A Tribute to the Life and Legacy of an American Treasure
Jim Oliver (August 4, 1937 – May 16, 2007)
Mr. Jim Oliver, a Monteagle mountain fixture and entrepreneur for many years, died unexpectedly on May 16, 2007 at his residence in Monteagle, Tennessee.
Personal Testimonials - Click to open/close
“I didn’t know Mr. Oliver personally but my parents stayed at the Smoke House a few years back and told me that if they ever traveled through Monteagle again they would definitely stay at Jim’s Place. This is no ordinary motel like the Travelodge or Super 8, this place is special. I was born in a Small town where everybody knew your name and when I was little we moved to Florida, Big Change! But the Smoke House reminds me of the country with that same relaxed everybody’s-like-family air; you know, the one perfect picture where the grandpa in overalls takes his grandchild fishing at the creek for the first time. It’s like that, more like a home. So thank you, Mr. Oliver, the Staff, and all the other wonderful people that make it that way!”
“My favorite memory of the Smoke House and Mr. Oliver is the friendly atmosphere and the obvious love that Jim had for his business and his family and friends and his patience with Rafia (Reathea).”
“I went to work for the Smoke House in 1998. Shortly after I went to work there my daughter ran away from home in Florida. When the police found her they contacted me at work (in the Lodge). I started to leave to go get her and “Big Daddy” stopped me and handed me $300.00. I tried to tell him that I didn’t need the money (although I wasn’t sure how I was gonna’ make the trip) and he insisted that I take it. He said “she’s gonna’ need things when you get back!” Then when I tried to pay him back he wouldn’t accept the money. I don’t know how I would have made that trip because at the time I only had $75.00 to my name. Mr. Oliver has been an employer, a mentor, and a dear friend to me. I consider it a real privilege to be a part of the Smoke House family. I have always been treated like family and hope to remain so. To James, Betsy and Nancy – all my love and deep sympathy at the loss of this great man. He left a gaping hole in my heart and I know you are all missing him terribly. You are all in my thoughts and prayers and will continue to be.” Yours truly ~ Elaine (Ryder) Morrison
“For the 10 years we spent in the area we had some wonderful meals, a family reunion, a place for our children to spend their time during the ice storm of “99, and a place to purchase some terrific memorabila. Thanks to you for providing a place to meet.” ~ The Grens
“I worked for the Smoke House under Jim, James David, & Hank as the booking agent for the convention center in the early 80’s. I was their only agent, and truly loved working with them. They gave me my own office, and I was treated like family. I brought my precious son to many of the events (he was 3-1/2 at the time), and he’s now 27!!! It was, is, and will always be a favorite place to visit, eat, & shop in the gift shop. Jim Oliver is a divine man, with a heart of gold, who will live on thru his family to all of us forever. Our hearts, thoughts & prayers go out to the family, at their great loss. Jim will forever live in our hearts. His smile & laugh were always a “kodak moment”. I am very blessed to have known him, James David, Hank, and all the staff at that time. I have many cherished moments, and pictures of them from the events I booked, etc. It is amazing how their business has exploded in growth thru the years, and how they’ve “given back” to the community, and been blessed immensely, and in return been a blessing to countless others. What a family of integrity! May God lift you up, give you comfort and peace at the loss of a great man, husband, father, and friend. Our hearts and prayers are with the family. Love, Jeannie Suttle & family”
“I opened my shop in the mall of The Smoke House in October of 1976 and remained until January of 1980. The shop was Highland Rim Boutique. Oh, so many happy memories. I am saddened to hear of Jim’s passing. My heart goes out to Nancy, Betty, and James David, Janace and Gwen. And to all of you who will miss him.” ~ Jackie Corbett Wakefield
