Etowah; A Gem in the Rough on Starr Mountain


Etowah is a tiny town of less than three square miles. It is located in  the East Tennessee region of Appalachia, where the state lines of Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia begin to meet.

Tennessee Avenue, also known as Highway 411, is the main street through town.


Etowah is about an hour southeast of Knoxville, and just 10 minutes from Athens. It was founded in 1906 as a Louisville & Nashville  (L&N) Railroad line between Cincinnati and Atlanta, and its depot is still one of the town’s main attractions today.

Back then, Etowah was just a swamp, so a new company town in the region really brought in a boom of life and economics. The L&N passenger service ran until 1968,  the depot closed in 1974, and the building was donated to the city.


Today the depot is on the National Register of Historic Places, functions as a ticket office for the Tennessee Valley Railroad, and houses the Etowah Depot Museum with various exhibits and events. It is adjacent to the Veterans Memorial Park.

One exhibit in particular is called Growing Up with the L&N: Life and Times in a Railroad Town and it was developed through a partnership with the Etowah Chamber of Commerce and the Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association.


Tennessee Overhill Heritage Association (TOHA) is a “Heritage Tourism Initiative” based in McMinn, Monroe, and Polk counties with a goal to honour and preserve the history, culture, traditions, and natural resources of the collective community.


TOHA sponsors the annual Pumpkintown Festival in Athens and we decided to check out Etowah since it is only a few minutes away. You can read more about the festival in my Athens blog.


While locals pronounce the name of their town like “EDDA-wah,” Native Americans said it more like “Eee-TOH-wah.” The word Etowah comes from the Muskogee/Creek word for town, “italwa,” though many other tribes lived on this land.


Starr Mountain Distillery is Etowah’s second most famous attraction, named after the real Starr Mountain which is just south of town.


Near the bathrooms, they have a framed photo of their distiller who was apparently busted for shinin’ right before it became legal. Now these fellers are one of the primary reasons tourists even come to Etowah and support the local economy!


We had lunch at the Farmhouse Restaurant over on Ohio Avenue.


We enjoyed their barbeque but my favourite item was the sweet potato casserole. I could have just eaten four bowls of that and been happy.


One of the guys in our crew was a huge fan of their friend bologna sandwich and fries.


Rotary Park is a small patio with picnic tables in the middle of several buildings right along Tennessee Avenue, Etowah’s main downtown street.


The Historic Etowah mural in the background makes it a great place for a selfie.


We also spotted this awesome mural with significant people in Etowah history on a railcar, throwing back to its L&N ties.


Etowah’s Gem Theatre was built in 1927 and continues to show films and host live events.


Gem Theatre is also the home of the Gem Players, a local community theater organization.


Look around the side of the building for this collection of murals.


At the Etowah Fire Department, check out this antique fire truck on display. There are several informative plaques about Etowah’s fire department history around it.


Etowah even has its own branch of the Carnegie Library!


Walk along Tennessee Avenue and check out some of the antiques and thrift shops, general store, and visit Starr Mountain Outfitters too.



In the area for a while? Follow me to Athens, Rhea County, or Chattanooga.

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One thought on “Etowah; A Gem in the Rough on Starr Mountain

  1. Pingback: Monkeying Around Rhea County; Evolution, the Scopes Trial, and a Secret Garden | Fernweh

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