By Mike Steely
At first you might think that Madisonville, Tn. is just your typical little county seat. With it’s historic courthouse in the center of town, surrounded by shops and attorney offices, it might be any other small southern town. But it isn’t.
People have lived in Madisonville for hundreds of years. Some people believe that the place was the location of Tellico, the principal town of the Cherokee. In fact it is claimed that Tellico was the original name. Tellico Plains is to the south of Madisonville and adopted the name.
In recent years the capital city of Monroe County came under public attention with the posting of the Ten Commandments and the struggle to take it down and keep it up. More recently a man was arrested after he threatened to travel to Madisonville and revenge his own political views.
Named for President James Madison, the town was organized in 1850.
One of the best known early settlers there is John C. Vaughn, a Confederate General who escorted fleeing Confederate President Jefferson Davis as he attempted to escape capture. There’s a historic marker near the courthouse square in his honor.
But the most know native is U. S. Senator and Vice-Presidential candidate C. Estes Kefauver. The Madisonville son became a national figure, twice ran for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, served under Franklin Roosevelt and held hearing and investigations that gained national attention.
Efforts have been underway to preserve Kefauver’s boyhood home there, which suffered a fire a few years ago. Family members own the home as well as Kefauver’s adult home near downtown. The noted political leader is buried in the small cemetery at his home in a simple grave. Despite some local and regional attempts to buy and preserve the boyhood home the family members continue to own both sites and they are not open for visits.
Madisonville is also the home of Hiwassee College, founded in 1849, and the residential college is the site of many plays, events, and activities.
Any day trip to or through Monroe County could include a stop at “The Lost Sea” just south of Sweetwater. Vonore, just northeast of Madisonville, has the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and historic Fort Loudoun State Park. To the south of Madisonville is Tellilco Plains, with Bald River Falls and the Cherohala Skyway over the mountain into North Carolina.
Just south of Tellico Village is Coker Creek, the site of a gold rush in the 1800’s and the little village still sees gold panning.
Madisonville has an active Chamber of Commerce and the county sports a Department of Tourism. You can Google either or call 800-245-5428.
Monroe County is also the home of a nationally-recognized family business located between Vonore and Madisonville. Benton’s Smokey Mountain Country Hams (or Benton’s Bacon) began in 1947 and is recognized by chefs across America for it’s products. The hams are cured for about 8 months. The products are so popular there is currently a 5 week wait on orders.
For Knoxville there’s a couple easy ways to get to Madisonville and Monroe County. You can take I-75 south to Sweetwater and turn left at exit 60 and simply follow the road to Madisonville. Or you can drive to Maryville, take a right on Highway 411, and follow that highway southwest through Vonore to Madisonville.