“I first met Jim Oliver when I was a teenager on a date at Monteagle Diner. He did his normal routine of meeting everyone and “getting to know you”. I found out that we were cousins because his Mother and my Grandmother were sisters. I did not know very many people on my dad’s side of the family except for his brother, Brent, and my grandparents, since my dad was never around while I was growing up. Needless to say, I frequented the Diner before I left the area and was gone 15 years. When I returned home, Jim had the Smoke House and we became reacquainted. Jim made me feel truly like family. He invited me to all the family get togethers. I have two very special memories of Jim. Jim and Brent gave me my first surprise birthday party. They came to the bank where I worked and picked up all my co-workers and me in the Limo and had wine and cheese on board. When we got to the Smoke House, it was a night to remember! There was also a time that I was pretty down on my luck, raising a child on my own. Jim was renovating the motel and I asked him if he had any fairly decent mattresses and how much he would want for one because mine was old and in bad shape. He said probably around $50, which sounded good to me. He would check and see and let me know. One afternoon when I got home from work, my front porch was completely full of not only a NEW mattress and box springs, but a beautiful country mirror, lamps and two rockers for my front porch and needless to say, he would not take a dime for any of it. Jim’s generosity and kindness was beyond compare. He touched so many lives and will be greatly missed. My heart and love goes out to Becky, Nancy, JD, Betty, Gywn, and Janice.” ~ Sherrie Sartain Wade
“We, too, will miss Jim, my mother (Bernice Gross) worked for Jim for 25 years or more. It was her second home, she loved Jim and his family like her own and she loved her job and all the friends she met through her work at The Smoke House. Jim was very willing to help people out, and that is what we will as others, remember about Jim. He was kind to our family, as is Betsy, James David and Nancy, Janice and Gwen and we will always treasure our past memories of Jim and will always love his family. Love to all.” ~ Becky Rose
“In the early days of Clifftops, there was a running feud between Jim and Cleon Hartman who was the resident manager. Jim usually got the last word. This one time, Jim wanted to subscribe to the Chattanooga Times but the Times would not deliver unless Jim had an approved newspaper box. Jim promptly erected a bright white Chattanooga Times box on a post at his driveway. Cleon wrote him a formal letter explaining that white was not an approved color for anything in Clifftops and that mail and newspaper boxes were not permitted by the covenants. The paper box came down but Jim thought about this and had his lawyer help write a response. The response said in effect that he wanted a waiver of the prohibition against farm animals in Clifftops because he was having trouble controlling the growth of sawbriar on his lot. He stated that he wished to buy some goats to help solve the problem. “You understand,” he went on, “I don’t plan to get any white goats — just brown and gray ones in earth tones to be in line with the architectural rules.” Later when I was managing Clifftops, Jim and I had occasional differences of opinion which we always settled as friends. However, just let someone else criticize my methods, and Jim was first into the fray in my defense. He was a good neighbor and a loyal friend.” ~ Cam Stewart
“When I first started working with the Smoke House, I had no idea what was going to happen to me. I was going through a bad divorce but always found that the Oliver family was always there and very supportive of me. Jim was a very special person in my life as well as my family’s. He would come by my office and say “Lets go look at the house” or something. He just wanted to go ride. So I would. He would call me 15 times a day just to tell me things that needed done, even if it had nothing at all to do with what I was working on at that time. He just always knew that I would get it done for him. I work very closely with his family now and we really miss this man more than words can ever say. Sometimes it gets really hard, but we know that he would want us to go on. My love goes out to the whole family that me and my family have always felt a part of. Love you all.”
“I lived in Nashville from 1979 to 1989, and worked for a motorcoach tour company while there. I had many occassions to visit the Smoke House, and can honestly say I enjoyed every visit. I never met Jim; however, while conducting a fam trip for the State of TN, I did meet a son. He was so gracious, and made everyone feel as though they were at home. I have never forgotten that visit. I plan to be back in TN next (08-10-07), and will be stopping at the Smoke House on my way to Chattanooga! My thoughts and prayers go to the family.”
