The Second-Oldest Town in Tennessee

It was perhaps 16 months ago when I visited, and blogged about, the oldest town in Tennessee. That would be Jonesborough, once part of North Carolina and today just a stone’s throw from the redrawn state line. I remember walking around the antique shop-lined Main Street on a hot, sunny day, walking past centuries-old churches, some of which still feature separate seating for slaves.

The weather was decidedly different – autumnal, cold, and sporadically rainy – when, two weeks ago, I visited Dandridge, the second-oldest town in Tennessee.

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It always seemed a minute away from raining as I made the 40-minute drive. The sun played hide-and-seek with the clouds, and I couldn’t resist the photo opportunity below as I drove past this meadow on the outskirts of Talbott. You can just make out the Smoky Mountains in the background.

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Dandridge was founded in 1783 by European settlers moving ever-westward, and was named in honor of Martha Dandridge Washington, wife of our first president. The town was the site of brief Civil War skirmish, and grew from an initial population of ~400 residents to just under 3,000 today. Dandridge is the seat of Jefferson County, and its courthouse is said to feature murals honoring such famous Tennesseans as Davy Crockett. On a pop culture level, Dandridge is the birthplace of wrestler Kane.

Bethel Presbyterian Church, built in 1880 and pictured below, is one of the first historic buildings you see as you enter town via State Route 92. The sun’s rays were shining through a break in dark clouds directly onto the church as I drove past; by the I parked and walked back to the church, camera ready, the rays were gone and the whole effect was less impressive. Still, this simple church design is commonplace in East Tennessee.

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I walked along the road and admired Halloween decorations on houses such as the one featured in the next photo. Sadly, many homes also had “Vote Trump” signs in their front yards.

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The sky opened up and a torrential rain fell (bemoaning Trump’s candidacy, perhaps?), so I took shelter in my car until the heaviest rain subsided. I set off on foot for another wander around the center of town.

Dandridge sits at the confluence of Douglas Lake and the French Broad River. A dam, built in 1943 several miles upstream from town, raised the water level to the point that a dike had to be constructed to protect the quaint downtown, which actually sits below water level, from being submerged. A gravel walkway allows for visitors to stroll along the top of the dike and get close to the bridge that connects the business (downtown) and recreational (marina) sides of Dandridge.

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A park on the far end of the dike offers a place for young lovers to canoodle in their cars, or, perhaps, to take in the July 4th fireworks. From here, it is a five-minute walk to downtown, passing the city hall and one of at least two picturesque cemeteries that date back to the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Fallen leaves blanketed the ground in a carpet of yellow. If one wanted to spend a romantic weekend in Dandridge, the historic Shepard Inn, next door to the cemetery, might fit the bill.

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The rain had long since stopped as I prepared to leave Dandridge. I was about to leave when I saw, to my left atop a hill on the other side of Highway 92, a tree with leaves of blazing red. This tree grew on the grounds of Hopewell Presbyterian Church and Cemetery, where wealthy Dandridge residents who had only recently passed away were entombed in the same lot as Civil War veterans and other Dandridge residents of note. I walked among the tombstones, the only sound being my feet crushing fallen leaves, and enjoyed the last light of an altogether memorable autumn day.

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Author: gringopotpourri

Gringo - aka Scott - was born outside of Chicago and has lived most of his life in or around big cities. He spent two years of his adult life in Mexico City (talk about big cities!) and fell in love with Mexican food, history, and women, all while weathering the culture shock. Life's journey has since brought him to rural Tennessee, perhaps the biggest culture shock of them all. Scott also enjoys movies, hiking, and travel in general.

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