A sweet spot for Sewanee
Ensconced on Sewanee Mountain on 13,000 acres of property called The Domain, the University of the South, stop No. 51 on the Pie in the Sky self-guided driving trail, is a campus literally and figuratively in the heavens.
Touring small college campuses is a favorite pastime of mine, and Sewanee, as it is familiarly known, stands in a class all its own. More than 150 years old, the campus with its Gothic-style buildings in pink sandstone, has the calm, peaceful ambience of a venerable, ivy-cloaked school of learning.
All Saints Chapel, built in 1905, with its magnificent stained glass and soaring ceiling lords over a grouping of stately buildings, like Guerry Hall, a music and arts building with arch walkways. Fulford Hall, which houses the office of admissions, was built as a two-story log cabin in 1866, about nine years after the university was founded by a group of Episcopal bishops. The Civil War disrupted construction of buildings, but in 1868 classes began.
We began our ramble around campus with a brochure and map obtained at Fulford Hall and learned the history of this extraordinary campus, home to 1,500 undergraduate and 110 post-graduate students. Spencer Hall, dedicated in 2008, reflects the old and new in its architecture. The Tennessee Williams Center was funded when the playwright left his estate to the university. I can easily envision the late Sen. Howard Baker, who attended Sewanee, discussing assignments with classmates as they walked along University Avenue. Considered one of the nation’s leading liberal arts colleges, Sewanee has had 25 Rhodes Scholars hail from its halls.
Two things I notice right away: People are incredibly friendly and willing to help. On two occasions when I stood studying my map, people stopped their cars and asked if they could point me in the right direction. Residents love the beauty of their tree-shaded campus and eagerly share this appreciation with others. Expansive lawns, gardens and small lakes give the campus an open, park-like feel.
With expert directions, I find Abbo’s Alley, a wooded ravine garden in the heart of campus. It was designed as a place for meditative strolls and solitude. Wildflowers and ferns flourish along the banks of a small stream flowing from Tremlett Spring. Students maintain this walkway, marked by millstones and punctuated by several footbridges and a gazebo. I also located Shakespeare Garden, a small rectangular plot featuring flowers and herbs mentioned in the bard’s works.
Walking is a big part of the Sewanee experience. Trails branch from the campus and link to the Perimeter Trail. This 20-mile loop on the mountaintop offers expansive views into the valleys. Sunsets draw people to the overlook at Memorial Cross, a place of remembrance for fallen soldiers, and to Morgan’s Steep, a lookout near the trailhead to Bridal Veil Falls. The falls tumble 27 feet down a limestone cliff and then plunge an additional 25 feet more before the water slips into a sinkhole.
The Shakerag Hollow Trail, constructed by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s, descends through hardwood forests to an overlook featured on vintage postcards. Wildflowers like Dutchman’s breeches, dwarf larkspur, Southern red trillium and trout lily grow in profusion.
These hikes through woodlands and to sandstone overhangs and natural bridges attract visitors from Nashville, Chattanooga and the entire Southeastern Tennessee region. Easy access via Interstate 24 and a broad selection of cabins, inns and restaurants make Sewanee a popular weekend getaway.
University visitors and guests can stay at the Rebel’s Rest, a log structure with the cozy feel of your grandmother’s house. The Sewanee Inn, also on campus, opened in May and offers 43 guest rooms and suites, many with views of the newly-renovated, 9-hole golf course. Clad in fieldstone, the inn features the same Gothic-style architecture as the main campus buildings. The boutique hotel’s restaurant and pub have become a gathering spot for locals and visitors alike. Our breakfast featured our favorites like eggs benedict and sausage ’n’ gravy, all served with freshly-baked sweet breads and biscuits.
The town of Sewanee, affectionately known as “the Village,” lies about a mile from the campus and is part of the Domain. In the summertime, students and locals meet at the town pavilion for “Friday Nights in the Park,” live music events lasting well into July. Shops, an art gallery and eateries brighten the lively, but small business district. The Blue Chair became a boisterous spot for watching the World Cup matches; the tavern/coffee shop serves wraps and deli sandwiches. People fill the tables of Julia’s and Shenanigans to munch on salads, grilled sandwiches and baked goods. IvyWild, an upscale restaurant, features fresh, seasonal, and locally sourced entrees, all presented so exquisitely they are deemed “art on a plate.”
People make their way to the nearby Monteagle for fine dining at High Point, a steakhouse in a 1920s mansion. Lobster, salmon, and duck are also favorite entrees. Guests to the Monteagle Inn and Retreat Center enjoy “Mountain Gourmet” breakfasts. The chef selects fresh vegetables and herbs from the kitchen garden to prepare his specialties. The inn’s luxurious guest rooms and suites and its convivial living rooms have a welcoming elegance with spacious seating and oh-so-comfortable beds and sofas, respectively. The shaded porch and gardens are perfect for passing quiet, relaxing hours.
The Monteagle Inn is located across from the entrance of the Monteagle Sunday School Assembly, a summer colony established in 1882. Dozens of wooden cottages have remained in families for generations; they are carefully renovated with only a few concessions to modern conveniences.