Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Breathing in History

Every Thanksgiving our family continues a newish tradition by renting a cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. Under normal, warmer circumstances, my personal Smoky Mountain mission includes spending as much time as possible in the mountains, hiking the trails or dangling my feet in the streams, while breathing in that fresh air. I'm not a huge shopper, but when Thanksgiving roles around, the weather prevents a lot of mountain time, and forces more shopping time. To make the best of this enforced shopping hiatus from the mountains, I try to make sure we hit as many "local" places as possible - i.e.: off the beaten and suffocating strip. One of my absolute favorite places to shop when in town is Ely's Mill. Follow me as I show you around this little hidden gem of retro shopping.

One of the quickest and most effective ways to quickly get immersed in the mountain atmosphere is to follow the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Yes, I know, you drive an automobile through the mountains - a contradiction of my previous paragraph - but not so! There are MANY places to park and hike or wander through fascinating stops along this paved trail. Since the tour is within the National Park boundaries, they have preserved many little former homesteads that existed before logging and tourism changed the landscape forever. However, once you get to the very end of this trail and cross just outside the Park lines, you encounter a collection of structures that has been preserved in a very different manner.
I will not attempt to portray the long history behind the existence of Ely's Mill. There is a web site where you can learn all about it. But in a nutshell, it was begun sometime back in the 1920s by a very educated man who wanted to get as close as he possibly could to nature.....living in this small mill tucked away along a mountainside stream that has a magical beauty all its own. This man lived off of the land, but did so in an appreciative way that honored the beauty around him.
Fast forward many decades to today, and his descendants are still keeping that small little cluster of buildings full of delights and long standing mountain traditions for the curious tourist. Among the many wonderful treats that await are: hand woven rugs, table runners, scarves, etc. Antiques of all kinds. Locally made honey - which my mom has fallen in love with. Welcoming cats of all sorts. Historical tidbits, informative books and artifacts from the region. And stories/lessons galore. If the family is not giving a local demonstration of their weaving tradition, someone will be more than happy to sit a spell and explain the difference between locust honey and wildflower honey - and the specific seasonal sequence that has to occur to produce either.
This adorable hodgepodge of culture is sure to charm anyone with eyes attuned to the convergence of history and present-day traditions. I not only adore each visit for the sake of what I can buy from the present, but for the experience of wandering through an atmosphere overflowing with tidbits of the past. In fact, I feel more connected to history when wandering around Ely's than I do in the stark "preserved" homesteads within the park. Here, history is still alive in the sights, sounds, smells and tastes of a multi-generational legacy.
And besides......
Who can resist a place that has history AND kittehs?! Seriously!

P.S. Just remember, like the motor trail through the mountains, Ely's shuts down for the winter, so you best wait until spring to enjoy this special treat!



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