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East Tennessee is a name given to approximately the eastern third of the U.S. state of Tennessee, one of the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee defined in state law. East Tennessee consists of 33 counties, 30 located within the Eastern Time Zone and three counties in the Central Time Zone, namely Bledsoe, Cumberland, and Marion. East Tennessee is entirely located within the Appalachian Mountains, although the landforms range from densely forested 6,000-foot (1,800 m) mountains to broad river valleys.
East Tennessee is both geographically and culturally part of Appalachia, and has been included— along with Western North Carolina, North Georgia, Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia, and Southwest Virginia— in every major definition of the Appalachian region since the early 20th century. East Tennessee is home to the nation's most visited national park— the Great Smoky Mountains National Park— and hundreds of smaller recreational areas. East Tennessee is often called the birthplace of country music, due largely to the 1927 Victor recording sessions in Bristol, and throughout the 20th and 21st centuries has produced a steady stream of musicians of national and international fame. Oak Ridge was the site of the world's first successful uranium enrichment operations which paved the way for the atomic age. The Tennessee Valley Authority is headquartered in Knoxville.
Unlike the geographic designations of regions of most U.S. states, the term East Tennessee has legal as well as socioeconomic meaning. East Tennessee, along with Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee, comprises one of the state's three Grand Divisions. According to the Tennessee State Constitution, no more than two of the Tennessee Supreme Court's five justices can come from any one Grand Division. The Supreme Court rotates meeting in courthouses in each of the three divisions. The Supreme Court building for East Tennessee is in Knoxville. A similar rule applies to certain other commissions and boards as well, to prevent them from showing a geographic bias.
East Tennessee includes parts of three major geological divisions— the Blue Ridge on the border with North Carolina in the east, the Ridge-and-Valley Appalachians (usually called the "Great Valley" or "Tennessee Valley") in the center, and the Cumberland Plateau in the west, bordering Middle Tennessee. The Blue Ridge section comprises the western (or "Unaka") section of the Blue Ridge Province, the crest of which forms most of the Tennessee-North Carolina border and consists of the highest parts of the state (including Clingmans Dome, the state's highest point). The Blue Ridge is subdivided into several subranges— the Iron Mountains, Roan Highlands, and Bald Mountains in the north, the Great Smoky Mountains in the center, and the Unicoi Mountains and Little Frog and Big Frog Mountain areas in the south. Most of the Blue Ridge section is heavily forested and protected by various state and federal entities, the largest of which include the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Cherokee National Forest.
The Ridge-and-Valley section, often called the Tennessee Valley or "Great Valley," is the region's largest and most populous section. It consists of a series of alternating elongate ridges and broad river valleys roughly oriented northeast-to-southwest. This section's most notable feature, the Tennessee River, forms at the confluence of the Holston and French Broad rivers in Knoxville, and flows southwestward to Chattanooga, where it enters the Tennessee River Gorge. Other notable rivers in the upper Tennessee watershed include the Clinch, Nolichucky, Watauga, Emory, Little Tennessee, Hiwassee, Sequatchie, and Ocoee rivers. Notable "ridges" in the Ridge-and-Valley range include Clinch Mountain, Bays Mountain, and Powell Mountain.
The Cumberland Plateau rises nearly 1,000 feet (300 m) above the Tennessee Valley, stretching from Cumberland Gap at the Tennessee-Kentucky-Virginia border southwestward to the Alabama border. The "Tennessee Divide" runs along the western part of the plateau, and separates the watersheds of the Tennessee and Cumberland rivers. Plateau counties mostly east of this divide— i.e. Cumberland, Morgan, and Scott— are grouped with East Tennessee, whereas plateau counties west of this divide (Fentress, Van Buren, and Grundy) are considered part of Middle Tennessee. Three counties— Bledsoe, Sequatchie, and Marion— are located in the Sequatchie Valley, a long narrow valley in the southern part of the Cumberland Plateau. These three counties were traditionally part of East Tennessee. However, Sequatchie and Marion counties were reassigned to the Middle Tennessee grand division circa 1932. Marion County was later returned to East Tennessee, but Sequatchie County officially remains part of Middle Tennessee. One notable detached section of the Plateau is Lookout Mountain, which overlooks Chattanooga.
