A Big Character in a Small Town

On an overcast day, (not the best for taking pictures) Matt Farr and I headed north to drive USBR21 from Jellico to Knoxville. We had both driven the route previously but this time our goal was to visit and chat with folks along the way, scout out a few campsites and find some good places to eat en route. Starting out in Jellico our first stop was Indian Mountain State Park — less than a mile from downtown. For touring cyclists that enjoy camping out, the park has 49 sites with water and electricity. There are stocked ponds for those that want to do some fishing. The rangers were super excited about cyclists visiting the park and one of the rangers shared a few stories from his adventures as a SAG for BRAT – Bike Ride Across Tennessee. We also learned that we HAD to stop and visit with “Buck” at the Hardware Store/Museum in downtown.

Indian Mountain State Park

Indian Mountain State Park – near downtown Jellico, TN

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Campground and pond at Indian Mountain State Park

Ronald Buck, “Buck” to the locals, turned out to be quite the character and an awesome story teller! Buck owns Buck’s Jellico Hardware and Jellico Family Museum on Main Street. A robust, storyteller if there ever was one, Buck shared facts, along with a few wild tales, of the history of the area — from the coal mines that sprang up in the late 1800’s to the railroad car packed with dynamite that exploded downtown in 1906. He reminisced on the changing of the town when the coal industry started to wane in the 1950’s, and the lumber industry started to boom. Buck gave us a tour of his Hardware Store and the adjoining Museum which was the vision of the four Buck brothers, “Junior”, “Porky”, “Buck” & “Bucky”. It was quite a treat and we wished we would have had more time to hear more about his family and the memories he recants.

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Matt Farr and “Buck” in the Family Museum

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Jellico Family Museum on Main Street

A few places on our list to visit on another trip are  the Oldest Barber Shop in town and the US Post Office and Mine Rescue Station. The best thing about bike touring are the folks you meet and the places you are able to visit so easily by bike. Cars are so limiting for inquiring travelers!

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US Post Office and Mine Rescue Station

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Jellico’s Oldest Barber Shop

Before leaving town we headed over to possibly the only vegetarian restaurant in or near Jellico — Sweet Pea Garden Pantry — this was a real delight and quite a surprise since we were sent there by Buck! Below are a couple of shots taken along the way to Caryville. Forests border old TN-63 that runs alongside the creek and the railroad. There is logging in this area and cyclists may encounter logging trucks, but in the three different drives we made, we only saw a couple of trucks and very few cars. There are numerous single lane bridge crossings.

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Old TN-63 follows the railroad tracks

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Logging mills along Old TN-63

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Cove Creek winds along Old TN-63

Narrow single lane bridges

Next stop Caryville! For those wanting to stay overnight, there are hotels along the route or campsites at Cove Lake State Park, just 1/2 mile northeast of the main route. As you leave Caryville, you leave those lovely flat grades and start winding up and over to cross Norris Dam and the Clink River. Norris Dam State Park has camping and cabins including 19 historic rustic cabins that were originally constructed in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps and are now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. There are a few Points of Interest to visit after crossing the dam. First is the Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn which was originally built on the Holston River in the 1830s and relocated to its present site in 1978. It displays old farm tools, plows and a horse drawn wagon; the Rice Gristmill, originally constructed in 1798 in Union County, then dismantled and rebuilt on Clear Creek in 1935; and the Lenoir Museum which offers a diverse collection of many artifacts depicting life in Southern Appalachia from 12,000 years ago to present day.

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Rice Gristmill circa 1798

Threshing Barn

Caleb Crosby Threshing Barn 1830

The city of Norris offers food but no overnight accommodations. Leaving Norris the route winds along wooded sections and open farmland. Keep an eye out for the tractor forest.

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Beautiful Hill Street

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The Tractor Forest

The last stop for this post is Knoxville. We enter the city through the Historic Fourth & Gill neighborhood built during the last quarter of the 19th Century. Many of the houses are Queen Anne and Craftsmen styled featuring large porches and complex rooflines. Among the architects for these homes were two of Knoxville’s most notable architects — George F. Barber and Joseph Bauman. Bauman designed several houses for his extended family, and Lovenia Street is named for one of his sisters.

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Forth and Gill Historic District

Unique to Knoxville is the weekday live performance radio on the WDVX Blue Plate Special on stage in the Visitors Center from 12-1pm. One block off Gay Street is Market Square – an open-air mall of eateries, shops, street performers, and a Farmer’s Market on Wednesday and Saturdays (in season).

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Performers on the WDVX Blue Plate Special

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Market Square

Here’s the updated link to the full route where you can download the gpx track. I’ve also updated the cue sheet and overview maps — USBR21-CueSheet-KY-GA. Now it’s time to get those panniers packed and head out on a tour through Tennessee!

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