I wake with visions of sugarplums—okay, chocolate—knowing I’ll soon be sampling a unique sweet treat on a day trip to Sevierville, Tennessee, Dolly Parton’s hometown. It’s been years since I spent time in this mountain community, but I’ve heard that its quaint, pedestrian-friendly downtown is making a comeback with new shops, restaurants, and art studios. Its distinction as one of Smithsonian Magazine’s “20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2015” makes me want to go there even more. Plus, I’ve been glued to my computer far too long, and I need a cure for burnout. A getaway, however brief, to this picturesque, friendly place might just do the trick.
I park in front of Andrea Wilson Gallery, one of several new storefronts on Bruce Street. The glass door to her tiny studio is closed, but I catch a glimpse of her botanical watercolors, etchings, and mixed media work. I make a note to stop by on my next visit.
Meandering down the street, I pause at Charlotte’s Bruce Street Creative, where the friendly owner, Charlotte Wear—“like Wears Valley,” she quips, referring to the community 15 miles away—is happy to show me around. Light pours in through large windows. A former home economics teacher, Wear learned weaving and other crafts from her enterprising grandmother in nearby Cades Cove. Wear opened her studio because, she says, “It was time to follow my dream.”
All items are handmade by talented family members and friends: gorgeous nature photography, fused glass cat pins, and dangly earrings created by Wear’s brother and sister-in-law, Ken and Jill Greene; hand-pressed wildflower collages from her friend Mary Phillips; and ring-spun cotton t-shirts dyed by her cousin Laura Riddick. Wear’s father, Howard Greene, fashioned the violins from bubinga and bird’s eye cherry.
Wear sells her own art too, from glass wind chimes to clay pieces embedded with fern and dragonfly designs. She’s also adept at beaded jewelry, metal fabrication, and basket weaving. “I’m schizophrenic as far as my art focus,” she says with a laugh.
On a long table in the back of the room, a buffet of martini glasses with Czech pressed glass beads in various hues—tiger’s eye gold, dark green opaque satin, iris blue—awaits students in Wear’s new jewelry classes. She also teaches enameling, paper crafts, and more.
I want to save time for a few other downtown landmarks, like the Sevier County Heritage Museum, the Dwight & Kate Wade House, built from an Art Moderne style house plan featured in a 1939 World’s Fair exhibit, and the site where Temple’s Feed Store married more than 15,000 couples amid the feed sacks. (The makeshift chapel is no longer there, but there are others, I’m told). So I mosey on down Bruce Street.
I stop at the Cherry Pit Quilt Shop, originally opened by George and Jane Washington nearly 20 years ago. (Yes, that’s his real name). It’s now owned by Jan Stinson, a retired schoolteacher who bought the store in early 2016.
I weave through room after room of kits, patterns, and 4,000 bolts of fabric that seem to stretch on indefinitely. Quilts in every imaginable color, theme, and degree of sewing difficulty hang on the walls.
By now, I’m ready for food. Once out the door, I force myself to turn left at the intersection of Bruce Street and Court Avenue and away from today’s final destination. I’m saving that for last.
I stroll down a quiet section of Court Avenue, past a law firm, a furniture store, and a woman mowing the lawn outside a flower shop. At Healthy Balance Meals, patrons are ordering strawberry spinach chicken salad, turkey pesto Caprese panini, and burrito bowls, one of the specials written on a drop-down roll of brown butcher paper behind the counter.
I devoured my Mediterranean veggie sandwich and quite possibly the best pasta salad I’ve ever tasted.
Stopping by my table, owner, Pat Michaluk, explains how the eatery came about when, in an effort to make sure her bodybuilder son Luke got the proper nutrition, she concocted a few meals to freeze.
Before long, Luke’s friend mused, “I wonder if your mom would do the same thing for me.”
Others asked too, and Michaluk’s hobby turned into a grab-and-go business. She later added a dining room.
Says the proud mom as Luke runs the cash register, “It just kind of all came together.”
Rounding things out
I deliberately save room for dessert—hey, there’s more to life than eating healthy!—and head back up Court Avenue. Across from the gold-domed Sevier County Courthouse, one of the town’s biggest draws with its Victorian architecture and much-photographed statue of Parton, the aptly named Courthouse Donuts beckons to this Southern baby boomer who grew up on Krispy Kremes. Stepping inside the building, built in 1901, I’m surprised to learn that a custom concoction from “Sevier County’s Original Design Your Own Donut Shop” costs only $1.50. Maybe I should spring for more than one?
I survey the list of icings, toppings, and sauces before ordering a house specialty, the Smoky Mountain S’Mores, a vanilla cake doughnut dipped in chocolate icing and golden graham cracker crumbs and drizzled with marshmallow crème.
I’ve held off as long as I can, so I perch on a refurbished tractor seat at a long window counter and savor each delectably moist bite—crunchy, sweet, salty, and, best of all, gooey—even better than I envisioned when I woke up this morning. Somehow I summon enough willpower to talk myself out of a second doughnut.
Then I take a deep breath, feeling more relaxed than I have in a long time. I’ll have to come back to downtown Sevierville soon for more leisurely historical sightseeing and, of course, doughnuts.