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Norris, Oak Ridge & The Gap
Picture this. You're relaxing in an outdoor hot tub. There's the smell of pine in the air. The rolling hills of Tennessee are outlined against a gorgeous starry sky. Your kids are asleep. You're sipping fine wine. Water's lapping around the hull of your home-away-from-home, which is a houseboat anchored in a sheltered cove. The houseboat has six bedrooms, a kitchen, living area , dining area, outdoor deck, full bathroom and that luxurious hot tub. Your car is parked a hop-away. You're near all the attractions that east Tennessee have to offer. You're in heaven.
Houseboats make great home-bases. They are great way to enjoy a holiday in the land of lakes and mountains. Sequoyah Marina on Norris Lake, just off #I-75 in eastern Tennessee, has houseboats for rent that meet any criteria or family size. Only two of you? There's a boat waiting at the dock. Six adults? No problem. If you can drive a car, you can manage a house boat. Just remember, they don't have brakes!
Enjoy a day or two exploring man-made Norris Lake then tackle the surrounding counties. Depending on your interests, there are enough attractions within easy reach of the Lake to keep you busy for a week. As far as food goes, "Mom & Pop" run eateries appreciate your business. Remember the old adage - if there's lots of pick-up trucks parked outside a restaurant, there's good food - cheap. As Sequoyah Marina is approximately sixteen miles from the city of Knoxville, it can be included in your explorations.
Set aside one day to visit the Museum of Appalachia, the most authentic recreation of pioneer Appalachian life in the U.S.A. The unique complex certainly lives up to its name. Chickens roosting on beds is not uncommon. Founder, John Rice Irwin is a descendant of pioneers who settled in East Tennessee's Big Valley. His tribute to Appalachian life can be traced back to a comment made by his parental Grandfather Rice who thought that John "ought to start a little museum of these old-timey things sometime".
Today, that "little" museum consists of more than sixty acres. Their official tour map lists at least thirty original log structures, including barns, outbuildings, church and school, and homes. There are gardens and orchard, a great museum, the Appalachia Hall of Fame, a gift shop and restaurant. Highland cattle, horses, mules, oxen, sheep and all sorts of fowl are part of the scene. So are a few pussy cats. You might meet Charlie Acuff and friend playing their favourite old-Tyme music in one of the log buildings. If Charlie's around, ask him to play "Putting on the Agony". There's great porch music on Sunday afternoons.
The museum is famous for several festivals, the most unusual being its July 4th celebration that includes an Old-Time Anvil Shoot. You've got to see this unique form of entertainment to believe it. Their Fall Homecoming Festival features scores of people demonstrating frontier, mountain and rural activities. More than 250 musicians perform traditional folk, early country and bluegrass music throughout the weekend on four official stages and any porch where they can sit down to pick. Storytelling while whittling is a great favourite with the crowds. Mouth-watering regional foods are cooked on-site and sold to the hungry crowds. During the festival, a Writer's Table is manned by local and regional authors. Genealogists and historians are on hand to help trace your family history.
Are you really hungry? If you're looking for some good home-cooked food, turn right when exiting the museum and drive down the road a bit to Golden Girls Restaurant located right beside Anderson County Visitor Center.
The town of Norris is a charmer. Today's "slap em up" builders and town planners should take lessons in how to properly design a town-site by touring the community. Norris was built during the 1930's by the Tennessee Valley Authority. Its concept was based on the "design with nature" attitude that stemmed from the English garden city movement of the 1890's. Winding roads were contoured to the terrain. Local stone and wood provided the basic building materials. Important public buildings, including schools, were located in the center of the town. Large areas were set aside for parks and commons. A green belt, that acted as a visual and physical boundary, encircled the town.
Oak Ridge, the once secret city, is an hour's drive west of Norris. Secret city? At one time Oak Ridge had a population of 75,000 but because it was home to the Manhattan Project, few knew of its existence. Today, it is a mid- twentieth century time-capsule. The city was designed for absolute efficiency by the Department of Defense and is still a great example of good town planning. Many of the c1940's houses are built of a war-innovative material called Cemesto.
Jackson Square in the centre of town is a cosmos of 1940's architecture. Walking around the area is like stepping back in time. We took a coffee break at The Daily Grind on the Square. It's cosy enough that locals keep their coffee mug in the store, and can browse through a good selection of well- thumbed magazines and hard cover books.
