There’s quite a bit of history in Cumberland County:
1. The first road across the Cumberland Plateau crossed present-day Cumberland County, taking a route near the current location of Highway 70. Thousands of Tennessee’s early migrants traveled along this road, which was most commonly referred to as the “Fort Blount Road” at that time.
Among the important people who traveled along the road were Andrew Jackson, the future King Louis Phillipe of France, Bishop Francis Asbury, and botanist Andre Michaux.
In fact, legendary Tennessee longhunter Thomas “Big Foot” Spencer was killed by Chickamaugan Indians in 1794 on the Fort Blount Road near Crab Orchard. Today there is a massive rock near the site of his death named for Spencer (however, there are no signs indicating where the road is located).
Today there are very few remnants left of the Fort Blount Road. However, you can still see part of the road bed at an interstate rest stop near the former site of Kemmer’s Stand.
2. During the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt tried many new things. Cumberland County contains what is left of one of his bolder experiments – a rural resettlement area known as the Cumberland Homesteads.
Built between 1932 and 1938, the homestead community consisted of homes, small farms, a factory, schools, an administration building, and other things that the community needed. Most of the structures still remain, but the homestead resettlement program was shut down in 1947.
The government long since sold the land to private owners, and today there is a museum there called the Cumberland Homesteads Tower Museum. Along with Norris Dam in Anderson County, it is one of the best places to learn about the New Deal’s impact on Tennessee.
Click here for a virtual tour of the Homesteads.
3. Here is something else that many people don’t know about Cumberland County: during World War II, there was a prisoner of war camp here at which about 1,500 German and Italian officers were held.
Today, the land on which the prisoner of war camp was located is the Clyde York 4H Center.
4. Cumberland County was also the home of May Wharton, known as the “Doctor Woman of the Cumberlands.”
Wharton was not only the first female doctor on the Cumberland Plateau, but she was one of the first female doctors in all of Tennessee. She wrote a book about her life in the Pleasant Hill community of Cumberland County, going door-to-door and treating patients for everything from cholera to cancer. It was called Doctor Woman of the Cumberland.
5. There is so much talk about Alvin C. York when it comes to Tennessee and World War I that people forget about Milo Lemert of Cumberland County.
Lemert was a first sergeant in the U.S. Army who was awarded the Medal of Honor after his death. According to U.S. Army records, here is what happened prior to his death:
“On Sept. 29, 1918, near Bellicourt, France, the left flank of Lemert’s company was under fire from a machine gun emplacement causing heavy casualties. Lemert found the location of the gun and, under heavy fire, he rushed it single-handed, one man against the machine gun. He killed the entire enemy crew with grenades and continued along the enemy trench ahead of his company. He charged again, silencing the second gun with grenades.
“When a third gun emplacement opened up on him from the left, he destroyed it as well. With another sergeant, he then attacked a fourth machine gun nest and was killed as he reached the emplacement.
“His courageous action and skill against the enemy guns prevented many casualties in his company.”
Lemert’s brother Nathan (who was also in France) later said that, according to witnesses, Milo’s last words were “I am finished boys. Give ’em hell.”
Finally, If you are riding through Cumberland County and want to see a great waterfall that is just off the highway, stop in at Ozone Falls, which is a short stroll from Highway 70.
Here is the Cumberland County Courthouse.