Tennessee Mountain Stories

The 3 States of Tennessee


I’m really excited to share this week’s chapter of  Harry Lane’s “Tennessee Memories”.  Remember last week we learned that Mr. Lane studied both geography and geology. How fascinating to look at my home through the eyes of these scientific disciplines!  Culturally and historically, the western, middle and eastern portions of Tennessee are unique.  Turns out God laid it out that way.

The article is lengthy so I’m going to share excerpts here, mainly the description of the plateau. 

According to some folk, Tennessee is three states in one:  East, Middle, and West Tennessee.  These are often indicated to be the three Grand divisions of Tennessee.  The boundaries, like most boundaries, are somewhat arbitrary.

Nature has deal in larger numbers in dividing Tennessee into regions.  There are seven to ten natural regions in the state, depending upon the way one counts ‘em.  Here is the way we’ll count ‘em:  nine natural regions as follows, from east to west.

(1)    The Unaka Mountains (also known, more popularly, as the Blue Ridge).  The mountain area of easternmost Tennessee continues eastward into North Carolina, southward into Georgia, and northward into Virginia.  The highest portion of this mountain area is known as the Great Smoky Mountains, or simply the Smokies.  This area is not only the highest mountain mass in Tennessee and North Carolina, but also the highest of the eastern United States…

(2)    The Ridge and valley.  This section of the state consists of alternating ridges and valleys all oriented northeast – southwest.  Some of the ridges attain altitudes up to 2000 feet or so, while the valleys are generally hundreds of feet lower.  The valleys usually are underlain by limestone that produces rich soil and a productive agriculture… With the exception of forestry or grazing of livestock, the ridges are essentially unused for agriculture.

Many of Tennessee’s best-known cities and towns are located in the Ridge and Valley.  These include Knoxville, Chattanooga, Johnson City, Bristol, Kingsport, Morristown, Cleveland, Athens, Harriman, Oak Ridge, Rockwood, Dayton, Sweetwater, Etowah, Maryville, Lenoir City, and Loudon.

(3)    The Cumberland Plateau.  The only plateau in Tennessee, the Cumberland is a sandstone-capped highland that reaches above 2000 feet in its highest elevations.  In places nearly level, the Plateau crest is in many other places severely dissected by natural (geologic) erosion, and the terrain resembles hills or mountains more than it does one’s image of plateaus (which are usually depicted as smooth-surfaced uplands).  The Cumberland Plateau extends northward into Kentucky and southward into Alabama.  The plateau has a sandy soil that has proved relatively unproductive, as compared to soils in other parts of the states – such as the limestone-based soils of the Ridge and Valley or Central Basin.  The escarpments on the eastern and western sides of the Plateau also proved to be impediments to settlement and economic development, since accessibility has been hampered by these steep barriers.  Much wilderness persists here, as a consequence , and this has become a valuable commodity in recent decades, as an attraction to vacationers and retired persons, many of whom seek relief from urban settings in the peace of the Plateau.  A number of resorts and retirement communities have been established there to serve and attract such people.

Crossville, in Cumberland County, is the largest Plateau town.  Others of consequence include Jamestown, South Pittsburg, Oneida, and Monterey.

(4)    The Sequatchie Valley.  This interesting valley has been cut into a fold in the rocks of the Cumberland Plateau by the river that bears the same name, Sequatchie… One of the most scenic parts of the state of Tennessee, this valley is also agriculturally productive.  Pikeville and Dunlap are the towns of the valley.

(5)    The Highland Rim. The next territory westward from the Cumberland Plateau is the Highland Rim… Often… viewed as consisting of two parts, the Eastern and Western Highland Rims.  On the east, this province represents a bench-like or terrace-like area that emerges from the western escarpment of the Cumberland Plateau.  …Generally the Highland Rim is 200 to 300 feet higher than the Central Basin that it surrounds.  In places smooth, the Highland Rim is also hilly and irregular in many places – like so much of Tennessee…

There are many towns that are well-known to Tennesseans that are located on the Highland Rim.  Prominent among these are Clarksville, Cookeville, McMinnville, Sparta, Springfield, Tullahoma, Winchester, Hohenwald, Lawrenceburg, Dickson, Waverly, Savannah, Portland, Dover, and Ashland City.

(6)    The Central Basin.  This section of the state is one that was sought by white settlers soon after initial settlement had begun west of the Blue Ridge Mountains…The Basin has been called the “Tennessee Bluegrass” because of its resemblance to the rich Kentucky Bluegrass Basin to the north.

(7)    The Western Valley  of the Tennessee River.  This small region serves as a boundary between the Western Highland Rim and the Coastal Plain (or West Tennessee Plain).  This portion of the Tennessee Valley is quite interesting in the fact that the river has reversed its course from the southward-flowing stream that it is in the Ridge and Valley of eastern Tennessee.  Between the eastern and western segments, the Tennessee flows through a gorge that it has cut across the Cumberland Plateau (the segment of the plateau known as Walden Ridge), dipping far southward into Alabama  before it heads the opposite direction across Tennessee and Kentucky, finally emptying into the Ohio River near the mouth of the Cumberland River.  It is difficult to explain why the great river would do this, for much the shorter course to the sea lies southward through Alabama; the puzzle intrigues and troubles geologists who study the problem.

