On December 9, 1857, the Tennessee General Assembly created Sequatchie County from a section of Hamilton County and named Dunlap as the county seat. Europeans first settled in the area in 1806. The land in the Sequatchie Valley was highly attractive for agricultural purposes.
Throughout most of the nineteenth century, inhabitants of the county practiced subsistence agriculture, and there were a few prosperous farms located within the valley. The small farmers produced corn and raised livestock such as cattle, sheep, hogs, and poultry for themselves and the local market. Few opportunities existed to expand to a larger agricultural market until a road, Anderson Pike, was built in 1852 connecting the Sequatchie Valley to the newly constructed Western and Atlantic Railroad in Georgia. Anderson Pike was used mainly by farmers to transport their livestock out of the valley and to larger markets throughout the South. During the Civil War, in October 1863, Confederate Major General Joseph Wheeler led a cavalry raid against a Union supply train on Anderson Pike that was attempting to relieve besieged Federal troops at Chattanooga. Wheeler burned an estimated eight hundred to one thousand wagons and captured livestock.
The construction of railroads in the post-Reconstruction era expanded Sequatchie County’s agricultural and industrial opportunities. The Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railway constructed a line through the Sequatchie Valley in the 1880s. This line reached Sequatchie County in 1888, thus enabling coal companies to conduct large-scale mining activities by the turn of the century. The Chattanooga Iron and Coal Corporation owned and operated sixteen thousand acres of coal land near Dunlap and employed 350 men. They also operated two sawmills, which supplied the railroads with ties and the coal mines with shoring. In addition to mining, the company constructed and operated 268 beehive coke ovens near Dunlap, many of which can still be viewed at the Dunlap Coke Ovens historic site. Coke ovens carbonize bituminous coal by removing the majority of volatile materials in the coal by heating it in a closed oven thus preventing its burning. The coke then is used in blast furnaces to melt iron. As the southern steel industry continued to expand, the demand for coke continued to increase.
The Chattanooga Iron and Coal Corporation sold their mining and coke operations to the Southern States Iron and Coal Company in 1919. The Southern States Company closed the operations in 1922 due to the overproduction of coal. The closing of the mines also brought about the closing of many associated industries. Railroad traffic declined in the county, and many people left the area in pursuit of work. Those who remained returned to subsistence farming as a living. The Great Depression seemed to start early for the residents of Sequatchie County.
The county saw some relief from President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, specifically the Tennessee Valley Authority and the National Youth Administration (NYA). The former helped bring low-cost electric power to the county and surrounding areas. The latter organization was established in the county to give young men skills to find employment while temporarily keeping them out of the depressed labor market. During its existence in Sequatchie County, NYA members, supervised by local men, learned construction skills by building the Dunlap Community Building and four schools around Dunlap and Cagle.
While Dunlap is the main town in Sequatchie County, several smaller communities are in the surrounding area. Daus, originally known as Delphi and located south of Dunlap, began as a small farming community until the railroad came in the 1880s. Daus soon experienced rapid growth and decline due to the boom and bust of coal mining. The development of the coal industry in the early twentieth century also affected Fredonia and Cartwright. Other small farming communities include Cagle, Mount Airy, and Lone Oak. According to the 2000 census, 11,370 people lived in the county, an increase of 28 percent over the previous ten years.
Sequatchie County has been home to several noteworthy people. William Stone of Delphi (now Daus) and James Standifer from Mount Airy both served in the U.S. Congress in the 1820s and 1830s. Arthur Thomas Stewart was born in Dunlap and served as attorney general of the Eighteenth Judicial Circuit of Tennessee, where he served on the prosecuting team at the Scopes trial in Dayton. Stewart also served as a U.S. Senator during the 1930s and 1940s. Raymond H. Cooley, also of Dunlap, served as staff sergeant in the Pacific during World War II and earned the distinguished Congressional Medal of Honor for his courage and heroism during the 1945 invasion of the Philippines.