Top 4 Cultural Destinations in Blount County, Tennessee

From art galleries to theater performances, plan on spending time on the quiet Tennessee side of the park including the towns of Maryville and Townsend.
Mural in Maryville, Tenn, celebrating Smoky Mountain music. Photo by C Jill Reed via Flickr

Mural in Maryville, Tenn, celebrating Smoky Mountain music. Photo by C Jill Reed via Flickr

Offering fantastic access to Great Smoky National Park, Blount County is made up of a string of towns that offer attractions to enhance your park adventure. From art galleries to theater performances, plan on spending time outside the park in the county’s towns of Maryville, Townsend, Alcoa, Friendsville, Louisville and Rockford. Here are four highlights. And a little-known secret? The Townsend entrance is the closest to Cades Cove, the most popular destination in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

1. Get Tickets for the Clayton Center for the Arts

Maryville, Tenn.

Get a dose of the local art and performance scene in Maryville’s Clayton Center for the Arts, which celebrates the area’s rich arts and cultural heritage. You can see local and regional performances in theater and dance, adding a new dimension to your Great Smoky adventure. Inside, the Ronald and Lynda Nutt Theater seats 1,196. The Haslam Family Flex Theater can seat 200. 

2. Sip Blue Goose Farm and Vineyards

Maryville, Tenn.

Sip local wine at the Blue Goose Farm and Vineyards in Maryville. It’s a small, family-owned farm with a tasting room and a gift shop. The tasting room is in a small barn that once served the farm’s orchard barn. In the tasting room sample sweet and semi-sweet red and white muscadine wine, plus a selection of raspberry and blackberry fruit wines.

Visit at 3334 Old Niles Ferry Rd. in Maryville or

3. Discover History in Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

Townsend, Tenn.

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center by Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center by Brian Stansberry via Wikimedia Commons

Visiting a national park like Great Smoky Mountains National Park is awe-inspiring, but your experience becomes far more three-dimensional when you understand what gave rise to the people and culture surrounding the park. In fact, there were well-established towns within the park boundaries for year, so the park itself grew over time as people and mining and logging businesses were evicted and moved outside of the park. The park was established June 15, 1934.

Discover the rich stories and cultural history that spans 7,000 years at Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center

“Cades Cove is the most visited spot in the Smoky Mountains, and it contains a rich history that many visitors don’t learn about through their drive or bike [ride] through the Loop,” says Bob Patterson, executive director of the center.

Beginning with Native Americans and ending with 1930, the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center fills on that history offering an interactive experience for travelers. It has 11 historic outbuildings, two galleries focusing on Native American and pioneer living, an Early Transportation Gallery covering the evolution of regional travel from footpaths to highways, a 500-seat amphitheater with views of the Smoky Mountains and a 100-seat auditorium.

“Heritage tourism is one of the fastest growing trends in the tourism industry- people don’t simply want to visit an area, they want to learn about its history, experience its culture and find what makes it unlike any other area in the world,” says Tami Vater, tourism director for the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority.

In the Native American and Pioneer galleries, you’ll find Native American artifacts, as well as replicas of Cherokee summer and winter housing. All items in the pioneer section are actual artifacts.

A highlight of 20th century history are the outbuildings that include the 1897 Cardwell cabin and an underground moonshine still donated by local Chuck Williams whose father used it to make moonshine in a secret underground spot at their home in Townsend. For years, local farmers produced moonshine from corn long before there were liquor stores.

4. See Local Art at Heath Claiborne Gallery

Maryville, Tenn.

Located in downtown Maryville in the three-story Capitol Theatre Building, the Heath Clairborne Gallery features Claiborne’s prints and original artwork on the first floor of the historic building. His work often focuses on Appalachian landscapes in the Smoky Mountains. While you are there in the lobby, check out the original oak floor and decorative black tiles that the artist painstakingly refurbished.

Claiborne’s story is just as interesting as his art and the building in which it hangs. In 2002, he and his wife collided with a tractor-trailer truck and were pulled from their burning vehicle. The accident made it gravely apparent how fragile life is, so he decided to puruse his dream of opening his own art studio and gallery.

It’s open to the public from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.

For more information:
Smoky Mountains Visitors Centers
7906 E. Lamar Alexander Parkway,Townsend
201 South Washington St., Maryville