Not often in my travels do I have an establishment with such a mysterious history. Most often if a bar or nightclub has been open for an extended period of time, the owners are pretty well aware of what it was and for how long it has been open. In this week's nightlife article I ventured outside of the confines of the city of Knoxville by a whopping quarter mile and found out that sometimes, bars have history, but records aren't as easily accessible to find out their story.
The Corn Pone Tavern is a bar located at 7715 Clinton Highway just past Emory Road. The cutoff for all city records of this location end just about right at the intersection of Emory and Clinton Highway. What the heck is a corn pone? Well, locals would know it means cornbread. I had no idea until I asked.
I ventured out to the Corn Pone after finding a listing for their bar in my research of recent beer permits provided by knoxnews.com. It was a cold and drizzly night as it tends to be in the winter months in Knoxville. When I pulled up I parked directly in front of the bar that was situated relatively close to the road, similar to how some of the East Knox County watering holes I had visited had been. To the left of the bar was a building that appeared as if it had been a series of small motel rooms. It was dark but from what I could see they seemed to no longer be in use.
I entered the bar and met the purveyors of the establishment, Debbie Spears and Norman Ward. Norman and I briefly discussed the possibility of our relation and Debbie inquired about my drink preference and assisted a couple I had sat down next to. I told them my mission and started to probe them about their knowledge of the bar's history. This is where the mystery began. They knew that it had been The Corn Pone Inn at one time and that more recently it was Pat's Corn Pone. Why either closed down or what it was before that was unknown to them. The information they gave me came from regulars, some of whom insisted that the bar had been around since the 1930s. The Corn Pone Inn info made the small building that appeared to be a motel next door make more sense. It did, however, make me immediately question why more bars didn't have motels right next door. Seems like it would be a great way to provide a place to stay for a wayward traveler that has had too much to drink or what not. The options for The Corn Pone were all beer. Thanks to local laws they were limited to beers under 6 percent alcohol.
To the left of the front door was a stage raised about six inches off the ground with some random lighting around it but no sound system. Debbie informed me of the karaoke they occasionally host being one of their big draws and reason for the stage. Looking out from the stage is a single pool table where on this specific evening most of the patrons were gathered around, engaged in a friendly game. The bar was not selling food yet and Debbie and Norman discussed doing so, but were discouraged by the amount of "requirements" needed in order to become properly licensed to do so. Aside from a wild man at the bar who eventually left in a tiff, the rest of the patrons were friendly and seemed grateful they had a few choices now for a place to grab a cold beer.
A few days later I went to the four different offices downtown to try to find the origin of The Corn Pone. Multiple deeds, tax records and business license searches led me to this conclusion. Although it cannot be proved that the name was The Corn Pone at the time, records exists as far back as 1945 that show that the facility was a "road house" serving some type of alcohol and providing some type of place to stay. Other records less clear indicate that the business at its current address may have been around as long ago as 1928. I do have some folks downtown working on finding out more about it, when they get back to me I will post it in the comments of the online version of this article. In the meantime, support a local business if you live in the Powell area and stop in to see Norman and Debbie. They are great folks very interested in creating a new history for The Corn Pone Tavern.
© 2013, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
Want to use this article? Click here for options!