When I arrived in Loudon, 30 minutes south of Knoxville, I knew two things. It was home to the Carmichael Inn and that the inn had been removed from the National Register of Historic Places for some reason at some point in the past according to my contact at the National Parks Service. Intrigued, I set out to locate the inn and unravel the mystery.
The address listed as “off U.S. 11” proved too vague so I asked for directions at the Loudon County Chamber of Commerce. I have learned that the best sources of information in small towns are the Chamber of Commerce, Town Hall, restaurant located on the square and/or person walking her dog. It’s also one of the fastest ways to get a lay of the land. More often than not when I tell people I study historic hotels and l am looking for a particular place they seem genuinely interested and ask a number of questions about the project. Then they tell me about other historic buildings of note – homes, churches, courthouses and hotels – that I should also check out while I am in the area. How can I not take up their invitation to explore what they find noteworthy? Heritage is something to be shared and treasured. Have I mentioned how much I love field work? For me, it answers the question as to whether history matters. History above all else gives people a sense of place and identity (personal and collective.)
After circling the courthouse and going a block towards the Tennessee River, I arrived at the Carmichael Inn with the question of why it was taken off the Register top of mind. First and foremost, the building was extant (still in existence / not destroyed.) Only standing buildings are listed. It became clear that it was actually two buildings joined together when I found a National Register plaque for the Orme-Wilson Storehouse on the tall brick building. Why wasn’t it a joint listing? I started to suspect that one or both of the buildings had been moved. If a building is moved from its original context it looses its integrity therefore is ineligible. The suspicion was confirmed in Landmarks of Loudon County: Its History Through Architecture (1997), a book I located at the local library. Historic preservation requires an equal part of field work and library & electronic research. History detective anyone?
In 1987, Loudon County Heritage Association bought the Carmichael Inn and Orme-Wilson and moved them to their current location. They housed a museum for a number of years until the funds ran out. Since 2006, the buildings have been used as an event space with restaurant. To read more about the history of the Carmichael and Loudon, please see the town’s website.