Grainger County, Tennessee
|County of Grainger|
Grainger County Courthouse in Rutledge
Commerce, Agriculture, Recreation
Location within the U.S. state of Tennessee
Tennessee's location within the U.S.
|Named for||Mary Grainger Blount|
|Largest town||Bean Station|
|• Mayor||Mike Byrd (R)|
|• Total||302 sq mi (780 km2)|
|• Land||281 sq mi (730 km2)|
|• Water||22 sq mi (60 km2) 7.2%%|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||81/sq mi (31/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC−5 (Eastern)|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC−4 (EDT)|
37708, 37709, 37848, 37861, 37881, 37888
In 1775, pioneers Daniel Boone and William Bean had first observed the Holston River valley in Grainger County after crossing the gap at Clinch Mountain during a long hunting excursion. After fighting in the American Revolutionary War one year later, Bean was awarded 3,000 acres (12 km2) in the area he previously surveyed for settlement during his excursion with Boone. Bean would later construtct a four-room cabin at this site, which served as his family's home, and as a inn for prospective settlers, fur traders, and longhunters.
Grainger County would be established into a county from Knox and Hawkins counties by the North Carolina state legislature on April 22, 1796, the year Tennessee became the sixteenth state of the United States. It is named for Mary Grainger Blount, the wife of William Blount, making it the only county in Tennessee named for a woman. In 1801, Rutledge was selected as the county seat. Anderson, Claiborne, Campbell, Hamblen, Hancock, Scott and Union counties were formed from portions of the original Grainger County following its reduction in land size between 1801 and 1870.
Like its surrounding East Tennessee counties, Grainger County was generally opposed to secession from the Union. In Tennessee's Ordinance of Secession referendum on June 8, 1861, sparsely populated Grainger County voters rejected secession by 1,756 to 495.
During the American Civil War, a state of near-guerrilla warfare brought economic, political, and social chaos to Grainger County, notably during the Knoxville campaign. Two arguments occurred within the county during the Civil War, with the first as a skirmish in Blaine around Christmas of 1862. In the year ahead, the Battle of Bean's Station pitted the forces of Confederate General James Longstreet against a Union forces under General James Shackelford in a planned surprise attack that failed for Confederate forces through the critically poor decision-making of Longstreet's staff. While the Battle of Bean's Station proved victorious for Longstreet in the end, he later failed to capture Knoxville westward through Blaine, and went into hiding in Russellville in nearby Hamblen County.
1900s to present day
In the post-Civil War era, a businessman named Samuel Tate constructed a large Victorian-style luxury hotel just west of Bean Station that became the main focus of a resort known as Tate Springs. Around the late 1870s, the hotel was purchased by Captain Thomas Tomlinson, who would transform the property into a vast resort that advertised the supposed healing powers of its mineral spring’s water. During its heyday, the resort complex included over three-dozen buildings, a 100-acre (40 ha) park, and an 18-hole golf course. The resort had attracted some of the wealthiest people in America during this time. The resort declined during the Great Depression, and the hotel and most of its outbuildings have since been demolished after a major fire damaged the main hotel structure. The Tate Springs Springhouse still stands just off U.S. Route 11W near Bean Station Elementary School.
In 1901, in the northern area of the county near Thorn Hill, a four-year conflict between two families, known locally as "The Battle of Thorn Hill," began following the murder of a prominent resident. The feud fueled acts of violence such as assassinations of prominent citizens and racially-motivated murders against African Americans in public places and businesses.
After the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority in the 1930s, many Grainger County residents had to be relocated for the construction of both Cherokee and Norris Dam in the southern and northern parts of the county. Bean Station experienced most of this loss, as a large original portion of the city now resides in the Cherokee Lake basin.
In 1946, Grainger County suffered the loss of its third courthouse in Rutledge to a massive fire. However, most records, including those dating back to the county's establishment in 1796 were safe inside steel fireproof safes.
On May 13, 1972, 14 people were killed in a head-on collision between a Greyhound double-decker bus and a tractor-trailer hauling carpet on U.S. Route 11W in the Bean Station area of the county, making it the deadliest automobile accident of its time in Tennessee. This infamous crash, along with several other fatal crashes along the narrow two-lane stretch of U.S. Route 11W in Grainger County, gave it the nickname "Bloody Highway 11W."
On July 4, 2012, Grainger County received national attention when 10-year-old Noah Winstead and his friend, 11-year old Nate Lynam, were electrocuted due to frayed wiring being in contact with the water the boys were swimming near a Cherokee Lake marina near Bean Station. In the aftermath of the tragedy, State legislators passed the Noah and Nate Act, which required marinas to be routinely inspected safety hazards such as faulty wiring and dangerous equipment operations.
