Historic Loudon, Lakeway to the Smokies

Depending on who you ask, Loudon County is comprised of Loudon (City), Lenoir City, Tellico, Philadelphia, Greenback, Dixie Lee Junction, parts of Farragut, and Unitia.

It was not until today that I even heard of Unitia; a small Quaker-established community near Friendsville that was rather lively from the 1790s until the Tennessee Valley Authority flooded “dam”-near everything in the 1940s.

Fort Loudon Dam was one of nine dams constructed by TVA to control water flow and bring electricity to the region, and Unitia was among dozens of communities sacrificed for the greater good. The dam has four hydroelectric generators and is nearly 5,000 feet long.

The Overlook at Fort Loudon Dam is just past the TVA access roads, before Calhoun’s Restaurant and the marina. You can walk the trails, use the picnic shelters, or just enjoy the open grassy hills.

As tempting as it may be, this is not the place for swimming. Multiple signs were posted as a warning of dangerous waters.

I did not have a particular theme while out wandering today, so enjoy this banger “Wanderer” by Amon Amarth:

Settlers began arriving as early as 1790 in what is now Loudon. Back then the area was still part of North Carolina, and it was not until 1796 that Tennessee became the 16th US State.

Loudon has less than ten square miles and is appropriately known as the “Lakeway to the Smokies” because it is surrounded by the Tennessee River, Clinch River, Tellico Lake, Watts Bar Lake, Melton Hill Lake, and other bodies of water.

Originally this land was a port for ferries and steamboats, centered around a storehouse on Main Street. Blair’s Ferry Storehouse was ran by two brothers (in law) named James Blair and John Hudson Carmichael. The storehouse was built in 1834 and called both Blair’s Ferry and Blairsville, which soon became synonymous with the settlement itself.

Blairsville’s first and greatest scandal came when a Cherokee chief named Pathkiller claimed the land belonged to him (because this whole country belonged to tribes in the first place amirite?) and a legal battle ensued.

This case trudged on for 15 years before the court unsurprisingly awarded favour of ownership to Blair, but he and Pathkiller both died within a year or so afterward. Blairsville was then renamed Loudon in 1850, in connection with the nearby Fort Loudoun (spelling varies).

As you cross the Loudon Bridge from Lee Highway and enter Historic Loudon, you will see the Carmichael Inn on your left and Annabell’s Emporium & Cafe on your right. A fountain surrounded by flags makes a for a picturesque welcome.

A bright mural on the outside of Annabell’s is a popular photo op, and shares a courtyard with the Loudon Veteran’s Park.

From here you can see the old Loudon Railroad Bridge , which is a landmark known for its role in transportation and military defense.

You can also see the Loudon water tower, from everywhere in the town. It reminded me of the ominous Fernsehturm TV Tower in Berlin that always seemed to be watching my every move, except in Loudon it is in a more sunny and innocuous way.

Admiring that row of bright, beautiful trees along Grove Street? There’s the tower.

One block over is the original Loudon County Courthouse, still in use but currently undergoing reconstruction after last year’s fire.

My growling stomach led me into Annabell’s and the only other customer, clearly a regular, suggested I try the Reuben. I was directed to a table in the far back and sat right among all the items for sale, which I browsed as I waited for my order.

There are a few shelves of books by local Tennessee writers with everything from religious quackery, Viking fan-fiction, area tour guides, almanacs, health plans, ghost lore, and historical accounts.

The Reuben was simple but good, and the employee slipped me one of their warm iced lemon cookies as I was leaving. One thing I really love about small towns is how the drugstores are also the coffee shops, the antique shops are also the cafes, the guy running the counter and sweeping the floor also owns the place, and so on.

I had not eaten bread or dairy in WEEKS so I immediately felt guilty and set off to do some walking.

On the other side of the street is the Carmichael Inn, which I stopped in as I was leaving town a few hours later.

