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TN History for Kids

Grundy County

A state park manager gives a guided tour of the coke ovens at Tracy City.
Among the attendees at the 25th anniversary of
Highlander were Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.
PHOTO: Highlander Research and Education Center

Grundy County is, in some ways, the birthplace of the national Civil RIghts Movement.

In the 1930s Grundy County became the home of the Highlander Folk School, which originally focused on promoting labor unions. Many of the strikes that took place in Tennessee in the late 1930s were traced to the Highlander, and because of that a lot of business leaders in Tennessee didn’t like the school.

In the 1950s, Highlander shifted its focus from labor unions to race relations. Many well known Civil Rights leaders, including Rosa Parks, attended retreats at Highlander, were inspired by what they experience there and were even trained there.

Grundy County is also the site of Gruetli-Laager, the state's best known colony started by people from Switzerland.

This map shows where some of Tennessee's Swiss colonies were

After the Civil War, a Knoxville developer named Peter Staub was instrumental in starting the two communities of Gruetli and Laager on 15,000 acres of mountaintop land in Grundy County.

Some of the people who came from Switzerland to Tennessee thrived, but others did not. Here is what a display at the Grundy County museum says:

"Some settlers returned to Switzerland but most remained. With broad axes and ox-drawn plows, they cleared their tracts and cultivated their crops. They raised cattle, cows, chickens and hogs. They made unrivaled wine and cheese. While most farmed, others pursued trades in neighboring towns like Tracy City.

The Marugg Stagecoach Inn building

"Those who stayed in Gruetli did struggle with poor thin soil but were able to maintain their farms and prosper. Some complained bitterly that Peter Staub had misled them, but others realized that their goal to find a new home had been successful and the colony was a success. The colony became a stepping stone for these people to a new land."

One of the more prominent of these Swiss settlers was Christian Marugg, who operated an inn for travelers along the main stagecoach line between McMinnville and Chattanooga. Today, the deteriorating Marugg Stagecoach Inn building is one of the last things left of Gruetli-Laager's early years.

Coke ovens in Tracy City

In the Grundy County community of Tracy City you will find coke ovens, much like the ones at the Dunlap Coke Ovens Park in Sequatchie County. These coke ovens were used by workers for the Tennessee Coal and Iron Company to heat coal until it became a by-product of coal called coke.

These coke ovens are a reminder that, at one time, coal mining was the biggest business in Grundy County.

Sycamore Falls

Today, most people who come to Grundy County come there to hike, fish and camp at the South Cumberland Recreation Area.

Greeter Falls

In fact, one of the best trails in Grundy County happens to start right behind Tracy City Elementary School. It takes you to a beautiful waterfall called Sycamore Falls!

Another popular trail takes people to Greeter Falls. Talk about beautiful!

Here's the Grundy County Courthouse.

Grundy County

County seat: Altamont

Population (2015 estimate): 13,441

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