Who Was Uncle Lem?
Born in 1889 in the Smoky Mountains, Lemuel “Lem” Ownby spent his long life on the land where he was born—growing food, tending bees, and living peacefully near Jake’s Creek in Elkmont, Tennessee.
In the 1930s, when the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was being formed, Lem chose to have a life lease instead of selling outright to the government. Staking himself to his remote property, he was dedicated to his love of the mountains and his beloved home in their midst.
He was content to be isolated and alone there in the woods, but Lem was frequently visited by people who came to buy his honey, hear his stories and receive his advice.
Lem became famous for the tales of his simple wisdom and his indifference to politicians—and even Supreme Court Justices—who trod up Jake’s Creek to meet the mountain sage. Living most of his later years without sight, Lem became one with his mountain landscape. When asked to what he credited his longevity and vitality, Lem responded, “I lay it up to the honey.”
Honoring the Legacy of Our Uncle Lem
The integrity, ruggedness and independence of Uncle Lem Ownby resonates with people far and wide. In 2010, brothers Kevin and Lee Hill, who are great-great nephews of Uncle Lem, together with Kevin’s wife Cheryl, founded the first Uncle Lem’s Outfitters, named in honor of Lem and the Appalachian identity his legacy represents.
Uncle Lem’s started in West Knoxville, just minutes from where Kevin and Lee Hill grew up. In an economic recession, the store was constructed with hard work and determination. Using family barnwood on the walls and fixtures, and tin roof on interior roof sections, the ambience of Uncle Lem’s is rugged, classy and unique.
On February 23, 2019, just one day before what would have been Uncle Lem’s 110th birthday, we were able to take Uncle Lem's Outfitters home to the Great Smoky Mountains... and here the story continues. We hope you will visit us on the Parkway next to the Incredible Christmas Place soon!