Decades ago when TVA built Norris Lake, a bustling little town near it decided to ditch its Coal Creek moniker in exchange for something a bit more alluring. Today, other than a Cracker Barrell and McDonald's at the I-75 exit, there are few reasons people actually stop in Lake City. Instead they pass through the edge of town on the way to Norris Lake.
The town has been working for years to create a museum to spotlight its coal past and has supported a coal inspired motor tour that takes people to places like Fraterville, home to Tennessee's deadliest mine disaster and a number of coal miner's circles inside cemeteries.
Earlier this month, Lake City leaders voted in favor of changing the town's name to Rocky Top, part of a broader plan to lure a "Rocky Top" themed amusement park. (Click here for WBIR-TV story) The state legislature must approve the name change for it to become a reality.
State route 116 out of Lake City takes you on a journey through the region's coal history. The road also takes you across mountains with breathtaking views, small communities with remnants of the days when coal was king, and eventually one of the most infamous buildings in the state, the former Brushy Mountain Prison.
This month voters in the county where the prison is located voted overwhelming to move forward with a plan to turn the historic structure into a distillery and tourist attraction. (Click here for WBIR-TV story). A mock ad for the distillery says "Brushy was the damnation of many an evil man, and the salvation of a humble few." (For more on the Brushy Mountain plans click here.)
Until Rocky Top or the Brushy Mountain Distillery become a reality be sure and take a drive between the two. Lots of history, natural beauty and a glimpse into a part of Tennessee where time has stood still.