Athens, Tennessee

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Athens, Tennessee
McMinn County Courthouse in Athens
McMinn County Courthouse in Athens
"The Friendly City"
"Progress Since 1821"
Location of Athens in McMinn County, Tennessee.
Location of Athens in McMinn County, Tennessee.
Athens is located in Tennessee
Location in Tennessee
Athens is located in the United States
Athens (the United States)
Athens is located in North America
Athens (North America)
Coordinates: 35°26′53″N 84°36′7″W / 35.44806°N 84.60194°W / 35.44806; -84.60194
CountryUnited States
Named forAthens, Greece
 • TypeCouncil-Manager Government
 • MayorChuck Burris
 • City ManagerSeth Sumner
 • Total15.51 sq mi (40.17 km2)
 • Land15.51 sq mi (40.17 km2)
 • Water0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
860 ft (262 m)
 • Total14,030
 • Estimate 
 • Density904.05/sq mi (349.05/km2)
Time zoneUTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
37303 & 37371
Area code(s)423
FIPS code47-02320[5]
GNIS feature ID1304889[6]

Athens is a city in McMinn County, Tennessee, United States. It is the county seat of McMinn County[7] and the principal city of the Athens Micropolitan Statistical Area has a population of 53,569, which is part of the larger Chattanooga-Cleveland-Athens Combined Statistical Area. The city is located almost equidistantly between the major cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga.[8] The population was 13,458 at the 2010 census and 14,030 at the 2020 census. The population of the zipcode area is at 23,726 [9]


Early history and Civil War[edit]

The Samuel Cleage House outside of Athens, set on the site of McElhaney and Sons Nursery, built in the 1820s

The Cherokee were living in McMinn County at the time of the arrival of the first Euro-American explorers. The Athens area was situated nearly halfway between the Overhill Cherokee villages of Great Tellico to the north in Monroe County and Great Hiwassee along the Hiwassee River to the south. In 1819, the Cherokee signed the Calhoun Treaty, selling the land north of the Hiwassee (including all of modern McMinn County) to the United States. McMinn County was organized on November 13, 1819 at the home of John Walker in what is now Calhoun. The Native American village, Pumpkintown (a corruption of Potemkin town), was located on a farm about two miles east of present-day Athens. It is sometimes incorrectly identified as a forerunner of Athens. Athens was laid out and chosen as the county seat in 1822.[10] The name "Athens" may have been chosen due to perceived topographical similarities to Athens, Greece.[11]

By 1834, the population of Athens had grown to over 500.[12] Prominent early settlers included William Henry Cooke, who operated an iron forge near modern Etowah, and Samuel Clegg (or Cleage), a construction entrepreneur. Jesse Mayfield, whose descendants founded Mayfield Dairy Farms, arrived in the early 1820s.[13] The Hiwassee Railroad received a charter in the mid-1830s to build a railroad connecting Knoxville, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia. The railroad began construction in 1837, although financial and legal problems delayed its completion until 1851.[11] In 1836, General John Wool arrived in Athens to help coordinate the Cherokee Removal. Although initially voluntary, the operation became a forced removal in 1838 when many Cherokee refused to leave. The removal culminated in the forced march west that became known as the Trail of Tears. Wool set up his headquarters at the Bridges Hotel, which was located across the street from the McMinn County Courthouse.[14]

McMinn County was divided during the American Civil War. The well-established railroad brought numerous pro-secessionist and anti-secessionist speakers to the county, including Andrew Johnson, Horace Maynard, John Bell, and William "Parson" Brownlow. In 1861, McMinn County voted against secession by a narrow 1,144-904 margin. The county sent 12 units to the Union army and 8 units to the Confederate army. General William Tecumseh Sherman was briefly headquartered at the Bridges Hotel in McMinn County while preparing his "March to the Sea."[15]

Post-Civil War[edit]

