When Michael and Kathy Dumont first came to Linden, Tennessee, looking for a second home, they saw a town that had seen better days.
“The town had a nice old hotel building, but no curbside appeal,” Michael says. “It was an ugly downtown, with power lines everywhere.”
Once, Linden, was booming. The town in Perry County was an important stop on the road between Nashville and Memphis. Early twentieth century photos show a bustling Main Street with Trailways and Greyhound bus stations, a car dealership, retail stores and car repair shops.
Then they built I-40, the east-west interstate that cuts through the state. Traffic on Route 100 dwindled to local vehicles and Main Street storefronts emptied. Linden suffered the fate of many once-important towns as its prosperity and population declined. A Main Street of handsome buildings was forlorn and largely abandoned.
Despite the lack of curb appeal, Michael and Kathy bought the red brick hotel. Built in 1939, it had stood vacant for 20 years. The couple launched a multi-year restoration project that introduced contemporary appointments and amenities to the historic building.
Michael, who originally hails from Rhode Island, worked in real estate development and was involved in the restoration of several historic buildings in the Ocean State. He and his wife had a vision of what Linden could look like and began a campaign to bury all the unsightly power lines along Main Street. The electric company balked, but as the Dumonts persevered, eventually bought into the project. The result was striking as fine early-twentieth century commercial buildings became newly visible.
“We started a public art program,” Kathy Dumont says. Now in its 11thyear, the “Blooming Arts Festival” brings live music and art to the now charming downtown and has become an annual favorite event. Storefronts began to fill again. Guests came to stay at the Commodore Hotel, the name the Dumonts gave to their historic property.
“From the song, Dixie Chicken,” Michael Dumont grins. Now spilling into several buildings, the Commodore Hotel has 22 guest rooms, a restaurant and a lounge. There is live music every Friday evening and Wednesday lunches benefit area causes; a recent “Lunch For A Cause” featured the musical duo “Professor and The Bull.” Proceeds went to local Vietnam Veterans’ associations.
“When we came here in 2007, there were 14 vacant storefronts in town. Now there are none,” Michael Dumont says.
Mitchell Rhodes, manager of a local insurance agency and chairman of the Perry County Chamber of Commerce, says, “In 2009, the unemployment rate here was 28.9%. Now it is between two and three percent.”
Linden, Tennessee has again become a place to drive to from the big cities of Nashville and Memphis. But now, it is a destination, not a place to pass through.