The major cities of East Tennessee are Knoxville (near the center of East Tennessee), Chattanooga (in southeastern Tennessee at the Georgia border), and the "Tri-Cities" of Bristol, Johnson City, and Kingsport located in the extreme northeasternmost part of the state. The Blue Ridge section of the state is much more sparsely populated, its main cities being Elizabethton, Gatlinburg, and Tellico Plains. Crossville and Jasper are prominent cities in the Plateau region.
East Tennessee is the most populous and most densely populated of the three Grand Divisions. At the 2000 census it had 2,119,505 inhabitants living in its 33 counties, which have a combined land area of 13,558.27 square miles (35,115.76 km²). Its population was 37.25% of the state's total, and its land area is 32.90% of the state's land area. Its population density was 156.33 inhabitants per square mile (60.358/km²).
East Tennessee includes all of the state's 1st, 2nd, and 3rd congressional districts, and part of the 4th district. The First District is concentrated around the Tri-Cities region and Upper East Tennessee. The Second District includes Knoxville and the mountain counties to the south. The Third District includes the Chattanooga area and the counties north of Knoxville (the two areas are connected by a narrow corridor in eastern Roane County). The Fourth, which extends into an area southwest of Nashville, includes several of East Tennessee's Cumberland Plateau counties.
Much of what is known about East Tennessee's prehistoric American Indians comes as a result of TVA's reservoir construction, as federal law required archaeological investigations to be conducted in areas that were to be flooded. Excavations at the Icehouse Bottom site near Vonore revealed that American Indians were living in East Tennessee on at least a semi-annual basis as early as 7,500 B.C. The region's significant Woodland period (1000 B.C. – 1000 A.D.) sites include Rose Island (also near Vonore) and Moccasin Bend (near Chattanooga). During what archaeologists call the Mississippian period (c. 1000–1600 A.D.), East Tennessee's American Indian inhabitants were living in complex agrarian societies at places such as Toqua and Hiwassee Island, and had formed a minor chiefdom known as Chiaha in the French Broad Valley. Spanish expeditions led by Hernando de Soto, Tristan de Luna, and Juan Pardo all visited East Tennessee's Mississippian-period inhabitants during the 16th century.
By the time English explorers began arriving in what is now East Tennessee in the late 17th century, the Cherokee had become the region's dominant tribe. The Cherokee established a series of towns concentrated in the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee valleys that became known as the "Overhill towns", as traders from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia had to cross "over" the mountains to reach them. The Cherokee alliance with Britain during the French and Indian War led to the construction of Fort Loudoun in 1756. An expedition led by Henry Timberlake in 1761 provided later travelers with invaluable knowledge regarding the location of the Overhill towns and the customs of the Overhill Cherokee. In 1775, a faction of Cherokees led by Dragging Canoe— angry over the tribe's appeasement of European settlers— split off to form what became known as the Chickamauga faction, which was concentrated around what is now Chattanooga. In spite of Dragging Canoe's protests, the Cherokee were continuously induced to sign away most of the tribe's lands to the U.S. government in a series of treaties between 1775 and 1836. The last such treaty resulted in the tribe's tragic removal to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears in 1838.
The end of the French and Indian War in 1763 brought a stream of explorers and traders into the region, among them the so-called long hunters, whose hunting expeditions lasted several months or even years. In 1769, William Bean— an associate of famed explorer Daniel Boone— built what is generally acknowledged as Tennessee's first permanent Euro-American residence in Tennessee along the Watauga River. Shortly thereafter, James Robertson and a group of migrants from North Carolina (some historians suggest they were refugees of the Regulator wars) formed the Watauga settlement at Sycamore Shoals in modern Elizabethton. In 1772, the Wataugans established the Watauga Association, which was the first constitutional government west of the Appalachians, and the "germ cell" of the state of Tennessee.