THC marker at the "Battle of Athens" site

After the Civil War, the railroad lured business opportunists to McMinn County. In 1887, several investors established the Athens Mining and Manufacturing Company with plans to convert the town into a model industrial community and initiate large-scale mining operations in the area. Textile mills, flour mills, and timber mills dominated the county's industry by the late 19th century, complemented by furniture and appliance factories in the 1920s.[16]

In 1946, several McMinn County World War II veterans ran for local office in hopes of removing a county government deemed corrupt. On August 1, local authorities locked themselves in the county jail along with the ballot boxes. Suspecting foul play, the veterans armed themselves and assembled on a hill across the street from the jail. After an exchange of gunfire, the county authorities surrendered. The ballots were counted, and the veterans' ticket was elected, ending the Battle of Athens.[17]


Athens is located at 35°26′53″N 84°36′7″W / 35.44806°N 84.60194°W / 35.44806; -84.60194 (35.448171, -84.602069).[18] The city is situated amidst a series of narrow, elongate ridges and low hills that are characteristic of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province. The Unicoi Mountains rise roughly 20 miles (32 km) east of Athens, and the Tennessee River flows nearly 20 miles (32 km) to the west. Starr Mountain, one of the more noticeable ridges in McMinn County, is located roughly 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Athens.

Oostanaula Creek (sometimes spelled "Eastanalle" or a similar variation) rises in the hills north of Athens and traverses the city approximately 30 miles (48 km) upstream from its mouth along Hiwassee River. Other major streams in the area include Mouse Creek, which parallels Oostanaula to the west, and Chestuee Creek, which parallels Oostanaula to the east.

Athens is centered around the junction of U.S. Route 11, which connects the city to Sweetwater to the north and Cleveland to the south, and State Route 30, which connects Athens to Etowah and U.S. Route 411 to the southeast and Decatur to the west. Interstate 75 passes west of Athens.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 13.5 square miles (35 km2), all land.


As is typical for the Southern United States, Athens has a humid subtropical climate (Köppen Cfa) featuring hot, humid summers and cool to cold, though not severe, winters.

Climate data for Athens, Tennessee
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 74
Average high °F (°C) 48
Average low °F (°C) 26
Record low °F (°C) −16
Average precipitation inches (mm) 5.33
Source: The Weather Channel (Historical Monthly Averages)[19]


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)14,020[4]4.2%

2010 census[edit]

As of the census of 2010,[22] there were 13,458 people, 5,704 households, and 3,498 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 84.87% White, 8.12% Black, 0.35% Native American, 1.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, and 2.61% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origins constituted 5.27% of the population.

Out of all of the households, 61.33% were family households, 42.39% were married couples living together, 26.30% had children under the age of 18 living in them, 4.33% had a male householder with no wife present, and 14.60% had a female householder with no husband present. 34.52% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.39% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.91.

The population was spread out, with 22.69% under the age of 18, 59.97% ages 18 to 64, and 17.34% age 65 and over. The median age was 39.1 years. 53.52% of the population were females and 46.48% were males.

The median household income was $31,062 and the median family income was $44,419. Males had a median income of $37,120 versus $28,889 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,259. About 22.2% of families and 24.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.8% of those under the age of 18 and 17.2% of those age 65 and over

2000 census[edit]

As of the census[5] of 2000, there were 13,220 people, 5,550 households, and 3,590 families residing in the city. The population density was 976.3 people per square mile (377.0/km2). There were 6,086 housing units at an average density of 449.4 per square mile (173.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 86.33% White, 9.32% African American, 0.23% Native American, 1.38% Asian, 0.07% Pacific Islander, 1.34% from other races, and 1.33% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 3.01% of the population.

There were 5,550 households, out of which 30.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 47.2% were married couples living together, 14.8% had a female householder with no husband present, and 35.3% were non-families. 31.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 13.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.29 and the average family size was 2.89.

