3 Tennessee towns with an unusual past
Parking at the local IGA could mean making a trip into another state if you’re in Copperhill, TN. This tiny town in the Southeast corner of the Volunteer State sits along the Ocoee River at the Tennessee/Georgia state line.
A dotted blue line crosses through the IGA parking lot and across the main thoroughfare, along sidewalks, and even restaurant tables, to help people get their bearings. If you’re in Tennessee, it’s Copperhill. If it’s Georgia, it’s McCaysville. Even the river here has two different names. The Toccoa river in Georgia flows underneath a silver painted iron bridge where it changes to the Ocoee, a river that was home to the 1996 Olympic Whitewater competitions.
Copperhill's location on a state line isn’t the only thing that makes this mountain town unique. Its very existence is tied to an industry which left an indelible mark on the landscape. Copper mining and smelting in the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s spurred economic growth throughout the “Coper Basin.” At the same time, toxic gases from those industries created acid rain that wiped out all the plant life turning dozens of square miles into what looked like a desert. The reddish brown hills stretched out almost as far as the eye could see and most wildlife stayed far away. Today, you can get a better idea of what that eerie landscape looked like from an overlook at the Burra Burra Mine site in nearby Ducktown.
Red Boiling Springs
Hidden along the northern part of Tennessee’s Highland Rim is a place where healing springs and a meal with family and friends is guaranteed to bring your stress levels down a notch or two.
Red Boiling Springs sits along State Route 52 between the small towns of Celina and Lafayette. At one time, thousands of people flocked here to unwind and soak in the healing properties of the local springs. (There are five types of mineral water found in the area and that apparently makes it one of only two place in the world where that happens.) At its peak, there were a dozen hotels, a theme park, swimming pools and even a bowling alley in this resort town.
Today, the main highway bypasses Red Boiling Springs. The pace of life is much slower and on my last visit only three hotels remained. One of those is the Armour’s Hotel, a place welcoming overnight guests since the 1920’s when it opened as the Counts Hotel. Known for its themed rooms, family style meals and mineral baths, the Armour's is definitely a place to soak in the Red Boiling Springs experience.
The Donoho Hotel just down the street is unmistakable with its covered bridge walk across the creek, its elegant columns and long front porch. The hotel has been a fixture in Red Boiling Springs since 1914. The Donoho is a favorite for weddings and other formal gatherings.
The last remaining hotel is the Thomas House. It is known for its haunted grounds and rooms and has become a favorite destination for ghost hunters. According to the ghosthuntweekends.com, the Thomas House Hotel has been “witness to three fires, deaths, numerous murders, accidents and even a one time home for a cult.”
So, whether its an elegant setting, a charming themed family hotel or a things that go bump in the night kind of experience, Red Boiling Springs, TN should be something to check off your list .
All across the Tennessee River Valley there are stories of communities uprooted when the Tennessee Valley Authority began building dams in the 1930’s. One of those stood in the way of a dam project along the French Broad River. Dandridge, which is one of two towns claiming to be the second oldest in the Volunteer State, is located just off I-40 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. This picturesque town was named after the first First Lady of the U.S., Martha Dandridge Washington, the only town in America with that distinction.
As the Douglas Dam project progressed, the people of Dandridge managed to convince federal officials to protect the town from the lake TVA was constructing. Today, as you drive down Main Street you can see the saddle dam that was created to keep the town from being inundated from the waters of the lake. .
Today, the heart of the town is filled with historic homes and buildings, the Jefferson County Courthouse, and a drug store with an old fashioned lunch counter. An old truss bridge crossing Douglas Lake was recently imploded shortly after a new bridge was opened, one that still provides and incredible view when you cross. On the other side you'll find a modern marina, restaurant and a place to enjoy the view from the shore.
Just a few miles further on TN Route 92, you’ll run into the Bush Brothers Visitors Center at Chestnut Hill where you won’t get the “top secret” recipe for the baked beans, but you can get a picture taken with Duke and learn about the history of this major industry in East Tennessee.