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6 Picturesque Small Towns in Tennessee for a Weekend Retreat

by Staff

We all know Tennessee has tenacity, but it also has charm, beauty, serenity, and quirkiness. These traits can be seen in the following small towns, which span many types of terrain and culture but share a similar allure. For instance, Bell Buckle has elegant Victorian architecture and a festival for RC Cola, while Sewanee has a celebrated tavern and a giant cliffside cross. After learning about these towns and their diverse attractions, you are liable to volunteer for a weekend retreat in The Volunteer State.

Bell Buckle

Garden at the Bell Buckle Banquet Hall and Theatre in Bell Buckle, Tennessee. Image creditBrian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Put a notch on your belt buckle in Bell Buckle, a 400-person town in south-central Tennessee. Juxtaposing its blue-collar name (which does not have an agreed-upon origin), Bell Buckle is a Victorian time capsule exhibiting elevated abodes such as the Rooney Home, Mingle Home, and Webb Cottage. Even modern businesses like Phillips General Store and Selah Studios are enclosed in late-19th-century buildings. These luxurious lodgings peek through luxuriant foliage since Bell Buckle was the smallest Tennessee town designated a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. 

You will have to loosen your belt buckle for a much more name-appropriate attraction: RC Cola-MoonPie Festival. This celebration of two seminal Southern sweets has been held in Bell Buckle since 1994. This year’s festivities are scheduled for Saturday, June 15, and consist of games, music, marathons, and a smörgåsbord of snacks, culminating in complimentary slices from the “world’s largest MoonPie.” You can sleep off your sugar hangover at Seasons Bed and Breakfast, which is, of course, a Victorian-style retreat in the mouth of Bell Buckle. It even offers a tiny Victorian house for rent.

Rogersville

The town of Rogersville, Tennessee.
The town of Rogersville, Tennessee.

Making Bell Buckle seem like a brand new town, Rogersville’s history dates back to Davy Crockett’s grandparents, who settled in the community in 1775. This makes it the second-oldest town in the state. Tourists unaware of Rogersville (of which there are many) can travel to northeastern Tennessee to see what the Crocketts saw nearly 250 years ago, namely, a lush, riverside chunk of the southern Appalachian Mountains.

From there, you can see what they did not get to see (they were killed by Native Americans in 1777): a glorious downtown with red-brick heritage buildings sporting vibrant businesses. These include Mountain Star Mall, Red Dog On Main Taproom & Eatery, and Hale Springs Inn & McKinney’s Tavern, the last of which has housed pioneers, presidents, and, 200 years after it opened, it can house you. Hale Springs is one of the oldest operating hotels in Tennessee.

Lynchburg

Downtown street in Lynchburg, Tennessee.
Downtown street in Lynchburg, Tennessee.

You may have seen “Lynchburg” through blurred eyes on a bottle of Jack Daniel’s. That is because Jack Daniel’s Distillery is located in Lynchburg, a Tennessee “city” with just 6,500 residents. The distillery offers daily tours so visitors can see how the state’s most famous drink is made before heading downtown to taste the finished product at Miss Mary Bobo’s, a Jack Daniel’s-owned restaurant that serves Jack Daniel’s-coated apples.

For tourists who do not like JD or have a qualifying ID, Lynchburg offers other delectable attractions like Lynchburg Cake and Candy Company, Xing Dynasty, and Prince’s Parlor. It also straddles natural wonders at Tims Ford State Park, which has hundreds of standard, primitive, and backcountry campsites, plus deluxe two-bedroom cabins. Moreover, Lynchburg is a few miles south of where the aforementioned Davy Crockett lived from 1811 to 1813. First, it was Davy, then Jack, and now it can be you to settle in Lynchburg – if only for one wonderful weekend.

Leiper’s Fork

Grocery and restaurant at Leipers Fork in Tennessee
Grocery and restaurant at Leiper’s Fork in Tennessee, via 4kclips / Shutterstock.com

Leiper’s Fork is not so much a fork in the road as it is a whisk. Sitting on 1,100 acres amid sprawling farmland and rolling hills along the Natchez Trace, this 650ish-person community is unincorporated and remains undiscovered by most tourists. But those who decide to detour off the Natchez Trace Parkway should be pleasantly surprised by the scenic boutiques, lively events, and cozy vacation cottages tucked away in Tennessee greenery. These comprise Creekside Trading Company, a quirky brick-and-mortar shop selling everything from antiques to clothing to paintings to jewelry to light fixtures; Fox & Locke, a soul food restaurant and live music venue that began as a general store in 1947; and The Brigadoon, a post-Civil War cottage that can fulfill one’s domestic needs from Friday to Sunday. Leiper would be proud of what his namesake village has become.

Sewanee

University Ave with a church and tower in Sewanee, Tennessee.
University Ave with a church and tower in Sewanee, Tennessee.

Sewanee is called “Middle Tennessee’s best-kept secret,” but it does not have to stay that way. This 2,500-person village is downright angelic, having, among its heavenly homes and stores, religious attractions like All Saints’ Chapel, a medieval-style church dating back to 1904, and The Cross, a 60-foot icon on the edge of a cliff. Both of these can be found on campus at The University of the South, a Christian college with nearly as many students as the village has residents and which covers 13,000 acres in the Cumberland Plateau. Nature is Sewanee’s second-biggest attraction. Appropriately, it hosts Angel Park, where AngelFest, a quaint music festival, has been held for 12 years. You can stay at Sewanee Inn and, after you marvel at the ministries, music, and mountain air, conjure different kinds of spirits at The Blue Chair Cafe & Tavern. Sewanee is as secular as you make it.

Tellico Plains

Tellico Plains town square
Tellico Plains town square, By Brian Stansberry – Own work, CC BY 4.0, File:Tellico-Plains-town-square-tn.jpg – Wikimedia Commons

Tellico Plains is a town at the bottom of a waterfall – rather, several waterfalls, including Buck Branch Falls, Baby Falls, and 90-foot Bald River Falls. These falls etch out a gorge in the Cherokee National Forest, where permanent and temporary Tellico Plainsians hike, fish, camp, and rent remote cabins. Of course, the temporary kind can choose to take the ultra-scenic Cherohala Skyway back to town and stay in one of its luxury hotels, the chief of which is The Lodge At Tellico. While there, they would be wise to tour the Charles Hall Museum, dine at Tellicafe, and grab dessert at Tellico Grains Bakery, which is considered the best bakery in East Tennessee. Once the weekend is done, they are liable to tell a friend about Tellico Plains like we are doing right now.

Tennessee may seem like an intimidating place for a weekend retreat, but snuggled in the rugged Appalachian state are tranquil small towns with Victorian architecture, a thriving liberal arts college, a world-famous distillery, serene waterfalls, comfy cottages, cute shops, and quirky festivals. A weekend in Bell Buckle, Rogersville, Lynchburg, Leiper’s Fork, Sewanee, and/or Tellico Plains can be a ten out of ten for Tennessee tourism.

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