During the American Revolution, the Wataugans supplied 240 militiamen (led by John Sevier) to the frontier force known as the Overmountain Men, which defeated British loyalists at the Battle of Kings Mountain. Tennessee's first attempt at statehood was the State of Franklin, formed in the 1780s with its capital initially at Jonesborough and later Greeneville, but the state was never admitted by Congress. The Southwest Territory, which encompassed much of what is now Tennessee and Kentucky, was created in 1790 with William Blount as its first governor. Blount and James White established the city of Knoxville as the territory's capital. Knoxville would later serve as Tennessee's first capital.
East Tennessee was home to one of the nation's first abolitionist movements, which arose in the early 19th century. Quakers, who had migrated to the region from Pennsylvania in the 1790s, formed the Manumission Society of Tennessee in 1814. Notable supporters included Presbyterian clergyman Samuel Doak, Tusculum College cofounder Hezekiah Balch, and Maryville College president Isaac Anderson. In 1820, Elihu Embree established The Emancipator— the nation's first exclusively abolitionist newspaper— in Jonesborough. After Embree's death, Benjamin Lundy established the Genius of Universal Emancipation in Greeneville in 1821 to continue Embree's work. By the 1830s, however, the region's abolitionist movement had declined in the face of fierce opposition.
The arrival of the railroad in the 1850s brought immediate economic benefits to East Tennessee, primarily to Chattanooga, which had been founded in 1839. Chattanooga quickly developed into a nexus between the mountain communities of Southern Appalachia and the cotton states of the Deep South. Chattanooga's strategic position made it one of the most active theaters of the Civil War, as Confederate armies considered the city vital for supply lines between Virginia and the Deep South.
The Civil War sentiments of East Tennessee were among the most complex of any region in the nation. Whig support ran high in East Tennessee (especially in Knox and surrounding counties) in the years leading up to the war, as many people in the region were suspicious of the aristocratic Southern planter class that dominated the Southern Democratic party and most southern state legislatures. When Tennessee voted on a referendum calling for secession in February 1861, more than 80% of East Tennesseans voted against it, including majorities in every county except Sullivan and Meigs. In June 1861, nearly 70% of East Tennesseans voted against the Ordinance of Secession (which succeeded statewide), although along with Sullivan and Meigs, there were pro-secession majorities in Monroe, Rhea, Sequatchie, and Polk counties. There were also pro-secession majorities within the cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga, although these cities' respective counties voted decisively against secession.
In June 1861, the pro-Unionist East Tennessee Convention met in Greeneville, where it drafted a petition to the Tennessee state legislature demanding that East Tennessee be allowed to form a separate Union-aligned state. The legislature rejected the petition, however, and Tennessee Governor Isham Harris ordered Confederate troops to occupy East Tennessee. Senator Andrew Johnson and Congressman Horace Maynard— who in spite of being from a Confederate state retained their seats in Congress— continuously pressed President Abraham Lincoln to send troops into East Tennessee, and Lincoln subsequently made the liberation of East Tennessee a top priority. Knoxville Whig editor William "Parson" Brownlow, who had been one of slavery's most outspoken defenders, attacked secessionism with equal fervor, and embarked on a speaking tour of the Northern states to rally support for East Tennessee. Union troops didn't secure Knoxville until late 1863, however, and Chattanooga was only secured after a series of bloody campaigns late in the same year.
After the Civil War, northern capitalists began investing heavily in East Tennessee, helping the region's ravaged economy recover. Knoxville and Chattanooga experienced manufacturing booms, and their populations grew exponentially. Other cities in the region, such as Lenoir City, Harriman, Rockwood, Dayton, and Englewood, were founded as company towns during this period. In 1899, the world's first Coca-cola bottling plant was built in Chattanooga. In the early 1900s, railroad and sawmill innovations allowed logging firms such as the Little River Lumber Company and Babock Lumber to harvest the virgin forests of the Great Smokies and adjacent ranges. The Burra Burra Mine— established in the 1890s in the Ducktown Basin— was at its height one of the nation's largest copper mining operations. Coal mining operations were established in coal-rich areas of the Cumberland Plateau, namely in Scott County, northern Campbell County, and western Anderson County. In the early 1890s, Tennessee's controversial convict lease system sparked a miners' uprising in Anderson County that became known as the Coal Creek War. While the uprising was eventually crushed, it induced the state to do away with convict leasing, making Tennessee the first southern state to end the controversial practice.
