PINE MOUNTAIN STRETCHES AS FAULT RIDGE FROM ELK GAP AT PIONEER TO SANDY BREAKS, KENTUCKY
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
As we all know we in Campbell County are situated within the Cumberland Plateau or Cumberland Mountains chain. This mountainous range extends southwestward for 450 miles from southern West Virginia to Northern Alabama. The plateau is 40 to 50 miles wide and lies between the Appalachian Ridge and Valley region to the east and the gently sloping plains to the west. It joins together with the Allegheny Plateau on the north with the Gulf Coastal plain on the south. This region is divided primarily by the headstreams of the Cumberland and Kentucky rivers and by tributaries of the Tennessee River, the valley of which in northern Alabama holds Tennessee Valley Authority reservoirs. Further prominent features on the plateau include the Cumberland, Pine, Lookout, and Sand Mountains, Cumberland Gap, and Walden Gap.
The most irregular portion of the plateau is a narrow linear ridge about 140 miles long that forms its eastern border in eastern Kentucky and northeastern Tennessee.
While we are researching this portion of the Cumberland Plateau, we will now explore Hayden Silers' writings on the subject. Mr. Siler was a long time Jellico historical writer. His works are quite renown, covering a multitude of subjects.
He writes that Jellico is constructed on a portion of the flood plain of Elk Creek, and on the hills just east of the creek. This creek is the primary drainage stream of the immediate Jellico area. It drains northward into the Clear Fork, or perhaps the Clear Fork of the Cumberland.
Less than a mile east of Jellico is the well-known Pine Mountain. (Many visitors mistake the name of this mountain as Jellico Mountain, very possibly due to its location near Jellico.) Pine Mountain stretches as a fault ridge (meaning a giant crack in the earth) from Elk Gap, at Pioneer, to the Breaks of the Sandy in Kentucky, extending to near the Virginia and West Virginia lines. It extends in a regular northeast direction, with only two water gaps throughout its whole 130 miles, once at Pineville, and again at the renowned Narrows near Jellico.The Breaks of the Sandy are sometimes counted, which would be three water gaps.
A short half-mile west of Jellico lies the Jellico Mountains. These beautiful mountains run along the Campbell/Scott County border where they conclude in Mt. Morgan, near Williamsburg in Whitley County. Certainly the most noted of this run of mountains is the grand Indian Mountain.
Elevations of the Jellico Mountains in the area of Campbell County range from 2,500 to 2,700 feet. Elevations for Pine Mountain in Campbell County range from 2,000 to 2,500 feet in elevation. The maximum elevation on Pine Mountain in Whitley County is 2,250 feet. Pine Mountain extends into eastern Kentucky with the elevations becoming greater, mostly in Pike and Letcher counties.
Mr. Siler writes that Jellico was ultimately located in a fine pictorial setting between Pine Mountain to the east and Jellico Mountains to the west. This gorge was already knows as the Narrows in 1885, and was viewed as a first-class railroad route. A.R. Crandall of Kentucky stated that the water gap offered a sensible way for a railroad line through the Pine Mountain barrier. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad, in 1902, took advantage of this water gap and devised its express line through the Narrows, which connected Jellico and LaFollette. Big Creek Gap is one of the few water gaps in the entire length of Cumberland Mountain.
The Cumberland Mountains (plural) is the name given to the entire sector of Appalachian America. This mountainous segment encompasses mountains in Kentucky and Tennessee, excluding the Great Smoky Mountains. Cumberland Mountain (singular) is the name given to a long ridge similar to Pine which starts at Caryville and follows Powell Valley past the legendary Cumberland Gap and through the southwestern corner of Virginia. This line extends along the Lee County, Va., Bell and Harlan, Ky., border to near Pennington Gap, VA. Big Stone and Black Mountains are sometimes labeled as additions to the Cumberland Mountain.
Cumberland Mountain and Pine Mountain run almost parallel to each other throughout their length, its distance apart in some places running as close as eight or nine miles.
The thrust-fault, caused by an earthquake several million years ago, is extremely visible as one travels south up Pine Mountain on Interstate 75 just east of Jellico. The fault, or break in the earth's crust, is located near Chaska on the southeastern side of Pine Mountain. Due to this physical upheaval in the mountain section on the northwestern side, towards Jellico, the exposed rocks are dipped almost vertically down the mountainside. Crandall states that: "the average dislocation, by the up throw of the whole series of rocks to an unknown depth along the fault line is about 3,000 feet. The rocks exposed in the face of the mountain reach downward and backward in time to the Upper Silurian formation." Apparently this great eruption has formed the limestone formation in Pine Mountain, providing the Jellico folks with at least two well-known limestone springs.
It seems that the old Cumberland Plateau was at one time higher in the Caryville region, and in the Jellico area the crests are to some extent lower and more rounded. Clear Fork, Stinking Creek, Hickory Creek and No Business Branch have sliced through steep sided gorges. All of them except No Business have narrow flood plains. Clear Fork, after leaving the Narrows at Highcliff, develops a fertile narrow plain from there to Savoy, where it enters the Cumberland.
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