Oliver Springs shines under the October Sky
A row of five arched windows line the top floor of a bright red brick building in the East Tennessee town of Oliver Springs. Just below the windows the words “Olga Coal Company” are spelled out in white letters on a gray background. Across the street another, much smaller building, is also marked with an “Olga Coal Company” sign. To the casual observer, this probably looks like the remnants of the coal mining industry that once thrived in the hollows nearby, but a movie buff might figure out its something quite different.
Back in the late 1990’s, Hollywood looked to turn Homer Hickman’s novel, “Rocket Boys” into a major motion picture. They needed a place to stand in for Hickman’s hometown of Coalwood, WV. With its old brick buildings, railroad tracks and small town charm, Oliver Springs, TN, ended up being just the place the movie producers were looking for to recreate Homer Hickman’s West Virginia hometown.
Eventually, the movies name would change to “October Sky” starring Jake Gyllenhaall and Laura Dern, but the spirit of the story of Homer Hickman remained the same. When film crews left, the “Olga” signs remained and they’ve been there ever since. There’s also a United Mine Workers decal on the door of the building used for the Union offices in the movie. You can even find “October Sky” memorabilia in a small building around the corner from the Oliver Springs Drug Store building. I’m not sure exactly where the collection came from or who it belongs to, but it would be nice to see it displayed and protected properly.
Long before Hollywood put the spotlight on Oliver Springs, hundreds of people from around the region flocked there to enjoy the mountain air and mineral waters at the Oliver Springs Hotel. While the hotel is long gone, an old ticket booth from the resort sits in a little park beside the town train depot which now serves as the public library. Other pieces of the town’s history like a caboose, a classic fire truck and even a flower pot from the 1982 World’s Fair sit nearby.
While the town’s history is reason enough to come for a visit to Oliver Springs, it’s the adrenaline rush people experience up on Windrock Mountain that really brings people into town. With 300 miles of off road trails, this place has become a mecca for ATV, Mountain Bike and Jeep 4x4 enthusiasts. Frozen Head State Park is about 30 minutes away and the historic Brushy Mountain State Prison now open for tours.
Downtown Oliver Springs is home to Pamela Anne’s Fudge, one of the largest makers of fudge and confections in the region. You can get a taste of it at the company’s shop on Main Street. Chances are American Idol contestant Janelle Arthur and Tony Award winner Levi Kries have both sampled the fudge as both hail from this unique small town.