Athens is home to history, fun spots
Rolling hills and farmland surround the McMinn County seat of Athens, Tenn., about halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville off Interstate 75.
Athens, somewhat isolated yet just an hour's drive from two of the state's largest cities, is home to a famous dairy, a four-year college and a regional museum that gives the small town some big-town culture.
"There aren't many small towns like Athens that have a museum, a regional park with fishing, and a museum like the Living Heritage Museum," Athens City Manager Mitch Moore said.
He said visitors can take their families to the regional park for outdoor summer sports, walking and fishing, and cool off at the museum downtown where there are plenty of exhibits showing the history of the region.
"When you get a little hungry, there are plenty of places to eat, and you can get some ice cream at the Mayfield Dairy," he said.
AT A GLANCE
-- Population: Athens, 13,458; McMinn County, 52,266.
-- Best things to do/places to visit: Mayfield Dairy has free tours six days a week starting at 10 a.m. when visitors can see a modern dairy milk and ice cream operation in action. The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum has 7,000 artifacts representing the culture and history of Southeast Tennessee and tracing a storyline from the pioneer settlers of the mid-1700s through the 1940s. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and admission is $5 for adults, $3 for seniors and students. Athens Regional Park has 160 acres with five softball fields, four soccer fields, concession building with restrooms, pavilion seating 200 people with restrooms and a catering kitchen, two duck ponds, the Southeast Tennessee Trade and Conference Center and a three-mile nature trail for walking, mountain biking and in-line skating.
-- Biggest employers: Denso, Manufacturers Industrial Group, Mayfield Dairy, Thomas & Betts, Plastics Industries, Heil Trailer International, Dynasty Spas, Mills Products.
-- Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 60
-- Landmarks or geographic features: Once known as Pumpkintown, Athens is located in the center of McMinn County. It is the largest of the county's five towns.
-- Date founded and historic information: The town of Athens was created in 1822 on land obtained from William Lowry and Joseph Calloway with an original size of 35 acres. Historian Bill Akins says, "Local lore gives credit to Elijah Hurst ... for suggesting the name Athens, for it fitted a description of the ancient city of Greece, which he had read about." In 1823 the county seat was moved to Athens from its original location at Calhoun on the Hiwassee River, the county's southern border.
-- Unique traditions: The Swift Fly-In is an annual pilgrimage for owners of the 1940s-era single-engine airplane for which it is named, the Swift. The McMinn County Airport is home to the Swift Association and Museum and the annual fly-in that attracts dozens of the stylish, tail-dragging, aluminum-bodied beauties each spring. During the weeklong event, Swifts can be seen above the city taking in the scenery or flying in acrobatic formations.
-- Fun fact: Athens is home to Tennessee Wesleyan College, a small, private, four-year liberal arts college chartered in 1857 and spreading across 40 acres in the downtown area.