History of Campbell County, Tennessee
 

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LABAN SHARP, ENTREPRENEUR OF 1800S, PREDICTED TOWN WOULD STAND WHERE LAFOLLETTE IS LOCATED

By Dallas Bogan

Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan.  This article was published in the LaFollette Press.

   The writer, on September 21, 2000, portrayed a short story concerning Henry Sharp, Sr. In this particular article we will feature his direct descendant, Laban Sharp. 
Possibly the greatest contributor to the development of LaFollette was Laban Sharp. He and his brother, David, had originally migrated with their parents from North Carolina and first settled in Union County. 

     The first written record concerning Laban was in the early 1800's. History tells us that friends from North Carolina had paved the way and had purchased a large extent of land in and around where LaFollette now stands. Their residence consisted of a log house that once stood just to the left of the large cave spring on the old LaFollette property. Possibly the John Myers and Sharp families could have been friends in North Carolina, and, the progenitors of the familes probably came to the new land on the same ship, perhaps to escape religious and political control. The two families were found jointly living here and owning, in the late 1700's and early 1800's, a vast expanse of land.

     David, who was mentioned earlier in this text, married Elizabeth Myers and resided down Indian Creek (Big Creek) about two miles from LaFollette. David and Laban together succeeded in business ventures. Laban owned a Jack named "Little Wonder." Together they owned a flock of sheep and sold the wool, from this wool thread was woven and made into cloth. The brothers must have owned a sawmill for records show that quite a bit of lumber was sold; the location is unknown. David and Laban owned the Salt Peter Cave and leased it in 1861 to a Mr. Craighead. Saltpeter was produced during the Civil War for the manufacture of powder intended for use in connection with the guns. 

     Laban was about two years younger than David and married Annie Myers. He was only 16 when he started in business, being unmarried at the time. However, he, according to history, married at the age of 20 or 21; Laban and Annie were the parents of eight children. 

      Their home consisted of a large, two-story log house, built on the same style as other pioneer homes of the day. It stood on a rise of land near the old furnace site, close to the large spring that furnished water to families near it. 

      Laban was an entrepreneur of high respectability in his time. He, like many other pioneers, withstood the dangers of pioneer life and helped carve a territory out of the wilderness. As an enterprising man, he was overheard to say that someday a town would stand where LaFollette now stands. As different needs were desired by the locals, Laban had an engineering aspect about him, and succeeded in producing different industries for the needs of the people.

      Eventually, the Sharp and Myers farms consumed about all of LaFollette. Some of the earlier sites that the farms took in were the Frances Flower Gardens, along with the spring that supplied water for the vicinity; Linden Park, part of Riggs Hill, the old furnace site, the Troutman home, the fair ground, the school house hollow, and to the city limits up the valley.

     The farm was dotted with many apple and peach trees, at that time no spray was needed. The Civil War soldiers had camped on one hill and, consequently, many peach trees voluntarily came up. These trees were allowed to grow and over time there were many peach and apples trees to care for. 

      A dry house was built for the occasion which consisted of a brick building with a stone floor. Drawers, in which the fruit was placed, were installed in both sides. A furnace was built on one end on the outside and installed with a tow chimney which carried the smoke away. Flues were arranged to enter the building so the warmth of the air could circulate and dry the fruit. A door was installed on the opposite end. The structure included sheds built on either side where the fruit was prepared. Certainly inventive minds were at work to create this type of site, for without it the fruit would surely go to waste.

      A record found in Jacksboro, dated January 13, 1851 states: "Laban Sharp enters 5000 acres in Campbell County upon the water of Big Creek Gap and the waters of Hickory Creek, beginning at a pine in the line of a 5000 acre tract entered by David and Mark Richardson near where John Hutsel now lives, thence north westerly with the line of the above named survey near the top of Walnut Mountain, thence north easterly and various courses as the law directs for compliment." 

     Laban Sharp was a progressive man who was heard to have said that new inventions were needed to help raise the standard of living. Receipts show that he bought the exclusive right to a machine that produced a new kind of shingle which was of better quality and initially created a faster product. He also was issued a patent for a safe and more comfortable wagon seat, along with an interest in a new washing machine. He had installed into his residence the first stove in the community. He owned a gristmill up Big Creek, and bought the right to locate a sawmill on the same creek before he purchased the land. He bought a few lots in Jacksboro in the early days, but disposed of them.