“Betsy and family, my prayers are with you. Love you.” ~ Duane
“I just remember many delicious meals at the Smoke House while I was at Sewanee. Unfortunately, I never got to meet the great man himself.” ~ Mills Morrison
“I met Jim Oliver when I met with him to talk about the hotel and restaurant business. Jim was a very friendly and affable person. We had a long discussion about the hotel and restaurant business and I was very impressed with his business acumen and knowledge. He never mentioned all the charitable things that he did for others, but I am sure that the good Lord has taken all those wonderful good works into account. Jim Oliver was a good citizen and American patriot. I appreciated his kindness when I visited him and was very sad to hear that he had passed away.” ~ James Cornell, Owner/President of Cornell Hotel Brokers
“My wife and I first visited the Smoke House in the late 70’s and continued to stop there for an overnight and country cookin’ before we continued on to Florida. Over the years I had the opportunity to meet Jim and enjoyed many “chats” at his favorite table in the restaurant. I recently placed an e-mail order for meats and then discoverd that Jim had passed. I am so sorry and extend our prayers to the Oliver Family. Knowing Jim was indeed a highlight of my adult life. I will always remember Jim, his friendly smile, and wonderful service to his customers and friends. Goodbye old friend, I will miss you so very much.” ~ Gary & Doreen Longanecker, Rockford, Illinois
“Years ago (won’t disclose the period) when the Sewannee Academy was still alive and well and there were actually poor and deprived students, we used to hitch a ride into Monteagle and would always stop just to kill time. Just stoppin’ by the Smoke House to smell country ham cooking was a feast in itself. One Saturday doing the above, this guy came up to me and just asked how I was doing and being somewhat of a conversationalist myself, I told him “not too good.” “BUT, a broke SA student could at least stop by and smell the breakfast cookin’ and get homesick….and homesick…..and homesick. Not even knowing who he was, he said c’mon with me son and bring your friends. He called a server over and I will never forget it: he said “let ’em just hurt themselves…the tabs on me.” Never got a chance to thank him ’cause he disappeared shortly thereafter. Bringing my son (12) up from Valdosta, Ga this weekend (9/28/07) and show him what mountain fever can do to someone. It is incurable ya know, and Mr. Jim was the absolute proof of the theory. Looking forward to the stay and the pancakes and the bacon and the country ham and the sausage and the…..well you get the picture. I hope I feel a hand on my shoulder during breakfast one morning.”
“He will be missed, but, his legend lives on. He created a wonderful place that people of all ages will enjoy and remember. Thank you, Jim. I wish we had known you better.” ~ Ginger Ferguson, Belvidere Market, Belvidere, TN
“My wife and I stayed at the Smoke House on our first anniversary. We took home a lot of memories and had a wonderful time there. Those cabins were awesome and the food was just how grandma would have made it. Thanks for being there.” ~ Randy and Treva Cuzzort, North Dakota
“I have known the Oliver family for many years. While going through losing my mother and father in Fla, I would pass through the mountain and spend the night. Jim would always tell me how proud he was that I was Betsy and Nancy’s friend. I have made so many memories and will continue to cherish all the times in my heart. I know that Jim is a legend on this earth with the kindness he has shown to everyone that knew and loved him. He has left behind these qualities in his three children…James, Nancy and Betsy. I have been blessed to know and love the family. I have and will miss this man on earth but I know, without a doubt, that we will still feel his presence, ’cause when we look in his children’s eyes and look towards the sky, we will find Jim Oliver.” ~ Love, Judy Bailey
“My husband and I met Jim back in 1991. We stayed at the Smoke House Inn after visiting family. We were overwhelmed with the community, the hospitality, and the beauty of Monteagle. We purchased land in Clifftops and plan to move to Monteagle within a year or so. We also bought a lot in Black Berry and put up a home. Mr. Oliver was always offering my husband his equipment to make things easier. Not only was he a very kind person, but he raised his son to be the same kind of person. I really don’t know the sisters, but in my heart I know they must be the same kind people as their Dad was. I know he will be missed by many; he may be gone from our sight but never our memories. Our deepest sympathy.”
“I am from Grundy County but lived in south Fla. the last 35 years. I was always in and out to see family. Many things impressed me about Jim but one of the most is what he gave back to the people, especially in this area. He was always there for any worthwhile fundraiser or any family needing help. The world needs lots more caring people like Mr. Jim Oliver. God Bless you and yours, Jim.” ~ Greg
“My husband and I were traveling to do some work and we stopped at the Smoke House on the way up and on the way back. The weather was getting bad, so we decided not to try and get back on the road to Florida. We stayed in one of the cabins which Jim gave us a cut on and we enjoyed it. We will be back. We are so sorry about your loss and just know that God needed a good cook to go along with the rest that he has, including my mother. God bless each and everyone…it gets easier but the hurt and loss never goes away. You are all in our hearts and prayers.” ~ Mr. & Mrs. Richard Hale
“We laughed so much!”
“In 1985, I visited Monteagle for the first time since I had been a student at Sewanee for one term in the 70s. I was amazed by Jim’s Smoke House. I started eating there regularly whenever I passed through. In 1998, I re-married and took my wife up there for our honeymoon. We rented a cabin and all we did was room service except for one meal in the restaurant. My wife loved the place and I was able to introduce her to Jim. Oddly enough, after Jim had talked with us for a few minutes, he mentioned a new book about the Civil War and wanted to know if I had read it. I realized that Jim had remembered a conversation I had with him about seven years earlier. He was an outstanding individual and one who will be missed.” ~ P.D.O.
