The land that is now Cumberland County existed as an Indian hunting ground when Tennessee became a state in 1796. Bands of settlers making the perilous journey from Virginia, Maryland, and North and South Carolina to the Cumberland River settlements and beyond rested at the inns located along the toll roads that crossed the region. Kemmer’s Stand, Mammy, Burke, Genesis, Lowery’s Stand, and Grimes (Graham’s) Stand were familiar names to early travelers. Movement across the region became so common that Helen Krechniak, author of Cumberland County’s First Hundred Years, referred to the county as “The Road to Somewhere Else.” Many of the roads were mere trails, partially maintained between toll gates; other roads were better maintained and offered more substantial accommodations. Crab Orchard Inn, Kemmer’s Stand, and Johnson’s Stand (Mayland) serviced Walton Road. That road was established by the legislature to connect Southwest Point (Kingston) to Nashville. Today, Interstate 40 follows much of the original route across Cumberland County.
In 1856 the Tennessee General Assembly created Cumberland County from the eight surrounding counties of Bledsoe, Roane, Morgan, Fentress, Rhea, Putnam, Overton, and White. Covering 679 square miles of the Cumberland Plateau, the new county rose from an elevation of eight hundred feet to a height of three thousand feet, with an average elevation of two thousand feet. Crossville (Scott’s Crossroads), near the center of the county, was chosen as the county seat despite the fact that several other communities, including Crab Orchard, Grassy Cove, Mayland, and Pleasant Hill, had larger populations.
The Civil War halted most economic development on the plateau. Confederate and Union forces, as well as guerrilla bands masquerading as soldiers from both sides, pillaged the county. No major battles were fought in the county, but residents of the thinly populated area suffered as much as those Tennesseans living nearer battlefields. The population was evenly divided between pro-slavery and antislavery sentiments; brother fought brother, and sons left their families, some going to the Union and some to the Confederacy.
After the war the county’s coal and timber resources received the attention of developers in Chicago, Boston, and New York. In agriculture, Cumberland County’s reputation for fruits and vegetables, as well as grasses, continued to grow. Artist John W. Dodge established extensive fruit groves at Pomona. The arrival of the Tennessee Central Railroad in 1900 made the county more accessible to new settlers and opened the agricultural and livestock markets of Nashville and Knoxville to area farmers.
In World War I Cumberland County recruited a company of volunteers who served in Company G, 119th Infantry, 30th Infantry Division. Sergeant Milo Lemert received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sergeant Litton T. Thurman received the Distinguished Service Cross in the same action. Sergeant Alvin C. York came “home” to the Tennessee Central Depot in Crossville, where he was welcomed by his friends from Pall Mall in nearby Fentress County. In 1940 York came to the Hotel Taylor in Crossville to sign the contract for the making of the movie Sergeant York.
In the decade following World War I Cumberland County underwent a new phase of development with the construction of highways linking Crossville to Pikeville, Sparta, Spring City, and Jamestown. As part of the New Deal recovery program, the federal government, under the Subsistence Homestead Division of the Department of Interior, established the Cumberland Homesteads. The program, which provided land and homes for impoverished, deserving families to engage in subsistence farming, made provisions for 250 families. Although economically unsuccessful, the community survived and the Homestead houses of Crab Orchard stone are among the most prized dwellings in the county. The project also left a public recreational facility, what is now Cumberland Mountain State Park.
During World War II the development of the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge and the establishment of a prisoner of war camp near Pomona kept employment high. The POW camp was commonly referred to as the “Jap Camp,” although it held only German and Italian prisoners. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia of New York made a “secret” visit to the camp to confer with Italian generals who were among the prisoners. Soldiers from the county served in all branches of the service and in every theater of war, from Guadalcanal to Burma and Europe to Africa. Many of them continued to serve after the war ended and later retired to the plateau.
The area experienced its most rapid growth during the postwar period. The most important factor in the advancement of agriculture, industry, and tourism was the construction of Interstate 40 through the county. The development of retirement facilities such as Fairfield Glade, Lake Tansi Resort, Renegade Mountain (now Cumberland Gardens), and Pleasant Hill brought thousands of people to visit, build homes, and retire. Manufacturing and distribution centers found Cumberland County’s improved access to urban centers and smaller local markets a plus. Crossville’s locally owned and developed publications, Trade-A-Plane, Rock and Dirt, Boats and Harbors, and Tradequip receive national distribution.
Cumberland County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state. Although it remains 75 percent forested, it is no longer a rural county. Cumberland Medical Center, the nationally known Cumberland County Playhouse, and the availability of technical and higher education provide the county’s citizens with the benefits of more populated areas. The county’s 2000 population was 46,802, an increase of almost 35 percent since 1990.