In July 2015, Grainger County received international attention and social media backlash after a hardware store owner in Washburn placed a ‘No gays allowed’ sign on the door of his business after the ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges by the Supreme Court of the United States.
On April 5, 2018, Southeastern Provisions, a cattle slaughterhouse in the county, was raided by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); 11 workers were arrested and 86 more were detained, all of whom were suspected of residing in the United States unlawfully. At the time, the raid was reportedly the largest workplace raid in United States history. In September 2018, the owner of the meatpacking facility was found guilty of multiple state and federal crimes, including tax evasion, wire fraud, contamination of local water supply, employing undocumented immigrants not authorized to work in the US, and other numerous workplace violations.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 302 square miles (780 km2), of which 281 square miles (730 km2) is land and 22 square miles (57 km2) (7.2%) is water. Grainger County is bounded on the northwest by the Clinch River (impounded by Norris Dam to form Norris Lake) and on the southeast by the Holston River and Cherokee Lake.
Clinch Mountain is a major geographic feature that effectively separates the county into a southern section (including Bean Station, Blaine, Joppa, and Rutledge) and a northern section (including the communities of Washburn, Powder Springs, and Thorn Hill).
Indian Cave is a historic site located on the Holston River near present-day Blaine. The cave was used for centuries before Europeans entered the area, as indigenous peoples settled in the area about 1000 CE. Remains of cane torches and other artifacts located in the cave indicate use by prehistoric indigenous peoples. The Iroquoian-speaking Cherokee migrated into the area from the northeast, making the eastern Ohio River valley and Appalachians down into South Carolina their historic territory.
In the 1700s, a Cherokee village was located just west of the main cave entrance, before the people were pushed out by encroaching Anglo-American settlers. The Donelson Party passed the Indian Cave entrance on their way down the Holston River in 1779 to settle present-day Nashville, Tennessee. In the years after the American Revolutionary War, the number of settlers continued to increase. Under the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Congress authorized the president to remove the Indians from the Southeast to territory west of the Mississippi River.
Robert Hoke, a former Confederate general from North Carolina, purchased the cave on July 21, 1869 as one of his business enterprises after the American Civil War. He had it mined for bat guano, a valuable natural fertilizer.
Area businessmen formed the Indian Cave Park Association on January 4, 1916 to develop the cave as a commercial attraction, as was being done for other caves throughout the Great Smoky Mountains. The Association did not open the cave officially to the public until May 30, 1924.
On November 18, 2000, over 800 people from all over the United States attended an all-night dance party known as the "Rave in a Cave" in Indian Cave. The party lured many of its attendees via Internet advertisements. 22 arrests on drug charges were made and one party-goer died of a drug overdose. On the day of the party, nearby residents attempted to block access into the cave, leading to physical action by the attendees with baseball bats. Officials from the Grainger County sheriff's department had set up a road block to prevent further confrontations between county residents and the party attendees. Over 150 traffic citations were also filed as well.
The cave is not open to visitors and is closed to the public as of 2005.
Joppa Mountain is located along the Clinch Mountain ridge in central Grainger County in the unincorporated community of Joppa. Buzzard Rock, is the summit of the mountain at an elevation of 2,530 feet (770 m) above sea level, making it one of the highest points in Grainger County. At this summit, the neighboring U.S. states of Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia can be seen, along with the Cumberland Gap and the Great Smoky Mountains range, on a clear day.
Hang gliding from Joppa Mountain was a pastime of many hang gliding enthusiasts around the United States and the world. Hang gliding on Joppa Mountain gained momentum in the mid-1970s and enjoyed considerable popularity until the late 1980s.
As of the present day, Buzzard Rock is inaccessible to hang gliders and hikers alike due to the property being closed to the public since the 1990s.
The main source of water in Grainger County is man-made Cherokee Lake. Cherokee Lake was created during the 1940s as part of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s hydroelectric revitalization project. The lake is fed by multiple sources, including a series of natural creeks and runoff waters. The lake begins with its first source at Poor Valley Creek in Hawkins County, extends through Grainger County and neighboring Hamblen and Jefferson counties. Cherokee Lake ends at Cherokee Dam where the water is drained into the Holston River along the Grainger/Jefferson border. In total, Cherokee Lake has 28,780 acres of surface area and extends for 400 miles of shoreline.
The Holston River below Cherokee Dam continues southwestward along the Grainger/Jefferson border passing the communities of New Corinth, Richland, and Blaine, then crossing into Knox County, with the confluence with the French Broad River in Knoxville, forming the Tennessee River.
