George Smith: ‘Babies are popping out like popcorn’
Aug 18, 2013 | 3238 views |  0 comments | 27 27 recommendations | email to a friend | print
BELL BUCKLE, Tenn. — To get here from back there, you take I-59 out of Attalla, hang a left on I-24 near Chattanooga, and get off at Exit 79.

It’s a three-hour drive back into another time. Nostalgia may be Bell Buckle’s best product. It’s no secret I love this place.

It’s a small town where people open their shops around 10 a.m. for tourists like me, close along about 5 p.m., and then go home and count your money.

Thing is the town is growing.

The 2000 census said 391 people lived here; the 2010 head count reported 500.

That is a reminder of what Andrew Phillips, whose son Billy owns the Bluebird Antiques & Ice Cream Parlor and the Phillips General Store, told me a few years back:

“I can’t remember the last time a baby was born in Bell Buckle.”

Monday, peering through an old post office window atop the counter at his son’s general store, there was a different song:

“Babies are popping out around here like popcorn. Young couples are moving in, buying and restoring the old homes, not remodeling them. That’s good. Billy lives in an old Victorian he bought 20 years ago. It was built in 1899.”

On a sadder note:

“In the last 12 months we’ve lost four senior citizens who were 85 or older.”

In a small town where everybody knows everybody else’s business, a census count really isn’t all that necessary. Birthing and dying, coming and going, is daily talk along the main street and quiet neighborhoods.

A few years back, on a visit here, there was a new building for the volunteer fire department. It housed five engines, but the town had no police department. I think I told you that before, but there has been something of a change.

Again from Albert Phillips.

“We got a policeman about two years ago, but he isn’t on duty much. I think it’s like 20 hours a week. The rest of the time he’s at the 82 Market cooking pizza and hamburgers.”

Crime in Bell Buckle?

“Mostly speeding. We have a 25 mph speed limit downtown. But that’s about it.”

Albert, who started the business along with wife Nancy, gave me an up-to-date report on the town’s annual R.C. and Moon Pie Festival each June. The crowd this year was estimated at 18,000, which means a lot of money exchanged hands for a Moon Pie and an “R.O.C.”

But the festival isn’t necessary for such. The Blue Bird and the general store carry a considerable stock of Moon Pies, sell ’em by the case. Fact is, I have three cases out in the truck right now.

Another big festival, the Webb School Art & Craft Festival, is set for Oct. 19-20. The Webb School is a preparatory school for grades six through 12. Established in 1870, you get a good look at the campus on your way into town. It is absolutely gorgeous.

But the best thing here for a guy who is simply “Driving Miss Blondie” to the shops, is the old soda fountain at the Blue Bird Antiques & Ice Cream Parlor.

Monday, Nancy was in charge and I spent some time on a stool putting away a helping of ice cream … White Chocolate Raspberry. But if you really want your socks creamed, have Nancy do you a Moon Pie a la mode.

The Blue Bird has been named Tennessee’s number one ice cream parlor for eight consecutive years. And the eight flavors of fudge Albert makes has probably helped that along.

One other thing.

Just across the railroad tracks from the general store is an aging yellow two-story brick. According to locals, it once housed a grocery store on the bottom floor while “ladies of the evening” entertained clients on the second floor.

Just thought I’d throw that one in, but right now I’ve gotta go. “Driving Miss Blondie” is calling.


George Smith can be reached at 256-239-5286 or email:
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