Other ambitious ventures during the period included the construction of Ocoee Dam No. 1 and Hales Bar Dam (completed in 1911 and 1913 respectively) by the forerunners of the Tennessee Electric Power Company (TEPCO). In the 1920s, Tennessee Eastman— destined to become the state's largest employer— was established in Kingsport, and in nearby Elizabethton the German-owned Bemberg Corporation built two large rayon mills. Equally ambitious was the Aluminum Company of America's establishment of a massive aluminum smelting operation at what is now Alcoa in 1914, which required the construction of a large plant and company town and the building of a series of dams along the Little Tennessee River to supply the plant with hydroelectric power.
Over a period of two decades, the Tennessee Valley Authority, created in 1933 at the height of the Great Depression, drastically altered the economic, cultural, and physical landscape of East Tennessee. TVA sought to build a series of dams across the Tennessee River watershed to control flooding, bring cheap electricity to East Tennessee, and connect Knoxville and Chattanooga to the nation's inland waterways by creating a continuously navigable channel along the entirety of the Tennessee River. Starting with Norris Dam in 1933, the agency built 10 dams in East Tennessee (and five more across the border in North Carolina and Georgia) over a period of two decades. Melton Hill and Nickajack were added in the 1960s, and the last, Tellico Dam, was completed in 1979 after a contentious five-year legal battle with environmentalists. TVA also gained control of TEPCO's assets after a legal struggle in the 1930s with TEPCO president Jo Conn Guild and attorney Wendell Wilkie that was eventually dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
East Tennessee's physiographic layout and rural nature made it the ideal location for the uranium enrichment facilities of the Manhattan Project— the federal government's top secret World War II-era initiative to build the atomic bomb. Starting in 1942, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built what is now the city of Oak Ridge, and the following year work began on the enrichment facilities, K-25 and Y-12. During the same period, Tennessee Eastman built the Holston Ordnance Works in Kingsport for the manufacture of an explosive known as Composition B. The ALCOA corporation, seeking to meet the wartime demand for aluminum (which was needed for aircraft construction), built its North Plant, which at the time of its completion was the world's largest plant under a single roof. To meet the region's skyrocketing demand for electricity, TVA hastened its dam construction, completing Cherokee and Douglas dams in record time, and building the massive Fontana Dam just across the state line in North Carolina.
The traditional music of East Tennessee has evolved from a blend of English and Scottish ballads, Irish and Scottish fiddle tunes, African-American blues, and religious music. In 1916 and 1917, British folklorist Cecil Sharp visited Flag Pond, Sevierville, Harrogate, and other rural areas in the region where he transcribed dozens of examples of "Old World" ballads that had been passed down generation to generation from the region's early English settlers. Recording companies discovered the region's music in the early 1920s, and began marketing it as "Hillbilly" music. Uncle Am Stuart, Charlie Bowman, Clarence Ashley, G. B. Grayson, and Theron Hale were among the most successful early Hillbilly musicians from East Tennessee.
In 1927, the Victor Talking Machine Company conducted a series of recording sessions in Bristol that saw the rise of musicians such as Jimmie Rodgers and the Carter Family, and are thus often called the "Big Bang" of country music. Subsequent recording sessions, such as the Johnson City sessions in 1928 and the Knoxville St. James Sessions in 1930 proved lucrative, but by the late 1930s, the success of the Grand Ole Opry had lured much of the region's talent to Nashville. In the 1940s, the Grand Ole Opry and associated music labels began using "country" instead of "hillbilly" for their genre, hoping to attract a wider audience.
