Clinch River, Coal Creek, and Chow Chow

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Norris is a small East Tennessee town known for its lake, marinas, state park, museums, and giant Tennessee Valley Authority dam. Like most small towns surrounding Knoxville, new businesses are springing up and outdoor areas are being developed for tourism, drawing day-trip lovers like me to explore.

Sweet Cafe
Not too often am I surprised by how good the food is when I order breakfast, but in this case, consider me impressed. Two sunnyside eggs with grilled onions and goat cheese, extra crispy “home fries” (skillet potatoes), whole wheat toast, and coffee.

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Inside the cafe, chalkboards with bible scriptures, commandments, patron photos, and community prayer requests line the walls. I mentally lit a candle for each person on the list as I dipped my toast into runny yolk and blessed my home fries in chipotle sauce.

A dozen or so older folks filled the central tables, and listening to them talk was a treat. Clearly they meet there on a regular basis and they have an agenda.

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When I arrived, they were discussing how much the pharmacist was charging each of them for various medications in the event one of them was receiving an unfair advantage. Next they discussed the origins of a story going around, scouting the source based on who found out about it on which street. I tuned out once my plate arrived, and they moved on to other subjects.

On one side of the cafe is an ice cream counter that I imagine is packed during warmer months. I sat envious about these massive globe light fixtures. Aren’t they wonderful?

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I had originally intended to visit Apollo restaurant and the Velvet Pug antique store in the same square, but both were closed during hours their respective online sites advised that they would be open. Hopefully the business owners will get it together soon, there are not many other places to eat or shop around here unless you like fast food.

Archer’s Foods
In the shared building central to Norris Square, you can find Archer’s.

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In addition to any type of food you may possibly need, they have a heavenly wine and craft beer selection comprised of local and international companies. Here is one row of many.

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Archer’s has a walk-up butchery that supplies several restaurants and patrons with fresh locally-sourced meat. After hearing about Dave’s famous Kimchi, I dutifully picked up some to take home.

I don’t really have a theme song for this blog, but this was playing through my head most of the day.

Savage Gardens

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Savage Garden Road has an unmarked driveway that makes a sharp curve up behind the hill. There is no sign for the garden but you will see the backside of massive rock formations to your left. A gentleman on the property guided me to a small parking circle across from a covered picnic table and told me where to start.

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Note the visible path to the left

The gardens are owned by his family and are open to the public from March through May each year. A soft trail leads you through budding wildflowers, ferns, trillium, ivy, succulents, and on to the giant limestone garden.

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The gardens cover about thirty acres and the trail makes a giant loop. My witch senses were tingling so I went off path and stretched out in a clearing for a bit, but the rocks were always in sight.

Coal Creek Miners Museum
A small museum off Main Street keeps the history of the Coal Creek, Fraterville, and Briceville Mines. When I arrived, two friendly ladies greeted me, set up a short video, then gave me a private tour. I learned about convict labor and the establishment of the 11/29 law that ensured only convicted men of colour were sold for labor.

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One lady led me through the progression of miner strikes and revolts against insufferable conditions, illustrated by glass prints and framed documents. Various tools, hats, lunch tins, water canteens, medical kits, gas masks, and newspapers from the time are on display also.

 

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There is an exhibit room with territory maps and scales, and one in the back that tells of the 1902 Fraterville Mine disaster. Nearly every male in these communities were killed, leaving only the youngest of male children that could not yet work.

Many did not die immediately, but were trapped and slowly suffocated to death. You can read letters some of them wrote while waiting for their last breath to pass.

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The mining company showed no penance, and the damage inflicted on the land left it impossible to use for agriculture or civilization. The people who remained have had a long, miserable journey to build the communities that thrive there now.

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Eager to clear the air a bit, I made my way through Norris Dam State Park. I drove in through the far end instead of starting at the Visitor’s Center, but ultimately parked there.

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I made my way across Norris Dam toward the marina, where my family rents a slip for our boat. The marina is lovely with teal and aqua water, and loads of private coves to dock your boat and spend the day. (Note: Marina photos were taken last summer).

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Crossing the Dam, there is a pedestrian sidewalk that allows you to view the power plant and water pouring out.

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Taken last summer before the leaves fell

Norris Lake is over 200 miles long and spans six counties in East Tennessee. The Dam was created in 1933 when the federal government and TVA took on the great task to control massive flooding and to set the groundwork infrastructure to bring electricity to the area.

 

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From the Visitors Center, I started out on the white trail that leads to the Tall Timber, Christmas Fern, and other trails. Unlike my excursion at Savage Gardens, I stayed on path and sat by the water for a while.

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I’m so curious about what kind of tree this is.

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W.G. Lenoir Complex
The W. G. Lenoir Museum holds thousands of artifacts tracing Early American life in East Tennessee. Admission is donation based and you can find anything from typical home decor and furniture, farm/kitchen machinery and tools, weapons, pottery, glassware, baskets, quilts, and more.

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The Rice Gristmill, Water Wheel, and Threshing Barn are on surrounding property, and the nearby Museum of Appalachia is well worth a visit for anyone interested in frontier village and mountain life.

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Clinch River Brewing
In the former Aquatics Lab, the Clinch River Brewery and Tap Room sits overlooking the water.

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Upstairs in the tap room I ordered a Maibock helles and the Piggy Back sandwich- smoked pork belly, Benton’s bacon, sweet chili pepper jam, and homemade pickles on toasted French bread with something called Chow Chow. I learned it’s a spicy mustard cabbage-based relish and I am a new fan.

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It came with Zapps Voodoo chips, perfectly matching the low-broil Cajun creole theme of the place. Delicious as it was, I saved half for later and indulged in a spicy, faintly chocolatey molé beer.

Later, I exited the ATV Zone and made my way back to Knoxville, but I anticipate many more visits (especially to the brewery) to come.

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