Blount County

Blount County is one of the oldest counties in Tennessee. Established in 1795 before statehood, it was named in honor of Territorial Governor William Blount. Prior to white settlement the area was home to the Cherokee Indians, who established their capital at Chota and occupied a village at Chilhowee.

White settlers arrived in the mid-1780s and established a permanent settlement at Houston's Station in 1786. The county seat of Maryville, named after Governor Blount's wife, Mary Grainger Blount, was established and laid out in the 1795 act creating Blount County. Throughout the nineteenth century, Maryville was a medium-sized prosperous county seat, noted as the home of Maryville College. Originally established in 1819 as the Southern and Western Theological Seminary, Maryville College was among the first southern schools to open its doors to Native Americans, African Americans, and women. As industry arrived in the county at the turn of the century, Maryville boomed as a rail junction. Important properties associated with the boom include the Blount County Courthouse (1906), a Classical Revival design by Bauman and Bauman of Knoxville; the Southern Railway freight depot; and the Indiana Avenue historic district.

Smaller rural settlements are scattered throughout the county. In 1796 a settlement of Quakers from North Carolina established Friendsville, west of Maryville. Cades Cove was settled in the 1820s. By the 1870s a close community had evolved, linked by isolation and kinship. In 1927 Cades Cove residents launched an unsuccessful court battle to protect their homes from inclusion in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Many of the homes, barns, and mills of Cades Cove have been preserved or reconstructed as a reminder of the past heritage of Blount County.

Sam Houston, one of the most famous Blount County residents, moved there with his family from Virginia in 1807. In 1812 Houston taught school in a one-room schoolhouse, now preserved as a state historic site, near Maryville.

For almost one hundred years, Blount County was home to a series of resort hotels near several springs at the foot of Chilhowee Mountain at Montvale. During the 1850s Irish expatriate John Mitchell lived there, and the family of author Sidney Lanier owned the hotel from 1856 to 1863, inspiring his novel Tiger Lilies. William G. Brownlow was also a frequent guest. After the Civil War, several less successful hotels followed at Montvale, and the last hotel burned in 1933. Other smaller resorts operated near springs throughout Blount County into the early twentieth century.

In 1844 lawmakers attempted to establish a new county from the southern portion of Blount County and part of Monroe County. The new county would be called Jones, in honor of Governor James C. Jones, and the capital would be Ashley, a settlement near the former Cherokee town of Chilhowee. Surveyors mapped the area in 1844 and 1845, but the population was evidently not sufficient to warrant the creation of the new county.

During the Civil War many residents of Blount County supported the Union, as did much of East Tennessee. General William T. Sherman quartered in Maryville with approximately thirty thousand men in December 1863. Quakers at Friendsville helped over two thousand Tennessee men to escape conscription in the Confederate army.

Company towns have played a large role in Blount County's history. In 1901 the Little River Lumber Company was chartered, and a mill town, named Townsend in honor of the company president W. B. Townsend, grew up around the lumber operations in Tuckaleechee Cove. Although the Little River Lumber Company sold much of its land for the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Townsend remains as a reminder of the importance of the lumber industry in Blount County. Walland, halfway between Maryville and Townsend, was home to the Schlosser Leather Company, which processed raw hides mostly imported from South America.

In 1914 the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) reincorporated the area of North Maryville into a company town called Alcoa and built several plants for aluminum production. The company also established the town of Calderwood on the Little Tennessee River in southern Blount County to house workers. The company exercised immeasurable importance in the economic life of the county and East Tennessee in the form of jobs, schools, economic advancement, and municipal additions. By 1960 ALCOA's investment in Blount County had brought the county from eighty-fifth of Tennessee's ninety-five counties in assembled wealth to the top ten. ALCOA also provided much of the money and land to build McGhee-Tyson Airport, which serves Knoxville and East Tennessee.

Much of eastern Blount County lies in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, authorized by Congress in 1926. The establishment of the park was not without controversy for local residents, but sources ranging from schoolchildren to large benefactors raised $2.5 million in funds for the purchase of park land, a figure which was matched by the states of Tennessee and North Carolina, and the Rockefeller family donated an additional $5 million. After land had been purchased, it was deeded to the federal government. Congress formally established the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in June 1935, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt dedicated the park on September 2, 1940.

In 2000, the county’s population was 105,823, a 23 percent increase since 1990.

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010