Longstreet Highroad Guide to the Tennessee Mountains
By Vernon and Cathy Summerlin
[Fig. 17] Beersheba [pronounced BUR-shuh-buh] Springs was one of the most popular resort areas in the South in the late 1800s. Today it continues to fascinate visitors. The area has some beautiful antebellum homes, and many of them are open during the Arts and Crafts Fair held on the Methodist Assembly grounds in August.
The famous resort at the western edge of the plateau is named for Beersheba Cain, allegedly the first white person to ever drink from the mineral spring for which the community became known. She discovered the spring while she and her husband, John, were traveling across the plateau. John Cain was so impressed by the scenic beauty of the location that he purchased land along the top edge of the bluff that provides a panoramic view of the Collins River valley.
Later, after Alfred Paine and George R. Smartt built the Smartt Tavern, the Tennessee General Assembly incorporated Beersheba Springs as a summer resort under Smartt's management. In 1850, after John Armfield purchased the tavern, more buildings, homes, and guesthouses were built. A second story was added to the tavern, and it became known as the Beersheba Springs Hotel and was a stagecoach stop. The coachman would sound a horn at the base of the mountain, and by the time the coach arrived, food and rooms would be ready. The Civil War caused the hotel to go bankrupt, and over the years it changed hands a number of times.
The old hotel and guest cottages, most of which have a breathtaking view, were purchased in 1941 by the Tennessee Conference of the United Methodist Church to serve as a retreat. In 1980 the Beersheba Springs Historic District, consisting of 220 acres and 55 structures, was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
[Fig. 17] Much like the other colonies that were established on the plateau by other ethnic groups, this small community near Tracy City was settled by Swiss immigrants who left Switzerland during the country's major depression of the mid-1800s. Representatives of the Swiss Immigration Society and the Swiss Republic traveled to America seeking a place to locate a colony and came to the plateau on the recommendation of President Andrew Johnson.
Impressed by what they saw, they returned to their country and obtained the money to purchase a tract of land across the canyon from Beersheba Springs. Originally called Gruetli, the colony eventually merged with the nearby community of Laager, another Swiss colony. Although the venture was not successful, some residents of Swiss ancestry remain, and a local Swiss Historical Society works to preserve the heritage of the two communities.
[Fig. 18] The names Tracy City and Baggenstoss are virtually synonymous, because the Swiss-German family of John and Louise Baggenstoss were principally responsible for the community's success. The couple came to the area in 1880, attracted by the Gruetli colony. In 1902 they established the Baggenstoss Bakery, now the Dutch Maid Bakery, Tennessee's oldest family-operated bakery and the attraction for which Tracy City is best known.
Old World recipe breads and famous applesauce fruitcakes are baked year-round and the shop is as much a museum as a bakery. Many appliances were new during the 1920s and now the parts have to be special made to repair them. If you're wondering why a Swiss man called his bakery Dutch, it was a mistake. The name Swiss Bakery was taken so Baggenstoss applied for Deutsche Bakery, but a bureaucratic mistake spelled it Dutch.
The six sons of John and Louise ran the bakeshop for many years. One of the brothers, Hermann, became well known throughout the state for his conservation efforts and was the major force in the creation of the South Cumberland State Recreation Area.
The other notable spot to visit in Tracy City is Mountain Lake Glassworks on Lake Road. Here you can see hand-blown glassware, pottery, bronze castings, and fine crafts.
[Fig. 19] Monteagle sits 2,100 feet high and is considered the gateway to the southern Cumberland Plateau.
From its beginning, Monteagle has been the location of various theological and educational institutes. It was founded around 1870 by John Moffat, a Scotsman who retired from a career of leading a nationwide temperance crusade, and named for Lord Monteagle, an English friend. Moffat donated land for the establishment of the Fairmount School for Girls, dedicated to providing educational opportunities for women of the region.
He was also instrumental in creating the Moffat Collegiate and Normal Institute for training teachers, which eventually became the nondenominational Monteagle Sunday School Assembly. The assembly was a part of the Chatauqua movement that established summer retreats for the purpose of training Sunday school teachers. The appeal of the mountain environment soon led to the development of a summer resort. Chatauqua was a religious movement that began in 1874 on the shores of Lake Chatauqua in northern New York.
Today, The Monteagle Assembly is still a place where Sunday school teachers and others spend the summer in a religious environment attending classes and concerts, and engaging in other uplifting activities. This facility is the only one of its kind. In 1982 the Assembly was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Monteagle is also home to the Monteagle Wine Cellars. Located on Monteagle Mountain, this winery is dedicated to continuing and expanding the rich heritage of wine-making in the area. It offers a tasting room and retail shop where visitors can enjoy wines produced from some of the world's best-known grape varieties.
[Fig. 19] Sewannee is a few miles from Monteagle and is the location of the Domain of the University of the South, owned by 28 Episcopal dioceses in 12 states. The Episcopal school was founded in 1857 by Bishops Leonidas Polk and James Oey of the Episcopal Church. Polk, the bishop of Arkansas and Louisiana, sought to create a southern school that would match the great universities of North America and Europe. The original charter for what became known as the Domain was for 10,000 acres, 5,000 of which were donated by the Sewanee Mining Company along with an enormous amount of building supplies and transportation facilities.
Built of Tennessee sandstone quarried from the property, it is said to look like a quaint English village. Civil War battles destroyed the school's buildings, but the school was re-established after the conflict and became a university that is now known as Sewanee. The university produces the respected literary journal, the Sewanee Review.