How This Town in Tennessee Earned the Name “Stupidville” (Yes, Really!)

a sign reads "stupidville, tn"

When you make fun of a Tennessean, don't be surprised if you get a lesson on passive aggressiveness. This is the story of how a local business owner in Morgan County turned insults into a tourist attraction (photo Kristi Blokhin/shutterstock.com with some photoshopping for this editorial)

This is the story of how a small town in Tennessee was dubbed ‘Stupidville’

A great philosopher – well, technically his Mama – always said “Stupid is as Stupid Does.” With this in mind, for a time in the 1960s, there was a small unincorporated Tennessee Town where they could have made a killing just by putting that on T-shirts. Welcome, my friends to Stupidville.

In the 1960s, a frustrated Morgan County shopkeeper failed in his efforts to incorporate a town. When his neighbors failed to recognize the genius of his plan, he erected a sign announcing the location as Stupidville. The rest is history. A really dumb history. 

Stupidville TN Signage
The Stupidville, Tennessee sign in Morgan County which indicated a population of 187 (Fair Use photo archive of the Knoxville Journal)

About Stupidville, Tennessee

Morgan County was going backward. And Sam Briggs had had all he could stand and he couldn’t take it anymore. A grocery store owner who lived about three miles North of Wartburg, Briggs had seen Morgan County losing stops on the Southern Railway right and left. For instance, in 30 years, five small Morgan County towns had faded away. 

“Why we’ve lost five towns just in the last few years,” Briggs told the Knoxville Journal in 1965. “Nobody knows where they went. People just left and the houses are falling down.” 

Briggs offered some ideas to county leaders, got called stupid and then just kind of ran with it. He erected a sign declaring the place Stupidville, population 187. 

It kind of worked. The sign became a tourist attraction and Sam became Stupidville mayor.
“Greatest little place in the world,” he told the Journal. “Get away with anything out here and nobody can laugh at you. Because you come from Stupidville, what can they expect?” 

“Get away with anything out here and nobody can laugh at you. Because you come from Stupidville, what can they expect?”

– Sam Briggs, Mayor of Stupidville, TN
Sam Briggs anointed himself mayor of Stupidville, TN (Fair use photo archive of the Knoxville Journal)

What happened to Stupidville?

Things got weird. Well, weirder. Briggs ended up getting divorced and moving out of Stupidville. Some reports have him moving to Knoxville and taking a job in a package store while others have him moving up the road to Nosey Valley.  Still, Briggs oddly tried to keep his mayoral throne despite no longer living in Stupidville. First, his son Sam Jr. was elected as an emergency. But later, in a move worthy of King Lear, another of Briggs’ sons – Larry – rose up and ran his own campaign to be Stupidville Mayor against his dad. The New York Times picked up the story in September of 1971. While the Times said family members acknowledged father and son were – on some level – kidding, it appears they both wanted the title. 

At some point, Stupidville faded – like the other Morgan County small towns like Nemo, Camp Austin and Annadel – and went away. Sam died in February of 1989 and is buried at Kubley Cemetery in nearby Lancing.

Where is Stupidville? Can you visit today?

Technically, no. Stupidville no longer exists. However, Sam’s store was a real place on Highway 27 and – in theory – you could find where the store (and Stupidville) was. I haven’t been able to pin down the exact location of Stupidville. Reports at the time say two and a half miles above Wartburg on Highway 27 – which I believe is now Old Highway 27.

I’ve also seen it listed as being near the tiny village of Lancing – which has a post office on Old Nashville Highway a few miles to the west. My best guess is that the old store would have been near the intersection of Old 27 and Old Nashville Highway – which would have been a prime spot. You technically can visit and maybe find the spot where the old store was, but there’s nothing there to mark the former Stupidville location. 

Honestly, it’s hard to make youngsters today understand how strange the world used to be. A small East Tennessee owner of a gas station/grocery store once got kind of famous because he put up a sign declaring his little part of Morgan County Stupidville. People came from all around to take pictures with the sign. The New York Times wrote about him and his son. There’s no real rhyme or reason to it other than one day Sam Briggs Sr. woke up and had an idea and for a while the world paid attention. It’s all so …. Stupid. 

Long live Stupidville, at least, in our hearts.

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