164 years ago yesterday (November 16, 1855), the Tennessee General Assembly passed an act to establish Cumberland County.
Cumberland County was formed from parts of Bledsoe, Roane, Morgan, Fentress, Rhea, Putnam, Overton, and White. During the Civil War, the county was nearly evenly split between those supporting the Union and those supporting the Confederacy.
When Cumberland County was formed, Crossville, being nearest the center of the county, was chosen as county seat. James Scott donated 40 acres of land for the erection of a courthouse and town square
In 1787, the North Carolina legislature ordered widening and improvements to Avery’s Trace, the trail that ran from North Carolina through Knoxville and what is now Cumberland County to Nashville. This slightly improved travel, but still required a bone jarring trip. The road was often muddy and crossed stone slabs so that it was only passable in some places on foot. Reportedly wagons could not get down the steep grade at Spencer’s Mountain without locking brakes on all wheels and dragging a tree behind to slow the descent.
Cumberland County was the site of an important saltpeter mine. Saltpeter is the main ingredient of gunpowder and was obtained from the Grassy Cove Saltpeter Cave. This was an exceptionally large cave and evidence of mining extends far from the entrance.
During the 1930s, as part of the New Deal, the federal government’s Subsistence Homesteads Division established the Cumberland Homesteads outside of Crossville. The program provided land and houses for 250 impoverished families. Cumberland Mountain State Park was built as part of this project.
In World War I, Cumberland County recruited a company of volunteers who served in Company G, 119th Infantry, 30th Infantry Division. Sergeant Milo Lemert received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Sergeant Litton T. Thurman received the Distinguished Service Cross in the same action. Sergeant Alvin C. York returned to the Tennessee Central Depot in Crossville. In 1940, York came to the Hotel Taylor in Crossville to sign the contract for the making of the movie Sergeant York.
In the decade following World War I Cumberland County underwent a new phase of development with the construction of highways linking Crossville to Pikeville, Sparta, Spring City, and Jamestown. As part of the New Deal recovery program, the federal government, under the Subsistence Homestead Division of the Department of Interior, established the Cumberland Homesteads. The program, which provided land and homes for impoverished, deserving families to engage in subsistence farming, made provisions for 250 families. Although economically unsuccessful, the community survived and the Homestead houses of Crab Orchard stone are among the most prized dwellings in the county. The project also left a public recreational facility, what is now Cumberland Mountain State Park.
During World War II the development of the Manhattan Project at Oak Ridge and the establishment of a prisoner of war camp near Pomona kept employment high. The POW camp held only German and Italian prisoners. Soldiers from the county served in all branches of the service and in every theater of war, from Guadalcanal to Burma and Europe to Africa. Many of them continued to serve after the war ended and later retired to the plateau.
The building of what is now Interstate 40 through Cumberland County following the war opened up the rural county for rapid development of manufacturing operations, retirement communities, and world class golf courses.
The county’s population boomed in the late twentieth century.
Several attractions bring in tourists to Cumberland County including the Cumberland County Playhouse, Cumberland Mountain State Park, the Palace Theatre and others. The annual Highway 127 Yard Sale runs through Cumberland County in August of every year. Cumberland County is also home to the U.S. Chess Federation.
The county is home to celebrities such as Mandy Barnett (singer), Julie Ann Emery (actress), Stormi Henley (Miss Tennessee Teen 2009 and Miss Teen USA 2009), Marjorie Weaver (actress), Curt Watson (NFL player) and Earl Lloyd (1928-2015) Lloyd was the first African- American to play in an NBA basketball game.