If you are the type who enjoys such things as antiques, old stores and shops, traditional American music played live, museums, historic locations and quaint riverside villages, there is a little Tennessee town that would probably be worth the three-hour drive it takes to get there from Greene County.
It’s not even a full-fledged town, really, but an unincorporated community called Granville, located on the Cumberland River in Jackson County. If you’d prefer heavily trafficked roads, outlet stores, neon lights and theme parks, just tun off at the Sevierville exit and head for Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg.
Or, (to borrow a line from the old country-rock band Goose Creek Symphony) “if you’re wanting something old and you’re tired of something new,” head in the direction of Nashville, but turn off from I-40 at exit 280 and follow the signs or your GPS system to Granville.
You won’t find much there – it’s a small place – but what is there is authentic Americana, small-town Tennessee variety. I’ve visited there very few times in my life, even though it isn’t very far from where I was born and raised. My most memorable visits were when I drove my mother there just a few years ago, and later, when I went there with my wife because I knew she’d like it. She did.
I’m particularly glad I made the visit with my mother, because there’s no chance I could do it now. She passed away the last day of February.
Advice here to any who still have living parents who are growing old but who still can get out, travel some, and have fun doing it: don’t pass up the chance to make a day trip or weekend visit to someplace they’ll like. You never know when that opportunity will no longer be there.
Though not as old as Greene County, Jackson County, home of Granville, got its start around the beginning of the 1800s. Of 23 United States counties named after Andrew Jackson, it is the second oldest, according to the Tennessee Historical Society. Granville’s origins are slightly older than its home county.
The county seat town is Gainesboro. One of my paternal great-aunts, Vallie Gaines, was the widow of the grandson or great-grandson of the man after whom Gainesboro was named. Before that, she was the widow of the grandson or great-grandson of the man after whom nearby Cookeville was named. That’s what my dad told me, anyway.
But back to Granville. Whatever you find to do there, it is likely to involve the T.B. Sutton General Store, which dominates the center of the small downtown. Built in 1880, the old-style store has food for sale, displays of artifacts, books, souvenirs, and an exhibition room. On Saturday evenings, there is live old-time and bluegrass music in the store.
If you like the Mast Store in Valle Crucis, North Carolina, you’ll like the Sutton store as well. Similar vibe and offerings. I had a phone conversation this week with Brenda Kirby, Sutton store manager, and it is clear she would be glad to welcome any East Tennessee folks who come by.
Granville also is home to the Sutton Homestead & Pioneer Village, to a garage where vintage cars may be seen, and to an 1800s cabin, and offers self-guided tours. There is a gift shop or two. And down on the nearby Cumberland River, there is a marina.
It’s a pretty little town, a good place for strolling. The residential parts have nice, tidy houses, and lots of flower and vegetable gardens scattered about.
One of the things I hoped to do when I began writing this column was to periodically spotlight good locales for visiting that are within a day’s drive of Greene County. This is one of those.
Granville is no lively center for nightlife, no miniature Vegas-on-the-Cumberland by any stretch. It is a town with picket fences and a history of hosting such non-edgy events as a “Scarecrow Festival.” And it promotes itself sometimes with comparisons to Mayberry, North Carolina.
But if Granville isn’t party central, it is even so a pleasant and pretty place for a relaxed visit. There are some bed-and-breakfasts there, so if you visit, you should (to borrow one more line from Goose Creek Symphony) “pack your bags in case you want to stay.”
As small and unpretentious as Granville is, it is “uptown” enough to have its own website: the logically named Granvilletn.com. And taking a glance at that website as I write this reminded me that they have an annual Heritage Day town festival (in case you would like to visit the town when special activities are going on).
The next Heritage Day is nearly here: July 11. A schedule of that day’s events is on the Granville website.
Granville claims as its own Jesse Donald “Uncle Jimmy” Thompson, a fiddler born in 1848 who was the first performer to play on what became the Grand Ole Opry on the evening of Nov. 28, 1925.
Granville hasn’t forgotten Uncle Jimmy, and hosts an Uncle Jimmy Thompson Bluegrass Festival. Information is on the Granvilletn.com website.
There actually is some activity in Granville scheduled for tonight, June 27: a fireworks display over the Cumberland River. If you’re reading this Saturday morning, your obnoxious Aunt Myrtle is threatening to show up at your door today, so you really need to get out of town fast, you’ve got time to get there.
The fireworks over the Cumberland start at 9 p.m. Central Standard Time. That’s 10 p.m. Eastern. Plenty of time for you to escape … just don’t dawdle until Myrtle’s knuckles already are rapping on your door and you’re trapped!