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A View From Lick Skillet: Getting food and drink on old US Hwy. 27 [29A] |

A View From Lick Skillet: Getting food and drink on old US Hwy. 27 [29A]

Gentle reader, as you know, the news is rife with potential subject matter for comment of a political or social nature. However, inasmuch as we are almost halfway between Thanksgiving and Christmas, we choose not to burden you with such topics to trouble you in what should be a season of happiness and joy. So, for this week at least, we turn to two topics that always seem to appeal to a goodly number of readers, namely food and recollections of the community as it used to be.

At times as we have headed homeward from Harriman, South Harriman, or “The Gap,” we have most often driven down the four-lane to the intersection of Pine Ridge Road and Old U.S. Highway 27, and turned down 27 on what has been Tennessee 29A, leading over to Piney Grove.


On this particular route we have often reflected on our memories of the time when you could get a meal or a drink on this stretch of road back then, but no more.

Just after you make your right turn at the traffic light on Pine Ridge Road, you get on the old U.S. Highway 27, which for many decades was the principle north/ south federal highway from Detroit, Michigan, to southern Florida. Now U.S. 27 is routed directly down the valley through Emory Gap, and Cardiff, to a point near Winter’s Haven, where it joins U.S. 70 to pass through Rockwood, after which it separates again, with 27 continuing down the Valley to Chattanooga, while 70 separates to climb Walden’s Ridge and cross the plateau on the way to Nashville.

Formerly, however, at the time of which we write, 27 headed southeast through a gap in Pine Ridge to Piney Grove, to run into 70, and run with that highway along the same right of way past Caney Ford and through Post Oak, down into Rockwood, where the two highways separated in the middle of Rockwood, with 70 going up the face of the mountain on what is now often referred to as Airport Road, and 27 continuing down Kingston Avenue through Rockwood to approximately its present location.

But, to return to our starting point, after leaving the four-lane Pine Ridge Road, the road curves onto the original right of way, and you soon encounter the sites of the first two “watering holes.” On the left in the two-story white building is the location of “Pop” Campbell’s barbecue location, and across the road was the location of a tavern called “The Wagon Wheel,” both well patronized establishments for several years.

Just a short way down the road, as one nears the underpasses for the T.V.A. railroad and the Interstate Highway, is the building which housed a very popular restaurant operated by Red Capps and his wife. Weekends here were especially popular.

The next two food connected establishments on this stretch of road were just past the mouth of Poland Hollow Road. The first was actually in the gap in the pine ridge, which is just wide enough to accommodate the highway right of way and the creek which runs alongside the base of the ridge next to the highway. As you drive along through this area, with the ridge rearing up on either side, you may not believe that there was once located here a successful business enterprise, but there was.

A man called “Shorty” Rayburn was the operator and sole proprietor of this operation. He was a member of that old line family, the Rayburns, of which U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Sam Rayburn, Democrat of Texas, was also a member. (“Mr. Sam” was born in east Roane County, up in the Waller settlement.)

Mr. Rayburn, who was always known by everybody as “Shorty” for obvious reasons, saw in this site an ideal location for a fishmonger’s stall, and he built one over the creek, with boxes through which the creek ran to provide cool hospitable conditions for fresh-water fish to be kept alive and well. At this time there were several commercial, or semi-commercial part time fishermen, taking enough catch from one or another of our pre-TVA, pre-Oak Ridge rivers to supply him amply with his stock in trade, and he appeared to do well in this unexpected location.

Just a few yards further along the highway was the location of another unusual food connected business. Just before you get to the site of Mr. Cooley’s sign shop and residence you pass a house that is just a bit unusual in design, although quite attractive. This house was actually constructed as we understood it, as the location for a commercial sandwich-making operation. We were given to understand that the owners made and packaged sandwiches for dispensing out of coin operated machines, as well as other means of distribution. We know little about this operation since we were away at school for much, if not all of the time of its operation.

Proceeding onward toward the junction there were two or three other businesses, including a small supermarket, owned and operated by a gentleman whose name simply will not come to mind, although. as we recall the store was managed by Scot Holder. The store building is still there, with the parking lot between it and the Piney Grove Baptist Church. The Church sits up on the bank overlooking the junction as it is now, with U.S. Highway 70 (Tennessee 1) being four lanes wide, with pull-offs. The old two lane 70 was just a few yards farther on, and is still used as a street.

This being a principal federal highway junction for so long, there were service establishments built there, one of which was owned by long-time newsman “Boots” Cook’s father. This business as we understand incorporated a filling station and cafe. When Highway 70 was widened and moved to its present location, such locations as Mr. Cook’s were deprived of much of their clientele and ceased operation. This fate occurred on a much larger scale in the city of Rockwood, but not only by the widening and moving of Highway 27/70, but more so by the construction of Interstate 40, which completely by-passed Rockwood by several miles. The Peggy Ann operation was likely the greatest casualty of Rockwood’s being circumvented, although there were others.

In the case of Piney Grove, the movement of the highway, while the cause of death of some, was the cause of birth of others. The new 27 and 70 junction was a golden opportunity for Harriman restaurateur, R. A. Davis.

Before the war, Mr. Davis had operated a cafe on Roane Street in Harriman, but he wished to expand, but couldn’t do so due to the war. But at war’s end he persuaded the city fathers to allow him to establish a new restaurant on a site in the City Park. But when the new highway was constructed he immediately recognized that the junction was a more highly desirable location for him to operate.

So he got the site, built the building and the Davis Diner was born, which was probably the most patronized restaurant in the county for some years, since in addition to a sizable local customer base, he had arranged for the interstate buses to utilize his business as a rest stop on the long bus journeys in those days before aviation became the main mode of long distance travel.

Added to the local and bus business, he had built a large meeting room in the basement of the building, in which many public and political meetings were held. Being just about at the geographical center of the county it was doubtless the most convenient meeting place for all concerned, and it has never been replaced as such a meeting place.

On the other comer there was another operation called the Villa Rose, which as we understand was popular with the teen crowd, and was an early dispenser of pizza. (Younger readers may not know that pizza was unknown in most of America until the end of World War II, when G. I.s who had served in the Italian campaign brought back the whole concept of the “pizza pie.”

As we conclude our tale of getting food and drink on old U.S. 27, think, if you will, of the number of stories there are to be told on all the other highways and byways of our county.

*****

The opinions expressed in this column do not reflect the views of this newspaper.

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