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Four stories frozen in bronze in Tennessee city
By Tom Adkinson

February 12, 2021

Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations and activities to consider in a time of coronavirus and to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

CLARKSVILLE, Tennessee – Statues across the nation have drawn much attention in recent years, and not always for good reasons, but several statues in this Middle Tennessee city are far from controversial.

Four in particular are popular with visitors because they celebrate pop culture, extraordinary athletic accomplishments and local history. All four are almost ready-made for selfies, and they are in outdoor locations where coronavirus concerns are minimal.

You might not know the name of Frank Spencer Sutton, but you’re almost certain to recognize him as you stroll along Franklin Street in the heart of downtown across from the Roxie Theatre and near the Customs House Museum.

Actor Frank Sutton - Sgt Vince Carter
Actor Frank Sutton (Sgt. Vince Carter from “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.”) stands tall on a downtown sidewalk. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Right there on the sidewalk is Sgt. Vince Carter, hands on hips, shouting at an invisible Pvt. Gomer Pyle. The statue strikes an impressive pose, capturing a moment from the most famous character Clarksville native Sutton played, the drill sergeant in the TV comedy “Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.” The show had a five-year run that ended in 1969.

Sgt. Carter was far from the only role Sutton played in a career that covered TV, the movies and theater. TV credits included “Route 66,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Twilight Zone” and “The Untouchables.” He had a big break in the Academy Award-winning movie, “Marty,” and his stage work included “The Andersonville Trial.”

olympian wilma rudolph statue clarksville tn
Clarksville’s statue of Olympian Wilma Rudolph catches her in mid-stride. Image by Tom Adkinson.

You almost certainly know the name of Wilma Rudolph, winner of three Olympic gold medals in 1960, the first American woman to achieve that feat. A bronze statue of the famous runner is in front of the Wilma Rudolph Events Center not far from downtown and along the Cumberland River.

It is less likely you know how improbable it was for Rudolph to become a world-class athlete. She was born prematurely, the 20th of 22 children of her twice-married father. She fought polio, pneumonia and scarlet fever before the age of six. She wore a leg brace. Doctors said she would never walk.

Rudolph proved them wrong. She ran track and played basketball in high school and while still in high school won a bronze medal at the Olympic Games in 1956 in Melbourne, Australia. The restrictions of the Jim Crow South were quite alive after her gold medals in 1960, but Rudolph insisted that her homecoming parade and banquet be desegregated, the first such municipal events in the city’s history.

pat head summitt statue clarksville tn
A statue of Pat Head Summitt has a commanding location, not at courtside, but along a Cumberland River promenade. Image by Tom Adkinson.

Just a short walk away on a riverside promenade is another bronze statue honoring another great female athlete and coach, Pat Head Summit. Yes, the famous Pat Summitt was born in the county where Clarksville is the county seat, although she did play her high school basketball one county over, where girls’ basketball was available.

Summit played collegiate basketball nearby at the University of Tennessee-Martin, was on the U.S. National Team in 1973 for the World Games in Moscow and then became the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, where she coached for 38 years.

Her Lady Vols appeared in every NCAA Tournament from the first one in 1982 until her retirement in 2012, winning the crown eight times. She became the first NCAA coach to notch 1,000 wins and finished with 1,098.

Pioneer and Revolutionary War veteran John Montgomery
Pioneer and Revolutionary War veteran John Montgomery’s statue is next to the Montgomery County Courthouse. Image by Tom Adkinson.

The fourth statue in this quartet calls for a history lesson. This statue is of John Montgomery, and his pioneer apparel immediately dates him to the 1700s. Montgomery, a Virginian, was among the first American colonists to venture into the region that now is Middle Tennessee.

After forays into the region in the early 1770s, he was active in the Revolutionary War, serving under George Rogers Clark in Clark’s campaigns against the British in what now is the American Midwest. In 1784, he purchased the land at the confluence of the Red River and the Cumberland River for 100 British pounds and founded a town – Clarksville, named for his Revolutionary War commander.

The area originally was Tennessee County, but citizens renamed it for Montgomery upon his death.

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(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

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