Early Life 1937 – 1959
He was born August 4, 1937, to Irene Allie Phipps Oliver (who was half Cherokee Indian heritage) and Robert Cheatum Oliver in Pelham, Tennessee; there were 4 boys and two girls in the family. Jim’s childhood days to early teens were spent in Payne’s Cove, about 5 miles from Monteagle; this wide spot in the road was known as Big Springs, where water flowed out of the Big Springs Cave at the foot of the mountain, providing water to 4 families who lived close by the springs.
Jim had the typical life of a southern country boy growing up in one of the most impoverished rural areas of the country; bare footed most of the time, attending school in a two room school house, and working with his family of loggers; people who cut down trees and moved them to the saw mill. The Oliver’s were still using mules to pull the logs off the mountain to the sawmill during this time, and Cheatum always bragged about the fine set of matched mules he had. They also worked in the fields plowing gardens & fields, picking crops like corn, potatoes, beans, bailing hay, raising hogs, goats, & chickens, making moonshine for sale, and building a road on a WPA (Works Progress Administration) County road project being built up the mountain from the cove to Tracy City.
When Jim was 12 years old, an accident while logging broke his leg so severely, a compound fracture of his upper leg, that he was bed ridden, unable to walk for over a year, he had to drop out of school. About the time he was able to walk, Cheatum decided to sell his mules, pack up kids, and move to Cleveland Ohio to work in the factories; friends & family from Tennessee already working there encouraged the Oliver’s to come to Cleveland, and helped them find a place to stay. So, the young Jim at about 14 never did go back to school, he never finished the 6th grade after the accident; attending school in Cleveland Ohio was not something the shy country boy intended to do, so he picked up work as he found it. The other children in the Oliver family had already moved out and married, except for Jim and his younger brother Bernie.
Unbelievably, one of the early jobs, shortly after moving to Cleveland, was as a caddy at one of the golf courses in Cleveland; where he had some friends who picked up some pretty good tips carrying golf clubs for the players there. Jim would either ride with friends out to the suburbs of Cleveland to the golf course or take a bus, and there he would carry the clubs; he’d carry two bags at a time because he made better tips that way. One of the side benefits of this work was that it helped restore the strength in his legs, and whole body from the lack of activity for almost 2 years, due to the walking he had to do with all the weight of 2 bags of clubs, chris crossing the fairways to catch up with each golfer. Jim did not a have the mindset to let this impairment keep him down. He had already worked as a logger in the woods and forest of Tennessee, walking up and down the mountains with a team of mules, and this looked pretty easy to him compared to logging.
Eventually, Jim’s friends got him on at other jobs in Cleveland. One of them was at a heavy industrial metals plant called Park Drop Forge; where raw steel was melted into its liquid form, then the hot molten steel (about 2,500 degrees) was poured out of a huge steel bucket into a mold to form motor crank shafts for huge ocean going ships; these crank shafts were 20 to 30 feet long and weighed several tons. Crews of 4 or 5 men working the mold would turn the hot steel object with hand tools after it set up, dislodge it from its mold, where the crew would turn the crank shaft as a huge stationary hammer pounded the shaft, tempering the steel making it harder, and more condensed; called tempering the steel. It was extremely hot heavy work, but young 16 year old Jim Oliver took to it, he made the best money to be made in Cleveland at the time; he and his team were one of the most productive crews, which meant better money. Jim also had another second job as a mechanist for a tool and die company; Jim always said he kept 2 jobs, because you never knew if you might get laid off from one of them. Jim made more money than he’d ever seen, and he bought himself a new Hudson Hornet; later on he had a 1957 Mercury two tone coupe.
At 17 years old, Jim met and married a 19 year old girl from Tennessee, Miss Betty Janice Ross, and less than a year later, along came their first child, James David. Janice was from a family of coal miners, who lived just up the hill from Payne’s Cove, a place called Coalmont Tennessee; about everyone there worked in the coal mines. Although, they lived close by in Tennessee, the two never had never met. Janice’s family had also moved to Cleveland a few years earlier because the coal mining had played out, and auto factory work was booming in the north; again, friends from the area helped them make the move to Cleveland. About this time, Jim’s mom and dad, who had not adapted to city living, moved back to Tennessee, where they opened a little country market in front of their house on the mountain side at the Big Springs crossroads in Payne’s Cove and operated it for about 5 years; Jim’s dad Cheatum, was also making and selling moonshine liquor, probably selling some of it out of the store. In 1959, Cheatum suffered a heart attack and died at 45 years old, and left Irene with a child of 8 years old; Irene couldn’t drive, and was in a bind raising her son Bernie alone. So, being the caretaker he was, Jim quit his big paying job, and moved his family back to Tennessee so he could help take care of his mother and brother; Jim was 22 years old.
