Cumberland Gap

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
This article is about a mountain pass in the United States. For other uses, see Cumberland Gap (disambiguation).
Not to be confused with Cumberland Narrows, a water gap in the Appalachian Mountains near Cumberland, Maryland or the water gap at Pineville, Kentucky through which the Cumberland River flows.
Cumberland Gap
Cumberland Gap.jpg
Cumberland Gap in winter
Elevation 1,600 ft (488 m)[1]
Traversed by US 25E
Location  Kentucky
 United States
Range Cumberland Mountains
Coordinates 36°36′14″N 83°40′23″W / 36.6039715°N 83.67297°W / 36.6039715; -83.67297Coordinates: 36°36′14″N 83°40′23″W / 36.6039715°N 83.67297°W / 36.6039715; -83.67297
Topo map USGS Middlesboro South
Cumberland Gap is located in USA
Cumberland Gap
The pass is located in the southeastern United States
Daniel Boone Escorting Settlers through the Cumberland Gap (George Caleb Bingham, oil on canvas, 1851–52)

Cumberland Gap (el. 1,600 ft or 490 m) is a pass through the Cumberland Mountains, a long ridge within the Appalachian Mountains near the junction of the U.S. states of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia.

Famous in American colonial history for its role as a key passageway through the lower central Appalachians, it was an important part of the Wilderness Road and is now part of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Long used by Native Americans, the Cumberland Gap was brought to the attention of settlers in 1750 by Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer. The path was explored by a team of frontiersmen led by Daniel Boone, making it accessible to pioneers who used it to journey into the western frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee.

Cumberland Gap is located just north of the spot where the current-day states of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia meet. The nearby town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee takes its name from the pass.


Map showing Cumberland Gap in relation to the Wilderness Road route from Virginia to Kentucky

The passage created by Cumberland Gap was well-traveled by Native Americans long before the arrival of European-American settlers. The earliest written account of Cumberland Gap dates to the 1670s and was written by Abraham Wood of Virginia.[2]

The gap was named for Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, son of King George II of England, who had many places named for him in the American colonies after the Battle of Culloden.[3] The explorer Thomas Walker gave the name to the Cumberland River in 1750, and the name soon spread to many other features in the region, such as the Cumberland Gap. In 1769 Joseph Martin built a fort nearby at present-day Rose Hill, Virginia, on behalf of Dr. Walker's land claimants. But Martin and his men were chased out of the area by Native Americans, and Martin himself did not return until 1775.[4]

In 1775 Daniel Boone, hired by the Transylvania Company, arrived in the region leading a company of men to widen the path through the gap to make settlement of Kentucky and Tennessee easier. On his arrival Boone discovered that Martin had beaten him to Powell Valley, where Martin and his men were clearing land for their own settlement – the westernmost settlement in English colonial America at the time.[5] By the 1790s the trail that Boone and his men built was widened to accommodate wagon traffic and sometimes became known as the Wilderness Road.

Several American Civil War engagements were centered in and around the Cumberland Gap and are sometimes called Battle of the Cumberland Gap. In June 1862, Union Army General George W. Morgan captured the gap for the Union. In September of that year, Confederate States Army forces under Edmund Kirby Smith occupied the Gap during General Braxton Bragg's Kentucky Invasion. The following year, in a bloodless engagement in September 1863, Union Army troops under General Ambrose Burnside forced the surrender of 2,300 Confederates defending the gap, gaining Union control of the gap for the remainder of the war.

It is estimated that between 200,000 and 300,000 migrants passed through the gap on their way into Kentucky and the Ohio Valley before 1810. Today 18,000 cars pass beneath the site daily, and 1,200,000 people visit the park on the site annually.[6]

U.S. Route 25E passed overland through the gap before the completion of the Cumberland Gap Tunnel in 1996. The original trail was then restored.

Joseph Martin, explorer, long hunter, and later general, was an early settler at Cumberland Gap.

Historic district[edit]

The gap and associated historic resources were listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a historic district on May 28, 1980.[7]

Geological features[edit]

The 12-mile (19 km) long Cumberland Gap consists of four geologic features: the Rocky Face Fault, the natural gap in the Cumberland Mountain ridge, the eroded gap in Pine Mountain, and Middlesboro astrobleme, or "cryptoexplosive structure."

The Middlesboro astrobleme is a 3-mile (4.8 km) diameter meteorite impact crater in which Middlesboro, Kentucky, is located. The crater was identified in 1966 when Robert Dietz discovered shatter cones in sandstone, which led to the further identification of shocked quartz. Shatter cones, a rock-shattering pattern naturally formed only during impact events, are found in abundance in the area. In September 2003 the site was designated a Distinguished Geologic Site by the Kentucky Society of Professional Geologists.[8]

Without the Rocky Face Fault, it would have been difficult for pack-horses to navigate this gap and the gap in Pine Mountain near Pineville, and it would be improbable that wagon roads would have been constructed at an early date. Middlesboro is the only place in the world where coal is mined inside an astrobleme. Special mining techniques must be used in the complicated strata of this crater. (Milam & Kuehn, 36).

Panoramic view from Pinnacle Overlook at Cumberland Gap National Historic Park

The gap was formed by erosion of weakened rock in Cumberland Mountain caused by the Rocky Face Fault (which also helped form the water gap in Pine Mountain near Pineville, Kentucky.[citation needed]

References in popular culture[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Cumberland Gap". Geographic Names Information System, U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved July 22, 2014. 
  2. ^ Todd M. Ahlman, Gail L. Guymon, and Nicholas P. Herrmann (July 2005). ARCHAEOLOGICAL OVERVIEW AND ASSESSMENT OF THE CUMBERLAND GAP NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, KENTUCKY, TENNESSEE, AND VIRGINIA. The Archaeological Research Laboratory, University of Tennessee. 
  3. ^ "VA-K1 Cumberland Gap". Historical markers. Retrieved 5 May 2012. 
  4. ^ Shattuck, Tom N. (1999). A Cumberland Gap Area Guidebook. The Wilderness Road Company. ISBN 978-0-9677765-3-8. 
  5. ^ Morgan, Robert. Boone: A Biography. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books. ISBN 978-1-56512-455-4. 
  6. ^ "Cumberland Gap". 
  7. ^ National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form: Cumberland Gap Historic District - Virginia/Kentucky/Tennessee, 1980
  8. ^ Kortenkamp, Steve (Summer 2004). "Impact at Cumberland Gap: Where Natural and National History Collide". PSI Newsletter 5 (2): 1–2. 
  9. ^ Larson, Erik (2003), The Devil in the White City, Crown Publishers, p. 17, ISBN 0-609-60844-4 
  10. ^ Seinfeld Scripts - The Red Dot

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]