A September 2005 trip
to Bell Buckle by Taylor Shelby
Quote: The bed-and-breakfast we stayed in suggested a side trip to Bell Buckle. We had a few hours, so we decided to go check out the tiny little town not far from Shelbyville.
Bell Buckle is one of those old railroad towns that you find all over the south, especially in rural areas. Around the time that the railroad came (1850s/60s) many towns of this nature sprung up. They were vibrant, bustling trade towns and railroad stops, but by the 1920s, the depression left these towns devoid of trade. There weren’t many that managed to get back on their feet, and today these towns usually consist of a railroad track and a couple of sad, old, dilapidated buildings that constitute a downtown. Whenever I see these little places I always want to buy all the property and fill them with cute little shops and restaurants. I hate to see a historic town fall into nothingness, and unfortunately, it is a problem that is all too common in America.
Thankfully, Bell Buckle avoided the fate of so many other places, and actually managed to revive. The once abandoned downtown is now thriving with antique shops, artists, unique stores, and one fantastic restaurant. When we arrived, right around lunch time, the town was bustling with activity. There must have been hundreds of people milling about and waiting outside the Bell Buckle Café (always a good sign!). It was just wonderful.
I would have liked to spend a bit more time there, but we were on somewhat of a schedule. I did get a chance to go into a lot of the shops in downtown. Bell Buckle is home to the famous Webb School, a college prep boarding school, which I would have liked to see. There are also some beautiful homes and historic churches that we missed. Allow yourself a few hours here.
They have a couple of festivals throughout the year. Most famously the RC and Moon Pie festival is in the middle of summer (if you want a slice of true southern culture, I don't imagine you could get closer than that). They also have a craft fair October 15th and 16th.
Just a note, the train runs right by the downtown area. It is LOUD. You should just go ahead a prepare yourself.
The town is on highway 269 just past Wartrace and Tullahoma. From Shelbyville, take Highway 64 which intersects with 269. It is a quick and pleasant drive. This part of Tennessee is just wonderful for driving.
When we were seated, the hostess took us back to our seats and I was shocked at the size of the place. It seems like a tiny little building from the façade, but once you go in, it just keeps going and going. There are multiple rooms and crammed full with tables. We were seated at a big table and we shared it with another family. I’m normally not a big fan of that sort of thing, but there were seats in between us, and once the food was served, I hardly even noticed them!
I really loved the way the place was decorated. There are exposed brick walls and it almost has a warehouse feel to it. The walls are decorated with old tin signs, handmade birdhouses, and pictures drawn by local kids. The tables all have gingham red and white tablecloths on them. It just has the most charming, down home feel to it.
The food fits in with the décor well. They specialize in Southern cooking (you know, fried chicken, meatloaf, chicken and dumplings, etc.), the kind that stays with you for hours after you eat. I was extremely impressed with the amount of sides they have. There must have been 15 choices on the list. Since sides are my favorite, I chose to get the "vegetable" plate which let me pick four. I got fried okra, red beans and rice, macaroni and cheese, and watermelon (I know, random! But it looked so good!). Mom had fried clams and Dad had catfish. The amount of food was staggering. The servings were huge- my watermelon took up an entire dinner plate. And it was good. And I mean better-than-your-grandma-can-make good.
The food was also surprisingly cheap. It was only about $7 a person for our food and drinks. Oh, and make sure you try the hand squeezed lemonade. I don’t even like lemonade, and it was wonderful. They may have a different menu for dinner, but I doubt it can be much more. If you are thinking of going for dinner, on Friday and Saturday nights they have live bluegrass, and while we were there, they had a guy playing the autoharp and singing old-timey music. It was just wonderful. Go there!
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 6, 2005
Bell Buckle Cafe
16 Railroad Square
Bell Buckle, Tennessee 37020
Attraction | "The Cat's Meow Embroidery and Gifts"
They did have a lot of cute, and reasonably priced stuff in the shop. I was first drawn to to bags and purses, because I love stuff like that. They had a large variety and almost all of them could be monogrammed in the store. Most of them were around the $30 range, but there were some that went to $90 and up (of course, those were the ones that I liked the best).
