I'm quickly developing a strange fixation with Loudon County. It seems to be the most cultural incongruous place in East Tennessee, even if it is uniformly beautiful. Or maybe it's just typical of the changing East Tennessee of today.

Yesterday, with my sister-in-law in town, we went to Leo's Pulled Pig in Lenoir City for BBQ and then we headed to the Tic Toc Ice Cream Shop in Loudon for dessert. Last week we went to the Sweetwater Valley Cheese Farm in Philadelphia, just south of Loudon. All of these establishments were as good as advertised. Leo's is the best barbeque I've had in East Tennessee, Tic Toc is a fantastic place for ice cream and sundaes, and the cheese farm is the place to get the best cheese you normally get in the grocery stores but for about 40% off.

And yet, there's something strange about Loudon County. With Dixie Lee Junction at the North and Philadelphia at the South, the county seems upside down for some reason. A drive west on 321 from Maryville shows why. After passing the large Bush-Cheney sign on a rotting barn (an apt metaphor for Bush's support around here; once huge and now largely decayed) you go over the massive Fort Loudon Dam. Along the lake are gigantic homes with expensive boats. The highly enjoyable Lenoir City Park, with Calhoun's at the Marina, sits off to the right on the other side. Tellico Dam is off to the left, opening up development to thousands of Northern retirees and "half-backers" escaping the insurance costs of hurricane-ravage Florida. The dislocated poor from Tellico Dam are scattered hither and thither in Loudon, Monroe and Blount County, mostly anonymous, only to reappear when the Daily Times decides to trumpet some domestic violence incident.

Then there's Lenoir City itself. It seems a bit run-down, even with all the new wealth in the area. It also has a surprisingly large Latino population. At Leo's there was a healthy mix of Anglos and Latinos, along with a man wearing a T-shirt saying, "In event of the Rapture: You cannot have my t-shirt." The music at Leo's was classic gospel country and bluegrass, with Hank's "I Saw the Light" and the Carter Family's "Will the Circle Be Unbroken." I'm not a huge gospel fan being a non-Christian and all, but when gospel is good, it's REALLY good. And Leo's seemed to play the best on some sort of CD mix. Across the street I saw two open lesbians with conspicuous bright orange shirts and rainbow necklaces, holding hands, right next to some Pentacostal church. Yes, this was the cultural incongruity of the modern small town South at work.

In Loudon I saw the same strange mix. The downtown is very cute, with the Lyric Theater advertising an upcoming show by Pine Mountain Railroad, a great bluegrass band. The Tic Toc was as close to a Midwestern ice cream parlor I've seen (one of my favorite things about small Midwestern towns is the independent, full-fat ice cream parlor.) Unfortunately my 3-year old son had an "accident" so we had a somewhat embarrassing exit, but it was a wonderful place overall. The clintele seemed a melange of small town traditional South and a few aging hippies, one of whom was wearing a John Prine t-shirt.

So maybe Loudon County is not that much different than the rest of East Tennessee today. A peculiar blend of deeply conservative Christianity, open cultural rebellion, increasing Latino population, newcomers and oldtimers rubbing shoulders, wealth and poverty within shadow of one another, and, of course, beautiful scenery.

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Mello's picture

Prine?

I am reading this thinking.. hey, we were at all the same places yesterday......

We love to go to Loudounoun- it reminds the kids so much of our midwestern small town roots.

You should have said a big hello :-) that teeshirt will be at the Blount County Dems hotdog picnic later this month.

Elrod's picture

Small world

Was that you with the Prine shirt? We had a big Prine-based service at the Unitarian Church in Knoxville a couple weeks ago.

Mello's picture

I think so...

Did the body in the teeshirt open the door for you at the Tic Toc?

The hubby says he considers it a promotion being elevated to aging hippie status. He said a few other things too...

Those TVUUC folks are some of the best people I ever met.

R. Neal's picture

Hah. Apparently it's a small

Hah. Apparently it's a small world, indeed.

(Love these travelogs, Elrod. Looking forward to your next one. They help us remember all the cool stuff all around us that we take for granted.)

bizgrrl's picture

The clintele seemed a

The clintele seemed a melange of small town traditional South and a few aging hippies, one of whom was wearing a John Prine t-shirt.

Ah, youth!

Mello..

The saying goes, "You're not from around here are you?"

Not just for newcomers, but for those returning (as did we).

loudoncountyrights's picture

At Leo's there was a healthy mix of Anglos and Latinos...

I find your observation about Leo's strangely incongruent from what I have witnessed. I have eaten at Leo's many times, sometimes multiple times a week, and I rarely see Hispanic patrons there. (You are far more likely to see them at LCUB's office in their cars with Georgia plates.) I also wonder how you define a "healthy" mix.

We Americans are becoming increasingly easily offended and, you know what, as a native white Southerner, I am offended and resent being referred to as an "Anglo".

The Hispanic population in Lenoir City is not so much "surprising" as it is startling. In addition to Matt Brookshire's tiresime hispandering, I am also offended by Spanish-only signs, which are way too common. The only one I really liked was the one that used to be on a house-turned-office on Highway 11 that read "No Casa".

The "dislocated poor from Tellico Dam are scattered hither and thither" certainly describes why native Loudon County residents are resentful of Northern retirees who drive up property values and engender a local economy based on low-paying service jobs.

WhitesCreek's picture

Ya know, LCR, I'm thinking

Ya know, LCR, I'm thinking "native white sountherner" is an oxymoron, but I understand the tensions.

I don't have any problem with refering to myself as an "Anglo"...It's way better than "Gringo" or Gai-Jin.

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