Susie Brenaman of Dallas, Texas, remembers her visits to Sparta.
In a recent conversation with a dear friend of mine I was asked an interesting question -- "Why do you keep returning to Sparta?"
My story began two years ago, when I was traveling from my home in Texas to North Carolina. I could have taken an airplane, but I wanted to see some of our great country. I had driven on Interstate 40 for about as long as I could stand. The interstate is a great way to make good time, but as my dad used to tell me, "You can't learn much on the four-lane."
As I came through Cookeville, I saw a sign pointing to the Sparta Historic District. I thought, "Why not?" So I turned off the four-lane road and began a short drive that would change my life.
When I arrived in Sparta it was almost dark, so I decided to find lodging. There was a modern, but quaint looking Royal Inn atop a hill on Hwy. 111, so I booked a room for the night, then looked for a good place to eat.
Though fast food is always a favorite with me, I decided, instead, to try something with a more local atmosphere. Soon I was eating a huge burrito at El Tapatio, with waiters scurrying about to see to my every need.
After spending a restful night, I decided to see some of this little town's historic district. Since I had a little extra time, I wanted to see for myself what small town life was like in the South. I had lived in Dallas and other large cities most of my life, so I was in for a pleasant surprise.
The quiet, peaceful lifestyle of Sparta captured me immediately. After a hearty breakfast at the Sparta Cafe, I visited City Hall, just across the street. There some wonderful ladies, who told the best sights in the town to see, helped me.
They told me of the town's bluegrass musical history, and Sparta natives Lester Flatt, Benny Martin, and Blake Williams, among others.
They also shared information on some of the fine craftsmen in the area and sent me to the Chamber of Commerce for even more information. On the way, I admired the tribute to bluegrass music that was erected on the square.
At the chamber, I learned so much about the beauty of White County, especially the unique Bowater recreation area, with its many waterfalls. The chamber executive director even came out of his office to help me make decisions about my day. Try getting that kind of attention in a big city!
Armed with plenty of information and a loosely formed plan, I hit the antique stores first. Packing my bargains into the trunk of my car, I then stopped at the Fragrant Mushroom for some of the most heavenly scented candles in the world. Of course, I had to buy some pottery holders for them, too.
Before I knew it, it was lunchtime. I dropped in to Miss Marendas, where I enjoyed a wonderful meal that rivaled even the most elegant of tearooms. I marveled at how friendly everyone was, and how they genuinely seemed happy to see me.
After all that eating, I headed to Bowater and walked the trail to Polly Branch Falls. Driving through the area, I was amazed there was so much unspoiled wilderness still around to enjoy.
After a day packed full of fun, food and nature, it was time to head to North Carolina, but I still felt drawn to the beauty and quiet of Sparta. I returned to the hotel and reserved a room for one more night. I had spied a little restaurant earlier just off the main street behind a bank, so that night I enjoyed another wonderful home cooked meal.
The next morning, I grabbed a doughnut at the doughnut shop and headed out of town. I couldn't help but stop one more time and enjoy the fantastic view at Sunset Rock as I drove on Hwy. 70E -- choosing this time not to take the four-lane.
I knew I would be back, because I hadn't even seen Burgess Falls, Fall Creek Falls or the many other natural wonders of the area!
Since that first visit I have returned several times. I return because of the friendly people, history, artists, nature's bounty, good food, relaxation, and reminders of a simpler time -- take your pick!
Sparta has a magic that can't be found at just any turn in the road. It's a combination of many things that can't be explained -- just experienced.