November 20, 2021


Some years ago, friends sent me this photo from their vacation in the Smokies.  This charming motel on the banks of the Little River in Townsend, Tennessee was where Tom and I spent our honeymoon in late August, 1961.  

We decided to go to the Smokies since we would be driving cross country to Houston, Texas a few weeks later for Tom to finish his graduate studies at Rice University.  Earlier in the summer we drove up from Athens to canvass the area for a honeymoon spot.  We didn’t relish the commercialism of Gatlinburg.  Near Cade’s Cove we came upon the Derris House Motel in Townsend.  Tom soon struck up a lively conversation with the owner, Claude Derris.  He had been a Chicago watchmaker and retired to this spot a decade or so earlier.  

The pine-paneled guest rooms (not air conditioned but with plenty of windows to open and catch the mountain air) were rustic but cozy and well-furnished. There was a large lobby with an antique pump organ, comfortable seating and a large projector and screen. Claude explained that he was an amateur photographer and each evening guests were invited to come for his slide show and lecture about the sights, flora and fauna of the Smokies.

The deciding factor in booking our reservation was Redbud, Claude’s beautiful old Bluetick coonhound.  The back lawn sloped down to the Little River, where Claude kept paddle boats for guests to use. Redbud always drank from the river and now that he was getting feeble, Claude bought him bowls of water up from the river every day. He said on a visit back to Chicago, poor Redbud almost died because he wouldn’t drink the water!

Of course we spent much of our honeymoon there with Redbud and at Claude’s slide shows of mountain scenery.  We returned for visits several times and always got a friendly welcome from Claude and Redbud.

Today I discovered that Mr. Derris’ slide collection (over 4,000 of them) was donated to the University of Tennessee Library, where they are part of the Special Collections.  I viewed some of them online, with his texts identifying each scene. They were made by an excellent photographer, but more importantly, by a man who loved the mountains, the Little River and his Bluetick coonhound.

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