McMinn County, Tennessee includes Athens, Niota, Englewood, Etowah, part of Sweetwater, and several unincorporated communities. It was created in 1819 and named after Joseph McMinn, a Revolutionary War commander and Tennessee Governor of six years.
McMinn was also a decorated veteran of previous wars and served in the Tennessee Senate, as justice of the peace in Hawkins County, and as an advocate for the Cherokee. The cities of McMinnville in Tennessee and Oregon are also named after him.
Start your tour at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum where you can learn more about the founding of McMinn County and its key players.
Athens is the county seat and the McMinn County Courthouse sits in Athens’ historic downtown. All around it is the historic Courthouse Square.
My first impression of Athens is that it is quite dusty, but it is worth a closer look. Athens is home to the private Methodist college, Tennessee Wesleyan University, and the Tennessee College of Applied Technology which is a mecca for technical, industrial, and medical training.
Between the two colleges there are a lot of young people in town, but I have no idea which age-appropriate places they go to for fun.
The Beanery Uncorked serves the downtowners and college students. I picked up an iced latte and talked with the staff who seems as puzzled as I was about where all the young people hang out.
Blue Front Coffee, Angela’s Cuban, and Open Door Cafe are all local staples. Jenkins Grill has received praise from Southern Living, National Geographic, and other notable publications for both locations in Athens and Cleveland.
College, White, Madison, and Jackson streets surrounding the courthouse are full of boutiques, antique shops, a tattoo studio, florist, vape supply, and other town essentials.
Each historic building has informative plaques outside that tell of its history or fun facts. Hauntings at the Samuel Cleage Mansion aka the Clegg House and at Keith Mansion Bed & Breakfast drew international attention and ghost hunters for decades even though both buildings are permanently closed to the public.
The Clegg House sits gutted, waiting for one of the various renovation proposals to come to fruition, and in the meantime is home to the Scream Chamber haunted attraction and guided overnight investigations since 2019. Another house that Cleage built, pictured below, is on Jackson Street.
Outside of Courthouse Square and the historic downtown district, there are several interesting places. Mayfield Dairy Farms offers tours of its facilities and is the top three highest rated tourist attractions.
Swift Museum Foundation boasts a collection of Globe / Temco Swift aircrafts and artifacts. They are only open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 5 pm so I was not able to see inside.
Loch Low Minn is a scuba diving resort that also hosts an underwater pumpkin (“punkin”) carving contest each year. Pumpkintown is a popular Fall Festival in Athens each fall when the weather is much cooler, so that would be my ideal time to return.
Just last year, in 2020, artist and muralist Sam Welty completed his Great America XX mural on the White Street Market building to commemorate one century since women were granted the right to vote.
Visit Athens in the fall for the annual Pumpkintown Heritage Festival.
Our first time at the festival was last week, October of 2022,, and it was exciting to see members of a few different area Native American tribes/nations representing and dancing for the crowd in traditional attire.
There were a few displays about Native American lifestyle and culture, like teepees and harvesting.
I enjoyed checking out the Native-made crafts and tools also.
Visiting during the Pumpkintown Festival allowed me to see a side of Athens I had not seen before, lively and populated and buzzing with activity.
The community of Englewood was formed in the late 1850s by the village surrounding the Eureka Cotton Mill, and today it has a little over 1,500 people.
Englewood is centered around one large intersection known as the Tellico Junction due to its history of trains passing through, and being located between the Overhill Cherokee villages of Great Hiwassee and Great Tellico.
Englewood’s main square includes the town’s City Hall, Police Station, the Textile and History Museum, and a lot of empty space.
The main attraction here is the Tellico Junction Café, a greasy spoon diner for cheap eats.
A decal on the front window sums up Englewood perfectly; it’s a water tower, railroad tracks, two red lights, and the Tellico Junction Café. I sampled the grilled pork chop with hash browns, biscuits and gravy, and coffee. It cost about ten dollars before tip.
The restaurant was clean inside and seemed like everyone there might be there every day, carrying on jovially, yelling across the dining room, saying they just wanted their “usual,” and as an outsider I enjoyed it.
Englewood’s Textile and History Museum seems to only be open for special events throughout the year but the name itself shows how deeply connected Englewood’s history is to the textile and milling industries.
Visit the Lost Sea in Sweetwater and check out some of the giant flea markets. As for Niota and Etowah, many places were closed due to COVID while I was in town so I clearly have some work to do next time I visit. Meanwhile, feel free to comment or send me a message about what I missed.
Nature lovers will enjoy McMinn County’s Eureka Rail Trail, Gardens of Sunshine Hollow, the Athens Regional Park and Splash Pad, and being in such close proximity to the Chickamauga Wildlife Management Area and Cherokee National Forest.
The Unicoi Mountains and Starr Mountains are nearby as well as Laurel Snow State Natural Area and Pocket Wilderness, though I have heard countless advisories not to hike it alone or without some pretty solid technical hiking skills.
In the area for a while? Follow me to Dayton in the next county over!
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