Nashville’s ‘Big Back Yard’
Loop North News

Chicago Traveler

(Above) Millville, a vacation rental property in Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. Photo provided by House + Sanctuary. Click on images to view larger versions.

Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee, is a storybook destination loaded with posh amenities and gracious hospitality. And biscuits.

8-Sep-21 – Back in the day, Leiper’s Fork was an unassuming little farming community off the scenic two-lane Natchez Trace Parkway about 30 miles south of Nashville.

It was settled in the late 1700s by pioneering families from Virginia and North Carolina and soldiers home from the Revolutionary War, but never really grew up. Even today, the population is estimated at a few hundred. The unincorporated hamlet shares a zip code, 37064, with Franklin half a county up the road.

No one paid Leiper’s Fork much nevermind until the mid-1990s when a 250-acre farm on the edge of town went up for sale. That’s when longtime resident loyalists, who revere their pastoral countryside and a handful of quirky businesses, feared a subdivision was gunning for them. They appealed to Aubrey Preston, a Nashville-area entrepreneur, preservationist, and music history buff, to buy it.

Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau

(Left) David Arms Gallery. Photo provided by Williamson County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

It took a little convincing, but ultimately Preston did much more. He bought that farm and another one on the other end of the town, then entered them into a land trust to buffer them from unwanted development.

Preston bought and rehabbed several weary buildings, spearheading a movement that enticed other investors as well as entrepreneurs and remote workers in search of a back-to-the-land lifestyle. He also helped place Leiper’s Fork on the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that awards protections and cachet.

Leiper’s Fork 2.0

Leiper’s Fork has been transformed into a storybook town where the air is clear and time slows. It’s a place where rocking chairs beckon on every front porch, and where denim overalls mingle with stilettos. The town is the northernmost stop in Nashville’s Big Back Yard, a 100-mile stretch of the Natchez Trace Parkway between two world-famous music meccas – Nashville and The Shoals, Alabama.

If Leiper’s Fork were divided like other towns, the main street, actually Old Hillsboro Road, might measure a couple of blocks long. It isn’t, which makes it super-walkable. There aren’t any stop signs, either, but not to worry. The road is too winding for speeding, and the pickup trucks will slow to let you cross.

You can easily fill a few low-key days and nights in Leiper’s Fork. Here are some recommendations for your itinerary:

Classy country cuisine

The eating in Leiper’s Fork is mighty fine, from Southern favorites to creative sustainable fare. I quickly learned to indulge whenever biscuits were on the menu. They’re big and buttery, and the golden crusts are crispy. Delish!

Breakfast biscuit sandwiches are a hit on the menu at Leiper’s Fork Market. (Make mine with country ham, please.) The market is an uncommon convenience store purveying casual bites, traditional grocery items, locally produced foodstuffs, and gasoline.

Look closely at the eclectic decor. An elegant glass chandelier (right) crowns the large community table at the front of the store, where you’re welcome to join the conversation.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

The walls are lined with historic rifles and photographs of Prohibition Era moonshiners.

You won’t find Starbucks in Leiper’s Fork, but The RedByrd Coffee Shop, in a darling mobile tiny house, is parked next to the market. The proprietor, Sadie Shaw-Brooks, was featured in an episode of HGTV’s Tiny House Big Living series.

Country Boy Restaurant is the oldest diner in Williamson County, family owned and operated since 1968. You’ll know the best table in the room by the sign hanging above that reads, “Grumpy Old Men.” The other side of the sign says, “Table of Wisdom.” The stick-to-your-ribs menu includes fried green tomatoes and freshly squeezed lemonade. I ordered an egg and cheese biscuit sandwich, of course.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Upscale but unpretentious, 1892 delivers a fine dining experience in a rehabbed farmhouse (left) straight out of yesteryear. (The name notes the year the farmhouse was built.)

The interior is strewn with displays of vintage pewter tableware, wooden breadboards, and crystal chandeliers. The restaurant is open for lunch and dinner. Menus change often, but steaks and locally grown produce are mainstays.

Yet another notable eatery is Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant, which I’ve added to the entertainment section. You’ll see why.

Tennessee whiskey tradition

The first legal distillery in the area since Prohibition, Leiper’s Fork Distillery produces small-batch premium whiskeys using locally grown grains and limestone-filtered water. Whiskey magic happens in the modern-day barn with a gleaming swan-neck copper still and yet another sparkly chandelier. The resulting spirits are aged in 53-gallon charred white oak barrels for five to seven years or longer.