      The first days of the community found that there were no banks. A great number of notes were found which stated Laban had loaned both large and small sums of money to the locals. Honesty was a tradition in the early days of the small village, for many of the notes had been scribbled on small pieces of scrap paper, certainly nothing legal about them. Often payments received by Laban were in the form of livestock such as a mule, cow, steer or hides.

      Big Creek Gap was a community in the works. One type of business enterprise included a saddler's shop, housed in a two-story building situated in the direction of Rigg's Hill. In this location shoes, harness, saddles, and other leather goods were made, Silas Ingram being the tanner. 

      The tanning vats were located between the old blacksmith shop and the saddler shop. On the south end of the saddler shop a vat was installed to carry on part of the tanning. The shop was between 30 and 40 feet in length and from 20 to 25 feet wide. It was divided into two rooms, with a sizeable chimney in the center and a large fireplace in both rooms. 

     These vats were holes dug into the ground, dimensions being about four of five feet deep and about five feet long, the pits being lined with heavy plank. Bark from the red oak tree supplied the acid for tanning.

      Water to supply these vats was brought from a spring some 250 yards distance, known as the white oak spring. Gravity was used for the water flow as it was directed to what was known as pump logs. These logs were a few feet in length with holes bored in the center. They were tightly fastened together so as not to lose any water during the flow. 

     Some sixty yards north of the saddler shop stood the blacksmith shop where plows, hoes and other implements of work were formed. Shoeing horses, wagon maintenance, and other types of ironwork were performed here. The shop stood beside the highway on the way to the valley. It was so located for the convenience of the locals, as well as travelers from the Kentucky/Cumberland Gap area. Stock drivers, as well as pioneers stopped here for water, food and a place of rest. 

     Bricks were fired near the old shop. Clay was discovered on a hill south-west of the building. These bricks were used in constructing the smoke house, spring house, the dry house, and the church which was used as a schoolhouse, namely, School House Hollow. 

     In 1846, land was given by Laban to construct Soules Chapel. This was the first Methodist church in LaFollette, it being discontinued when the town was developed. 

     Stock drivers used many routes through Campbell County. On their way south with a drove of hogs, they would reach the end of the day and seek a resting place. Some settler along the route most often cared for them. If a hog had received an injury along the way, the property-owner would swap the driver a fresh one for the lame one so the drover could go on with the same number. The lame hog, in turn, would be corralled into a lot and allowed to get well, later being swapped again for another lame one.

     Laban Sharp built a forge on the north bank of Big Creek, a short distance above the old LaFollette lumber plant site owned by Wheeler Hollingsworth. Ore was mined near the forge and was refined into pig iron. These pigs were hammered into plow points, wagon tires, and many other objects desired by the pioneers. 

     Charcoal was needed to produce the heat in making the iron. Means of securing this product was solved by Laban. They ventured onto his land and dug the pits where charcoal was burned. These pits were built of cordwood and burned by capable colliers. This process took a week or so to prepare the coal. When readied, it was transported to the forge by a six-mule team. Some of the drivers were Squire Sharp, George Fletcher, and in case of an emergency, Robert Mullens. The hammer man was a gentleman from Virginia whose name was Isaac Fleming. The iron was taken to the Goose Creek Salt Works in Kentucky where it was exchanged for salt. Hauling was done by large, schooner shaped wagon beds, drawn by four sturdy mules. 

     Laban Sharp was a very religious man. When John Myers passed away his house-hold goods were put up for sale. Laban bought a still, simply to prevent anyone else from acquiring it and making liquor. 

     Big Creek Gap was a critical location during the early part of the Civil War. Both sides deemed it significant. It was not only a strategic location but it was divided about equally in sentiment. Laban Sharp was southern in his devotion, and so he suffered severely at the hands of the Union soldiers. Crops were stolen and ruined while stock was driven off and butchered. Silas Sharp, Laban's youngest son, narrowly escaped a Union soldier's bullet. The projectile struck the house just above the mantle, and with this incident, Silas decided to relocate to Union County until peace once again settled in the community. 

(Contents of this article were taken from the writings of Mrs. J.L. Mullins and donated to the writer by that fine gentleman, Jerry Sharp, curator of the Campbell County Historical Society in LaFollette, and great-great-great-grandson of Laban Sharp, our subject.) 

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