Roane County lodge is 'sanctuary for the soul'

Discover is an annual guide to living in Knoxville and East Tennessee.

Roane County

  • Population: 53,399 (2007 Census estimate)
  • Founded: 1801; named after Tennessee's second governor, Archibald Roane
  • County seat: Kingston, population 5,524; founded in 1799; one of the oldest towns in Tennessee; capital of Tennessee for one day in 1807; named after a prominent landowner, Maj. Robert King
  • Other cities, towns:
  • Harriman, population 6,668; founded in 1890 by the East Tennessee Land Co., as a utopia of temperance where alcoholic beverages would neither be made nor sold; named after former governor of New Hampshire, Gen. Walter Harriman.
  • Rockwood, population 5,559; founded in 1868; a company town for the Roane Iron Co.; named after the company's first president, William O. Rockwood.
  • Oliver Springs, population 3,312*; founded in 1830; originally named Winter's Gap; ultimately took the name of postmaster Richard Oliver; town was famous for its mineral springs from 1894 until its magnificent resort hotel burned down in 1905.
  • Attractions: Fort Southwest Point; Historic Roane County Courthouse; Watts Bar Lake; Mount Roosevelt State Forest; Tennessee Agricultural Exposition Center

You can't stumble upon Whitestone Country Inn.

It is a decidedly out-of-the-way destination, located several miles off any major road. But the secluded lodge has recently made Roane County a hot spot in the AAA travel book.

On Watts Bar Lake in Kingston, Whitestone can be a bed and breakfast, a wedding chapel or simply a "sanctuary for the soul," owner and innkeeper Paul Cowell said.

"We try to anticipate what your needs would be," Cowell said. "And then we try to meet those needs as quickly and fully as we can."

Whitestone opened in 1997 and has been a Roane County staple ever since. Each year since, it has received the AAA Four Diamond Award, and was selected as Roane County's best business in 2005 and 2006.

Cowell started laying groundwork for the inn in 1963 after a visit to a resort in the Adirondacks. He was impressed with its facilities, but the service lacked the "real Southern hospitality" he enjoyed as a Knoxville resident.

So Cowell, who was chief executive officer of both Book Warehouse and the Shop at Home television station, sold his companies by 1993 and bought a tract of land on Watts Bar Lake.

"Watts Bar was a great choice for this inn," Cowell said. "We really wanted to be on the water."

Cowell said Watts Bar is the least-developed lake in the TVA system. He cited a survey that showed people tend to vacation longer if their view is of water, rather than trees.

That's not to say Whitestone is lacking forest scenery and wildlife. The resort is inside the approximately 5,400-acre Paint Rock Wildlife and Waterfowl Refuge, where hiking and bird-watching are popular pastimes. In fact, guest rooms in each building are named after birds found in the refuge, including the Blue Heron and the Hummingbird Suite.

Guests have compared the Roane County scenery to New York, Ireland and Wales, according to Cowell.

"You can imagine anything you want there, because you can't see anything," he said.

Cowell, who operates Whitestone with his wife, Jean, thinks he has succeeded in his mission to "not make it feel like your home; it should feel like your mother's home," he said. The bulk of his guests come from a 200-mile radius to the inn where "activity and inactivity abound."

But despite its remote location, Cowell has managed to turn the middle of nowhere into the center of attention.

Drew Streip may be reached at 865-342-6432.

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