While the mountain springs of East Tennessee and the cooler upper elevations of its mountainous areas have long provided a retreat from the region's summertime heat, much of East Tennessee's tourism industry is a result of land conservation movements in the 1920s and 1930s. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, established in the early 1930s, led to a tourism boom in Blount and Sevier counties, effectively converting the tiny mountain hamlets of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge into resort towns. The Appalachian Trail, one of the world's most well-known hiking trails, was built in the mid-1930s, and passes along the Tennessee-North Carolina border. The Cherokee National Forest was established during the same period, preserving or restoring over 600,000 acres (2,400 km2) of forest land, most notably at Roan Mountain, the Unicoi Mountains (now traversed by the Cherohala Skyway), and along the Ocoee River, which has developed into one of the nation's most popular whitewater rafting areas.
In the early 1930s, entrepreneurs established tourist attractions at Rock City and Ruby Falls on Lookout Mountain, perhaps best known for their unique advertisements painted on barn roofs across the southeast. TVA considered the creation of recreational opportunities along its reservoirs a priority, and reservoirs such as Norris Lake and Chickamauga Lake have since grown into hunting and fishing meccas. The agency was also responsible for the creation of state parks such as Big Ridge State Park and Harrison Bay State Park. Knoxville hosted the 1982 World's Fair, which drew over 11 million visitors, making it one of the most popular world's fairs in history. In the early 1990s, the Tennessee Aquarium— one of the world's largest freshwater aquariums— opened in Chattanooga.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, East Tennessee's economy relied heavily on subsistence agriculture. By 2000, however, just over 1% of the region's population was employed in agriculture or related industries. As of the 2000 census, manufacturing accounted for roughly 20% of region's jobs, with the largest employers being Eastman Chemical in Kingsport (10,000 employees), Sea Ray in Knoxville (3,500 employees), and Denso Manufacturing in Maryville and Athens (over 3,000 employees). Health and education services accounted for another 20% of the region's jobs, with major employers being Bluecross-Blueshield of Tennessee (4,144 employees), the Tennessee Department of Health in Chattanooga (4,000 employees), and the Baptist Hospital system in Knoxville (4,000 employees). Tourism and recreational industries account for just under 10% of East Tennessee's workforce, the primary attractions being the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9 million visitors per year), the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga (one million visitors per year), and historical sites such as the Museum of Appalachia and Rugby. Other significant employers included the Chattanooga trucking firms U.S. Xpress (8,100 employees) and Covenant Transportation (5,000 employees), and the Y-12 facility in Oak Ridge (4,750 employees). Mussel shoals in the upper Tennessee River valley, mainly above Knoxville, constitute the only important source of freshwater pearls in the United States.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, headquartered in Knoxville, provides most of the region's electricity via its hydroelectric dams as well as coal-fired plants near Kingston and Rogersville, the Watts Bar Nuclear Generating Station, the Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant, and a wind-powered facility atop Buffalo Mountain near Oak Ridge. In recent years, TVA's effectiveness has been debated, with some arguing it saved East Tennessee from a bleak future, and others claiming the agency is a mismanaged, wasteful bureaucracy.
The Appalachian Regional Commission was formed in 1965 to aide economic development in the Appalachian region, which was lagging far behind the rest of the nation on most economic indicators. The Appalachian region currently defined by the Commission includes 420 counties in 13 states, including all counties in East Tennessee. The Commission gives each county one of five possible economic designations— distressed, at-risk, transitional, competitive, or attainment— with "distressed" counties being the most economically endangered and "attainment" counties being the most economically prosperous. These designations are based primarily on three indicators— three-year average unemployment rate, market income per capita, and poverty rate.
In 2003, "Appalachian" Tennessee— which included all of East Tennessee and the easternmost counties in Middle Tennessee— had a three-year average unemployment rate of 4.9%, compared with 5.6% statewide and 5.5% nationwide. In 2002, Appalachian Tennessee had a per capita market income of $19,936, compared with $20,422 statewide and $26,420 nationwide. In 2000, Appalachian Tennessee had a poverty rate of 14.2%, compared to 13.6% statewide and 12.4% nationwide. Three East Tennessee counties— Scott, Hancock, and Johnson— were designated "distressed," while eight— Morgan, Campbell, Claiborne, Grainger, Cocke, Meigs, Bledsoe, and Union— were designated "at-risk." No counties in East Tennessee were given the "attainment" designation, and only two— Hamilton and Bradley— were designated "competitive." Most East Tennessee counties were designated "transitional," meaning they lagged behind the national average on one of the three key indicators. Hancock had East Tennessee's highest poverty rating, with 29.4% of its residents living below the poverty line. Knox had East Tennessee's highest per capita income ($25,999) and the lowest unemployment rate (2.8%), although Hamilton was a close second on both of these indicators.
