History & Heritage

Lore and legends abound in the history and mysteries of Polk County, Tennessee. The region drew miners to the copper ore and the Cherokee people were here before time was kept. There are communities long past tucked into hollows and hills reachable now only by trails and memories.

Copper Mining Heritage

Burra Burra Copper Mine Site & Ducktown Basin Museum
212 Burra Burra Street
Ducktown, TN 37326

Visit this museum, on the grounds of the Historic Burra Burra Copper Mine, to learn about the history of copper mining in Tennessee., the vast environmental changes that occurred in the Great Copper Basin of Tennessee, and the diverse people who migrated to the area drawn by the boom in copper mining. The site, now owned by the Tennessee Historical Commission, has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1983. The 16 structures remaining on the site include virtually all of the original mine buildings and outbuildings except for the headframe, which was demolished after the closing of the mine in 1958.

Hours: Mon-Sat, 9:30-4:00 (summer)/Tues-Sat, 10:00 – 4:30 (winter)

Old Copper Road
Hwy 64 / Ocoee Scenic Byway

The Old Copper Road was built in 1853 to connect the copper mines in the Great Copper Basin to the railroad depot at Cleveland, Tennessee. Financed by local prospector and businessman, John Caldwell, the road took two years to complete at a cost of $22,000. Upon completion, copper haulers drove teams of oxen and mules over the road for two days to transport ore to Cleveland. The old road is now a section of U.S. Highway 64 that links Ducktown to Cleveland. The 12 miles that winds through the Ocoee Gorge is known as the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the nation’s first National Forest Scenic Byway. A 5-mile restored section of the original roadbed can be found at the Ocoee Whitewater Center, near Ducktown, Tennessee where it is open to the public as a hiking and biking trail.

Hiwassee Mine
Hwy 68
Ducktown, TN
Coordinates: N 35° 1.984 W 084° 22.872 35.03306666 -84.3812

A reconstructed steam hoist engine boiler chimney, originally constructed ca. 1854, marks the site of the discovery of copper in 1843 by a prospector named Lemmons. In 1847 A. J. Weaver leased and dug at this place 90 casks of ore, hauling them on mule back to the railroad 70 miles away at Dalton, Georgia. The ore was sold to the Revere Smelting Works, near Boston. At this site in 1850 T. H. Callaway opened the first mine in the Ducktown Mining District, the Hiwassee Mine.

The Halfway House
Hwy 64 / Ocoee Scenic Byway
Coordinates: N 35° 06.709    W 084° 34.319 35.11181666    -84.57198333

From the construction of the “Copper Road” from Ducktown to Cleveland in 1853 until the coming of a railroad to Ducktown, this was the midpoint of the two-day wagon haul.  Wagoners camped near the inn at the mouth of Greasy Creek.  Four-mile teams were usual, but teams of six or eight were occasional. The load limit was 500 pounds of copper per animal in the team.

Cherokee Heritage

Nancy Ward & Five Killer gravesites
Hwy 411
Benton, TN
Coordinates: 35.16454683969454,-84.67884063720703

Located on Hwy 411, south of Benton, is the gravesite of Nancy Ward, Beloved Woman of the Overhill Cherokees, and her son Five Killer. The graves overlook the lush banks of the Ocoee River.

Nancy Ward is not only remembered as an important figure to the Cherokee people but is also considered an early pioneer for women in American politics as she advocated for a woman’s voice during a turbulent period in her tribe’s history.

On the day she died in 1822, witnesses saw a white light rise from her body.  It took the form of a wolf and then a swan. It fluttered about and then flew off in the direction of her beloved town of Chota. She was the last woman to receive the title of Beloved Woman until the late 20th century.  Accessible 9am-8pm daily.

Fort Marr
Gee Creek Ranger Station
Hiwassee / Ocoee River State Park
404 Spring Creek Road
Delano, TN 37325

A significant part of the Cherokee history, constructed around 1814, is the last visible remains of the camps where the Cherokee were confined prior to removal.

A significant part of Cherokee history, Fort Marr (also called Fort Morrow) was constructed around 1814 as a supply depot for troops during Andrew Jackson’s campaigns against the Creek Indians. It was later abandoned, only to be regarrissoned in 1837 as a stockade used to detain Cherokee Indians prior to their forced removal. Troops stationed at Fort Marr were tasked with collecting Cherokees from their homes in the Cherokee Nation within Tennessee, and transporting them to internment camps at Fort Cass (present-day Charleston, Tennessee). The Fort Marr Blockhouse is the last visible remains of the camps where the Cherokee were confined prior to removal. The site is open daily, Sunrise – Sunset.

Red Clay Historical Park
1140 Red Clay Park Road SW
Cleveland, TN

The last council grounds of the Cherokee Nation before their removal along the tragic Trail of Tears are located here. The site has a replica Cherokee farm and council house, and contains the Blue Hole Spring, the sacred council spring that provided the area’s long-ago residents with fresh water. An interpretative center houses a theater, exhibits and artifacts. Recreational facilities include a 500-seat amphitheater, a picnic pavilion, picnic area with grills and tables, and a two-mile loop trail with a limestone overlook tower. Limited handicap accessibility. The park is open 8 a.m.-sunset, March to November; 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m., December-February, Closed December 22 to January 1.

