Topographically, White County is divided into three parts, i.e., the table-lands or mountains, the valleys and caves, and the
barrens. The eastern side of the county lies on the Cumberland tableland with a level or gently rolling surface, cut in
places into gorges or gulches. The mountain slopes on the face of the table land and it's spurs and ridges, with a
broken surface, occupy a large part of the county. The escarpment of the table-land is marked by a line of hard
sandstone and conglomerate cliffs in places towering above the tall trees on the slopes below. A range of small
mountains extends southwest entirely across the county, terminating near Rock Island, in Warren County. The valley
of Calf Killer River occupies a wide belt across the county. Beginning in Putnam County, where it is narrow, this
valley gradually widens as it extends toward the southwest, and is on an average four miles wide through White
County. Hickory Valley lies in the northern part of the county between Pine and Milk Sick Mountains, and is five
miles long with an average width of one mile. Cherry Creek Valley opens into that of Calf Killer, above Yankeetown,
in the northern part of the county, is seven miles long and from three-quarters to a mile in width. The valley of Lost Creek
is cut off and completely encompassed by Pine Mountain, and is on a level with the terrace. The soil of these valleys is
rich, and corn, wheat, potatoes, oats, tobacco and the grasses grow well. The soil on the table-land is light and sandy,
and adapted to the growth of wild grasses, vegetables and fruit. The barrens are beyond the range of mountains which
bound Calf Killer Valley on the west. Most of the surface is level or gently undulating, the soil thin, much of which is
unfit for cultivation.
The table-land or mountain part of the county belongs to the great Cumberland coal fields, and three distinct strata,
and in some places four are foun. The coal is of superior quality, but up to the present only sufficient to supply the
local demand has been mined. As early as 1836 Bryce Little began mining coal a few miles east from Sparta, and
continues at the preent, and a number of other mines have been in operation, as demand requires, by Kinsie & Butler,
near Little's mine, and by M.C. Dibrell, seven miles east of Sparta. The Bon Air, Coal, Land & Lumber Company, of
which Samuel J. Keith, of Sparta is president, M.C. Dibrell, of Sparta, is secretary and treasurer, and E. W. Cole, of
Nashville, is chairman of the executive committee, own 11,000 acres of coal, iron and timber land, and have perfected
arrangements for mining coal on an extensive scale at Bon Air, five miles east of Sparta. A vein of coal three and a half
feet thick has been worked at the above mine for the past fIfteen years by Gen. G. G. Dibrell, and within a few yards
of the same are two other veins, one being two and a half feet and the other eighteen inches in thickness. The company
have obligated themselves to ship 5,000 bushels of coal per day over the extension of the Bon Air Railroad for fifteen
years, beginning with the completion of said road. A number of large coke ovens will also be erected by this company.
Iron ore is found in various places in the county, and in about 1815 or 1820 T. B. Rice had an iron forge one mile south
from Sparta, on Calf Killer River, on the present site of the cotton factory, and later one Brown erected a forge on
Falling Water Creek, twelve miles north from Sparta; and A. C. Rodgers erected one on Rocky Creek, all of which,
however, were abandoned many years before the Civil war. Salt was also mined in large quantities at an early date.
Several wells were worked on Calf Killer River, one of which yielded as many as fifty bushels per day.
Rich deposits of variegated marble are supposed to exist in the mountains, and specimens of lead ore have been picked
up in the mountain streams, which lead many to suppose, and some to claim, that there is an abundance of that mineral
hidden in the mountains, while others go farther and claim silver will yet be developed. The completion of the Bon Air
extension of the railroad is looked forward to by the owners of mineral lands with bright hopes and expectations. The
water courses of the county are as follows: Caney Fork and Calf Killer Rivers, and Fallingwater, Town, Cherry, Plum,
Wild Cat, Post Oak and Fancher Creeks, besides their numerous small tributaries. Splendid water power is afforded
by the two rivers and the larger of the creeks.
White County was settled, though sparsely, as early as 1800, seven years prior to it's organization as a county. At that
time, however, the country was nothing more than a wilderness of canebrake and forest. The hardy pioneers coming
across Cumberland Mountains were struck with the beauty and promise of the land, as viewed from the Mountain
tops, and at once began the work of civilization. A single tribe of Cherokee Indians was found here, the English name
of whose chief was Calf Killer, and it was for, or by him, Calf Killer River was probably named, though there are many
unreasonable traditions to the contrary. So far as can now be learned, these Indians were of a peaceful and friendly
disposition, and the relations between them and the few white settlers were of a cordial nature.