The population consisted of 23.9% under the age of 18, 10.1% from 18 to 24, 28.3% from 25 to 44, 21.4% from 45 to 64, and 16.3% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 36 years. For every 100 females, there were 84.8 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 80.2 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $29,277, and the median income for a family was $39,563. Males had a median income of $32,170 versus $20,917 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,877. About 14.6% of families and 18.4% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.6% of those under age 18 and 22.1% of those age 65 or over.


The City of Athens employs a Council-Manager form of government. Citizens elect a five-member council. Councilmembers are elected to four year terms, which are staggered. The Council is responsible for approving budgets, passing local ordinances, and setting policy, but members are forbidden by the City Charter from giving direct orders to city staff. The Council hires a City Manager, who is responsible for hiring, firing, and managing city staff. A Council Study Session takes place once per month, and a City Council Meeting takes place once per month.

Law enforcement services in Athens are provided by the City of Athens Police Department. The Department's authorized strength is thirty-two sworn officers.



Tennessee Wesleyan University, organized in 1857

High Schools:

Middle Schools:

  • Athens City Middle School

Elementary Schools:

  • City Park
  • West Side
  • North City
  • Ingleside
  • Rogers Creek
  • E.K. Baker


United Grocery Outlet, a regional discount supermarket chain, has its corporate headquarters and distribution center in Athens.[23]

Notable people[edit]

Cultural references[edit]

Athens media[edit]

McMinn County is covered by both the Chattanooga and Knoxville[27] media markets. Athens is served by one daily newspaper publication, The Daily Post Athenian as well as seven radio stations, (four FM, and three AM), and one Comcast TV channel, 95.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tennessee Blue Book, 2005-2006, pp. 618-625.
  2. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 30, 2020.
  3. ^ Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Certified Population of Tennessee Incorporated Municipalities and Counties Archived June 30, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, State of Tennessee official website, July 14, 2011. Retrieved: December 6, 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  5. ^ a b c "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  6. ^ "US Board on Geographic Names". United States Geological Survey. October 25, 2007. Retrieved January 31, 2008.
  7. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Archived from the original on May 31, 2011. Retrieved June 7, 2011.
  8. ^ City of Athens Missing or empty |title= (help)
  9. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved August 4, 2013.
  10. ^ C. Stephen Byrum, McMinn County (Memphis, Tenn: Memphis State University Press, 1984), 5-9, 20.
  11. ^ a b Bill Akins, "City of Athens - History." Retrieved: November 27, 2007.
  12. ^ Byrum, McMinn County, 21.
  13. ^ Byrum, McMinn County, 11-13.
  14. ^ Information obtained from the McMinn County Heritage Book Committee marker at the Bridges Hotel site (c. 1997). Information accessed: November 26, 2007.
  15. ^ Byrum, McMinn County, 23-32.
  16. ^ Byrum, McMinn County, 40-60.
  17. ^ Information obtained from Tennessee Historical Commission marker 2A 102 in Athens, Tennessee. Information accessed: November 26, 2007.
  18. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. February 12, 2011. Retrieved April 23, 2011.
  19. ^ "Climate Statistics for Athens, TN". Retrieved November 30, 2013.
  20. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". US Census Bureau. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  21. ^ "Athens (city) QuickFacts". US Census Bureau. Archived from the original on December 12, 2013. Retrieved December 10, 2013.
  22. ^ "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved October 5, 2019.
  23. ^ "About us". Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  24. ^ "J. Lawrence Cook - An Autobiography of the Early Years." Retrieved: April 23, 2008.
  25. ^ "Morgan, John Tyler - Biographical Information." Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. Retrieved: April 23, 2008.
  26. ^ Stan Crawley, "Crawley: Superb Play Of Vols' JaJuan Smith No Surprise To McMinn Coach Archived 2006-02-18 at the Wayback Machine." February 6, 2006. Retrieved: April 23, 2008.
  27. ^ "County by County News". Nextstar Broadcasting. Retrieved February 21, 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 35°26′53″N 84°36′07″W / 35.448171°N 84.602069°W / 35.448171; -84.602069