In the northern part of the county, the Clinch River passes through Thorn Hill near the tri-border of Claiborne, Hancock and Grainger counties. The river then traverses northwestward along the Grainger/Claiborne border, flowing into the basin of Norris Lake north of Washburn and Liberty Hill. In total, Norris Lake has 33,840 acres of surface area and extends for 809 miles of shoreline that Grainger shares with Union, Claiborne, Campbell, and Anderson counties.
- Claiborne County (north)
- Hancock County (northeast)
- Hawkins County (northeast)
- Hamblen County (east)
- Jefferson County (south)
- Knox County (southwest)
- Union County (west)
State protected areas
- Buffalo Springs Wildlife Management Area
- Johnson Ridge Small Wildlife Area
- TVA Noeton Resource Management Area
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2000, there were 20,659 people, 8,270 households, and 6,161 families residing in the county. The population density was 74 people per square mile (28/km2). There were 9,732 housing units at an average density of 35 per square mile (13/km2). The racial makeup of the county was 98.41% White, 0.32% Black or African American, 0.15% Native American, 0.09% Asian, 0.02% Pacific Islander, 0.40% from other races, and 0.61% from two or more races. 1.09% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.
There were 8,270 households, out of which 31.40% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 61.90% were married couples living together, 8.80% had a female householder with no husband present, and 25.50% were non-families. 22.50% of all households were made up of individuals, and 9.10% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.48 and the average family size was 2.89.
In the county, the population was spread out, with 22.90% under the age of 18, 8.20% from 18 to 24, 30.50% from 25 to 44, 25.80% from 45 to 64, and 12.50% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 38 years. For every 100 females, there were 99.00 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 96.50 males.
The median age of a resident in Grainger County is 44.2.
The median income for a household in the county was $27,997, and the median income for a family was $33,347. Males had a median income of $25,781 versus $19,410 for females. The per capita income for the county was $14,505. About 15.10% of families and 18.70% of the population were below the poverty line, including 22.40% of those under age 18 and 26.00% of those age 65 or over.
Law and government
- County Mayor - Mike Byrd
- Sheriff - James Harville
- Register of Deeds - Rick Diamond
- Circuit Court Clerk - Sherry Clifton
- Trustee - Rena Greer
- Assessor of Property - Johnny Morgan
- Road Superintendent - Charlie McAnally
- County Clerk - Angie Lamb
- General Sessions and Juvenile Court Judge - Lane Wolfenbarger
- District 1: Avondale & Rutledge
- Wendy Noe (Rutledge)
- Darell Stratton (Rutledge)
- Scott Wynn (Rutledge)
- District 2: Bean Station & Rutledge
- Johnny Baker (Rutledge)
- Rodney Overbay (Bean Station)
- Luke Stratton (Rutledge)
- District 3: Blaine, Joppa and Rutledge
- Andy Cameron (Rutledge)
- Leon Spoone (Rutledge)
- Darrell Williams (Blaine)
- District 4: Powder Springs, Thorn Hill, & Washburn
- James Acuff (Washburn)
- Justin Epperson (Washburn)
- Gary Dalton (Thorn Hill)
- District 5: Bean Station & Mary Chapel
- Becky Johnson (Bean Station)
- Larry Johnson (Bean Station)
- Mike Holt (Bean Station)
- Director of Schools - James Atkins
- Administrator of Elections - Gina Hispher
- Soil Conservation Director - Joan Coffey
- Solid Waste Director - Ed McBee
- Historical Archives Director - Stevvi Cook
- Clerk and Master - Vicki Greenlee
- Office on Aging Director - Rita Jarnigan
According to a data profile produced by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development in 2018, the top employers in the county are:
|#||Employer||# of Employees|
|1||Grainger County School District||500|
|2||Clayton Homes (Bean Station)||350|
|4||Clayton Homes (Rutledge)||200|
|5||Sexton Furniture Manufacturing LLC||150|
Grainger County is acknowledged as a predominately rural and exurban county of the Greater Knoxville region. Agriculture has accounted for a large portion of the county economy throughout history due to the county's soil containing a mass amount of rich nutrients beneficial to select crops of choice. The tomato has been the major crop, though cattle raising continues to important gains. Grainger County tomatoes have in recent decades become nationally and internationally renowned.
In 2018, Grainger County was reported to have over 650 greenhouses, 923 farms producing 500 acres of field vegetables, and nearly 90,000 acres of farmland.
The county celebrates the tomato in an annual festival since 1992. Around thirty-thousand festival-goers across the state of Tennessee and the United States gather to witness events about the county's heritage and its significant agricultural impact across the state of Tennessee, enjoy live music performances, purchase local produce and handmade gifts, and take part in arts and crafts events. The Grainger County Tomato Festival takes place during the final weekend in July.
