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More than just ice cream

  • photo
    The McMinn County Living Heritage Museum displays many of its 9,000-plus items in a series of rooms that also have a history. Part of the building was once McMinn Central High School.
    Photo by Randall Higgins.
    enlarge photo

Athens, Tenn., at the seat of McMinn County, stands halfway between Chattanooga and Knoxville, and is surrounded by picturesque hills and farmlands.

Home to a famous dairy, a living heritage museum, and a four-year college, Athens is a small town with a special culture all its own.

After all, where else are both cows and pumpkins revered as part of a town’s tradition and history?

BEST THING TO DO

I scream, you scream

•Go behind the scenes and learn how Extreme Moose Tracks goes from cow to cone at Mayfield Dairy

•Learn about why Mayfield milk comes in a yellow jug and how much ice cream is made each year

•Visit the Mayfield store to purchase a souvenir and don’t forget about a cold, creamy scoop of ice cream

Source: Mayfield Dairy

SOMETHING ELSE TO DO

Underwater fun

•Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort is an old quarry resort for instructors, students and certified divers.

•The name stands for the Scottish word for lake (loch), the name of the owners (Low, as in Rick and Stacy Low), and McMinn County (Minn).

•Get an up-close-and-personal look at some paddlefish, one of the oldest fish around. Fossil records date its history to 50 million years before the first dinosaurs.

Source: Loch Low-Minn Dive Resort

BEST KEPT SECRET

Playtime for everyone

•160 acres of outdoor fun and play awaits families and individuals at Athens Regional Park, which features lighted softball and soccer fields.

•A large picnic pavilion seats about 200 people

•Several miles of trails are available for walking, mountain biking and hiking

•Work on that backhand: There’s a disc golf course.

Source: Athens Area Chamber of Commerce

FESTIVALS

•MooFest: How could a town famous for its dairy not have a festival celebrating all things dairy? Activities include a mooing contest, scoop stackin’ and a milk chug-a-lug.

•Pumpkin Town: Touted as “a fall festival celebrating history, heritage and harvest,” past events of the festival have included a quilt show and a mutt strut.

•Old-Fashioned Downtown Christmas: Kick off the holiday season with an old-fashioned Christmas, featuring lights, music, food and Victorian charm.

Source: Athens Area Chamber of Commerce

WHERE TO EAT

Get a real taste of Athens at The Country Patch

•For a down-home feel, visit this cafeteria-style restaurant for hearty fare and friendly service.

•“Fried” is the word here — the fried okra can’t be beat.

•According to Fred Underdown, president of the McMinn County Historical Society, the owner only wears shoes because the law says she has to.

Source: Fred Underdown, McMinn County Historical Society

FACTBOX

•Population: About 14,000

•Biggest employers: Denso, Manufacturers Industrial Group, Mayfield Dairy, Thomas & Betts, Heil Trailer International

•Number of miles from downtown Chattanooga: About 60

•Landmarks or geographic features: Home of Tennessee Wesleyan College, the low hills and narrow ridges surrounding the city are an example of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province

•Date founded: About 1824

•Historic Info: The Battle of Athens, in 1946,cq was the last time since the Civil War that people rose against the government to bear arms. The incumbent sheriff was held hostage, and people were shot and stabbed.

•Most famous residents: Piano roll artist J. Lawrence Cook

•Odd/unique traditions: The city was named Pumpkintown before it became Athens.

•Unique characteristics/fun fact: The Fisher family, active in the development of the typewriter, is originally from Athens.

Source: Athens Area Chamber of Commerce, Fred Underdown

— Compiled by Holly Leber, hleber@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6391