"I never met anybody who retired and moved up North."
I'm from Wisconsin and have lived there most of my life. I started coming to East Tennessee just under 8 years ago in 2006 when a friend moved here from Wisconsin. I came down that July to help and after a good nights sleep, my friend took me to a place called "Scenic Overlook," (I don't remember the name). It is on Hwy 25E ("E" does not signify "East." I don't know what it signifies, but it is not "East," and Hwy 25W is not "West."). Anyway, the "Scenic Overlook" overlooked Cherokee Lake and was one of the prettiest sights of my life. I could imagine Daniel Boone cresting the rise and looking down into the beautiful lush green valley (there was no lake there back then). That was my first impression and it is still very important to me because although I have found many, many more mountains and valleys, that was my first and I still go back to it whenever I'm in the area, which is frequently. And that's when I fell in love with East Tennessee.
East Tennessee is one-third of Tennessee. The other two-thirds are, strangely enough, West Tennessee with Memphis, and Middle Tennessee with Nashville. East Tennessee has Knoxville (University of Tennessee - "We bleed orange!") and Chattanooga (one of the least known beautiful cities in our nation). All-in-all,Tennessee is a state that has everything and is today considered the best state in which to retire. There are lakes and rivers and all kinds of recreation possibilities. There is the beauty of the mountains and the exhilaration of riding a motorcycle both up and down the narrow and winding mountain roads. There is swimming and boating and water skiing in the spring, summer and fall and snow skiing in the winter. It's a recreation paradise year round. There is no state income tax, property taxes are low, both land and properties are reasonable and the road system is good. Unfortunately, the crime rate is quite high and the public education system is lagging behind most of the rest of the country. There is a 9.5% sales tax on everything including food. The median income is low in comparison with the northern states, but the weather is mild and inviting and it seems like everyone is looking at Tennessee as the ideal place to retire, and live out their years in comfort and tranquility. And in the area where I live, there are about 50 times as many churches as places that serve alcohol, which is quite a shock to some. For those folks we have Sevierville, Gatlinburg, and Pigeon Forge. My area is a place where many people pray before eating their meal at McDonald's.
What drew me to East Tennessee originally is the absolute beauty of this part of the state and our nation, and the fact that my college major was US History. Both my loves of photography and pre-20th century history are more than satisfied here. Native American history is documented in cities and towns all over the region. I'm close to the "Trail of Tears" and other unpleasant reminders of our not-so-glorious history. True stories of brutality on both sides, lies and broken treaties by the white man who never signed a treaty he didn't break. The history of greed in our country is very evident in the past of this part of Tennessee. But so is the history of greatness, adventure, self-empowerment and self-reliance. Our forefathers of all races and nationalities are all here. Good guys and bad guys of every color and country of origin all made history here in ways that had seldom been done before, and changed the world forever. Self determination as evidenced by the Museum of Appalachia and other communities that dot the countryside provide wonderful glimpses into our past - and future.
What I have found here and what will keep me here long after I'm dead has been the people. In clinging to parts of their past and to their culture and heritage, they have a wonderful and low speed society that still believes in families, relaxation, music, and faith, and not necessarily in that order. Folks here seem to be less pretentious, but less open to newcomers until they know that one wants to be part of their community and not remake the culture to something not needed or wanted by the local folk.
This part is both personal and political. Tennessee is becoming inundated with us Yankees and Floridians. We come here for the lower taxes and cost of living and for the beautiful scenery. Retirees are coming from the mid-West, New England, and Florida. Financially, they are better off than most Tennesseans and they build or buy lovely homes in very nice sub-divisions and settle down for the good life. They had visited the area and loved the slower pace. They say they come here for the life, and maybe they believe that in the beginning. After telling the local folks how much they love their new life, they realize that they don't have some of the things they had up North, like trash pick-up and other services. Things are a little less convenient. Anyway, the results are not necessarily good for the people of Tennessee who were born and raised here. The price of land has risen to the point that most native Tennesseans can no longer afford land in their own state. Those with wealth don't shop where the real Tennesseans work. They shop in the malls and the places many cannot afford. Then the "carpetbaggers" begin to demand the services that they had up North. They tell the local folk how much better it will be. They say that people have to change with the times. Well, here's a surprise. The local folks don't want to change. They are very happy with their lives the way they are. They like the "pace" of life here and don't want the work hard play hard philosophy. And personally, I don't want the life here to change either. I moved here for the life. The percentage of people who move here and try to become part of the heritage and culture is small indeed. The pleasures of life with the local folk are wonderful. The music of Appalachia is captivating. The festivals a lots of fun and many are without alcohol. The entire area is overflowing with real American History. The flea markets are the most inexpensive places in the world for bargains and to "people watch." Us transplants should not be surprised to see t-shirts and caps the say, "We Don't Care How You Did It Up North!" My friends, who are mostly all locals, are very welcoming and accepting and ask very little of us newcomers. But they are very forceful and very serious when they say, "Don't try to change us." They, or I should say we, ain't kiddin,' y'all!
Next: What's to like - everything!
Dedicated to my friends and the "Tuesday Night Jubilee Bluegrass and Gospel Family."