The Perseverance of Pioneers

Beginning Cumberland County, Post #2

“Their friends and neighbors were enraptured with the glowing descriptions of the delightful country they had discovered, and their imaginations were inflamed with the account of the wonderful products, which were yielded in such beautiful profusion. The sterile hills and rocky uplands of the Atlantic country began to lose their interest, when compared with the fertile valleys beyond the mountains.” (Ramsey, Annals of Tennessee, p. 97)

The first settlements along the Cumberland Plateau were either by accident or by men who sought opportunity along the road. With a multitude of travelers coming along Walton Road, the need for food, shelter, and necessities while traveling continuously grew. 

Many travelers did not see the use in settling in the Wilderness (Cumberland Plateau) with its rocky terrain and thickets, but there were some who ventured and found the luscious plains and crab apple trees. 

The earliest settler on record was John Ford, Sr. His family along with about 50 others traveled from Virginia seeking a new start. He chose Grassy Cove to start his farm. Other families who chose to settle there are the Willises, Stubbses, Lodens (Logans), Gibsons, Newtons and Kemmers. 

Soon after, many other families began to settle in the area bringing trades and business with them. 

The Tabors came from North Carolina in 1806 bringing the craft of woodworking making chairs and wagons with them. “…they were looking to find stands of hickory and chestnut. After passing Graham’s Stand on the Obed River, they came to Terry’s Stand at Black Drowning Creek. They took off up the creek and found what they wanted at a place still known as Tabor. Here they began to produce the sturdy, functionally handsome chairs which their descendants are still making– using some of the same sort of tools. The Tabor chair industry thus celebrates its sesquicentennial this year, being both the oldest and the only craft which has continued uninterrupted since the first years of settlement.” (Bullard & Krechniak, Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, p.22-23)

With John Bristow and his family came the trade of tanning. The Wilderness offered an abundance of elk and deer for their trade.They also came from North Carolina but chose to settle in the Grassy Cove area.

In Crab Orchard, the area now known as Haley’s Grove is named after the widow Haley who had an inn in the area now known as Ozone Falls and the Crab Orchard Inn replaced Sidnor’s Stand in 1827. It was built by Robert Burke. “According to the tales handed down to us, brick for brick the inn was made on the farm by slaves, who also burned the lime for it from limestone taken from the mountainside. Burke brought nine bricklayers from Knoxville to erect the walls. Inside was a unique stairway said to have been built by a local carpenter. In Famous Inns of the Southwest this inn is credited with being one of the finest in early times. It was a landmark on the Great Stage Road for more than 50 years.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 23)

Crab Orchard Inn

Graham’s Stand also built another inn on the other side of the Obed River after 1800. Then following their inn, Robert Johnson and his wife, Ollie, built their stand on the Walton Road at the head of the Caney Fork. “In 1806, Johnson and his sons erected a new building of hewn logs with a riven board roof. The inside lumber was whip-sawed and the whole was held together with wooden pegs and wrought iron nails. It is still standing and in use– now the oldest structure in Cumberland County, and this year celebrating its sesquicentennial.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 23)

Lowry’s Stand was the first of what today’s motels looked like. It was the biggest in the county with thirteen log cabins and a main inn.

Business rivalries began with Gordon’s Turnpike trying to take Walton Road’s business. Gordon Road was built starting at Post Oak Springs and entered Cumberland County north of the confluence of Mammy and Fall Creeks, then through Grassy Cove to the Dawson Stand and to the Lowry Stand, and there it joined the Great Stage Road as part of a military road. 

“General George Gordon received, from the State of Tennessee in 1829, a grant of 3,000 acres for this road; the only grant of its kind in Tennessee. The land lay about the spot where the stand was built and only a part of it was in Cumberland County. It is referred to in a grant of 1826 as the ‘Gordon and Lincoln Turnpike’ which included Dawson’s improvements at the crossroads where the road from Greer’s to Sequatchie Valley (Post and Mail Road) crosses said Turnpike.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 24)

Much like many sports rivalries today, the Walton v. Gordon road was heated. 

