On The River Of Pearls

Tennessee offers houseboating vacationers a unique offboard excursion

Published online: Sep 18, 2006 News
Viewed 258 time(s)
The Birdsong Resort located in Camden, Tennessee offers a beautiful place to go boating and camping, but also offers something that no other resort in North America has-a unique freshwater pearl farm museum and guided tour.

Bob Keast, the owner of the farm and resort, is the tour guide that is not only knowledgeable, but entertaining as well. He uses funny analogies and stories to explain how pearls are produced, as well as a show-and-tell approach that allows visitors to handle the lovely shells and gems.

There are several smaller tours available, but the favorite is the "deluxe" tour that includes a Southern-style barbecue luncheon and trip to the marina to witness the emergence of cultured pearls from a mussel.

Cameras, provided by Mr. Keast, flash incessantly as the diver, in full garb, climbs out of the water and onto the boat, tossing the heavy bag with the "catch of the day," onto the dock. He then removes his gear and invites guests to ask questions while "shucking" his harvest.

The bounty may or may not reveal "natural" pearls, but soon Bob and the pearl farm manager retrieve a basket of mussels that contain the "cultured" pearls that have been growing in the river.

These mussels are the ones implanted with a "seed" in a highly-secretive process. Bob simply states that it involves opening the mussel and then implanting a piece of shell or tissue shaped the way the pearl is desired. The tiny animal that lives inside the shell then busily secretes a substance called "nacre" over the seed which forms the pearl. It takes about five years to produce the small, uniquely-shaped pearls that the Birdsong Resort and Pearl Farm are famous for. They leave the traditional round pearls to other farms, since Americans have proven to prefer teardrops, hearts, and other shapes.

"Imagine how hard our job is!" Bob exclaims with an exaggerated sigh. "We have to KNOW what women will want in five years! Will they want hearts, teardrops, squares, triangles, or some other shape? Smiles, chuckles, and compassionate looks ensue-especially from the men of the group.

Originally founded by John R. Latendresse (1925-2000) as one of eight pilot farm locations in 1979, all productivity measures eventually narrowed to the one location in Birdsong Creek due to the excellent water conditions. John and his wife Chessie, had attempted for many years to adapt the Japanese technique to our native waters, and species of mussels. 1984 was the first year a productive harvest was accomplished. "That's why everybody's not pearl farmers," Keast explains after a short history review. "How would you like to wait five years to make a profit after such an investment of time and money? People were saying that it couldn't be done. Mr. Latendresse proved them wrong."

The Tennessee River Pearl Farm has been featured in a variety of national publications and television broadcasts-including the National Geographic and CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood.

This attraction is among the top 25 most-visited attractions according to reports published by the State of Department of Tennessee Tourism.

Gudies tours are available from April-November.

For more information, call 731-584-7880, 800-225-7469 or visit the website at
http://www.TennesseeRiverPearls.comor http://www.BirdsongResort.com

731.584.7880 - General Info/Guide Service/Rentals
800.225.7469 - Reservations/Boat Sales/Pearl Tours
731.584.3625 - Fax
731.584.1996 - Bob's Residence
615.351.2628 - Bob's Personal Cell with Voice Mail Box
731.584.0230 - Marina Ship's Store

255 Marina Road - 9 Miles North of Exit 133 on I-40 Camden, Tennessee 38320-9699

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