The Great Depression and rise of the automobile threatened to destroy the small town of Bell Buckle, Tenn., nestled between Chattanooga and Nashville.
But residents have worked to restore the town's historic buildings and homes, making it a must-visit location for architecture enthusiasts and antiques hunters.
Full of quaint festivals that draw nearly double the town's population each year, Bell Buckle offers an old-fashioned charm for those willing to venture slightly off the beaten path.
-- Compiled by staff writer Rachel Bunn
THE BEST THING TO DO
Antiques and Architecture -- Most people come to Bell Buckle to eat at the Bell Buckle Cafe, shop for antiques and view the restored Victorian and arts and crafts style homes prevalent in the town.
• The Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor offers an old-fashioned soda shop experience, complete with homemade waffle cones and hand-dipped ice cream. (9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.)
• Stop by during Christmastime, when the town celebrates An Old-Fashioned Christmas, featuring carolers in Victorian costumes.
Source: Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce
MUST SEE HISTORIC STUFF
143 years of tradition
•Bell Buckle is home to The Webb School, the oldest continuously operating boarding school in the South. Graduates include Charles Alexander (international editor of Time magazine), Jerry Martin (U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Tennessee) and Andrew Glaze (poet). Ron Bush 7/17/12 plus Alex Chambliss !!!
•Civil War history buffs can visit the battlefield at Liberty Gap and use a metal detector to search for Civil War artifacts.
Source: The Webb School; Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce
BEST KEPT SECRET
A Working Writer -- Visit Tennessee Poet Laureate Margaret Britton "Maggi" Vaughn in her writing studio, the Bell Buckle Press. Vaughn, who was appointed poet laureate in 1999, has written 15 books and many songs, often working with country music legend Loretta Lynn.
• Vaughn publishes and sells her own work at the press and is willing to offer her advice to aspiring writers and poets. (105 Webb Road E; call for an appointment, 931-389-6878)
Source: Margaret Britton Vaughn
BELL BUCKLE EVENTS
• Webb School Art & Craft Fair: The fair offers more than 500 booths from artists across the state (Oct. 20-21, free).
• Daffodil Days: Gardeners come from miles around to compete in this free spring event (Next event is March 16, 2013).
• RC-MoonPie Festival: Taking place every June, the festival -- known as the South's finest tradition -- boasts a variety of activities, including a 10-mile run, music and games. The festival culminates with the cutting of the world's largest MoonPie (June 15, 2013, free).
Source: U.S. Census Bureau; Bell Buckle Chamber of Commerce
BEST PLACE TO EAT IN TOWN
Taste of Home -- Serving Southern favorites, the Bell Buckle Cafe is well-known for its lemonade, barbecue pork and oatmeal cake. During festival times, the line for the restaurant extends out the door.
• The Bell Buckle Cafe offers more than one of the area's best eateries -- it also has one of the area's best music venues, offering live music every weekend. For information on upcoming performances, visit www.bellbucklecafe.com.
• The cafe even boasts its own record label featuring recordings from local artists (16 Railroad Square East). Hours are 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday, 10:30 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.
Source: Bell Buckle Cafe
WHAT'S IN A NAME?
• Population: 500
• Biggest employers: The Bell Buckle Cafe, the 82 Market
• Landmarks: Bell Buckle is near the Liberty Gap Civil War battlefield.
• Date founded: 1852
• History: The origin of the town's name is disputed. One legend claims it was named after a sign of a bell and a belt that marked the beginning of Native American lands.
• Most famous resident: Author/poet Margaret Britton Vaughn
• Unique tradition: Every year soon after Thanksgiving, citizens of Bell Buckle gather to make wreaths to decorate the town for Christmas.
• Unique characteristic: Bell Buckle is the smallest city in Tennessee to be designated a Tree City USA by the Arbor Day Foundation.