Monteagle a quiet, mountain getaway
Monteagle, Tenn., is so famous for its grueling portion of Interstate 24 that the incline, which ascends 900 feet in just a few miles, has been featured in songs and movies.
But residents say rural Monteagle, perched 2,000 feet atop the Cumberland Plateau west of Chattanooga, is far more than just a stretch of blacktop.
"We're surrounded by state parks, so a lot of people are drawn here for its natural beauty," said Rhonda Pilkington, executive director of the Monteagle Mountain Chamber of Commerce.
Though its beauty pulls people in, residents find short commutes to a handful of nearby major cities. Monteagle is no more than a hour and a half from Chattanooga, Huntsville and Nashville, Pilkington said.
That geographic location has made the town a popular weekend destination. Rental homes and summer cabins abound, she said.
The mountaintop town also is popular with artists, and the Chamber of Commerce sponsors a yearly festival where crafts are on display and for sale. Sewanee: The University of the South is located adjacent to Monteagle. The private Episcopal college is a destination itself, with dramatic, Gothic-style buildings made of local sandstone.
The Sewanee Natural Bridge is a 25-foot-high natural sandstone arch that spans 50 feet and provides a scenic overlook of Lost Cove, essentially a giant sinkhole on the Cumberland Plateau.
But like many small towns in the area, Monteagle retains a slow, small-town feel with its quaint shops, charming restaurants and wooded, secluded neighborhoods.
"We're certainly not large by any means," said Pilkington, who has lived in Monteagle for 25 years. "You can be anywhere you want to be in a hour or so, but many residents get off the interstate and never leave."
AT A GLANCE
-- Population: 1,213.
-- Best things to do: There are a handful of state parks and protected natural areas around Monteagle that feature sweeping vistas, trails and waterfalls. South Cumberland, Grundy Lakes and Savage Gulf state parks surround the town with Grundy Falls State Natural Area.
-- Biggest employers: Sewanee: The University of the South.
-- Miles from downtown Chattanooga: 47.
-- Landmarks: Monteagle's steep interstate incline was mentioned in the Jerry Reed song "The Legend," which is the opening track in the film "Smokey and the Bandit." Johnny Cash also performed "Monteagle Mountain" on his "Boom Chicka Boom" album. The city is surrounded by more than 16,000 acres of state parks and sits on one of the highest points along the Cumberland Plateau.
-- Date founded: 1870.
-- Historic info: Originally settled by Scottish immigrants, Monteagle was first known as Moffat Station, named in 1870 for Glasgow, Scotland, native John Moffat. The Highlander Folk School was founded in 1932 and trained people to participate in the labor movement. The school played a critical role in the 1950s civil rights movement; Rosa Parks attended classes there before her Montgomery, Ala., bus demonstration.
-- Unique traditions: The first weekend in August is the date for the Annual Monteagle Mountain Market for the Arts and Crafts. On the second Monday in March, great cooks come together for Taste of the Mountain, offering their best dishes to the public.
-- Best-kept secret: Artists and craftsmen have for years retired to the Monteagle area. Woodworkers, potters and glass blowers create and sell their wares from home.
-- Something you didn't know: Monteagle Mountain isn't actually a mountain. Though it looks that way to interstate drivers, the community sits on the Cumberland Plateau, which stretches from Alabama to West Virginia. The plateau's highest point is at Black Mountain in eastern Kentucky.