No large towns or cities belong strictly to the Western Valley…

(8)    The Coastal Plain, or West Tennessee Plain.  This portion of Tennessee belongs to a region that is vast, and which extends from Long Island, New York, to the Mexican border (and even beyond that)… the Atlantic-Gulf Coastal Plain…  The immediate valley of the Mississippi River, however, is usually considered separately from the Coastal Plain, and so it is in Tennessee…

The largest city of the state, Memphis, lies at the southwestern edge of this province.  Jackson, Dyersburg, Millington, Union City, Paris, Humboldt, Milan, Martin, Brownsville, and Camden are among the other towns and cities of the area.

(9)    The Mississippi Alluvial Valley.  This part of Tennessee is small – only about 900 square miles.  It is floodplain land of the Mississippi River…

There are few towns on the alluvial plain of the Mississippi.  This sparseness of towns probably is more the consequence of the small size of the whole region than of flood dangers or any negative factors.  Tiptonville and Ridgely belong to the Alluvial Valley.

Loafing Locales

Men Loafing, Crossville, Tennessee 1937  Photo from: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017027/PP

Men Loafing, Crossville, Tennessee 1937

Photo from: http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017027/PP

After last week’s article about General Stores one Facebook friend pointed out that the Peter’s Store in Clarkrange was a longtime home of the post office and it got me to thinking about the places people hang out. 

A couple of years ago I found a list of the post office location in Tennessee and shared them here.  That article mentioned only in passing that the post office was often part of some other business, generally the country store.  How convenient to be able to make one stop and do all of your business – oh wait, our mega-stores these days keep trying to do that, don’t they?  But unlike the stores we bustle through today, yesterday’s country store and post office were leisurely businesses.  I guess if you had to walk, ride a mule or drive a wagon to get there you weren’t in too big of a hurry to rush off. 

We all know (and we often mention) that folks used to visit a whole lot more than we do these days.  Stores had front porches – or barrels sitting around a pot-bellied stove – so you could ‘sit a spell’ and greet your neighbor, catch up on the local news and generally be a part of the a community. 

It wasn't hard for the photographer to capture some men loafing in Crossville in 1937 - here's a second shot.  http://photogrammar.yale.edu/records/index.php?record=fsa1997017035/PP

It wasn't hard for the photographer to capture some men loafing in Crossville in 1937 - here's a second shot.


My Daddy tells about going to Wash Livesay’s store in Campground in his Grandpa Stepp’s wagon.  The story is about the team of horses but it’s set on the front porch.  While Grandma went in to do her business at the store, grandpa and grandson passed the time with their neighbors.  He also tells about that same grandpa having business to attend to in Jamestown – he’d really hurry to get the business out of the way so he could head to the courthouse steps and join the loafers there.  Daddy laments – and I completely agree – how he’d love to sit among those old men and just listen.  Can you even imagine what we might learn?  Talk about history!



Isoline Campbell namesake of Isoline, Tennessee

Isoline Campbell

Isoline Campbell

I am really excited about today’s article because the source is YOU – one of my readers.  Thank you Dee for sending me the information you found about R.O. Campbell and his daughter Isoline. 

Just as an aside, Dee’s email was particularly exciting because my vision for this blog would be a conversation among readers in the comments of the stories.  I have a little bit of information and knowledge – ya’ll have tons of it!  The trick is for us to all share it, and that’s how we can preserve this precious oral history.

Richard Orme Campbell was a wealthy Atlanta business man who started the Campbell Coal Company in 1884 (according to http://tomitronics.com/old_buildings/aunt%20fanny/index.html#isoline).  He built the business into the south’s largest coal company with mines in Tennessee and Kentucky.  We know that one of those mines was in North Cumberlad County. 

Orme’s oldest child was named Isoline, and the mine and surrounding community was surely named in her honor. It is interesting to note that Orme, Tennessee had already been established in Marion County, Tennessee where a mine had been established in 1892 and Mr. Campbell purchased it in 1902.

I never thought about the origin of the name Isoline but when I read it as a lady’s Christian name it was certainly new to me.  Turns out, the name is French in origin; an 1888 play portrayed a Princess Isoline.  The Orme family (R.O. Campbell’s maternal family) has some roots in France so Isoline may well have been the name of a beloved family member. 

Isoline Campbell grew up among Atlanta’s elite crowd and during her Grand Tour, she witnessed the German invasion of Brussels in 1914.  The experience changed her perspective on life, if not her very life. When she returned to Atlanta, she was more focused on service than society and she founded the Junior League of Atlanta.  This organization was purposed to, “[do] some good for the needy of Atlanta and [foster] among members interest in the community’s social, economic and educational conditions.”

One of the questions I posed last week was where the Cumberland Plateau Railroad was going when it ran from Isoline to Campbell Junction.  According to Duke’s Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading, & Logging ({Paducah: Turner, 2003), Campbell built the Isoline spur line between 1900 and 1902.  The first trains arrived in Crossville in 1897 so the Tennessee Central line from Monterey to Crossville was already passing through the area that would become Campbell Junction.  So the Cumberland Plateau Railroad was connecting to that existing TC mainline.

Mr. Duke’s book also notes that Isoline had hotels, boarding houses, store and numerous businesses.  If any of you ever run upon any pictures of this booming Isoline, I’d love to see them for I had no idea it was anything like that thriving description.

There is no description of Campbell Junction and I’m still wondering whether that end of the spur line built up as much.  At least it had staying-power for there is still an operating post office at Campbell Junction and Isoline was long ago absorbed into Crossville’s postal community.

After 53 years in business, the Campbell Coal Company dissolved in 1962.  The mines at Isoline had played out by the mid-1920’s and the spur line tracks were pulled up in 1939.


UPDATE:  4/10/16

A reader graciously shared the following article from 1914 about Isoline Campbell - she and I thought you might enjoy it.