Tennessee Mountain Stories

Gainsboro, Tennessee: “The Switzerland of the Upper Cumberlands”

The March of Progress tags the Jackson county seat as “The Switzerland of the Upper Cumberlands.”  As the pattern has been with these town titles, there is no explanation for the name and I can’t help but wonder if the typical 1940’s reader would have immediately understood them.  Comparing Gainsboro to Switzerland the main commonality is the mountain terrain.  However, with mean elevations of ranging from 968 to 7,021 feet the Cumberland Mountains surrounding Gainsboro seem a bit squat.  Still, Switzerland’s geography does seem more indicative of this middle Tennessee town than do its renowned neutrality, four official languages or cultural diversity. 

The article is careful to note that this is an area safe from tornadoes.  I found that very interesting and it made me do a little research.  Sure enough, the Tornado History Project maps the EF scale and location of tornadoes since 1950; it shows no tornado activity in Gainsboro, although her neighbors in every direction have been hit. 

The 1930 census showed 1000 people living in the city limits; the 1940 March of Progress publication indicated a 2 percent increase.  The 2010 census reflected a change that an awful lot of small town America has experienced since then and it showed a population of only 962.

None of the articles in the booklet credit an author, nor does the book indicate contributors other than an initial notation: “compiled and edited by Dr. William Baxter Boyd.”  However, the Gainsboro article notes 3 men with the final one being “Mr. John L. McCawley, Mayor of Gainsboro, President of the Upper Cumberland Chamber of Commerce, President of the McCawley motor Company, an active civic worker, and a most enthusiastic leader of the Cumberland River Development Project.”

There is an additional 2 page article on J. Mack Draper, including pictures of his home and cattle, and a prized saddle horse ridden by the book’s editor, Dr. Boyd.  This second article opens with a genealogy of the Draper family going back to the middle of the Seventeenth Century in Wales.  Mr. Draper does seem to be an Upper Cumberland success story as it reports he received only an eighth grade education and inherited none of his fortune.  Yet in 1940, he owned a business with $750,000 revenue and the pictures do show a nice home and impressive herd of mules. 

"Prince Cumberland" Owned by J. Mack Draper Ridden by Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd

"Prince Cumberland"
Owned by J. Mack Draper
Ridden by Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd

Mr. Draper seems to have been involved in many different business interests, not the least of which was his farm.  And from his success, the article springboards to the benefits of nature and that “an over-mechanized age is affecting negatively the finer sentiments and the more delicate reactions of people physically and spiritually.”