history and maintain the delightful feel of a simpler time.
W7thCo Vintage Photo Gallery plays an active role in this preservation of Columbia’s past. Conveniently located in the heart of the town, the store features stunning black and white photos that highlight works by Columbia photographers. Many of the photos portray the people and historic moments that shaped the town into the mini-metropolis it has become. Columbia native Hanna Grisham, who works at W7thCo, has seen this development firsthand.
“I’ve watched Columbia grow as I have grown, and I think there is a lot of potential here,” says Hanna. “We’ve got great places to shop, great places to eat — it’s not just a blip on the map you drive through. But you still get the whole small town experience without having to live in the middle of nowhere.”
Like Hanna, many natives of Columbia are proud of their roots. Husband and wife duo Bryson and Susan Leach grew up in Columbia. After several years living in nearby Franklin, the couple decided to move back to their hometown to start their popular home goods store Needle & Grain.
“When we chose to open a retail shop, we picked our hometown for many reasons, but one of them was the promise of community,” Bryson says. “We’ve loved being able to open our doors and greet everyone by name and meet the needs of our customers in a variety of ways, not just by selling them stuff.”
Kind and friendly residents like the Leach’s are known to welcome visitors like old friends. This appealed to co-founder of Muletown Roasted Coffee Matt Johnson, who has become an integral part of the Columbia business community.
“Well, we didn’t really pick Columbia, it kind of picked us. Chris and I got here at different times and for different reasons, but we both fell in love with this little town,” says Matt. “We didn’t come to Columbia to start Muletown Coffee. Columbia inspired us to create Muletown Coffee. It inspired us so much that we named our company after the town for goodness sake. The people here are as good as there are on Planet Earth. I guess that’s the most special thing about this town if I had to pick one. It’s been such joy to be a part of the story of Columbia. We’re so proud to represent this town. We hope it’s proud of us too.”
Columbia’s special brand of Southern hospitality is only a part of the town’s charm and history. In residential neighborhoods, visitors can find some of the most beautiful antebellum homes in Tennessee — including the one-time home of James K. Polk, the 11th president of the United States, who made Columbia home for many years.
Columbia is also known for a very unique event: Mule Day. As its name suggests, this weeklong festival has celebrated all things related to mules for over 170 years and is one of the town’s most cherished traditions. While the festival has many mule-related events, including mule-driving and mule pull contests and shows, it also holds flea markets, a barbecue, the crowning of a Mule Queen and the huge Mule Day Parade. Fun, eclectic and lively, Mule Day brings people from Columbia, as well as people from across the country, together.
“Columbia is an enriching place to live and work,” says Bryson. “It doesn’t take much for us to try and convince someone to move down here.
Learn more about Columbia at columbiatn.com, and then make plans to take a day trip to this storybook Southern town.
All photography by Cat Sewell of Simply Sewell Photography.
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