Namesake: Maynardville in Union County

5:46 AM, Jun 4, 2011   |    comments
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  • At the Diamond W Trading Post in Maynardville, you can find everything from hand-crafted pocket knives, veterinary supplies, to nostalgic aluminum signs for products sold long ago. You can also find a heaping dose of hometown pride from the shop's owner, veterinarian Tim "Doc" Williams.

    "Maynardville is still a small town where everybody knows each other.  It is surrounded by one of the cleanest lakes in the state. Norris Lake is tremendous with 800 miles of shoreline and is a big draw for sportsmen," said Williams. "When you consider what a small city this is and how small Union County is, we have had a tremendous amount of success stories."

    While some academics may take pride in the county's production of two presidents of Lincoln Memorial University, for many it is the abundance of connections to the entertainment industry that steals the show for Maynardville.

    In Quentin Tarantino's 2009 film Inglourious Basterds, Brad Pitt's character says he is from Maynardville, Tennessee, where he "done my share of bootlegging." Tales of bootlegging illegal moonshine liquor led another movie star to put Maynardville's name in the spotlight in the 1950s. Robert Mitchum wrote, produced, and starred in the film Thunder Road. Mitchum also wrote the movie's theme song, which describes a moonshine run with the lyrics, "He shot the gap at Cumberland and screamed by Maynardville."

    "The old Highway 33 was on Thunder Road, which is now Main Street in Maynardville," said Union County historian Bonnie Peters.  "I knew some of the moonshine runners and they were doing it to feed their families. These drivers were also the forerunners for NASCAR, which spawned from these guys racing their cars."

    "You had people running moonshine in these old hills and hollers," said Williams. "Right now the main highway here is being widened, but when construction is finished it is my hope that we can have some markers to claim this is the historic Thunder Road."

    While the tales of moonshine runners gave Robert Mitchum something to sing about, it is Maynardville's musical heritage that gives locals one of its greatest sources of pride.

    "We have just been designated the 'Cradle of Country Music' by the state of Tennessee," said Williams. "Maynardville produced a couple of Country Music Hall of Famers with Carl Smith and Roy Acuff. Just a few miles away in Luttrell, you have other Union County guys like Chet Atkins and Kenny Chesney. For such a small area to produce so much talent is really unique."

    "Some people say we didn't have anything else to do except play music, but I don't believe that is why our residents have had so much success," said Peters. "The musical heritage here was a passion that was passed down through families. On Saturday nights, you got together and played music and people just showed up.  We had other musicians here that had a chance to play with Roy Acuff in Nashville, but they did not want to leave home."

    With early hits like The Great Speckled Bird, Wabash Cannonball, and Tennessee Waltz, Acuff is often referred to as "the father of country music." Locals are equally proud of the way he maintained ties to his hometown through the bright lights of success.

    "Roy Acuff loved Maynardville and he loved Union County," said Peters. "He always kept up with the folks back home and would come to weddings or funerals. He was known to always send a huge arrangement of orchids for families that had lost a loved one."

    Movies, songs, and entertainers may have placed Maynardville in the spotlight through the years. However, the person who actually put Maynardville on the map was a law professor in the 1850s.

    "Back then the town of Maynardville was named Liberty. The people who lived in this area wanted to form their own county because it was a hardship to travel to Knoxville for official business. They wanted a county seat to handle official business without having to travel and stay overnight in another city," said Peters. "They officially formed Union County out of parts of neighboring counties, but Knox County filed an injunction to stop the creation of the new county. Knox County did not want to lose the land or the tax dollars that came with it."

    Horace Maynard had moved to Knoxville from Massachusetts to teach law at East Tennessee College, which would eventually grow to become the University of Tennessee. Maynard offered his legal services to defend the creation of Union County.

    "Of course, the county had no money and he [Maynard] was willing to do it without pay. It was a legal battle that lasted several years, and to have someone of his ability provide free legal services is something very rare," said Peters. "Maynard was known to actually walk from Knoxville to Maynardville to meet with the people here. That's about a 23-mile trip one-way."

    When Union County proved successful in its legal fight, the residents expressed their gratitude to Horace Maynard by changing the name of the new county's seat.

    "The name of the little town was changed from Liberty to Maynardville," said Peters. "Maynard was from all accounts one of the most brilliant men in the nation. He went on to serve in the U.S. Congress, was named the United States Postmaster General, and was named the ambassador to Turkey."

    Maynard is buried near the main entrance to Old Gray Cemetery in Knoxville. Several large markers and a stone bench display the Maynard surname. However, the most prominent display of his legacy remains 20 miles to the north in the city that bears his name.

    "He fought to give the folks here their own county. The town is named for Horace Maynard. Union County High School was once known as Horace Maynard High School. We still have Horace Maynard Middle School," said Williams. "I love it here. Today you've got the lake, you've got the easy life, we're just a few minutes from Knoxville, and it's just a great place to be."

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