The Carmichael Inn was once the home of Blairsville/Loudon’s co-founder John Carmichael, where he fed and housed railroad and steamboat staff and travelers. Now it is the home of Loudon’s tiny History Museum exhibit and a popular restaurant.

You can enter and tour the exhibit for free, and you are not required to order anything from the restaurant.

Buuuut I had heard about the famous homemade pimiento cheese and the grilled cheese/bacon sandwich here, annnnd it had been a few hours since I had that Reuben.

Dedicated as I am to this work, I could not pass it up.

It was beautiful. I saved the other half for later and ditched the fries, but I enjoyed a few moments in the shade out on the large covered patio that overlooks the bridge. There was one couple on the far end, several tables away.

Enjoying the view? There’s that tower again.

Next time I visit the area I plan to check out Sons of Smoke BBQ, so check back for updates.

Two of the most popular tourist sites in Loudon are the old Loudon Train Depot and the Historic Loudon Theatre.

The rail car was formerly in use by the Southern Railway but sits atop this hill as a relic and photo op for visitors. Just next to it is the old Loudon depot.

Currently the depot is the home of Loudon County’s Chamber of Commerce and the Loudon County Education Foundation. This property is owned by Southern Rail, leased to the city, and I have read stories that a new restaurant may be opening there soon.

The Historic Loudon Theatre was built in 1911 and was previously known as the Lyric Theatre, specializing in screening Westerns. It burned down in 1934 but was rebuilt within a year, then burned again in 1941 but was not rebuilt for over a decade. It sat vacant from the 1960s until various cycles of rennovations and grants took place in the 1980s and forward.

Now the theater is geared toward live music and parties instead of film, and since the addition of the outdoor courtyard they have been hosting regular concerts.

I adore the wall of film posters painted by Bobbie Crews who is well-known for her “Postcard of Knoxville” mural and the Federal Courthouse Mural inside the Howard H. Baker Federal building in nearby Knoxville.

To be almost 13 years old, her “Golden Age of the Big Screen” mural is still vibrant and impeccable.

Loudon’s historic downtown area has dozens of shops and boutiques, salons, a booze store, the Tic Tok Ice Cream Parlor, the Greer Warehouse (formerly the Orme Wilson Storehouse) and the Shoppes on the Square retail complex.

I did not spend any time inside the retail shops during this trip, but paid my attention instead to the walkability of the area and its aged brick exteriors, the abundance of bright foliage and landscaping, antique light posts, decorative accents, and cheery locals.

After months of limited contact with others during the COVID pandemic, it was surreal to see and hear people talking and laughing. Outdoors, socially distanced, still wearing masks inside, but just talking and laughing.

It reminded me a lot of Knoxville’s old city and warehouse district with the brick facades, custom but often blacked-out windows, secret doorways, and winding blocks.

This is one of my favourite buildings I saw, but I could not tell what it used to be.

Loudon County has several antique shops and one of the largest is The General Store on Mulberry Street. I peeked inside and saw that it was overflowing and stacked floor to ceiling with small, fragile things and I was not up to taking that risk.

One last thing that caught my eye was the Stimpson Seashell Museum, but I was unable to find anything about it on any travel guides or tourism sites. From its official website, I learned that the grand opening was only last week, but it was sadly closed when I stopped by.

According to the site, the Stimpson is a premier Conchology museum and will host nearly 40 years of collected works by Peter Stimpson. Curators hope to be a wealth of knowledge in marine and ecological studies, particularly of shells and mollusks, and aspire to bring more tourism and international attention to Loudon in the future.

As I was leaving Loudon, I remembered that I had meant to check out the Tennessee Valley Winery, but maybe next time. What else did I miss?

In the area for a while? Follow me to the Historic Fort Loudoun State Park and fortress, and don’t forget to subscribe!

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One thought on “Historic Loudon, Lakeway to the Smokies

  1. Pingback: Cherokee History in Vonore; Sequoyah, Fort Loudoun, Tanasi, and Chota | Fernweh

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