E ssayist and farmer Wendell Berry says, "Be still and listen to the voices that belong to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields. There are songs and sayings that belong to this place, by which it speaks for itself and no other."
Mr. Berry talks of what is vital -- the sort of place that remains in tune with the earth. And just about 85 miles east of Nashville, there is such a destination.
Jackson County was established by the Tennessee Legislature in 1801. Claiming two traffic lights today, Gainesboro, Tennessee, as in the earliest of times, is the county seat. Once a bustling port city close to the cross-section of the Cumberland and Roaring Rivers, it marks the site of Historic Avery Trace, a road where folks in the 1790s would embark upon a westward adventure.
Home to one of Tennessee's newest parks, Cummins Falls State Park, visual connections to the past remain in the rural and mountainous landscape. Glenn Jones, owner of the Rosewood Wedding Chapel and Event Space, recently rented the chapel for a party of 150. "The couple wished to be married in the mountains, and the scenery of Jackson County provides just that," says Glenn.
The sounds of the past echo once a month in the old Gainesboro High School Cafeteria. The Little Opry "packs 'em in" as an exposition of local and regional talent. The charm of such a stage is not lost on those who journey into town for music, as they are also awarded with downtown antiquing and the delights of a gastropub -- The Bull and Thistle.
While driving through Tennessee on a vacation eight years ago, co-owners of the Bull and Thistle, Loui Silvestri and his wife, Diana Mandli, were taken with the verdant beauty of the area. "The community spoke to us. We bought property and decided to create a pub like the ones we loved to visit in Ireland and England," says Loui.
In-house Irish chef Barry O'Connor presides, bringing his restaurant and pub skill sets from Silvestri and Mandli's favored European travels. With a penchant for farm to table, he showcases authentic dishes such as bubble and squeak, Irish beefsteak, Guinness and oyster stew, bangers and mash, and cork-style Cornish game hens.
O'Connor was honored by a well-known connection to the "Best Pub in Ireland in 1999." His success, through focus on traceability, follows the animal from the day it is born, through a good life, to the day it is offered at the pub -- all evidence of extra care in preparation.
The Bull and Thistle menu offers homemade bread; house-cured salmon, bacon, and pork; and homemade corned beef and sausage.
Live music on the weekends surrounds a beverage menu of ciders, ales, and beers. There are 20 beers on tap and all pours are 20-ounce pints, often adorned with cheeseboards, crusty bread, and compotes.
Just 12 miles from Gainesboro is Granville, a riverboat town on Highway 53 that lends a deep sigh to the Jackson County experience. Located on the Cumberland River, the nonprofit Granville Museum was launched in 1999 and is managed by 150 volunteers, some of whose ancestors gave up family farms with the formation of the Cordell Hull Dam, which impounds the Cordell Hull Lake, a 12,000-acre body that some say is one of the best swimming holes in the country.
Over time the board of directors and volunteers created a year-round platform that offers a feast for the mind and heart, by opening doors to the past with the restoration of the Sutton General Store and the Ole Time Music Hour on Saturday nights, the Sutton Homestead Pioneer Village, and the Granville Marina and Resort. The town is open year round and features several annual festivals and special events which transport visitors to rural Tennessee.
This season the Sutton Homestead, alive with docents, will open March 6, featuring a spring exhibit titled "A Woman's Work Is Never Done." The display will feature a broad collection of handiwork, both old and new.
On April 5, the sixth anniversary of the Sutton General Store will bring on the 2nd Annual Genealogy Fest, offering research booths, storytellers, seminars, bluegrass music, and primitive crafts. April 26 will introduce a vintage fashion show at the Granville United Methodist Church and a garden party luncheon at the Homestead.
Heritage Day on May 24, attended annually by thousands, will present its 15th year of fun. Randall Clemons, board member, says, "There'll be the largest antique car show in the state, square dancing, fiddle playing, a Civil War reenactment, a parade, and river boat tours."
In its 36th year, The Gainesboro Poke Sallet Fest is another link to a slower time and pace. Held every May on Mother's Day weekend, local legend has it that this celebration of the ubiquitous poke sallet plant was created to honor the food which many Jackson County natives historically ate in springtime.
Highlights include eclectic musical performances on the square, an outhouse race, the "Miss Poke Sallet" Beauty Pageant, a Poke Sallet eating contest, and the International Poke Sallet Cook-Off. Chairman of the event, Jim Whittaker, says, "Last year's winner diverted from tradition -- Pickled Polk Sallet Stems!"
The Muddy Waters Festival is a newcomer event to Jackson County held on the weekend of March 21 - 23. Local Jackson County businessman and awarded kayak enthusiast Tom Hehnen speaks for the happening when he says that Muddy Waters is the brainchild of a vibrant water community who has their hands all over the details of a first-year Muddy Waters.
"We wanted to celebrate the privilege in Jackson County of the many landowners who grant river access for various outdoor sports," Hehnen says. The event, which will be held on Spring Creek, a tributary of the Roaring River, will rotate a variety of water rodeo contests, disc golf marvels, and Tennessee food vendors.
Jackson County is ideal when considering purity of place and purpose, an elevated country getaway for the soul.