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River Place spotlighted in Tennessee Tourism story!

About River Place on the Clinch

The building has stood on this spot on Highway 70 since construction in 1940. Owned by Elmer and Jewell Wallen, the Elmer Wallen Grocery was one of four stores that served every need of the Kyles Ford community for nearly 25 years. Daughter Katherine Wallen Cantwell tells the tale of her father best: “He bought live chickens, eggs and hides. There were fox and coon and mink hides that hung all over the wall of the feed room (where the kitchen is now). We sold all kinds of grocery, dry goods, feed, overalls and shoes. The ladies always came to buy the feed so they could pick out the feed sacks because they made dresses and clothes from the sacks. In the back, the Nolichucky Library had five shelves of books that people could check out and there was a dry cleaning pickup and delivery service that ran out of Tazewell. On Saturday afternoon, my dad would pick up four widow women on the Testerman stretch of road so they could come and visit and trade and buy snuff. Children always left with a free piece of candy and customers received fruitcakes for customer appreciation. My daddy always said he made two livings, the one he kept and the one he gave away. There was a pot belly stove in the store and an old homemade bench where the men would straddle and play serious checker games for two hours every night. My brother, Hugh Elmer Wallen had a truck and he ran a route to meet the needs of folks who couldn’t get to the store. Most folks ran a charge account from tobacco crop. We lived upstairs for about six years after the store opened, then we moved to a house closer to town. Dr. Pearson operated his practice out of the upstairs for about 10 years and then Fern Snodgrass (wife of John Snodgrass) operated a beauty salon upstairs for 10 years.” Elmer Wallen died at age 54 from a massive heart attack in 1964.

Walter and Alice Willis purchased the store following Elmer’s death and continued operations as Willis Market. They lived upstairs with their children Susan, Scott and Kim until closing the store in 1983. It remained in the Willis family until 2005 when the idea for River Place on the Clinch was born.

The old building caught the eye of the Clinch-Powell Resource Conservation and Development Council in 2005. Imagining this abandoned, overgrown building in a holler of Kyles Ford as a fully functional vacation getaway was quite a stretch back then! However, this vision of a sustainable tourism venue that would preserve a beloved historic structure and create jobs in rural Hancock County was set in motion by the council in 2006. With the help of the Clinch-Powell Enterprise Community, many hours of Appalachia CARES / AmeriCorps service and community support, the old building was stripped, cleaned, painted, renovated, revamped, rewired, and restored to its former glory in 2007. The grand opening in 2008 drew over 300 people, with only a few refreshments and a market stocked with grocery essentials and general store favorites like old-timey candy and soda pop in bottles. Since that day, River Place has grown to include a full restaurant and kitchen, seating for up to 150, decks and a stage on the river for live music, and cabin, canoe, campsite and group retreat center rentals.

River Place on the Clinch is a model sustainable ecotourism initiative demonstrating that you can create jobs and healthy business without hurting the environment and destroying the heritage and culture of a community.

Clinch-Powell RC&D is a rural community development organization serving Claiborne, Grainger, Hamblen, Hancock, Hawkins, Jefferson, and Union counties. It is our mission to build strong, sustainable communities by investing in people, housing, ecotourism, and the conservation of natural resources. Clinch-Powell is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization.

For more information about Clinch-Powell RC&D, visit our website or call our office at 865-828-5927.