Residential construction has been increasing in the county, with most occurring near the Cherokee Lake shoreline, the Bean Station area and the Blaine area. With a cost of living around $2,600, and an average housing cost of $420 monthly, it is one of the least expensive counties in Tennessee. In 2017, the median value of property in the county was $110,600, compared to $229,700 nationally.
Tourism and leisure
By the late 19th century, a tourism industry had flourished around the mineral springs flowing from the Clinch Mountain range. The Tate Springs Resort complex located in the Bean Station region of the county, provided accommodations for tourists and business travelers alike until the Great Depression. It included mineral baths and waters, an enormous resort hotel, a swimming pool and bathhouse, a springhouse constructed as a gazebo, private cabins, and a golf course. After the Great Depression, the resort had closed and the property was given to local authorities. A children's home and school occupied the space of the hotel and cabins, until a major fire destroyed the entire hotel in the 1960s. Today, the Tate Springs Springhouse, the bathhouse, and several cabins are what remains of the complex.
Since the 1940s, the county's tourism and recreational industry nonetheless sparked once again after the Tennessee Valley Authority's creation of Cherokee and Norris Lake in the southern and northern parts of the county respectively. Fishing, hiking, hunting, camping, golf, boating, water sports, and development of lakefront property seek to continue contributing to the county's economy.
Industry and commerce
In the county's early years, small businesses represented the secondary source of economic development. Gristmills, hatters, saddle makers, tailors, lawyers, and dry goods merchants supplied the many necessities for the county's isolated and spread-out agricultural communities.
The Shields family operated Holston Paper Mill, one of the earliest industries in the county. The Knoxville and Bristol Railroad, also known as the Peavine Railroad, ran through the Richland Creek Valley from Bean Station to Blaine. The tracks would later succumb to flooding after the damming of the Richland Valley by the TVA in the 1940s.
Clinchdale Lumber Company, a locally owned business, logged a significant portion of the county's timber in the early part of the 20th century. Afterwards, this timbering movement gave way to knitting mills and zinc mining in the Clinch River Valley in the northern part of the county. Around the late 20th century, Tennessee marble was quarried in the Thorn Hill region of Grainger County.
Unlike neighboring counties such as Jefferson, Hamblen, and Knox, Grainger County does not have county-wide zoning ordinances, which has led to the uncontrolled and controversial development of RV campgrounds in predominately residential areas. Many residents and businesses in the eastern region of the county do not have currently any access to a sewage treatment system.
In 2020, Grainger County was reported as one of five counties in the East Tennessee Development District region experiencing significant out-migration of young college-educated adults leaving Grainger County for urban economic hubs such as Knoxville and Morristown, due to the lack of employment opportunities in the county.
A report conducted by the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations in 2018 found the top three infrastructure needs in Grainger County, with transportation at US$108 million, water and wastewater at US$11.4 million, and recreation US$1.7 million.
In the fiscal year 2020, Grainger County was recognized as one of twenty-four counties in the state of Tennessee at risk of becoming economically distressed.
The Grainger County Schools district has one high school, one middle school, four elementary/intermediate schools, one primary school, one K-12 school, and one alternative-placement school. The current superintendent of Grainger County Schools is Dr. James Atkins. As of the 2019–2020 school year, the Grainger County Schools district has 3,637 students enrolled.
- Rutledge Primary School
- Bean Station Elementary School
- Joppa Elementary School
- Rutledge Elementary School
- Washburn School
- Rutledge Middle School
- Grainger High School
- Washburn School
- Grainger Academy
Like all of East Tennessee, Grainger County has long been overwhelmingly Republican, due to its powerful Unionist sentiment during the Civil War. The last Democratic presidential candidate to ever carry Grainger County was Andrew Jackson in 1832. The Whig Party carried the county consistently between 1836 and 1852, and since the Republican Party first contested Tennessee in 1868, it has won Grainger County in every election except in 1912 when the GOP was mortally divided and Progressive Theodore Roosevelt carried the county over conservative incumbent William Howard Taft.
The American Communities Project (ACP) characterized Grainger County as a 'evangelical hub,' due to the high number of religious residents tied to evangelical churches, particularly the Southern Baptist Convention, and the county is in one of the most politically conservative types of the ACP's characteristic placements.
In recent elections, the county has shown little competitiveness for Democratic candidates in local, state, and federal elections.
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Rural areas are usually characterized by higher levels of economic disadvantage in terms of median income, percentage of residents living below the poverty level, and percentage of residents with a low education level. They often have higher levels of home ownership as opposed to multiple rental units. Union, Grainger, and Claiborne County reflect these traditional, rural characteristics.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Grainger County, Tennessee.|
- Official county government website
- Map of county electoral districts
- Grainger County Chamber of Commerce website
- Grainger County Schools website
- Hear it spoken (Voice of Former Grainger County Mayor Mark Hipsher, 2010)