Townsend, Tennessee

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Townsend, Tennessee
Townsend at sunrise
Townsend at sunrise
Motto: Gateway to Cades Cove
Location of Townsend, Tennessee
Location of Townsend, Tennessee
Coordinates: 35°40′32″N 83°45′18″W / 35.67556°N 83.75500°W / 35.67556; -83.75500Coordinates: 35°40′32″N 83°45′18″W / 35.67556°N 83.75500°W / 35.67556; -83.75500
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Blount
Founded 1901
Incorporated 1921[1]
Named for Wilson B. Townsend
 • Total 2.2 sq mi (5.6 km2)
 • Land 2.2 sq mi (5.6 km2)
 • Water 0.0 sq mi (0.0 km2)
Elevation 1,070 ft (326 m)
Population (2010)
 • Total 448
 • Density 207/sq mi (79.9/km2)
Time zone Eastern (EST) (UTC-5)
 • Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code 37882
Area code(s) 865
FIPS code 47-74860[2]
GNIS feature ID 1272813[3]

Townsend is a city in Blount County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. The population was 244 at the 2000 census and 448 at the 2010 census.[4] Townsend is one of three "gateways" to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the home of several museums and attractions relating to the natural and human history of the Great Smokies.

Dubbing itself "The Peaceful Side of the Smokies," Townsend has the least traffic of the three main entrances to the national park. The park's other two entrances— one just south of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and the other just north of Cherokee, North Carolina— are home to multiple commercial attractions that draw millions of tourists annually. Townsend is low-key, with a handful of inexpensive restaurants and motels and several businesses geared toward outdoor sports, and a world-renowned horse show.


Native Americans were the first inhabitants of Tuckaleechee Cove, with the oldest archaeological finds in the cove dating to 2000 B.C. A number of pottery fragments and ax heads dating to the Woodland period have also been found. By 1200 A.D., Tuckaleechee's Native American inhabitants had built a fortified village near the cove's northern entrance.[5]

Historical marker in Townsend near the site of the Cherokee villages of Tuckaleechee

The Cherokee arrived in the area around 1600, and built a series of small villages along Little River. The name "Tuckaleechee" is from the Cherokee Tikwalitsi, and its original meaning is unknown.[6] A branch of the Great Indian Warpath forked in the cove, with one branch heading west to the Overhill towns along the Little Tennessee River and another heading south to North Carolina.[7] 19th century anthropologist James Mooney recounted an attempted raid on the Cherokee villages in Tuckaleechee by the Shawano in the mid-18th century. The raid was thwarted when a Cherokee conjurer named Deadwood Lighter envisioned the position of the Shawano ambush, and the Cherokees surprised the raiders from the rear, killing many of them and chasing the rest back over the crest of the Smokies.[8]

By the time the first Euro-American settlers arrived in Tuckaleechee in the late 18th century, the Cherokee villages had been abandoned.[7]

In 1843, humorist George Washington Harris published an account of a country dance held that year in Tuckaleechee ("Tuck-a-lucky") Cove on the farm of "Capt. Dillon." Moonshine, cornbread, eggs and ham were served, and revelers danced to music provided by a fiddle-and-dulcimer duo. To win dance partners, the men engaged in a display of "feats of strength", while the women quilted.[9]

The logging industry[edit]

In the 1880s, the lumber industry experienced a boom, due largely to two key innovations— the bandsaw and the logging railroad. Flatland forest resources in the Ohio Valley and along the Mississippi Delta were quickly exhausted, and logging firms began turning more and more to the untapped resources of the more mountainous areas.[10]

70-ton Shay engine at the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum

In 1900, hoping to capitalize on the thick virgin forests of the Smokies, Colonel W.B. Townsend of Pennsylvania purchased 86,000 acres (350 km2) of land along the Little River, stretching from Tuckaleechee Cove all the way to Clingmans Dome. The following year, Townsend received a charter for his new firm, the Little River Lumber Company. A bandsaw mill was erected in Tuckaleechee, and Townsend gave his name to the community that grew in the mill's vicinity. The Little River Railroad was constructed shortly thereafter, connecting the sawmill with Walland to the west, and following the Little River upstream all the way to Elkmont to the southeast.[10]

Townsend quickly profited from the forests of the Little River bottomlands. In 1916, he reported that Little River Lumber's consistently-high rate of planks-per-acre was showing no sign of decline. Indeed, a single giant chestnut tree in the Smokies could produce 18,000 planks of wood. Townsend's success led to a rapid expansion of logging operations throughout the Smokies.[10] By the time the park was formed in the 1930s, nearly two-thirds of area forests had been cut down.[11]

The rapid destruction of the forests of southern Appalachia led to increased efforts by conservationists to slow or halt logging operations. Col. Townsend initially opposed the effort, but after some wavering, sold at base price 76,000 acres (310 km2) of his Little River Lumber tract in 1926 to what would eventually become the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.[12] Although some predicted that the loss of the lumber industry would doom Tuckaleechee, the explosion in tourism as a result of the park's creation kept the area economy relatively healthy.[13]