Jim and his family lived for a while at Jim’s old family home at Big Springs crossroads, with his mother. Times were not booming in Tennessee, after looking for steady work, and with no success in finding any, Jim decided to borrow $200 from the First Bank of Decherd, and go into the restaurant business, starting a love affair with cookin’ and serving customers in his own way and using his own recipes that he had acquired from generations of family cooks.
The Bee Hive Drive-In, “Pig Joint” 1960 – 1965, (originally opened in early 1940’s)
Monteagle came to be a popular stopping place for travelers crossing the mountain, because it is at the top. In pre automobile days, drivers would stop and rest their mules, oxen, or horses before going farther. In the early days of the automobile, Monteagle still was a stopping place for cars and trucks, and in those days a time to cool off their transmissions and radiators, and checking their brakes, before heading down the other side of the mountain. In the 1940’s, 50’s, and 60’s, there were over 20 service stations and 10 or more cafes/restaurants/diners, some Tourist Lodges, and a few beer joints along the main street of Monteagle, catering to these travelers.
In 1960, the twenty two year old Jim Oliver, started building his reputation for cookin’ (and excitement) at an old “Honky-Tonk” he rented, called the Bee Hive Drive-In with 2 employees (the building was six sided with big picture windows in front); one was his niece 14 year old Shelia Fay Meeks, as a curb hop. The Bee Hive had 6 counter stools, a juke box, a pin ball machine, and curb service to the parking lot; which served as the dining room and fist fight brawling area; there wasn’t a lot to do around town, so fightin’ was pretty popular entertainment for all the mountain and valley locals.
When Jim first opened the little drive-in, the local Tennessee State Trooper, Bill Malone, told him to either, “run it right, or I’ll run YOU off”, so Jim took to cleaning up the brawlin’ and fightin’ himself …and that he did. For the rest of his life, Jim Oliver was known as a man who didn’t put up with… well, . . . you know what I’m talking about! Jim said that he just about starved to death the first six months, but about then a new road construction project, Interstate 24, was being built over the mountain, and workers from that discovered the great BBQ and Cold Beer at the little Bee Hive, and business started booming! The I-24 construction over the mountain would last almost 10 years. Another drive-in business down the road was the competition with Jim, it was called Tubby’s Drive-In, and had been around for a while. Customers would drive from one drive-in to the other, stopping long enough to have a beer or soft drink and check out who was in the parking lot of each one; back & forth & back & forth.
The little Bee Hive was all about parking lot “curb’ service, hamburgers & fries, Jim’s pit barbeque, his soon to be famous ‘Pool Hall Chili’, Schlitz & Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, a pin ball machine, the juke box, and the occasional scuffle out in the parking lot, that of course, Jim had to supervise and keep somewhat under control. During this time, word about Jim’s reputation for good BBQ cookin’ got around, and he was called on to cook barbeque and cut water melons for most of the local and state political races around the area. Jim and his helpers ‘Shorty’ Womack, Marvin Earl ‘Sheep’ Oliver (Brother), and Hamper McBee many nights would go out to a political rally location, dig a barbeque pit, build the fire, put on the meat, and stay up all night cookin’, drinkin’, and tellin’ stories till the meat was done and ready to serve for the political rally. Jim got to know all the local politicians, and their followers, and from here he developed skills and relationships that would serve him the rest of his life to help him get things done for family, friends, and community.
The Bee Hive thrived, and Jim made a reputation with the older local people that owned the town, and they noticed that he was energetic and wanted to do more. Jim was approached by Herman Sanders, one of the old established patriarchs who owned most of the real estate in town; Herman had a building down the road that he wanted Jim to buy, Mr. Sanders said he would finance it for the young business man. Jim acquired a lot of property all around town this way, he never turned down any deals that involved personal financing by the owner. Eventually, Jim would end up with a lot of the property around Monteagle.
