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Namesake: City of Allardt in Fentress County

11:07 AM, Oct 8, 2010   |    comments
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  • Bruno Gernt
  • M.H. Allardt
    

For the last couple of decades, the first weekend in October means one thing in the city of Allardt:  enormous pumpkins.

"The Giant Pumpkin Festival is a big deal for us," said Allardt mayor Phillip Gernt.  "This year we had about 12,000 people here and we weighed the biggest pumpkin in festival history.  It weighed 1,331 pounds."

The small city in Fentress County allows visitors to step back in time, but not just because it is located where Eastern Time changes to Central Time.  Residents have preserved many historic buildings, including an old one-room school building that now provides lodging for tourists.

"Tourism is a big part of Allardt," said Lowanda Gernt, postmaster of Allardt and owner of The Old Allardt Schoolhouse.  "A lot of people used to mispronounce the name.  It is pronounced 'AL-urt.'  Maybe we're getting to be a little bit better known because most folks do a good job of pronouncing it these days.  Today everybody knows where the Pumpkin Festival is."

The pumpkin is a relatively recent part of Allardt's heritage.  Prior to the early 1990s when the city began holding the pumpkin weigh-off, the community was mostly known for its origins as a German settlement.

"My grandfather settled it.  His name was Bruno Gernt.  He was originally from Germany, then moved to Michigan, then settled here around 1880," said Phillip Gernt.

Bruno Gernt had experience colonizing in Michigan.  When the railroads provided access to the rugged hills in Tennessee, opportunities arose for the construction of new communities in the Cumberland Plateau.

Bruno Gernt and a few others from Michigan decided to create their own German community in Tennessee.

"My grandfather, he recruited people from Germany to come here," said Phillip Gernt.  "He put ads and brochures in Germany and in German communities in this country advertising the property."

One of Bruno Gernt's partners in creating this new settlement was a man named M.H. Allardt.  Allardt served as the "Commissioner of Emigration" from 1869 until 1875 for the state of Michigan in Germany and had a wealth of experience settling new areas.

Allardt visited the area with Gernt and helped draw a conceptual map for the future town.  Allardt died in Port Huron, Michigan, in 1882 before he was able to move to the new Tennessee community.

"Mr. Allardt was definitely one of the settlers with all of the work he did.  When he passed away they named this community for him and that's the reason it is Allardt today," said Phillip Gernt.

Although Allardt never lived in the settlement that was named for him, his widow moved to the city.  Today many residents are direct descendants of the people who created the city.

"It is just a nice place to live.  We have great trails for hiking, horseback riding, gorgeous waterfalls, scenic overlooks, and the people here are wonderful," said Phillip Gernt.

"They love the quaintness and the quiet peaceful surroundings. As far as we are concerned, it is the garden spot of the world." Lowanda Gernt laughingly added, "The giant garden spot."

As for the origins of the pumpkin festival, Phillip Gernt said a local resident grew a 700 pound pumpkin sometime around 1990.

"We already had a homecoming parade and festival that started in the mid-1980s.  When we saw how many people were driving out to see this giant pumpkin, someone had the idea to make it a part of the festival.  It just grew from there," said Phillip Gernt.

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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'

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