Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Cradle of the Tennessee Walking Horse

The Walking Horse Hotel
Last week, we rambled again in another small town in Tennessee — Wartrace, an old Native American trail and, in the 1850’s, a stop on the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad Line. Wartrace is also the site of the Tennessee Walking Horse industry. We had lunch at the Bellbuckle Cafe in Bellbuckle, Tennessee and afterward decided to drive a few miles further to Wartrace, a village of 650 people that bordered on ghost town status.

The most famous showpiece in Wartrace, an old hotel named the Walking Horse Hotel, which is among downtown buildings now on the National Register of Historic Places, is ghost territory. Several years ago, my son-in-law Brad and I were visiting Wartrace as this small town gem is the site of Gallagher’s Homemade Guitars, and Brad collects beautiful guitars. We decided to explore the Walking Horse Hotel, which was still in business at that time. We were shown several bedrooms off a wide hall upstairs that provoked weird feelings in us as we walked through rooms furnished in style reminiscent of the Old West. We were glad to come out into the light of a summer day after our exploration. My daughter Stephanie had refused to enter the premises as she had sensed “ghosts.” And she was spot-on.

‘Turns out that former guests had seen apparitions in the hallway upstairs in the hotel. But one of the former owners, George Knight, claims that a single ghost, a friendly one he calls Casper, is the apparition of Floyd Carothers, a famous walking horse trainer who once owned the hotel with his wife, Olive. Floyd died in the 1940’s but is still hanging around the premises. 

Joe Peters, the owner of the now-closed hotel, often tells stories he has heard from former guests — stories about hearing the sounds of horse hoofbeats, upstairs and downstairs. However, he, like George Knight, claims the ghosts are friendly ones.

The first National Grand Champion Walking Horse named Strolling Jim who won this championship in 1939 is said to be buried behind the Walking Horse Hotel, but we searched everywhere for a gravesite and couldn’t locate it. I sensed that he was probably the ghost galloping through the old hotel at night.

Wartrace had a reputation as a health resort in the 1800’s. Passengers who traveled on special trains visited the village and enjoyed special bottled water from sulfur springs nearby. During the 20th century, the town had five banks, flour mills, and six hotels for travelers. It serviced 13 trains a day and, even today is connected to Shelbyville by the Walking Horse and Eastern Railroad, still operating part-time.

Although I’m not an aficionado of haunted places, on our return trip to Sewanee, I thought about writing a Stephen King bit of fiction. The trouble is, I don’t really like “ghoulies and ghosts and long-legged beasties — and things that go bump in the night…”

P.S. Joe Peters, the present owner of the Walking Horse Hotel now operates a business next to the hotel called “Spooky’s Pizza.”


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