The Monteagle Diner 1963 – 1973, (Originally opened in the 1930’s)
This particular building that Mr. Sanders had was an old historic landmark that had been around since the 30’s; it started out as an old retired rail road dining car, sidetracked in Monteagle; it had been previously operated by another restaurant legend from Monteagle, Harvey Thomas, who had moved on to another location. Jim, along with his brother Melvin, purchased the closed Monteagle Diner, and reclaimed its fame by re-making it one of the most well known restaurants between Chicago and Miami along the famous “Dixie Highway”. “Tennessee Country Ham & Hot Biscuits” was the catch phrase for the Diner, and Jim made sure the travelers knew about the Diner by renting several of the billboards out on the highway; travelers up and down the byway came in to sample the great cookin’ by the Oliver’s at the Monteagle Diner. While he and Melvin operated the Diner, Jim continued to operate the Bee Hive until 1965.
Here at the Diner, Jim’s and Melvin’s mom, Irene was heavily involved in everyday cookin’ and teaching her children and grand children the ways of country cookin’. Everyday, Irene, that was “Mama ‘Rene” to all the grandchildren, would cook up the biscuits, the vegetables, the meats, and the soups. A long time employee named Robert Smart was the Dessert cook. He hand made from scratch all the puddings, cobblers, pies, and bread rolls used at the Diner. He also made the best ‘twice stuffed’ baked potatoes, that you could find anywhere. Business started booming for the Oliver’s. Here at the Diner, Jim put in a big meat cutting band saw, and he would order up sides of beef and pork and cut all his own meat himself, making all the stake cuts, roast, hamburger, bacon, pork chops, and sausage.
Jim worked other jobs too. He purchased other properties from some of the older families of Monteagle, and made money either operating them, or reselling them. One of Jim’s jobs was helping his friend Doyle Lay at the Cumberland Funeral Home. This went on for a few years, and back then, the funeral homes also provided the ambulance service; so, whenever Doyle got a call for the ambulance, he’d come by the Diner and get Jim, and off they’d go to pick up and take someone either to the hospital or the funeral home, depending on the condition of the patient; Jim was also the helper in the embalming room. Jim was equally involved in civic endeavors such as starting the Lions Club, and the Monteagle Mountain Chamber of Commerce , and starting Little League and Babe Ruth Baseball programs in Monteagle, which he supervised and coached for many years.
In 1973, after a successful ten year venture at the Monteagle Diner, Jim and Melvin parted amicably, with Jim selling his interest of The Monteagle Diner to Melvin. For the next 2 years, Jim operated heavy equipment building roads and lakes, and gambled on ball games; making more than enough to feed the family, drive new cars & trucks, and send J D off to the University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
Jim Oliver’s Smoke House Restaurant 1975 – present
In 1975, building it from the ground up, Jim opened up the Smoke House Restaurant with 14 employees, 80 seats in the restaurant, a small gift shop, antique mall, and a menu full of family recipes handed down from generations of Oliver cooks, featuring authentic old smoke house style meats. Utilizing his mother’s recipes, along with her hands on talents in the kitchen, Jim’s country-themed restaurant soon became a regional favorite, and received nationwide recognition as one of the top 500 restaurants in 1988 and again in 1989.
Jim had two financial partners at the start of the Smoke House, John Stamps and Sam Lewis, whom he later bought out; but both men have always remained close friends to Jim Oliver and the Oliver family. All three men, and including J. C. Thomas, also built and started the Monteagle Truck Plaza in 1976. The three Smoke House partners were instrumental and involved together and separately with several other businesses in Monteagle over the years.
Along about 1982, Jim put together his team, including son J. D. Oliver & Hank Landers, to expand the property and promote the Smoke House Restaurant into even a bigger attraction, by building the meeting & retreat center, the Mountain Lodge, and Log cabins for family and corporate retreats, meetings, and vacations. During this time, the Oliver’s expanded their advertising and marketing from the Interstate billboards, to include direct sales to corporate, association, and tour groups. The Smoke House also was successful in obtaining more free press about the business and it’s unique history. In the 90’s, J. D. Oliver began to promote the Smoke House on the internet by starting the first Smoke House Web Page and on line mail order catalogue. Collecting names and addresses of customers coming thru the doors began to add up, and the mail order catalogue business quickly became a integral part of the overall business. Betsy Oliver, Jim’s daughter, became involved with the business as meeting sales manager, lodging manager, and bookkeeper.
