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Robert and Jenny Kirkland sought to give back to their community and to enhance education through Discovery Park of America.

Brent Murphree, Content Director

December 15, 2020

2 Min Read
The main building of Discovery Park rises above the Settlement, a collection of hand-hewn buildings. Brent Murphree

Discovery Park of America in Union City, Tenn., is both a look back and a look forward at west Tennessee, which is why the new permanent exhibit, Innovation in Agriculture, is a good fit for its mission to inspire children and adults to see beyond. 

The park which opened to the public in November of 2013 was the vision of Robert Kirkland, founder of Kirkland's, Inc., and his wife, Jenny who sought not only to give back to their community, but to enhance education in their area. They also wanted to do it in an entertaining way. 

"Robert Kirkland invested a hundred million dollars in a place where it really shouldn't have been invested," said Scott Williams, president and CEO of Discovery Park of America.  "It's illogical, but he did it because he loved his hometown." 

The past and the future are featured in galleries and displays meant to spark interest and inspiration in visitors. 

"More than anything I hope that when people of all ages get through touring here, they will be inspired to get out there and learn more about agriculture," said Williams about the new agricultural display. 

But agriculture is just a part of what Williams hopes to inspire at Discovery park. 

A wide range of subjects from the past and into the future are featured at the park. The main building is 100,000 square feet with 10 exhibit galleries featuring exhibits explaining the Big Bang and the formation of the universe to dinosaurs, Native American history, natural history and on to the space program.  

Life size dinosaur fossils fill Dinosaur Hall and live specimens of native fish fill the 20,000-gallon aquarium in the Regional History Gallery.  

"You go into our main building and we have an aquarium of all the fish in Reelfoot Lake," Williams said. "We have ducks and we tell visitors the whole migration pattern story. It's really cool." 

The space and science related gallery spills out from the main hall into STEM Landing where a decommissioned Titan missile is on display as part of the park's science, technology, engineering and math learning experience. 

There is also a large military exhibit on two levels of the museum including vehicles and weapons from most of the United States' armed conflicts. 

Outside of the main building the Settlement contains nearly a dozen hand-hewn building including farmhouses, a hog barn and a well house. Across a small lake from the Settlement, Mill Ridge features a gristmill, which was originally installed in the Massengill Mill outside of Knoxville, Tenn., in 1816. 

On the south side of the 50 acres that contain the park site sits Freedom Square, with a life scale replica of the Liberty Bell, and a firehouse with two fire engines. The Depot, which is modeled on two area train depots,  is also on display south of the main museum. 

From a distance, the stylized façade of the tower of the main hall rises 13 stories up from the landscape to resemble a massive waterfowl. It faces in the direction of Reelfoot Lake. 

"It ended up being a fascinating place," Williams said.  

And now, modern agriculture now has a permanent million-dollar feature at Discovery Park. 

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