FRANKLIN COUNTY


The chapel at the University of the South--also known as Sewanee
County Seat: Winchester

The geography of a place can have a strange influence on eventually what happens to it.

In Franklin County, you will find a lovely, mountaintop college campus surrounded by hiking trails, waterfalls and overlooks.

The campus would probably not be there if it weren't for coal mining!


The Cowan Railroad Museum, with the Cumberland Plateau in the background
In the 1850s, the Nashville and Chattanooga Railway came through this part of the state, thanks to a 2,200-foot-long tunnel through the Cumberland Plateau at a place called Cowan.

(Click here for a tour of the Cowan Railroad Museum).

A train comes through the Cumberland Mountain Tunnel at the exact moment that a train heads up the "mountain goat line" to Sewanee.
PHOTO: Cowan Railroad Museum
A few years later, a man named Leslie Kennedy discovered coal atop the Cumberland Plateau, just east of Cowan. He started a company called the Sewanee Mining Company ("Sewanee" is a Cherokee word meaning "Big Mountain.") The mining business required the creation of a rail line from Cowan to the top of the mountain, known by locals as the "mountain goat railroad."

For a time, this was the steepest stretch of railroad in the United States.


This rail map of Tennessee from 1900 shows the "mountain goat line" through Sewanee to Tracy City
Unfortunately for Kennedy, the Sewanee Mining Company didn't make money from its original coal mining site atop the mountain.

However, the company was able to find a better place to mine a coal about ten miles away, in Grundy County. This is why the "mountain goat railroad" was expanded to pass through communities known as Monteagle and Tracy City (a community named for one of Sewanee Mining's New York investors, Samuel Tracy).


A view of the rest of Franklin County from Morgan's Steep, at Sewanee
The Sewanee Mining Company later grew into the Tennessee Coal, Iron and Railroad Company. TCI, as it was abbreviated, played a huge role in the Coal Creek Wars of Anderson County, Tennessee, and in the development of Birmingham, Alabama.

Prior to this reorganization, however, the company donated about 5,000 acres of the land it original intended to mind to the Episcopal church for the creation of a new university. Today that institution is known as Sewanee, or the University of the South.

Sewanee is a great place to go to college. It is also a wonderful place to hike!


Part of the old Mountain Goat Line is cleared for a bike path
PHOTO: Mountain Goat Trail Alliance
By the way, the "mountain goat railroad" is long gone. But the path cleared by the railroad is now being converted into a bike and foot path!

Click here to learn more about this.

Polly Crockett's grave
Franklin County is also one of the places David Crockett called home.

Crockett lived in Franklin County for about four years, from 1813 until about 1817. Crockett was a resident of Franklin County when he joined the Tennessee militia, during the war against the Creek Indians. Crockett lived here when his first wife Polly died.


And here's a picture of the Franklin County Courthouse.