South Cumberland State Park 1970 – 1985
During the mid 70’s thru the early 80’s, Jim and his friend Hank Landers were instrumental in the acquisition and development of the initial land parcels of The South Cumberland State Park; a long time dream of Herman Baggenstoss, a noted and well known conservationist from Tracy City, who was also the leader of the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 30’s/40’s. During this time, Jim used his political connections that he had acquired over the years of cookin’ and serving Tennessee Governors, Senators, and Representatives, to influence them into spending the money to purchase the unique lands around the mountain, and then to spend the money to develop trails, campgrounds, and the welcome center for the park. Beginning in 1978, Jim, along with close friend and retired General Motors National Management, Hank Landers, spear-headed the state’s purchase of the then defunct Mountain Golf and Recreation Center, to be incorporated into the state parks system as the South Cumberland Recreation Area Visitor’s & Cultural Interpretation Center. Together, they were instrumental in saving Grundy Lakes and Coke Ovens from irreparable damage as a dumping site while restoring the area’s historic and environmental integrity. Hank served as the initial park superintendent where he put together an army of over 100 workers to build the 10 year trail system, in less than 4 years. Once the initial ground work was in place, other organizations such as the Land Trust, and the Friends of the South Cumberland were formed and they continue to purchase, preserve, and develop many other unique tracts of land for the South Cumberland State Park; today, the South Cumberland State Park is the largest state park in the Tennessee.
Later life, Other Ventures 1980’s thru 2007
In addition to owning and operating a successful family-owned business, Jim devoted much of his time to helping others and in promoting the Mountain’s natural assets. Jim and Hank helped orchestrate the implementation of several civic programs for the people of Grundy County, including the Toddler’s Club, Exceptional Citizens Center, Mountain Medical Center and the Mountain Community Services Corporation. They also worked tirelessly to secure Social Security and veterans’ benefits for numerous individuals and sponsored several people in drug rehabilitation programs.
Over the years of the 90’s thru today, the Oliver’s have been involved in many businesses on the mountain and around the South. They had a successful heavy highway construction business named American Shotcrete, specializing in rock and soil stabilization for over 21 years around Tennessee/Georgia/North Carolina, a successful real estate development company around the mountain specializing in vacation property development such as Clifftops/Laurel Creek/Dripping Springs, and a successful self storage business in Murfreesboro, Storage Plex, still the biggest mini storage facility in middle Tennessee. But the Oliver’s base has always been and always will be the Smoke House, in Monteagle. There’s nothing else like it, and it’s the only one the Oliver’s have done or will do.
2007 to the Present – The Legacy of an American Treasure
Jim passed away May 16, 2007, and left a legacy to his children that they continue. Today Jim Oliver’s Smoke House is still operated by Jim’s children, J D & Betsy, serving the same authentic family recipes, and a few of them with Betsy’s (Jim’s daughter) twist of her own. The Smoke House has over 70 employees, a 5,000sf General Store full of antiques and old fashioned goods, a 85 room Mountain Lodge, 23 Vacation Cabins featuring Log & Timber Frame construction with fireplaces and Jacuzzi tubs, a 5,000sf Conference Center accommodating meetings & reunions, and live music shows every Friday & Saturday night featuring talented music artist songwriters, and over 20 acres of campus for customers to have fun on. “Dad was never satisfied with standing still, he built and built and built until he created a business that could cater not only to local folks, but also to all the travelers up and down the highways” states James David Oliver, Jim’s son.
In conjunction with the 50th Anniversary in 2010, Jim Oliver’s Smoke House started featuring “Music on the Mountain with The Best of Nashville”, singer/songwriter acoustic music shows, every Friday & Saturday night, starting at 6:30pm/ct, free to all Smoke House customers as a Thank You to all our loyal customers. Since then, there has been over 800 nights of live shows, featuring some of the greatest music artist songwriters found in the US.
The future of the Smoke House holds much promise. This generation of Oliver’s are embracing the Internet, social networks, and technologies and building an E-commerce On Line Store for marketing the over five hundred Smoke House Brands.
It’s the goal to keep the old traditions alive and in place, but also remember where the Oliver’s came from and how, and use these new methods of internet business, just like Jim used the new Interstate in 1960’s and 70’s, to grow the Smoke House with the times, into new markets and new customers on the current “information highway”.