Tennessee Mountain Stories

Those Wild Tennessee Place Names!

Part 1

From Harry Lane’s Tennessee Memories, this article is lengthy so I’m sharing excerpts this week and next.

All of the artwork in Tennessee Memories are original creations by Mr. Harry Lane.

All of the artwork in Tennessee Memories are original creations by Mr. Harry Lane.

A careful look through a volume of place-names that actually appear on Tennessee maps, reals a large number of names that are fascinating, for various reason:  some are very beautiful, many are hilarious, others are puzzling, still others reveal something significant in the history of the state.  Many of the place names discussed in this article produce this in common – a sense of wonder in the author as to how they came to be used.  Probably most of these, and other place names, “sort of happen.”  Someone with a sense of humor refers to a place by an amusing name, and it catches on.  Someone else with an appreciation of history, or of things esthetic, etc., might give a very different sort of name to the same place.  In this more or less accidental manner, as in so much of human experience, place names come to be used for generation.  Now and again one is changed, and it is perhaps mysterious that this doesn’t happen more often – especially when a name is unattractive or even derogatory to those who live there.  People are creatures of habit, and possibly have a better wit than might be thought s- even to the point of finding “far out” names for their own dwelling places…

If your taste runs primarily to things serious and beautiful, esthetically unimpeachable perhaps, then there is much to please you in Tennessee place names.  To wit: Bluebird Ridge in Anderson County, Bluewind Community in Cannon County,…Birdsong Greek in Benton County,… Cerulean Knob in Blount County, Periwinkle Spring and Lavender Knob in Cumberland  County.  Other names of beauty include:  …Lovely Spring Branch (Fentress County);...

Still other names that indicate pleasant memories are: Summer Shade Church and Happy Hollow (Overton County); …View Tree Knob (Scott County); Painters Knob  and Rainbow Falls (Sevier County); Feather Ridge (Sullivan County); Lindamood Hollow (Union County); Honeysuckle Lane (Trousdale County).

For those who treasure the excitement and romance of adventures here and in faraway places (and who does not?), these Tennessee place names should appeal: Lebanon; Sparta; Athens; Egypt; Carthage; Paris; Bordeaux; Moscow; Belfast; Bogata; Monterey; Cuba; India. The historical side of an area’s settlement is nearly always suggested by its name, of course, in one way or another, but in some names the “winds of history” blow more strongly than in others.  The history suggested may be of local interest only, but the fascination such names may hold is not diminished by this condition – for instance, Bark Legging Lead is a spot in Polk County that implies much about the days of the Cherokees and white frontiersmen in the county.

Sevier County has several places whose names suggest the days of Indian dangers to white settlers. (The reverse danger does not enter the place name situation, since the whites were the victors!)  Fighting Creek Gap, Fort Harry (point), Hostility Branch, and Tomahawk Prong are the best of these.

There are many place names of strictly Indian origin, so it is evident that the white settlers did not hold their Native American adversaries in such contempt as to remove their every stamp of identity from the land.  (In this regard, it is also worth noting that a great many American whites claim with pride to have Indian ancestors.)  Among the many Indian names that dot the Tennessee landscape is the name of the state itself, and others like these:  Chattanooga, Ocoee; Hatchie; Tuckaleechee; Sequatchie; Hiawassee; Etowah; Sewanee; Watauga; Tellico; Chilhowee; Chickamauga; Nolichucky; Mississippi; Loosahatchie; Chickasaw; and Cherokee.

Burnt House Spring in Scott County may recall a time when the Indian-white conflict troubled the area, but in any case, the event of the burning must have been prominent in people’s minds to result in the place name.  ON a lighter note, Ball Play community in Polk County records in its name a pastime that undoubtedly brought pleasure to many of the area’s inhabitants – and may do so yet.

…These also indicate our agricultural background…Wheatbread Hollow (Hawkins County); Bellcow Mountain (Greene County); …and Brown Mare Branch (Sevier County)