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.