Four Days in The Marble City

I am fortunate in that I get to travel occasionally with my day job.  Although I’m not always able to get out and explore, I look for any available opportunity to escape and see a few sights.  Although it rained every day I was in Knoxville, Tennessee this week I was able to get in a little road time and see a little bit of the countryside.

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I was the second of my team to arrive in town early Sunday afternoon; thankfully, my coworker Mike was happy to drive around with me.  The first few were in Strawberry Plains, northeast of Knoxville.  The Holston River weaves through town and is spanned by a few crossings, including The McBee Bridge. The concrete through-truss (much like the Marsh Arch bridges I love in Kansas) is the only one of its kind in The Volunteer State.  It was built around 1930 to replace a ferry of the same name, which had taken people across the river since 1836.

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Our next stop was an abandoned Pan-Am Station on Highway 70. It’s a shame the little service station was in such bad shape; it’s a beautiful streamline moderne building. Pan-Am was once the largest oil company in the country and eventually became Amoco.  I don’t know how old this particular station is, but it has been in use somewhat recently.  Among the clutter of items inside was a calendar from the late 1990s hanging on the wall.

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Further south along the Holston River, we sought out a railroad bridge I’d marked and found something more interesting! Right next to the tracks leading across the river, a small collection of tombstones marked the location of the First Presbyterian Church in Knox County. “Lebanon in the Fork” dates back to 1791.  The site was eerily beautiful with the spotty rain and overcast skies.  One corner of the lot was dedicated to the Ramsey family, whose historic home sat two miles away. The Ramsey House is a beautiful limestone manor that ties in to a lot of Knoxville’s early history.

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The rain became steady right around dinner time.  My other coworkers had arrived during our exploration time and tasked me with finding a local place for our first meal together.  I suggested Ye Olde Steak House, a 1968 family-owned establishment on the south side of town.  It was GREAT!  The vintage supper-club atmosphere made me feel at home and my steak was cooked perfectly. Everyone else was happy, too, and made me unofficial meal planner for the rest of the trip.

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Late Tuesday, a few of us took a drive to the nearby Smoky Mountains.  Although it was still raining off-and-on, we enjoyed a peaceful drive up Highway 441 into Smoky Mountain National Park; there were a few neon signs I wanted to see just across the border in Cherokee, NC.  We had plenty of opportunities to stop along the winding road and appreciate the low clouds, which made the mountain forests look appropriately smoky.

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Cherokee is very much a tourist town and was very quiet this time of year.  By the time we made it back down the mountain to Gatlinville, it was full dark.  Next time I’m in the area, I hope to explore that town and nearby Pigeon Forge. They looked like a lot of fun!

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On my last night, I got to see downtown Knoxville and have dinner with an old friend. The Tennessee River cuts through the district and is spanned by multiple bridges, all of which I giddily photographed as the lights came on.  The barbecue at Calhoun’s on the River wasn’t bad, either!

After a super early flight out on Thursday, I arrived back in Tulsa at 10 AM.  Currently, I’m preparing to take a short trip to western Oklahoma for a few Route 66 meetings.  I’m still tired from my trip to Tennessee, but the excitement of a few more days on the road very soon is like a jolt of caffeine to the spirit.

About rhysfunk

Rhys Martin was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1981. In 2009, he sold everything he owned and left the country, living out of a backpack for ten months. He discovered a passion for photography while traveling throughout Southeast Asia and Europe. After returning home, he looked at his home town and Oklahoma heritage with fresh eyes. When he began to explore his home state, Rhys turned his attention to historic Route 66. As he became familiar with the iconic highway, he began to truly appreciate Oklahoma’s place along the Mother Road. He has traveled all 2,400 miles of Route 66, from Chicago to Los Angeles. He has also driven many miles on rural Oklahoma highways to explore the fading Main Streets of our small towns. Rhys has a desire to find and share the unique qualities of the Sooner State with the rest of the world. Cloudless Lens Photography has been featured in several publications including This Land, Route 66 Magazine, Nimrod Journal, Inbound Asia Magazine, The Oklahoman, and the Tulsa World. Rhys loves to connect with people and share his experiences; ask him about enjoyable day trips from Tulsa, locations along Route 66, and good diners or burger joints along the way.
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