Historic Dandridge is the second oldest town in East Tennessee and it was graciously saved from flooding during the construction of TVA’s Douglas Dam. Dandridge was founded in 1783 when its first white European settlers began carving their miserable new lives into the flanks of Appalachia.
Prior to that crew, the Chiaha tribal settlement controlled the surrounding land, and that of Zimmerman’s Island, which is now below Douglas Lake along with several forts and other structures built in that time. I learned that Hernando de Soto went on a few expeditions here in the 1540s, of all places.
Dandridge was named after First Lady Martha Dandridge Washington, wife of President George Washington; a fact that appealed to the emotions of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and of the TVA developers deeply enough to persuade them to spare the town and take painstaking precautions to keep it above water level.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt had signed his New Deal and set in motion multiple social, economical, and structural programs that continue to shape and maintain the entire Tennessee Valley. The communities these programs sought to help first had to give up what little they had and either move away or join in, at any cost.
Shadrach Inman and his family were among the most prominent residents in early Dandridge days. Inman built many of the town’s historic buildings that you still see standing today. The Shephard’s Inn (pictured below) was a haven for weary travelers and Presidents alike, with Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk among the guest list.
His Harris/McMahan House is located at 155 E Meeting Street and was built in 1843. Unfortunately I did not know that when I visited but I found this real estate listing for the home, now called the Seabolt/Harris House. Can you believe those photos?
Inman’s Hynds House is located at 1214 Gay Street and was built in 1845 as a gift for one of his daughters. During the Civil War, it was briefly used as an army HQ and hospital. You can see the Hynds House near the bottom right corner of the photo below, it is white with green roofing.
There is a weird number of wrestler connections to Dandridge, most notably Kane, aka Glenn Jacobs, the famous wrestler-turned-Knoxville-mayor. Mayor Jacobs has a home in Dandridge and when he was running for office, Nature Boy Rick Flair and many of his other wrestling buds came out to support his campaign.
Fellow pro-wrestler and ring manager Mr. Fuji retired to Knoxville and ran a training dojo in Dandridge during the late 1990s. That’s really all I know about wrestling though.
Instead of some crusty old 1700s colonial ditty for this blog’s theme song, I will throw in a wrench and present you with this wrestler punk/metal song by Eat the Turnbuckle:
Staring up at the County Courthouse and contemplating my next step, I noticed a quaint graveyard down the street.
The Revolutionary graveyard was the original site of the town’s historic Hopewell Presbyterian church, the first church in all of Jefferson County.
In 1863 there was a huge standoff between Union and Confederates in the Battle of Dandridge. Hands were thrown, hands were caught, and the unlucky ones were buried in this graveyard. Many of the town’s early residents and veterans can be found here as well.
The Martha Dandridge Garden Club landscaped the graveyard and created monuments in 1930 to honour Revolutionary soldiers John Blackburn, Abednego Inman, Samuel Lyle, Richard Rankin, and Samuel Rankin. Possibly others, but those were the names I could read on the central plaque. Notice the Inman family name.
A little further down I noticed this street was named Graveyard Alley, and I saw a few smaller graveyards.
Other historical buildings in the town square include Tinsley-Bible Drugs, the Gass Building, and the Dandridge Brewing Company Coffeehouse & Pub that is located in the old Jefferson County Post building.
I spent a couple hours walking around the historic square and side streets, taking in the history, window shopping, and admiring the old architectural eccentricities. I really like this yellow residential home near the Visitors Center:
Alleyway Caffe [sic] is an adorable coffee shop that lured me in with bright paintings, plants, and cottage decor.
Antique lovers will find several places to get a fix here, but Roper Mansion is the most notable.
Dandridge is also home to Wolf Paws Sanctuary and the Smoky Mountain Motorcycle Museum (no website) at 205 Main Street. This town is a great place for an afternoon or a whole weekend.
Dandridge developers have been working on a plan since 2015 to revitalize the historic downtown and enhance its water feature offerings, building a pool, conference hotel, bike paths, a “floating” amphitheater, and other features of a modern city. Some changes have been made already but the final results are not anticipated for a few more years.
Lastly, I don’t like baked beans, but if you do, I have great news. Just outside of Dandridge in the community of Chestnut Hill, quite conveniently en route to Douglas Dam, you can visit the Bush’s Baked Beans Museum.
Visitors can learn all about the family and business history, tour the facilities, buy all the bean merchandise your heart desires, and maybe clue into that secret recipe they always talk about.
In the area for a while? Follow me to Douglas Dam.
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