Hiwassee River Heritage Center
8746 Hiwassee Street
Charleston, TN 37310

The Hiwassee River Heritage Center is an educational tool for residents and visitors functioning as a welcome center and a gateway to other regional historic sites. Through interpretive panels and displays, the heritage center introduces the stories of early settlers of Charleston, the Cherokee and their forced removal on the Trail of Tears, the Civil War and the eventual destruction of the area. The center is open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

Cherokee Removal Memorial Park
6800 Blythe Ferry Lane
Birchwood, TN 37308

The land encircling the confluence of the Hiwassee and Tennessee Rivers, where the Hiwassee Refuge is located, is steeped in Cherokee Indian history. This land lies near the center of the ancestral land of the Cherokee Nation. Cherokee Indian Removal Memorial, located on the banks of the Tennessee River in Birchwood, Tennessee, was one of the main staging areas for the Trail Of Tears. Thousands of Cherokee Indians camped here before their infamous trip to the west. This area had nine encampments of thousands of Cherokees that waited weeks to be sent across the river here at Blythe Ferry. Some were very sick and many with a sad heart at leaving their beloved homeland.

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Historical Sites

Ocoee Flume Line and Dams
Hwy 64 / Ocoee Scenic Byway

The Ocoee powerhouses, dams and flume line are part of an ambitious hydroelectric power project that began in 1910. Constructed by Eastern Tennessee Power Company, this series of historic hydroelectric structures are tucked into the narrow Ocoee River Gorge, all located within a stretch of only 12 miles. Ocoee Dam Number One, measuring 135 ft high and 840 ft wide, was built over the site of the old farming community of Parksville, where the Ocoee emerges from the Appalachian Mountains. The lake created from this project covers nearly 2,000 acres with over 100 miles of shoreline for recreational use. Upon its completion it was called Parksville Dam, and the new powerhouse named Ocoee Powerhouse Number One. Ocoee Number One is one of the first hydro-electric projects in Tennessee and remains the oldest dam in what is today the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) system.

Construction of Ocoee Powerhouse Number Two, located approximately 5 miles upriver from Powerhouse Number One, began in 1912. To provide sufficient water volume to drive the turbines, engineers devised a unique wooden trough-like structure to divert and concentrate the river waters until it reached the powerhouse. Known as the Ocoee Flume Line, this impressive structure measures 14’ X 10’ and stretches 4.7 miles along the rock bluffs of the Ocoee River Gorge, descending only 19 feet over that distance, while the river itself drops about 250 ft in elevation. The Ocoee Dam Two, measuring 30 ft high and 450 ft across, was built to capture the water destined for the Flume. The flume line is revered by locals and historians as a piece of true Americana, and the only of its kind in the nation. It was rebuilt in 1983 and is listed on the National Historic Register, as is Ocoee Powerhouse Number Two.

In 1939 Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) purchased the powerhouses, dams, and flume line. In 1941 TVA began construction of Powerhouse Number 3 to serve increased power demands during World War II.

The structures are not open for tours but are easily seen from Hwy 64(Ocoee Scenic Byway).

Old Copper Road
Hwy 64 / Ocoee Scenic Byway

The Old Copper Road was built in 1853 to connect the copper mines in the remote Great Copper Basin to the railroad depot at Cleveland, Tennessee. Once completed, copper haulers drove teams of oxen and mules over the road for two days to transport ore to Cleveland to be shipped by rail to other destinations for processing. The 12 miles of this road that winds through the Ocoee Gorge is known as the Ocoee Scenic Byway, the nation’s first National Forest Scenic Byway. A 5-mile restored section of the original roadbed is open to hiking and biking and can be found at the Ocoee Whitewater Center. Along the way, visitors can see Ocoee Dams Number One and Two as well as the Historic Ocoee Flume Line and Diversion Dam.

The Ocoee River Gorge is also known for its unique geologic formations. As you travel through the Ocoee Scenic Byway in the Cherokee National Forest, take some time to look at the rocks along the way.

Old Line Railroad
Etowah, TN – Copperhill, TN

This historic 47- mile railroad winds through the Cherokee National Forest between Etowah, Tennessee and Copperhill, Tennessee. Carved into the rugged mountains and Hiwassee River Gorge in 1890, a 19-mile section of this unique railroad corridor is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A defining element on the Old Line is the Historic Hiwassee Rail Loop, built in 1898 to replace the original switchbacks that allowed trains to circumvent Bald Mountain. The only way to access the corridor is by train. The Hiwassee River Rail Adventure carries passengers on vintage trains along the Old Line, through the Hiwassee Gorge, and over the famous Hiwassee Rail Loop from Apr-Nov. The “Hiwassee Loop” trips are half-day train rides while the “Copperhill Special” train excursions include a mid-day stopover in the historic copper mining town of Copperhill.

