History of Grundy County, Tennessee
Many of the earliest settlers in Grundy County came from North
Carolina. They settled primarily in the valleys of Warren and Franklin
counties, along the Collins and Elk rivers. During the period from
about 1810 to 1840, settlers poured into the wilderness which was to
become Grundy County. The records of Warren County detail the Collins
River valley settlement during this period, while the Elk River valley
was part of Franklin County.
In 1843 more than 300 residents of the area petitioned the state
legislature asking that a new county be formed. On January 29, 1844,
the legislature honored their request, and created the new county of
Grundy. They named it for Felix Grundy, one of their number who had
risen to national prominence, and who had died just three years earlier.
In the 1850s a prestigious community developed at Beersheba Springs, on
top of the mountain in the northeastern part of the county. Under t he
leadership of the wealthy John Armfield, Beersheba Springs became a
popular health resort. A fine hotel, many impressive summer "cottages"
for prominent southern families, and the businesses needed to support
such a community sprang up on the mountain top. It was at Beersheba
Springs that the plan to develop an Episcopal university at Sewanee was
hatched and brought to fruition.
During the Civil War both Union and Confederate units were raised in
the county. The first of these was Alexander Patton's company of
infantry, which became part of the First Tennessee Infantry under
Franklin County's Col. Peter Turney. Patton owned many slaves and a
large plantation near Pelham, and was the county's wealthiest man
before the war. Much hard feeling existed between neighbors with
differing views on the conflict. Grundy saw some fighting, particularly
skirmishes in the area around Tracy City, but no serious battles.
Probably the greatest damage was done by bushwhackers and outlaws who
took advantage of the lack of legal authority and disorganization of
the war to prey on innocent civilians. After the war, men like Patton
and Armfield were in financial ruin, and the entire county suffered the
effects of a long Reconstruction-era depression.
In 1869 a group of Swiss emigrants arrived in Grundy County. Shrewd
promoters had persuaded them to purchase lands they had never seen atop
the Cumberland mountain. Upon arrival, they were dismayed to find the
"paradise" that had been promised them to be a rough, unpromising
country. They established the village of Gruetli, however, and through
hard work and innovative methods many of the Swiss became successful
farmers and merchants.
Railroad and mining interests on the mountain led to the development of
Tracy City after the Civil War. This growth was prompted mainly by the
Tennessee Coal and Railroad Company. The coke ovens at Tracy City,
supplying railroad and industrial fuel, brought an influx of workers
and their families during the period from about 1875 to 1900. By 1910,
problems with labor unions and convict labor had taken their toll on
the mining business, and it gradually faded out.