A Gordon’s Turnpike road sign once read, “Gordon’s Turnpike, nearest and best road across the Cumberland Wilderness. Fire and provender at each stop. Ordinaries and taverns every ten miles.”“Joshua Moore was agent and drummer for the Great Stage Road. One night he tied a brush to a long pole and blackened out the sign board of the Gordon Road. Gordon did not have it relettered but put up another board below with this: ‘The above blackboard to be kept for erection over the grave of Joshua Moore upon which the devil will write his doom. Amen.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 25) Incidentally the act and board drew attention and visitors to the Gordon road. The old sign post was kept up till the ‘60s as a reminder. 

Many other roads followed along with businesses on each one and each road serving a purpose throughout the county and wilderness. Ross Road began at Dawson’s Stand, Post and Mail Road was built to carry mail before 1826. Kentucky Stock Road was built just as the name says, to drive cattle north. 

“All of these roads were operated under contracts with individuals who were assigned certain portions of a road. Each contractor had to maintain the road and the mile posts; he was permitted a specified number of turnpikes at which he collected a specified toll for each traveler on horseback and for each wagon. At Crab Orchard Inn these tolls were $0.25 for a horseman and a dollar for a wagon. Sometimes receipts here totalled $75 a day in the fall of the year when the traffic was heaviest.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 26)

“Each stage driver carried a bugle and four or five miles before he reached a stand he would get out the bugle on top of a mountain or a rise, and blow a blast on it as a signal for the stand to ready his change of horses. Then he would pause and blow one toot for each passenger who wanted lunch.” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 27)

It is said that Andrew Jackson traveled the Walton Road on his way to be inaugurated for his presidency. “The travelers reached Abingdon July 27, (1836) and Kingston, Tennessee on the 30th. Here the President wrote to Andrew Jr.: ‘We arrived here to breakfast and will sleep at Capt. Thos. N. Clark’s, Kingston. We have been in mud from the City (Washington) and now rest part of tomorrow and reach Mr. Brown’s foot of the mountain or perhaps go 12 miles farther to the Crab Orchard.’” (Bullard & Krechniak, p. 29-30)

“All the pioneers were brave, hardy, patient and ambitious. Yet the Tennessee backwoodsman was the sturdiest of all. The daily menace of Indians, the bear, the panther, the wolf, and the rattlesnake, and their isolation from the thickly settled communities of the East caused them to be self-reliant and independent.” (Moore, The Volunteer State, p.320)

“It was not till the year 1776 that a wagon was seen in Tennessee. In consequence of the want of roads– as well as of the great distance from sources of supply– the first inhabitants were without tools, and of course, without mechanics– much more, without the convenience of living and the comforts of house-keeping. Luxuries were absolutely unknown. Salt was brought on pack-horses from Augusta and Baltimore and readily commanded ten dollars a bushel. The salt gourd, in every cabin, was considered a treasure. The sugar-maple furnished the only article of luxury on the frontier; coffee and tea being unknown, or beyond reach of the settlers, sugar was seldom made, and was only used for the sick, or in the preparation of a sweetened dram at a wedding or the arrival of a newcomer. The appendages of the kitchen, the cupboard and the table were scanty and simple.

 “Iron was brought at a great expense from the forges east of the mountain, on pack-horses, and was sold at an enormous price. Its use was for this reason confined to the construction and repair of ploughs and other farming utensils. Hinges, nails and fastenings of that material, were seldom seen.

“Could there be happiness or comfort in such dwellings and such a state of society?”  (Rasmey, p. 716)

The people of Cumberland County have an ancestry of perseverance. This town was built out of determination and pure ambition. Those that chose to settle here and start their businesses began this town and began its way of life. Whether your family is from here or not, the history of this town and its people is truly a story to be heard and appreciated. 

Business men and women in those days started with nothing but a trade or an idea much like people do today, but back then it wasn’t just business, it was survival and a way of life. They were building a society and a community that we still cherish today. 

Published by SmallBiz Staffing, LLC

Locally owned staffing company in Crossville, TN.

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