TOP 3 REASONS why I love the little tiny town of Wartrace, Tennessee. Go.
1. The mayor of Wartrace, Tennessee, makes guitars for a living. Really really nice guitars. Like he ships them to Germany good. You can meet him on any given work day in "downtown" Wartrace right across from the red train car and the old Walking Horse Hotel. His name is Don.
2. Don sells the town's water to the George Dickel company. That sounded worse than it actually is. As mayor, Don helped work out the deal with the TN whiskey makers to buy their spring-fed water. It's a huge boost to the local economy. And besides making some fine guitars that Nashville adores, Don does whatever he can to help Wartrace thrive as a community. Even if you don't like whiskey, you gotta like a man who loves his town.
3. The name. Down the road is Bellbuckle, Tennessee. Further on, Bugsnuffle. Not lying. These little word gems bring a grin to my face. I read on the historical marker next to the red train car that the town got its name from Native Americans who fled to the area when Nashvillian settlers were fighting them for their property. So the running path cut right to where Don makes guitars and walking horses graze and the whiskey water flows. Their trace.
Southern Living has always loved such tiny towns, the ones where there's only one of things, coffee stops and diners, post offices and middle schools and barbers (scratch that, even small towns have competition among the barbers). But now, with the October release of a re-charged version of SL, we officially get to champion the little mapdots that could with a new column.
I came across Wartrace on Google maps. Since I used to live in Nashville, I was scoping out the area online one day.
Daydreaming I guess. When I scrolled towards Chattanooga, out of the southeastern corner of my map a road cut across called the Walking Horse Highway, or something like that. Any road with such a label wins for me. So I starting virtually driving from I-65 near Lynchburg across the Horse Highway and on into a town called Wartrace. Pretty soon, Google wasnt good enough for my imagination.
When I visited the first time, I had breakfast at the Iron Gait, a one-room country kitchen about a mile or so from the main intersection in town. I had a simple breakfast of eggs and grits while the rain stopped. It was quiet in the cafe, a work day already two hours begun. So I read the Tennessean while I waited to go meet Don the mayor-guitar maker and his son Stephen.
They were very kind people. Soft-speaking and willing to explain all the old guitar-maker tools and cuts of exotic wood and old pictures on the walls. Stephen showed me around the workshop and the airtight, temp-controlled room where they keep their stock of fine woods. They get the wood from everywhere, he said, Brazil, Africa even. His favorite was rosewood, and his dad Don talked to me about the hand-fit herringbone work on each instrument. They told stories about flat-pickers, the old hotel, and Kenny Chesney's music video.
Later I took a drive out into the country. It was rolling and very green, gorgeous after a morning of rains. I passed a strawberry farm. Horses stared at me as I slowly passed, wondering who I was and why I had come to their pasture. The barns and fences reminded me of home, where I grew up, a place we call Rushland. I wondered if their horses had gotten used to the train like ours had. If their creeks rose up beyond the banks like ours did after big summer rains. If their high school loved football too.
My father grew up on a Tennessee Walking Horse farm. I always wondered what the creatures with such a commonly worded yet aspirational name must look like. And what type of walking they did to claim the title. Being near them in Wartrace, where Tennessee's fertile dales and tree-covered ridges ebb down into a region called The Great Valley, made me feel like I was walking in the shadow of a grandfather I'd never known. Driving the roads he had traveled looking at horses. Smelling the same sweet cool air. A place whose water was worth buying.
Keep a lookout for upcoming towns we love. We're going to write about the best around, almost every issue. In November, the magazine will profile a small hill country find where it's legend that Billy the Kid spent his twilight. And where pies fix everything.
*Photos by Robbie Caponetto