By Mike Steely
I was going through my photo files recently and ran across several photos of unusual places in our region. With the COVID-19 pandemic clustering many families inside except for needed food shopping I thought I’d share some of the places with you
You can easily drive to most of the strange places with the family and most are not more than an hour’s drive from Knoxville. Let’s start going down Alcoa Highway to Maryville and heading west on Highway 411.
Vonore’s “Downtown” Bank
The small town of Vonore is home to nearby Fort Loudoun and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum but it also has some hidden gems in its old downtown section. When you turn north off the highway and venture down toward the town, you’ll encounter two old brick buildings, one with the word “bank” impressed into the bricks. If you look closely at the front of the building you’ll see the sculpture of a bug or beetle in the wall.
The bank building was abandoned for years with the teller window and other furniture still inside. What the bug or scarab means to the building is anyone’s guess, but the Egyptian beetle is supposed to be a symbol of long life.
Nancy Ward’s Grave
Further down the highway heading west you’ll eventually come to the grave of the Cherokee’s Beloved Woman, Nancy Ward. Her grave is near Benton, Tn. on a hill above the highway near where she operated an inn and tavern. She was an ally to white settlers, married one of them, and has thousands of descendants.
Visitors often take a round river rock from the nearby stream and place it on her grave.
The Judge’s Horse Grave
Another interesting grave is in Old Washington, Tn., along Highway 30 east of Dayton, Tn. If you go as far as Dayton you may want to tour the old Rhea County Courthouse and see where the Scopes Monkey Trial was held.
Old Washington was one of the first settlements in the former Native American territory and Judge David Campbell established the little town, which thrived until bypassed by the railroad. Old Washington Ferry carried travelers back and forth across the Tennessee River there and the entrance to the now abandoned ferry still stands in the little town.
Campbell, a relative of the Knox County family, is buried along with his son-in-law in an above ground grave just off the road near his home site. The memorial has a third unmarked grave which local legend says is the grave of Campbell’s favorite horse.
The Decatur Mural and Kingston’s old courthouse
If you come back along the Highway 30, across the highway bridge that replaced the Washington Ferry, you’ll soon arrive in Decatur. If you drive around the courthouse there you’ll see a mural of the nearby Blythe’s Ferry. It’s very well done and worth a photo.
From Decatur you can travel north on Highway 58 and enter Kingston. The town has a historic old courthouse and was, for a day, capitol of the State of Tennessee to appease a treaty with the Cherokee. Kingston also has the reconstruction of Fort Southwest Point, a pre-state federal military outpost. The original fort was built atop an Indian mound.