Reliance Historic District

Reliance Historic District
3708 Highway 30
Reliance, TN 37369
423.338.2373 / 877.932.7238

A drive along TN Hwy 30 and the Reliance Historic District is truly a drive into the past. You will be able to enjoy the beauty of the same wildflowers enjoyed by the Cherokee who once called this place home and see the same Great Blue Heron, Eagles, Hawks and other birds that have nested here for centuries.

Elements of the Reliance Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, lie on both sides of the Hiwassee River at the Reliance Bridge. The district features four buildings that were constructed before the turn of the 20th century: The Watchman’s House; the Vaughn-Webb house, still a family residence; the Hiwassee Union Church, now available for weddings and special events; and the Higdon Hotel. Historic stone walls still stand, as does a fish weir used by Cherokee to trap fish. Early farm buildings adorn the corn field. A general store offers rafts, tubes and funyaks for fun on the Hiwassee as well as cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs.

The Vaughn-Webb house, located on Hwy. 30, was built in the late 1880s and still serves as a family residence.  In addition to operating a grist mill, the Vaughn family grew corn and hay, raised cattle, hogs, and mules, and cut timber. Stones from the grist mill can be seen at Webb Brothers Store, and cattle can still be seen in the fields.

The Higdon Hotel was built by Calvin Higdon on the north side of the river after the L&N Railroad purchased right-of-way for track construction in 1888. The large two-story frame hotel with a two-story front porch provided accommodations for the railroad personnel and travelers. It is located on Childer’s Creek Road just a short distance away from the north end of the bridge on Tellico-Reliance Road (TN Hwy. 315).

The Watchman’s House was built in 1891 for use by the railroad watchman, who checked the railroad bridge for burning embers after the train passed over. It is located just across the bridge. The Watchman’s House is available as a vacation rental.

The Hiwassee Union Church and Masonic Lodge joined forces around 1899 to build a two-story frame building with a full porch across the front. The upper floor was used by the Masons, with the church meeting on the first floor. During the week, the church was used as a school for a short time. The Hiwassee Union Church is available for weddings and events.

Civil War History

Like most of Appalachian Tennessee, Polk County was a divided land during the Civil War. Residents formed both Confederate and Federal units. Benton, the county seat, was a regional crossroads but Ducktown, where the Burra Burra Copper Company operated valuable mines, was strategically significant. Mining continued until 1863, while the Confederate army controlled the area, but once Federal troops occupied the county, the mines closed until the war ended.

Bushwhacking and small skirmishes intensified after Federal occupation. John P. Gatewood, a Confederate partisan from Georgia, was the most notorious guerrilla in the region. In November 1864, Gatewood’s gang rode through Polk County, robbing and killing Unionist residents. The violence culminated in the so-called Madden Branch Massacre near the Georgia state line, where Gatewood’s men executed several unarmed Unionists.

In February 1865, nine local men scouting for Confederate Gen. John C. Vaughn and led by Capt. Phillip L. Bible, 62nd Tennessee Mounted Infantry, camped on Chilhowee Mountain. As they settled in for the night, a detachment of Union Col. Spencer C. Boyd’s 5th Tennessee Mounted Infantry fired on them. They scattered, losing three men. Boyd was a prominent Polk County citizen.

A brief account of the fight and its participants has been etched into several stones located at the Confederate Camp historic site on the Chilhowee Mountain Road.

One stone notes: “T.B. Haney/ A Confederate Soldier/ Was Killed Here/ Feb. 15, 1865.”

Taken from Civil War Trails Marker located at the Polk County Courthouse 6239 Hwy 411, Benton, TN

Confederate Burial & Memorial
Forest Service Road #77 (Chilhowee Mountain Road), Off US 64

There are few better sites in Tennessee that mark the extent of the violence during the Civil War. This lone Confederate memorial sits high on Chilhowee Mountain. It was built to mark the location of a skirmish on Feb. 15, 1865, and the death of Confederate soldiers. The tragic story of the fight and those who died on the mountain is etched into the stone.

Confederate Memorial Forest and Boyd Gap 
U. S. Highway 64, Ducktown

Boyd Gap overlook is approximately 0.3 miles past the Ocoee Whitewater Center. The Confederate Memorial forest sign is approximately 0.5 miles past the Ocoee Whitewater Center.

This approximately 103-acre property began in 1942 as an innovative partnership between the Tennessee Division of the United Daughters of the Confederacy and the Cherokee National Forest to commemorate Confederate soldiers and to enhance land conservation in the Ducktown area. The reclamation project involved the planting of tens of thousands of trees as a living memorial to 115,000 Tennesseans who fought for the Confederacy. A rededication ceremony of the cemetery took place in 2007.

Hiwassee Mine Stack 
Highway 68/College Street, Ducktown (Private Drive)

Overlooking Highway 68 in Ducktown, this reproduction brick stack symbolizes the original Hiwassee Mine that operated during the Civil War. Confederate forces occupied and controlled the mines through late 1863. As soon as the fighting ended, companies reinvested in the region and production soared. From 1865 to 1878, over 24 million pounds of copper were taken from underground mines while fifty square miles of the basin were stripped of timber in order to build underground mines and fuel local smelters.

P.O. Drawer 560
Benton, TN 37307

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