Sparta, Tenn.: Life at a Manageable Pace

Although bluegrass legend Lester Flatt may be Sparta's best-known native son, bluegrass bands still play on the town square every Saturday night.

  • Sparta, Tenn., features a lively downtown, with weekly bluegrass music and monthly classic car cruises.
    Photo by Jody Liger/Sparta-White County Chamber of Commerce
  • Sparta, Tenn., is surrounded by spectacular natural beauty that includes nearby Burgess Falls.
    Photo by Ken Gables

Each year, MOTHER EARTH NEWS selects a handful of sustainable communities to highlight in our annual Great Places feature. Check out the other towns featured in our 2014 installment: 8 Great Places You’ve (Maybe) Never Heard Of.

Sparta, Tennessee. Margaret Petre’s family has lived in the hills and hollers of White County, Tenn., since the early 1800s, and she’s been visiting there all her life. A year ago, she and her husband decided to sell everything and move home to Sparta, located equidistant between Nashville and Knoxville in the upper Cumberland Mountains.

“Sparta has a one-room post office and a market that will carry your balance ‘on a card’ for you — that’s an index card, not a credit card,” Petre says. “My husband and I now have a log cabin in the woods, with the mountains as a backdrop, and I think you could say we’re living the dream.”

Though gardeners in the area have to contend with red-clay soil, most everyone in town grows something and, as Petre says, “It’s so embedded here, people don’t even think of themselves as gardeners — raising food is just what you do. We’re so rural, there aren’t many ordinances. You’d be surprised what you might see in front yards around here.”

If you ever heard The Beverly Hillbillies theme song, you’ve heard Sparta’s native son, Lester Flatt, playing guitar and singing "The Ballad of Jed Clampett." Lester Flatt Memorial Bluegrass Day is part of Sparta’s annual Liberty Square Celebration, and bluegrass bands play on the square every Saturday evening. White County boasts more waterfalls and caves than any county in the state, says Jody Sliger of the Sparta and White County Chamber of Commerce. Recreation from hiking and biking to kayaking and canoeing, draws thousands of visitors to the region each year and supports a major part of Sparta’s economy.

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