Travel is so easy nowadays. All we have to do to get out of town is hop in the car, gas it up and drive down the interstate. Or, we can head to the McGee-Tyson Airport in Alcoa (just outside Knoxville) and hop on a two-hour flight to Florida for palm trees and sandy beaches. It wasn’t so long ago—less than two generations—that travel was very difficult, time-consuming and expensive! In that era of days-long train travel, the upper-middle-class of America came by the car-load (train car, that is) to Appalachia.
You read right: Appalachia was the vacation spot of choice for droves of travelers in the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Many leisure travelers lived inside cities, where industry was concentrated, so to get outside the brick-and-cobble jungle was a real treat for body and soul. In fact, during our country’s Industrial Revolution, medical doctors prescribed trips to the green, coal-smokeless hills of North Carolina and Tennessee on a regular basis. (That’s how the Vanderbilts ended up in Asheville: a trip for clean air away from railway smoke.)
The little towns of Dandridge, Morristown and Bean Station all had their tourist spots. Oh, they’d never give Dollywood a run for their money, but in their heyday the rural hot springs and bed-and-breakfasts did a pretty good business. Some of these places still retain a glint of their former allure. You can go there and walk, or sit awhile and see a glimpse of what it might have been like to enjoy the finest of rural American vacations at the turn of last century.
This gem of a town still retains its hardy brick buildings, some over a hundred and fifty years old. Although the TVA dammed the river nearby to flood most of the richest farmland, changing the landscape surrounding the town, many historic homes and businesses remain intact.
Not much remains of the Tate House Springhouse resort these days; the 500-guest hotel was demolished years ago. There is still a lovely spring, though, and the pavilion is a local favorite spot for prom and wedding photo shoots. Its close proximity to the lake makes this a sweet little spot to stop by for a picnic.
Part of the “White Lighting Trail,” this little town just outside Knoxville has a great, historic downtown ripe for strolling and enjoying a meal. Plus, if you like antiquing, this place holds some fabulous treasures.
The General Longstreet Museum, Crockett Tavern Museum and Rose Center for the Arts all hold turn-of-last-century allure, giving a glimpse into the life and times of those who lived, loved and made a life in Morristown pre- and post-civil war.
Modern vacation tastes often run to bright lights and rich foods, exciting rides and never-seen-before entertainment. We could take a page from vacationers of yore, who took a prescription for cleaner, Appalachian air and headed away from the overstimulating city for the noise of cicadas and crickets, the gentle breezes and distractions of a good game of lawn croquet.
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