Townsend is located in eastern Blount County at 35°40′32″N 83°45′18″W / 35.67556°N 83.75500°W / 35.67556; -83.75500 (35.675471, -83.755012).[14] It is situated in Tuckaleechee Cove, one of several "limestone windows" that dot the northern base of the Smokies. These windows form when erosional forces carry away the older rocks (mostly sandstone), exposing the younger rock below (i.e., limestone).[15] Limestone windows are normally flatter than other mountainous valleys, and are typically coated with rich, fertile soil. Other limestone windows in the area include Cades Cove, Wear Cove, and Jones Cove. Tuckaleechee Cove is situated between Bates Mountain to the north and Rich Mountain to the south, with the cove's greater population estimated at around 1,500. The Little River, its source high in the mountains on the north slopes of Clingmans Dome,[16] slices east-to-west through Tuckaleechee and drains much of the cove. The city of Townsend dominates the eastern half of Tuckaleechee.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 2.2 square miles (5.6 km2), all land.[4] As of 2004, annexation had considerably increased the size of the town to its current size. Townsend is included in the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1930 402
1940 378 −6.0%
1950 328 −13.2%
1960 283 −13.7%
1970 267 −5.7%
1980 351 31.5%
1990 329 −6.3%
2000 244 −25.8%
2010 448 83.6%
Est. 2012 450 0.4%

As of the census[2] of 2000, there were 244 people, 124 households, and 80 families residing in the city. The population density was 265.7 people per square mile (102.4/km²). There were 217 housing units at an average density of 236.3 per square mile (91.1/km²). The racial makeup of the city was 97.95% White, 1.23% Native American and 0.82% Asian.

Headrick's River Breeze Motel, which opened in 1979 and remains operational

There were 124 households out of which 15.3% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 58.9% were married couples living together, 3.2% had a female householder with no husband present, and 34.7% were non-families. 33.1% of all households were made up of individuals and 23.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.97 and the average family size was 2.44.

In the city the population was spread out with 12.3% under the age of 18, 2.5% from 18 to 24, 19.3% from 25 to 44, 36.5% from 45 to 64, and 29.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 56 years. For every 100 females there were 86.3 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $36,250, and the median income for a family was $50,000. Males had a median income of $41,071 versus $29,375 for females. The per capita income for the city was $21,647. About 5.9% of families and 12.1% of the population were below the poverty line, including 7.7% of those under the age of eighteen and 11.5% of those sixty five or over.


Little River

U.S. 321, also known as Lamar Alexander Parkway and Tuckaleechee Road, is the main highway connecting Townsend with Walland (and eventually Maryville) to the northwest and Pigeon Forge (via Wears Valley) to the east, where it intersects U.S. 441. Near the eastern end of Townsend, Tennessee State Route 73 Scenic turns southeast from US-321 and heads straight into the national park. This road eventually intersects Little River Road at a popular swimming area known as "The Y". From this intersection, Cades Cove is 7 miles (11 km) to the west, and the Sugarlands and Gatlinburg are roughly 18 miles (29 km) to the east.


Townsend is home to the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, which preserves various aspects of the region's history, and the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company Museum, which recounts the area's logging history. The Tuckaleechee Caverns— a mile-long cave system that reaches depths of up to 150 feet (46 m) - is also nearby. Just to the north of Townsend, US-321 intersects the Foothills Parkway, a National Parkway that traverses Chilhowee Mountain and offers multiple overlooks with views of the Smokies to the south and the Tennessee Valley and Cumberland Plateau to the north and west.


  1. ^ Tennessee Blue Book, 2005-2006, pp. 618-625.
  2. ^ a b "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  3. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. 2007-10-25. Retrieved 2008-01-31. 
  4. ^ a b "Geographic Identifiers: 2010 Demographic Profile Data (G001): Townsend city, Tennessee". U.S. Census Bureau, American Factfinder. Retrieved April 8, 2014. 
  5. ^ Iva Butler, "Archaeologists Pack Up Townsend Dig." The Maryville-Alcoa Daily Times, 17 February 2001.
  6. ^ James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee (Nashville: Charles Elder, 1972), 534.
  7. ^ a b Tennessee Historical Commission marker IE 15 along US-321, Townsend, Tennessee. Information accessed in August, 2007.
  8. ^ Mooney, page 374.
  9. ^ George Washington Harris, M. Thomas Inge (ed.), "Sporting Epistle From East Tennessee," High Times and Hard Times (Nashville: Vanderbilt University Press, 1967), pp. 28-31. Originally published in the Spirit of the Times, 2 September 1843.
  10. ^ a b c Michael Frome, Strangers in High Places: The Story of the Great Smoky Mountains (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1994), 165-166.
  11. ^ [1]
  12. ^ Carlos Campbell, Birth of a National Park in the Great Smoky Mountains (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1969), 33-35.
  13. ^ Frome, page 192.
  14. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. Retrieved 2011-04-23. 
  15. ^ Harry Moore, A Roadside Guide to the Geology of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1988), 33.
  16. ^
  17. ^ "Census of Population and Housing: Decennial Censuses". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-03-04. 
  18. ^ "Incorporated Places and Minor Civil Divisions Datasets: Subcounty Resident Population Estimates: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2012". Population Estimates. U.S. Census Bureau. Retrieved 11 December 2013. 

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