Cocke County

The French Broad River in Cocke County at sunset, with railroad tracks in the foreground.

 

Here are four interesting things about Cocke County history:

 

The French Broad River in Cocke County

1) Hog Drovers

The French Broad River flows west from North Carolina into Cocke County, creating a narrow valley through the Appalachian Mountains. Before a railroad was built connecting Newport to Asheville, North Carolina, the road that ran along the French Broad River was the main route connecting farmers in East Tennessee to the markets in the East.

A Harper’s Weekly illustration showing hog drovers

In the 1800s, farmers used the road in the fall and early winter to herd livestock such as cattle, sheep, ducks, turkeys and hogs. (That’s right: farmers would herd pigs for hundreds of miles!) The road connecting Cocke County to Asheville because famous because it was used by so many “hog drovers”–as the farmers who herded domestic pigs along the road became known.

The Wolf Creek Inn in Cocke County

These drovers herded hundreds of hogs at a time every November and December. The drovers and their hogs would walk about 8 or 10 miles a day and stop along the way at roadside inns, which had fenced-in areas out back where the hogs would spend the night.

All of these inns are gone, but on the right is a photograph of one of them that used to exist in Cocke County. It was called the Wolf Creek Inn and was located in the eastern part of Cocke County, near where Wolf Creek poured into the French Broad River.

Rand McNally map, 1888

If you click on this map on the left you will see Cocke County (in the red); the French Broad River; the road that winds along the river; and (on the bottom right) Asheville, North Carolina. You can see how the river and the road wound through the mountains. If you look closely at the eastern part of Cocke County, you will see Wolf Creek.

Hog and turkey statues in Asheville

Hog drovers became such a part of the culture of the French Broad River that there are statues of herded hogs in downtown Asheville. (See photo on the right).

 

2) Stokely Brothers Canning Company

Unlike the large farms in Middle and West Tennessee, which grew crops such as cotton and tobacco, farms in East Tennessee were more likely to grow vegetables such as tomatoes, green beans, navy beans, peas and corn.

A 1929 ad for Stokely’s Vegetables

In 1898, the five brothers in Cocke County’s Stokely family started a factory which canned tomatoes and other vegetables produced by farmers throughout that part of East Tennessee. Using the French Broad and Tennessee Rivers to distribute their products, Stokely’s canned goods were at first sold mainly in Knoxville and Chattanooga. However, the business grew and grew, especially after Stokely’s built other canning factories in East Tennessee, including ones in Chestnut Hill (Jefferson County), Cleveland (Bradley County), and other places.

As grocery stores became larger in the 1920s, processed food companies such as Stokely’s often merged. In 1927, Stokely’s merged with the Jefferson Canning Company and moved its headquarters from Newport to Louisville, Kentucky. Six years later, the combined company merged with another Indiana canning firm called Van Camp. The company has been known as Stokely Van Camp ever since.

 

3) Appalachian Trail

Cocke County is also one of seven east Tennessee counties that contains parts of the Appalachian Trail, which runs 2,175 miles through Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Georgia. There are people who have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail; it takes about four to six months.

The tower at Mount Cammerer

In Cocke County, the Appalachian Trail crosses Interstate 40, which means that, here, the best known footpath in America crosses one of the busiest interstates in America.

It is here, on the Appalachian Trail and along the Tennessee/North Carolina border, that you would find the fire tower at Mount Cammerer.

 

4) Odell House

In 2013, Tennessee History for Kids produced a poster that featured some of the state’s most important “endangered”¬†buildings.

The Odell House in “old” Newport

One of them was the Odell House near the French Broad River.

Built in 1814, the Odell House is the only structure remaining from the time when the Cocke County seat was located in the “old”¬†location of Newport (by the river). In 1884, when the railroad came to the county, the courthouse and the town around it were moved to the “new” Newport.

Here (on the right) is a photo of the Cocke County Courthouse, which was built in 1930.

 

And here (on the left) is the previous Cocke County Courthouse.