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The History of Union County

Small in area but large in beauty, natural resources, history, tradition and opportunity – that’s Union County! Many historians believe that Union County was so named because it is a union of five segments of adjoining counties. Others believe it was given the name because of the predominant sentiment in the area for the preservation of the Union in the pre-Civil War period. Whatever the reason, the name is symbolic of a unity and “down home” feeling among the residents that may be difficult to find elsewhere today.

The early settlers of East Tennessee were Anglo-Saxon from England, Ireland, France, and Germany. Upon coming to America some of these people had settled in Pennsylvania in the early 1700’s, Many began migrating to the south, particularly to Virginia and North Carolina; and then some intrepid groups came across mountains and valleys to carve out a homeland in what is now called the Tennessee Valley. Because this area has had no significant inflow of other nationalities, the Anglo-Saxon strain is probably the purest in the nation today. Union Countians still retain the characteristics of those hearty ancestors: love of freedom, determination to succeed, loyalty to family and friends, and a capacity for hard work.

Probably the most traumatic event in Union County history occurred in the early 1930’s when the building of Norris Dam caused residents of two communities, Loyston and Lost Creek, to be relocated when they were covered by water. One fifth of the land area of the county was inundated and that the richest land in the county, an estimated forty–five percent of the county’s assets. On the positive side the creation of the Tennessee Valley Authority and the subsequent initiation of the Norris Dam Project facilitated navigation and flood control and provided electricity.

Conservation of natural resources was also one of the goals of TVA. The resulting parks and resort areas, camping and water sport facilities, and the nature haven on the Chuck Swan Management Area all make Union County an attractive place to live or vacation.

Present day Union County is made up of several commonly recognized areas:

Braden is a small rural community cut off from the rest of the county by water and reachable only by ferry or by a lengthy drive through neighboring Claiborne County.

Sharps Chapel is the site of Chuck Swan Management Area, a wildlife preserve. It is rapidly becoming a resort and retirement community due in part to the secluded nature of the area and its proximity to Norris Lake waters as well as the efforts of Norris Shores Development Corporation. Norris Shores has developed a large area for upscale residences and vacation or second homes.

Big Ridge is the home of Big Ridge State Park and Hickory Star Resort, popular places to visit for tourists as well as county residents. Big Ridge is a full service state park; Hickory Star features camping, caters to fisherman and water sports enthusiasts, and has many upscale permanent homes as well as vacation homes.

Maynardville, the county seat, became a chartered city in 1958. Formerly the village of Liberty, it was renamed for Horace Maynard, noted statesman, politician, educator, and lawyer, who led a two-year legal battle to establish Union County as a legal entity. When the county’s first high school was completed in 1922, it also was named for Horace Maynard. Maynardville refers not to the town but also the surrounding rural area. It is the site of the main industrial area of the county.

Luttrell was chartered as a city in 1925. Earlier known as Cedar Ford, the town name was changed to Luttrell in 1890. In the 1870 census the population of Cedar Ford was 808. The large number of residents was due to the opening of a marble quarry and a lime kiln, and later, in 1887, to the building of the Powell Valley Railroad, which ran through the town and served as a shipping point for the surrounding area. Luttrell marble was noted for its great beauty and, of course, durability. Both the Tennessee State Capitol and some buildings in the nation’s capitol have this marble in their structure. The rail line is now a part of Southern Railroad and Luttrell is once again the site of major industry.

Plainview incorporated in 1992, is a rural residential community. In the short period since the city was incorporated, streetlights have been installed, a walking trail developed, and many streets have been paved. Also, zoning specifications have been put in place.

Union County is the home of several people prominent in the world of country music. Among these are Roy Acuff, Carl Smith, Lois Johnson, Bill Lynch, Chet Atkins and Kenny Chesney.

Excerpted from 1996-97 UCB & PPA Union County, Tennessee, By Kathleen G. Graves