Prior to 1900, this area of the Little River Valley and the surrounding tributary streams was called Tuckaleechee Cove – a name meaning “peaceful valley” given to the region by the Cherokees who lived here prior to the first white settlers arrival in the late 1700s. For more than a century after the first settlements, it remained a “peaceful valley”, with subsistence farming along the valleys being the primary livelihood of the inhabitants. For a relatively brief period, less than 40 years, it became a beehive of commercial lumbering activity. Since the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1930s, the area has re-emerged as “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies.”
In 1900, Wilson B. Townsend and a group of fellow Pennsylvanians formed the Little River Lumber Company; initially intended to supply tanbark for a tannery located in Walland. They bought nearly 80,000 acres of land, much of which now comprises the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In order to log the rugged terrain and move logs to the mill, they established the Little River Railroad. The headquarters for both the railroad and the lumber company were located in the village known as Townsend. From here, rails were run deep into the mountains. Workers, equipment, and tools were hauled in while logs were hauled out by the power of Shay locomotives; small, powerful, cog driven steam engines which had been developed specifically for working on steep slopes such as these.
Even during this period of intense commercial activity, the scenic mountain country became a popular attraction once the railroads had provided for relatively easy access. Some of the logging camps, notably Elkmont, began to evolve into tourist hotels. As logging activities began to wane and the railroad tracks removed, the rail beds provided the beginnings of roadways and trails into the Smokies. A prime example is the scenic Little River Road now running from Townsend all the way along the wilds of the Little River to the Sugarlands visitors center. This was originally the rail bed of the Little River Railroad.
In the mid-1930s, most of the forest land originally acquired by W.B. Townsend was sold to the state of Tennessee which then turned the land over to the National Park Service to form a significant portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Because of its proximity to Cades Cove and the easy access to the scenic Little River portion of the park, Townsend became a major portal for visitors to the national park. Other primary park portals such as Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Cherokee have seen the development of entertainment and “tourist” centers, many totally unrelated to the natural beauty of the Smoky Mountains, which draw crowds of tourists and corresponding traffic jams. Unlike these more commercialized portals, the Townsend area has remained primarily uncluttered and is a pleasant, scenic destination for those who want to enjoy the natural beauty of the Smokies without the undue artificial distractions.
A History of Blount County
Blount (pronounced “blunt”) County is one of the oldest counties in Tennessee. On July 11, 1795, Blount County was created from portions of Knox and Jefferson Counties by the territorial Legislature. The county and the county seat were established the same day and named in honor of William Blount, Governor of the Territory of the United States south of the Ohio River, and a member of the Continental Congress. Governor Blount later became a U.S. Senator from the State of Tennessee.
The City of Maryville, named in honor of William Blount’s wife, Mary Grainger Blount, was authorized as the county seat. Blount County was also served as the boyhood home of Sam Houston. Blount County was settled by people of primarily English and Scottish origin, migrating from Georgia, Virginia and the Carolinas. The region has always been rich in various minerals, with fertile land, a plentiful water supply, and large stands of timber, which appealed to early settlers.
Lumber was the first principal industrial occupation of Blount County. The first lumber mill was recorded in 1788. In 1819, Rev. Isaac Anderson, a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister founded Maryville College, one of the state’s most prestigious and oldest institutions.
In 1800, the population of Blount County was 5587 people. By 1810, the population had grown to 12,098 people! Blount County has become one of the fastest growing counties in Tennessee, increasing its population by 22% from 1970 to 1980 and an additional 10.5% from 1980 to 1990. The county passed the 100,000 people milestone in 1997. Projections call for population to grow to 123,000 by 2010 and 139,000 by 2020. The area enjoys a mild climate with four seasons. Average temperatures range from 48.7 degrees in winter to 87 degrees in summer. Annual rainfall totals 47.29 inches. The area’s average cumulative snowfall of 12.2 inches usually comes in amounts of less than 4” at a time. At an elevation of 989 feet above sea level, the surrounding terrain is hilly and mountainous while much of the county is a valley covered with rolling farmlands. Located near the geographic center of the eastern United States, the county is within 500 miles of approximately 50% of the U.S. population. The area’s McGhee Tyson Airport is served by a variety of major airlines.
Situated at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, Blount County provides a scenic gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The county contains 548 square miles and is bordered by the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and North Carolina State line on the east. The area is bordered on the south and west by several impressive lakes of the Tennessee Valley Authority. Little River crosses the county and the Little Tennessee River and its TVA-made lakes border the county on the south. Neighboring counties are Sevier, Knox, Loudon, and Monroe in Tennessee, and Haywood and Swain Counties in North Carolina. With is breath-taking beauty, economic stability and warm, friendly atmosphere, it is easy to understand why Blount County was ranked in 2000 in the Top Ten 2000 List of Best Places to Live by the Arts and Entertainment (A&E) Television Network.