They also had a lot of really nice gifts for a baby shower or something along those lines. They had these beautiful crib blankets that were unbelievable soft for $28. If I knew someone who was going to have a kid, it would be a great gift. They also had a lot of great stuffed animals and early-learning books and toys.
One of my favorite things in the store were these linen hand towels with elaborate initials monogrammed on them. They were only $10 and I almost bought one, but then I told myself that I didn't need anymore stuff in my house. They were hard to resist, though.
The Cat's Meow is located across the main street from the rest of the downtown area. There is a large parking area in front and it has a great big porch. The store is closed on Sundays and they have a website at www.catsmeowgifts.com.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on September 6, 2005
The Cat's Meow Embroidery & Gifts
25 Railroad Square
Bell Buckle, Tennessee 37020
Well, Bella Wood Crafts does have antiques, but I wouldn’t classify it strictly as an antique store. They had an odd collection of all sorts of things: birdhouses made out of boots (somehow they were cute!), textiles, wooden trains and cars, candles, and large pieces of reproduction furniture. It was certainly unusual, but it really worked. I spent quite a bit of time there just looking at all the neat stuff.
One thing they are famous for, and that I thought was great, were these things called "Joy’s Jar Cakes." At first glance, they look like jars of jam or jelly, but these are actually cakes (red velvet, chocolate, chocolate chip, and carrot to name a few varieties) that are in mason jars. I guess they put the batter in the jar, bake the cakes just like that, and use the heat to seal the jars. What a novel idea. They were about $7 each, and I was tempted to get one just because it was so strange. I think that would be a really great little treat to bring home to people. And the cakes looked quite good.
They also had a beautiful antique widow pane that had been painted with flowers. They had it hanging up in the window, and the light was just streaming through it, lighting up all the colors on the panes. It was just stunning. It would be a really great decoration to hang in a kitchen or a bathroom. If I could get my hands on an antique window, I’m sure that I could make something similar, but where do you find one of those? It was $65, which seemed very reasonable to me, especially for something so large.
This is just a generally neat store. There was something in there that everyone could appreciate and covet. I’m glad that little orphan tub made me go in. I would have hated to miss it. If you head to Bell Buckle, this is surely a stop you don’t want to pass by.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 13, 2005
Bella Wood Crafts
26 Railroad Square
Bell Buckle, Tennessee 37020
In the side wall of the store, there is a doorway that is cut into the next building over. This is called the "powder puff gallery." This is still part of the store, but it has different items. Most of the stuff in here was clothing and various things related to that. Most of it was pretty horrific (there was a clear, plastic mini skirt that was $112 – yech!), but they did have some cute things in there as well. My favorite thing in the store wasn’t actually for sale; it was just being used as a prop. It was like one of those old-fashioned wire-dress forms, but made with wicker, and it was stuffed with ostrich feathers. I know it sounds weird, but it looked wonderful. There were also some home décor items in this part, like artwork, and my mom found this gorgeous hand-woven rug that she bought for $35. It was a deal. We were very lucky because when we were there they had everything in the store 50% off.
Now, my favorite thing about this place wasn’t what they had for sale, but the buildings that they were located in. The man at the counter told us that the place was almost destroyed by a fire 7 years ago, and what we see now is largely restoration. It looked beautiful. The walls were all exposed brick, some of it painted and distressed, which gave the place a warehouse-y feel. In contrast, the ceiling was a fabulous grouping of pressed tin tiles and fans everywhere. There must have been 15 ceiling fans in the place. They were very luxurious. It was so interesting how the two styles complimented each other. The powder puff gallery also had beautiful stained glass in the doors and windows, so make sure you look up and see it.
I’m really glad that we went in here. If for nothing else, the building is a must-see.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 15, 2005
14 Railroad Square
Bell Buckle, Tennessee 37020
Charleston, South Carolina