The tasting room and retail store are housed in a 200-year-old log cabin (right) built by an early pioneer. It was moved to this spot piece by piece, and the interior is beautifully renovated with rough-hewn planks and beams.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Tours and tastings are given six days a week.

Bodacious boutiques

The street is lined with quaint shops enticing visitors with curated wares, primitive antiques, and distinctive apparel. Serenite Maison, for one, which is housed in a former general store dating to 1914, features European antique furnishings and furniture plus an artful array of home accessories and jewelry.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Near the front door is the Pickin’ Corner (left), a cozy seating arrangement and an assortment of vintage musical instruments. They’re not for sale, but you’re welcome to sit and play a tune.

The second-floor loft at Creekside Trading Company is chock-full of music memorabilia, vinyl, and guitars and ukuleles. Check out the back porch on weekends when it becomes an intimate performance venue for local musicians.

Don’t overlook Tennessee Turquoise Company, known for lovely, handcrafted turquoise-and-silver jewelry. It’s in a tiny log-construction former smokehouse behind Leiper’s Creek Gallery.

An antique tractor marks Leiper’s Corner (right), a two-story country colonial home with stacked porches. It’s Leiper’s Fork’s version of a mini-mall with several antique shops and one-of-a-kind fashion boutiques.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Visit Prop’s Antiques for vintage signs, gourmet sweets, and everything in between. Textile Revival turns reclaimed fabrics into wearable art and unique home decor, and Moo Country will outfit you in western wear – gritty or rhinestone varieties.

All about art galleries

Leiper’s Creek Gallery is owned by artist Lisa Fox, who came to Leiper’s Fork 20 years ago to paint a commissioned mural and never left. The gallery, a renovated gas station, represents about two dozen artists working in a range of styles. Many are regional, but all are nationally or internationally renowned. Step inside, and you’ll be greeted by Abigail, Fox’s friendly rescue mutt.

Fine artist David Arms purveys his realistic pastoral scenes and still lifes plus related home and gift items in his eponymous gallery in a renovated barn. Hummingbirds, bobwhite quail, and other avian creatures make frequent appearances in his work.

The Copper Fox Gallery specializes in fine arts and crafts by nearly 100 Southeast artisans.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

A day at the spa

Recharge your spirit at The Spa at Leiper’s Fork, a day retreat offering personalized treatments for face and body.

Owner Lisa Crary runs her signature day spa in a renovated Queen Anne home (left) and a social ambiance reminiscent of Steel Magnolias.

A leather settee in the spa foyer is imprinted with a nearly life-size photograph of a reclining guitar-pickin’ Dolly Parton, who played beautician Truvy Jones in the 1989 film.

On the spa menu are facials, peels, massages, waxes, tints, and mani-pedis. Crary, a career brand developer with a knack for innovative alchemy, created her own clean, sustainable product lines influenced by the botanicals that grow around and along the Natchez Trace.

Sounds of music

Most folks agree Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant is the heart and soul of Leiper’s Fork. Founded in 1953 as a country store, it’s a draw for tourists, farmers, motorcyclists, music hopefuls, and music stars, all for different reasons.

The scratch kitchen, specializing in cherrywood-smoked meats, offers hearty breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Daily specials such as catfish and ribs are noted on the chalkboard outside.

During the daytime, diners and beer drinkers linger on the front patio. At night, the studio-quality sound system brings them indoors, where live music is surely on the schedule.

Photo by Pamela Dittmer McKuen

Thursday night is Open Mic Night, and you never know who might show up. Big name music-makers are known to stop in unannounced, like Vince Neil of heavy metal band Mötley Crüe did the night we feasted on fried pickles and barbecue.

Another entertainment option is the Lawnchair Theatre, behind Leiper’s Creek Gallery, where music and movies are presented on a rustic outdoor stage.

For your sweet dreams

Instead of hotels, Leiper’s Fork has an outstanding collection of vacation rentals, each decorated to the hilt of country chic. Among them are cottages, cabins, farmhouses, and historic properties. We stayed at the Deal Cottage by Pot N’ Kettle Cottages, a cheerful century-old farmhouse renovated with two master suites, a bunk room with four twins, deluxe baths, contemporary retro kitchen, and a come-sit-a-spell front porch.

Another top rental agency is House + Sanctuary. For brand name hotels, scoot over to Franklin, about ten miles east.

 More info: Nashville’s Big Back Yard

Photos by Pamela Dittmer McKuen except where noted otherwise.

By Pamela Dittmer McKuen | Loop North News | pmckuen@gmail.com

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