The region's major public universities are the Knoxville and Chattanooga campuses of the University of Tennessee and East Tennessee State University in Johnson City. Private four-year institutions include Bryan College, Carson-Newman University, King University, Lee University, Lincoln Memorial University, Maryville College, Milligan College, Johnson University, Tennessee Wesleyan College, and Tusculum College. Several public community colleges and vocational/technical schools also are located in the region, such as Northeast State Community College in the Tri-Cities, Walters State Community College in Morristown, Pellissippi State Community College near Knoxville, Chattanooga State Community College, and Cleveland State Community College. The Tennessee College of Applied Technology has several campuses across the area.
The University of Tennessee's athletic teams, nicknamed the "Volunteers," or "Vols," are the region's most popular sports teams, and constitute a multi-million dollar industry. The university's football team plays at Neyland Stadium, one of the nation's largest stadiums, which is sometimes sold out on game day. Neyland is flanked by the Thompson-Boling Arena, which has broken several attendance records for college men's and women's basketball.
East Tennessee is one of the few regions in the South that has consistently voted Republican since the Civil War. East Tennessee Republican leanings are rooted in its antebellum Whig sentiments (historian O.P. Temple actually traces this sentiment back to the anti-aristocratic Covenanters of Scotland). As in much of Southern Appalachia, the region's yeoman farmers clashed with the large-scale planters and business interests that controlled the Democratic Party and dominated most southern state legislatures. East Tennesseans revered the likes of John Sevier and Davy Crockett, and were drawn to the political philosophies of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster. They tended to reject the policies of the Southern Democrats, who were deemed "aristocratic" (Andrew Jackson's popularity in the Chattanooga area— which he helped open to European-American settlement— created a stronger Democratic base in southeastern Tennessee, however). In the early 1840s, then-state senator Andrew Johnson actually introduced a bill in the state legislature that would have created a separate state in East Tennessee.
While the Whigs disintegrated in the 1850s, East Tennesseans continued their opposition to Southern Democrats with the Opposition Party and the Constitutional Union Party, the latter capturing the state's electoral votes in 1860. Pro-Union sentiment during the Civil War (which was reinforced by the Confederate army's occupation of the region) evolved into support for President Lincoln and the Republican Party. The Radical Republican post-war policies of Governor William "Parson" Brownlow greatly polarized the state along party lines, with East Tennesseans mostly supporting Brownlow and Middle and West Tennesseans mostly rejecting him. The Southern Democrats regained control of the state government in the early 1870s, but Republican sentiment remained solid in East Tennessee, especially in the 1st and 2nd Districts. By the 1880s, the state's Democrats had an unwritten agreement with the state's Republicans whereby Republicans would split presidential patronage of Republican presidencies with the Democrats so long as the Democrats allowed them continued influence in state affairs.
In 1888, Pennsylvania-born Henry Clay Evans was elected to the congressional seat for the 3rd District (the Chattanooga area). Evans, who rejected compromise and the splitting of presidential patronage with the state's Democrats, strongly supported a bill that would have turned over control of state elections to the federal government. In response, the state legislature gerrymandered the 3rd District, ensuring Evans' defeat in 1890. After 1901, more than a half-century passed without the state legislature redistricting, in spite of population shifts. In 1959, Memphis resident Charles Baker sued the legislature in hopes of forcing it to redraw the districts, culminating in the landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Baker v. Carr. In the decades after this case, the 3rd and 4th districts have been redrawn several times, most recently in 2002 when the boundaries were shifted to make the 3rd more Republican and the 4th more Democratic.