The American Museum of Science & Energy is located right beside Oak Ridge Visitor's Center. Through interactive displays, live demonstrations, computer and films, visitor's learn all about science, energy and technology. The exhibit, "Age of the Automobile" is a great hubby pleaser. Dare you to spend less than two hours in this place! Ask at the Visitor Center for directions to the Graphite Reactor. Also get directions to the Slave Cemetery where it is thought that at least ninety people are buried. The Cemetery has no individual headstones but several commemorative cairns have been erected.
Taking advantage of their 1940's heritage, Oak Ridge invites everyone to boogie on-down for their "Mayfest Celebrate the Fabulous 40's" event. What a great place to hold a rootin', tootin' salute to the swinging forties.
Make time to drive a little bit north of Oak Ridge to Oliver Springs, a town that embodies all that is rural Tennessee - independent, friendly people, interesting architecture and entrepreneurial individuals who aren't afraid to act on opportunity. Check out Kountry Kitchen Restaurant. If you visit the during the spring, watch for dogwood, wild irises, rhododendrons, azaleas and the Princess Paulownia. When we asked about the unusual Palownia tree, locals told us that "like us, it was from away". Neat place!
Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, located less than an hour's drive north of Norris, is situated at the Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia state lines. Before a visit, you might want to read "The Wilderness Road", by Robert Kincaid, to grasp the significance of the area in American history.
Our first stop was at Abraham Lincoln Museum at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, two miles south of the Gap. Colonel Harland Sanders, of Kentucky Fried Chicken fame made a generous donation that allowed the University to build a permanent museum, dedicated to President Lincoln's life. The museum houses one of the largest Lincoln collections in the U.S.A. It's first class and well worth a visit.
The Park, is situated on 20,000 acres in the states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia. There is an excellent view of the Gap and three states from 2,440 foot high Pinnacle Overlook. Because traffic is now routed through a new Tunnel, the original mountain gap is going to be restored back to its natural state. The Park's amenities include camping and picnic areas, hiking trails and interpretive programs. Leave time for a lantern tour of the park's Cudjo's Cave, a five level, wet cavern. How different and exciting to see a cave as it would have been viewed years ago. This is a much do!
The aforementioned Cumberland Gap Tunnel is 4,600 feet long. It was opened 1,947 days after the first dynamite blast which took place in June 1991. The man-made phenomenon is really twin tunnels with two lanes going each way. Drive in on the Tennessee side and pop out in Middlesboro, Kentucky, home of the restored P38 , an aircraft that once was buried deep in an ice field in Greenland.
The small community of Cumberland Gap has a quanti-essential early 20th century streetscape. Ye Olde Coffee and Tea Shoppe located right on main street, has great ambiance and excellent lunch & dinner menus.
Drive carefully when heading into Knoxville. You'll be on #I-75 for awhile and need eyes in the back of your head to take the proper exits to the waterfront and Gateway Regional Visitor Center. The Center gives an excellent introduction to the Knoxville area and you can pick up any local information here too. Volunteer Landing, known also as The Waterfront, is right next to Gateway. The area has excellent restaurants and a river walkway. There's lots to do in Knoxville. For ease in getting around, consider taking the Trolley Line.
You can choose to do the Country Music Walk - using the "Cradle of Country Music Pamphlet", visit the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame, tour a number of historic homes and the James White Fort, enjoy art and history museums. The best time to visit Knoxville is during their annual early April Dogwood Festival. A self-guided driving tour is fun. You can also opt for a guided tour bus. One of the most spectacular trails is the seven mile long, Sequoyah Hill Trail that winds its way through some of the most prestigious neighbourhoods in the vibrant riverside city.
Any visit to Knoxville has to include a meal at Calhoun's, on the Waterfront. They serve the best BBQ ribs in America. Side dishes of Smoky Mountain Beans and Spinach Maria, go down well with their finger-licking-good ribs.
IF YOU GO:
Clinton, TN 37716
Andersonville, TN, 37705
Norris, TN, 37828
Oak ridge, TN 37830-6726
Oak Ridge, TN 37830
Gap, Tazewell, TN, 37879
Middlesboro, KY 40965-1848
900 Volunteer Landing Lane
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