South Pittsburg, Tennessee is known for the Lodge Factory Store Museum. But you can’t get to 150 years without having a few other stories to tell. Here are some of the unique stories from this charming town, beginning with the one that made it famous.
If you are from the South, your mama or your grandmother probably had a cast iron skillet from Lodge Manufacturing. While the skillets are good for frying bacon, many dedicate them to making cornbread. My Lodge skillet has made cornbread that turned into the holiday dressing for the past five years. That’s the extent of my cooking, y’all. No one but me cooks in it and certainly nothing is fried in it. A woman’s cast iron skillet is special.
South Pittsburg, Tennessee established in 1873 and Joseph Lodge started his first cast iron foundry 27 years later. That first foundry was destroyed by fire, but Lodge rebuilt, and his legendary cast iron business was born.
The Lodge Manufacturing Factory Store has been open since 1994, but the museum opened last year. The biggest attraction is the world’s largest cast iron pan. It weighs 14,000 pounds. I am not sure how tall it is but Steve is six-foot-six.
We enjoyed the kiosks featuring famous chefs showing how they use their lodge pots and pans. I told Steve to pay attention. Y’all know I don’t cook, lol.
History buffs will enjoy learning the story of Lodge. And for those interested in how stuff is made, there’s an exhibit for that, too.
Of course, the museum celebrates South Pittsburg’s famous Cornbread Festival, which is held every year. It was in 1996 that South Pittsburg leaders decided to create an entire festival dedicated to this southern dish. It was a natural fit, with Lodge occupying the town for the past 100 years. It’s the last week of April and besides cornbread, arts and crafts and tours of the Lodge Company, the town officials usually manage to snare some good entertainment. I love this quilt we found in the history museum honoring the festival.
A museum that is all things South, Pittsburg Tennessee
History lovers will enjoy visiting the South Pittsburg Heritage Museum. You will first notice a large bell. This is the old chapel bell from Primitive Baptist Church (more on the church later). Also in the museum are mementos from the town’s sports history. Many of the items showcase the South Pittsburg High School football team. You will also see a 1942 letter sweater from the school’s basketball team.
As a journalist, I love to see old newspapers. The South Pittsburg newspaper was originally called “The Hustler” According to the Library of Congress, the newspaper was printed from 1899 to 1990.
A beautiful church
Primitive Baptist Church, also known as the Chapel on the Hill, is located just at the edge of town at the intersection of Elm Avenue and Eighth Street. The first services in the church happened in 1889. The church has stood at the same location despite nearly being destroyed by fire in 1954. South Pittsburg received ownership of the church and has worked to preserve it. Primitive Baptist Church is in the South Pittsburg Historic District, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.
A bloody shootout
A historical marker in downtown is a remembrance of a bloody shootout that killed six law enforcement officers, including Sheriff G. Washington Coppinger and Police Chief James Connor and injured several others. The gunfight happened on Christmas night in 1927 at the intersection of Third Street and Cedar Avenue. The National Guard was called into the city by then-Gov. Henry H. Horton because of the violence.
South Pittsburg, Tennessee’s famous actress
Another downtown historical marker honors the life of actress Jobyna Lancaster Ralston-Arlen. Born in South Pittsburg in 1899, Jobyna moved to Hollywood and made several silent movies. Jobyna was in the first picture to win an Academy Award, “Wing.” She married actor Richard Arlen and retired from the movies in 1932.
The Princess Theater
While Jobyna never starred in a live production at South Pittsburg’s Princess Theater, her movie was the first one shown there. Known then as the Imperial Theater, and it opened its doors on July 29, 1921. The name changed to “Palace Theater” three years later and renamed Princes Theater in July 1934.
The theater is experiencing a revival with several musical acts and plays scheduled. We want to get a tour and I am hoping to attend an event there in the future.
South Pittsburg’s Big Bad Breakfast
I am not saying our breakfast was “big” and “bad.” That’s the restaurant’s name that recently opened adjacent to the Lodge Factory Store and Museum. We dined there recently, and I ordered the “Big Bad Breakfast.” It’s a skillet scramble of meats, eggs, cheese, onions and peppers. My son had the chicken and waffles while Steve had an omelet. We all enjoyed our meals.
Getting to South Pittsburg, Tennessee
The town is easy to find. If you are traveling west from Chattanooga, it is about 25 miles away. Nashville is about 108 miles east. Take exit 152 and follow the signs. If you are coming from Huntsville, Alabama, take U.S. 72.