Sketch of Uncle Lem in wooden frame

The Story of Uncle Lem

The Story of Our Namesake,

the Original Uncle Lem!

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.”

Painting of Uncle Lem in front of cabin

Honoring the Legacy of Our Uncle Lem

Kevin & Cheryl Hill + five kids, September 2018
Kevin & Cheryl Hill + family, September 2018

The integrity, ruggedness and independence of 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.

The first location of Uncle Lem’s opened in West Knoxville at 9715 Kingston Pike, just minutes from where Kevin 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.

In 2016, recognizing the potential for growth in South Knoxville, where Knoxville’s renowned Urban Wilderness trails and parks snake through old neighborhoods, abandoned marble and granite mines and along the riverfront, Kevin Hill and a business partner, Kendrick Smith, had the vision to restore a rundown building as a second store location at 1024 Sevier Avenue. We joined SoKno officially in March of 2017.

In February 2019, just one day before what would have been Uncle Lem’s 110th birthday, we were able to bring Uncle Lem's home to the Great Smoky Mountains... and here the story continues.  We hope you will visit us soon at one of our three locations!

To learn even more about Uncle Lem, check out the book written about his life here in the Great Smoky Mountains, Elkmont’s Uncle Lem Ownby by F. Carroll McMahan by clicking here!