Tennessee Mountain Stories

Fall Fun, Learning and Remembering – SEPTEMBER 2018

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If you’ve read the “about” section of Tennessee Mountain Stories, you may have noted that when I started the website I intended to visit places and events of interest and report back on them here.  Well I have lots of good intentions.  We’re now better than 5 years into the blog (how time does fly when you’re having fun!) and I don’t think I’ve reported on any events.  Well this year I intend to do better (see my good intentions!)  So, I sat down to chart out my family’s fall calendar and just as I expected, Tennesseans did not let me down.  Without even counting county and agricultural fairs and music festivals, I found a different event around the area for every weekend in September and October save two and I wanted to share some of the ones that looked most interesting to me.  I won’t be able to make all of these but if you’re attending (or vending!) at one of them I’d welcome a note and any pictures you wanted to share with the readers of The Stories.

We aren’t quite to harvest season yet but Middle Tennessee certainly sets us up for the festival season with the Highway 127 Yard Sale.  Now we’ve talked about this sale here before (and I’m sure we’ll visit it again – it’s happening this very weekend you know.

Then September always kicks off right with the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration in Shelbyville, Tennessee.  Events last eleven days and culminate on Saturday evening September 1st after which a new horse will be the World Grand Champion Walking Horse.  This event is a little different than the historical festivals I focused on during the rest of my search, but it is so quintessentially Tennessean that I can’t help but note it.  My family has a reunion that’s almost as long-standing as The Celebration so I rarely get to attend but I always feel like I’m there in spirit.  Horses are so much a part of our history and heritage, and frankly such a part of my own childhood that it’s hard to imagine loving history and studying history without appreciating those beautiful beasts.

September 8th will find mountain men and women celebrating in Spencer, Tennessee at the annual Mountaineer Folk Festival.  This event is “dedicated to the perpetuation of the cultural history of the Cumberland Plateau”.  It will include music, storytelling and food – what mountaineer wouldn’t want to attend?  But better still are the pioneer skill demonstrations.  This is really what draws me to all of these events.  I love to watch the ones I know nothing about and study those skills I’ve attempted to learn.  Always I come away wanting to learn more!

The next weekend I’m interested in the Days of the Pioneer Antique Show in Clinton, Tennessee.  This one even has a tractor pull – okay that leaps a little forward in history from the Walking Horse Celebration a couple of weeks earlier, but it sure is fascinating to watch those old machines work and to realize how they began to change the face of the Tennessee farm.  This event is held at the Museum of Appalachia which is a little pricier than most of the other events at $15 per person (advanced purchase price).  However, it’s an enormous show and you have access to some of the museum’s static exhibits and the cost is about the same even on weekends when there is no festival. 

September 22nd Cookeville hosts the Upper Cumberland Quilt Festival.  This show is in its 29th year and seeks to preserve the art and heritage of quilting and related arts, showcase quilts and needle arts”.  While most of the items on display will be new creations, this was once every wife and mother’s best means of expressing her creativity and filling her home with beauty.  It’s a skill worth celebrating.

At the same time The Mount Juliet Pow Wow will be honoring and remembering our Native American Heritage – something I long to learn more about because Cherokee roots are so deep among our people. 

 Winding up September, I found a couple of events I am very interested in on September 29th.  In Cookeville’s Hyder-Burks Pavilion the Middle Tennessee Antique Engine & Tractor Association will host their annual Fall Festival and Show.  Again this will include not just the old tractors but living history demonstrations.  Add in a flea market and swap meet and there’s just no telling how much fun could be had there.

If you’re interested in a little drive, or maybe you’re reading this from the Eastern Time zone and the drive wouldn’t amount to much for you – Townsend is also hosting a Fall Heritage Festival.  Now good Bluegrass music abounds at most of these events – it is after all the music of the mountains!  But Townsend advertises their demonstrations specifically, promising not just tractors and stories but spinning, weaving, molasses-making and apple-butter making as well.

Wow, there were so many events to share with you (and I only chose 1 or 2 each weekend in a very limited part of Tennessee) that the article got really long.  So I’ll break this off at the end of September and share the October events next week.

Monterey Train Depot Museum

The gift shop at the Monterey Depot Museum has graciously agreed to stock Replacing Ann and I want to thank Julie Bohannon for that.  When I visited the museum recently to deliver the books I took the opportunity to snap some pictures and make some notes to share with you.

When the Tennessee Central Railroad finally topped the plateau in 1890, they quickly realized that the climb up the mountain would tax their steam engines and by 1905 a maintenance facility was built in Monterey and the station there became the headquarters for the Eastern Branch of the Tennessee Central. 

This was a real boon in the local economy.  Of course the railroad brought in jobs but it also opened up markets for coal, lumber and agricultural produce that previously could not reach markets. 

General John T. Wilder was instrumental in getting the railroad up the mountain because of the coal operation he planned in Wilder and Davidson.  He is often mentioned in the museum and in fact, there is a large plaque outside with good information about him.  One of the two houses he built in Monterey still stands watch over the depot and the Imperial Hotel which he built to serve railroad employees and passengers is still next door.

Most of the original buildings are gone, as are so many landmarks of Monterey’s heyday.  There were two operating passenger depots in town - the original depot from the early 1900’s burned as did so many wood-framed historic buildings in Monterey. The rebuilt depot stood long after the close of operations and was eventually dismantled.  The roundhouse burned in 1949 and was never rebuilt.  However, the old coal chute can still be seen adjacent to the remaining tracks.  Some tools from the shop were recovered and they are now displayed in the museum.

There were numerous tracks in place when the railroad was moving passengers as well as freight across the Cumberland Plateau as well as maintaining engines in Monterey.  The museum boasts a beautiful diorama of the town and the orientation of the tracks to the depot can be seen clearly on it.

I particularly enjoyed the beautiful display of a stationmaster’s desk, complete with telegraph.  There are a number of maps and graphs that anyone interested in railroad or Plateau history would enjoy. This one in particular is a whole history lesson in itself with information on the mining companies that operated, where stores, schools and post offices were located and even who owned some of the farms and homes in the area.  Manual Powell, a Wilder miner, created this map.


The scope of the Monterey Depot Museum encompasses the whole community, not just railroading.   The Monterey Hospital is represented as well as a wonderful tribute to the city’s contribution to our military.  Community exhibits are routinely featured.  When I visited, Confederate History Month was beginning and volunteer Linda Whittaker was assembling an exhibit in that honor.

Admission to the museum is free and it is open Monday through Saturday 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.  If you’ve visited before, please leave a comment below and tell me about your experience there.