Bell Buckle

Vintage blue calico, antique stores, delicious food, friendly people, and a caboose!  It’s no wonder that we found ourselves returning to Bell Buckle, TN on our recent trip to Paducah, KY.

We had visited Bell Buckle once before on our way home from an AQS show in Paducah.  I remembered the beautiful rolling hills, the pastoral campus of the Webb School, ice cream cones, and vintage blue ticking.  Our stop this time was on a beautiful morning as we headed to Paducah.

After the requisite photo shoot on the caboose, we visited several shops and enjoyed all of them.  But the delight came in the Bluebird Antiques and Ice Cream Parlor.  There we met Billy Phillips and his mother, Nancy.   I recounted memories of being there before and buying vintage ticking.  Billy enticed me to the Mercantile store after we had a bite of lunch by telling me about his latest acquisition; items from a sixty-year collection of vintage blue and white calicos from a Nashville collector.

After sharing a lunch of chicken salad (freshly homemade that morning) and a fried apple pie (also prepared from scratch that day), I visited with Nancy.  In our conversation where she proudly proclaimed her age being 85,  she identified herself as the maker of the pies, not as the savior of the town.  That story came later from Billy.

We didn’t have room to try ice cream in one of their freshly made waffle cones, but I’m certain that’s why the ice cream from a few years ago was so memorable.  We passed up the homemade pimento cheese, and the fried green tomato cheeseburger, but that last is on my list for the next visit.

While we waited for our food, we browsed the shelves in the Bluebird shop.  Dishes adorned with bluebirds, old quilts, old camera equipment, and Tasha Tudor books.  What’s not to love?

I asked about the sign advertising Miss Jeane’s Cafe.  Miss Jeane ran the cafe in that building for forty years, establishing high standards that Nancy and her helpers continue with their menu.

Nancy heard us say we were on our way to Paducah and revealed that she, too, is a quilter.  And doll maker.  It was her love of all things doll related that led her to save the town.

As Billy shared the story,  the mercantile/hardware store had been closed for some seven or so years in the 1970’s, but was still filled with original merchandise.  Nancy saw a cabinet inside that reminded her of a dollhouse.  She called to inquire about buying the cabinet and was first told, “it’s not for sale.”  Determined, she called the owner again and this time got a quote of $750.  She said, “that’s a bit high for a cabinet,” only to hear the reply “Oh, I mean for the store and all its contents.”  Sold!

To save the store from a bulldozing plan to make way for a new Piggly Wiggly, Nancy researched listing the property on the National Register of Historic Places.  Because of shared fire walls, she was able to save not only her new store, but all the buildings attached to it.  I, among many, am so glad she did that.  What a pleasant little town was saved!

With a population of fewer than 500 residents, the town welcomes as many as 100,000 visitors to its festivals. We heard about the Moon Pie Festival (Bell Buckle is the place where Moon Pies, made fresh in Nashville, were first paired with RC Cola), coming in June, and the Arts and Crafts Festival in October.  A google search will give you details in case you are interested.

Though I’m impressed with their festivals and would enjoy the excitement,I’m glad we’ve had a chance to visit the quaint little town on quiet days, with time to browse its treasures.

In the photos, you see what I’m talking about.  The blue calicoes were simply divine.  For someone who loves all things blue, especially indigo, and cloth with a history, it was spellbinding.  I brought home a few treasures, and have them displayed in a basket close to my sewing chair.  Daily inspiration!  Talking with Billy about these treasures was very educational.  I didn’t realize, for example, that English fabric samples in the 1800’s were swatches the size of today’s fat quarters!

With all our time on the road the past few weeks, and then things to catch up when we got home, I haven’t had a lot of sewing time.  But I am working on a Paducah journal quilt, and this little block is one of the pieces representing our stop in Bell Buckle.

Author: Sandy Gilreath

I’ve stitched my way through life. Early skills in utilitarian and decorative sewing have merged with art in the world of quiltmaking. My love of journaling has now crossed into the cloth world, too. I love old songs, old souls, old words; my collections attest to my fascination with memories.

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