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Granville Celebrates Its Past with a Victorian Christmas and Parade

The historic steamboat town of Granville, on the Cumberland River, has witnessed an astonishing evolution in its lifetime. Driving into town on a Saturday afternoon you may find yourself blinking. Men sit on benches on the porch outside the old T.B. Sutton General Store telling yarns. Across the road a glimpse in the window reveals a barber preparing his customer for a close shave with a cut-throat razor. DSC_0343

“I don’t want to miss the ice cream,” I tell my guide, Chris Neeley, long-time resident and board member of the Granville Museum, as he shepherds me into the emporium opposite the Ice Cream Shop. “They close at 3 p.m., don’t they?”

“You won’t,” he reassures me with a laugh. “They’re not going anywhere.”

A little while later I understand. When we enter, the scene is frozen in time. A rough and tumble pair sit at the saloon table with a bottle of Dickel Whisky, eyes fixed on their hands of cards. A young girl and boy perch on stools at the ice cream counter. A fallen chocolate-covered ice cream cone lies upside down on the floor. They are all mannequins (“scarecrows”). I have stepped into a time warp. DSC_0404

Imperceptibly, the date clock spins backwards. Was that the whistle of a steamboat on the Cumberland pulling into the dock? The clip-clop of a horse and buggy going past?

Granville has seen many changes since the first settlers arrived in 1799. Pioneer village, thriving riverboat town, rich farming community, ghost town, and now a popular tourist destination. It has known prosperity and hardship, near death, and rebirth. The impounding of the Cumberland to form Cordell Hull Lake brought new life, after first taking it away from farmers who lost their land to the lake development.

Today the town reveals the secret of its resiliency. Residents with roots going back to its origins serve with a passion for preservation, watching for the opportunity to resurrect one more building after another. When the Sutton Homestead came up for sale, the Granville Museum raised $150,000 from local residents in one month for its successful purchase.

Beverly and Harold Sutton bought the old general store in 2001, poured $200,000 into its restoration, and donated it the Granville Museum in 2007 when poor health forced them to retire. DSC_0375

Join me on this journey into the past and let the screen door bang behind as you enter the T.B. Sutton General Store, shelves crammed with authentic products and treasures. Select from a mouth-watering array of cookery books, fill a bag with assorted candy from the display cabinet, or pick up a jar of honey or preserves. A hat for the gentlemen, a scarf for the ladies. Upstairs browse the talented works of over 40 artists from the Upper Cumberland Arts Alliance. There’s just enough time to explore the town before dinner is served and the Bluegrass band strikes up for the Sutton Ole Time Music Hour.

The Pioneer Village stands silent today. The embers are cold in the blacksmith’s shop, fabric in the loom is half finished, a faint film of white dust covers the grist mill and tobacco hangs drying in the small shed. But come back on festival days or when a school group is visiting, and the village is a hive of activity. Now there is time to linger and listen for the faint echoes of bygone days.

“We want students to understand what it was really like,” explains Neeley. “The town is a work in progress.  On Pioneer Day in May we bring all the 4th Grade students in Jackson County to set tobacco and plant the vegetable garden. In October the 5th Graders learn how to strip tobacco. Granville was first settled for growing tobacco on its fertile bottomland.” Fall Celebration 10-6-12 064P

Heritage Day, the Saturday before Memorial Day, draws close to 10,000 visitors to enjoy arts, crafts, living Civil War history demonstrations, antique cars and tractors, and a stroll down memory lane. The Fall Festival is celebrated in October, with Jazz on the Cumberland and the annual Quilt Festival.

The Sutton Homestead, one of the oldest existing houses in Granville, comes alive with mannequins in authentic poses and dress. Stepping into a bedroom I almost apologize for the intrusion. A woman in a filmy nightgown sits at the dressing table brushing her long hair. Excuse me… oh, just a mannequin!

It’s the small attention to detail that sets the historic town of Granville apart from the crowd. DSC_0407

Across the way, step inside the 1950’s Gulf Service Station. This Transportation Museum is cleverly filled with a stunning collection of antique cars, bikes and tractors on rotating loan from numerous owners, lined up as though waiting to be serviced. We admire a gleaming A-model Ford, several T-models, a ’55 Chevy, several antique tractors.

Culminating every tour is the Granville Museum, housed inside the former Church of Christ, choc-a-block with memorabilia, pictorial displays, genealogical records, military room and recreated school classroom. photo(39)

It’s 5 p.m. on Saturday night and the dinner bell calls diners to their tables in the old General Store feed room. Time to make new friends as we share a home-style meal served on big platters. At 6 p.m. the Old Time Music Hour begins and the Bluegrass band entertains with its warm-up show, followed by the radio taping at 7 p.m. It will be broadcast in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia, and streamed worldwide on the Internet every day of the week.

The whole town is decked out for a Victorian Christmas, ready for the festival and Christmas Parade (starts at 2 p.m.) on Saturday, December 14, 2013, 10 a.m.-8 p.m.  Take a side trip to Mayberry when the Sutton Store Players perform their version of the Mayberry Blue Christmas on select dates between December 5-13, 2013.

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Granville is the perfect little town to put you in the Christmas holiday spirit. Why not plan an overnight stay at one of their two Bed & Breakfast Inns and complete your Christmas shopping at the Emporium and historic Bank Museum Gift Shop.

Slow the pace a little and give yourself the gift of time. It’s worth it.

Have you visited Granville? Share your experience in the comments!

Hi! I’m Dayle Fergusson. As a transplanted Aussie living in Middle Tennessee since 1986, I have been a freelance travel...Read on

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    Carol Howald

    What a delightful story! You have truly captured the essence of the experience, of stepping back in time in Granville.

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