By Mike Steely
Looking for an afternoon drive? How about heading south along what was once the Old Federal Road? The route was first developed in a treaty in 1805 and improved in 1819 as a toll road. Today we know the basic route as Highway 411.
The highway skirts the foothills of the lower Smoky Mountains and extends all the way to the first town in Georgia, aptly named “Tennga.” Along the way from Maryville south your drive will take you through and past some very interesting smaller cities, historic sites, and beautiful valley scenery.
You can make a loop of the drive by taking a westward turn in Ocoee, Tennessee, driving over to Cleveland and then back to Knox County by way of I-75 or up Highway Eleven.
Going south of Maryville you’ll pass through Vonore and the nearby historic and prehistoric Overhill Cherokee Towns. You may want to make a side trip there and visit Fort Loudoun State Park and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum. The huge September celebration at Sequoyah Museum is September 8th and 9th.
Back on Highway 411 heading south you’ll pass through Madisonville, the county seat of Monroe County and home of Hiwassee College and the late statesman Estes Kefauver. There’s a very interesting court house there that, in recent years, wrestled with posting the Ten Commandments.
Today Madisonville’s fame is probably more related to Emi Sunshine, the singing sensation.
South of Madisonville you’ll encounter Englewood, formerly known as Jellico Junction. Just south is Etowah, a neat little town with a huge two-story Victorian-style railroad depot museum. The town was so named, it is said, when a railroad builder picked up a sign in Etowah, Ga., and placed it there.
South of Etowah is Delano, home of a Mennonite Community and noted for its fresh farm produce. It is also the home of Savannah Oaks Winery.
You can alter your trip there if you wish and turn left on Highway 30 to visit Reliance and the appropriately named settlement of Archville down to Highway 74 and the right to Ocoee.
But if you continue heading south on 411 you’ll soon come to Benton, Tn., a noted little town has most of what you’d expect such as a supermarket, fast food, and one other thing you probably would not expect: a pre-civil war fort.
Fort Marr, or at least one part of the original structure, was actually built in “Old Fort” further south of Benton. It was one of 23 stockade forts that imprisoned Cherokee families prior to the Trail of Tears. Years later one corner of the fort’s towers was moved to Benton. Originally known as “McKamy’s Stock Stand,” Benton was named for Missouri Senator Thomas Benton, a champion of western expansion in the United States.
Just beyond downtown you may want to take Old Highway 411 to visit the Nancy Ward Grave. Ward was the Beloved Woman of the Cherokee and operated a tavern there. She’s buried along with family members atop a hill along the old road.
Back on Highway 411 you’ll come to Ocoee, a little crossroads community. To the east along Highway 74 may be the “whitewater capitol” of Tennessee as rafting trips form there.
You can turn west in Ocoee and drive over to Cleveland and begin your trip back to Knox County.