Much of the land embraced in White County had been granted by the State of North Carolina to the survivors, or
their assignees, of the Revolutionary war, for military services in the line, but very few of the original owners ever
became settlers of the county. Among those to whom land was thus granted, in tracts of from 640 to 1,000 acres,
were Robert King, James Comer, James Cummin, William Forester, James Gains, Thomas Wade, Rhea & Tynell,
James Cowan, John Rutledge, Elijah Robertson, Elijah Williams, Elijah Chisem, Edward Harris, Joshua Davis,
Richard Barbour and John Williams.
The Calf Killer Valley was the scene of the first settlements in the county, the neighborhood of what is now Sparta
being in all probability the first, though Thomas Simpson settled on Calf Killer River four miles below Sparta, and
Joseph Terry at Rock Island, on Caney Fork, now in Warren County, at about the same time. Among those who
settled in the Sparta neighborhood during the years between 1800 and 1815 were Benjamin Lampton, William
Anderson, Matthis Anderson, Lewis Fletcher, John Hancock, _______ Dibrell, T B. Rice, Thomas Bounds,
Alexander Lowrey, Anthony Dibrell, Joseph Terry, Jacob A. Lane, Thomas Eastland, George W. Gibbs, Jesse
Lincoln, Wm. Glenn, Nathaniel Davis, William Burton, Joseph Collins and Montgomery Carrick. Other settlers of the
county of that period, were Thomas Matthews, Moses Guest, David May, Wm. Ledbetter, Thomas May, Wm.
Phillips, Thomas K Harris, James Simpson, Caleb Fraley, John Gabe, Wm. Tyrell, Thomas Wilcher, Andrew Bryan,
John White, Elijah Lewis, John Turner, Richard Hill, Thomas Dillon, Isaac and John Anderson, David Nicholson, Wm.
Lewis, Philip Kirby, August Gunter, Charles H. Nelson, John Sharp, George Lane, Peter Huston, Wm. Madding,
Benjamin Cooper, Wm. Rowland, Elijah Cameron, Thomas Vining, Alexander Brown, Joseph MeDaniel, Samuel
Harpole, Abraham Mayes, John Seratt, Jacob Harty, Joseph Flemming, David Hauks, Mannering Brookstein, Elijah
Bates, John Knowles, John Jenkins, David Connelly, James Winter, B.H. Henderson, N. W. Williams, Wm. McGuire,
James Whitehead, David Thompson, J. H. Bowen, Benjamin Pollock, Wm. Mackay, John Vaughn, T. H. Payne, James
Laxon, Jacob Drake, Thomas Laxon, John Howard, Hard Sugg, Isaac Sharon, Hercules, Ogle, Joben Fitzgerald, Arthur
Markum, Aaron English, Benjamin Weaver, James Fulkerson, Nicholas Gillentine, Archibald Overton, Wm. Phillips,
Isaac Taylor, John Dergan and Joseph Roberts. Probably the first mill in the county was the waterpower corn-mill
erected on Caney Fork River, in the Thirteenth District, by Wm. Scarborough, in about 1810 or 1812. Wm. Glenn
erected a similar mill on the Calf Killer in about 1815, and Thomas Simpson one on the same stream four miles
below Sparta, at about the same time. From that date up to about 1820, mills were erected by Samuel Denton,
six miles from Sparta, on the Calf Killer, Thomas Sperry and Jacob A. Lane on Town Creek, Wm. Basson
on Caney Fork, Clark Swindler, Sr., on Cedar Creek, T. B. Rice and J.W. Taylor, on the Calf Killer, all of which
were corn-mills, and were operated by water power. A number of years before the late war, a large brick cotton
factory was erected on the Calf Killer, one mile below Sparta, which was in successful operation up to the war,
when the machinery was removed farther south for protection and safety, and never returned. The building is a
large three-story house, with a basement, and cost not less than $15,000 or $20,000. The water power is one of
the best in the State, and several attempts have been made to utilize the property, and while idle at present, was
used for awhile as a handle factory, for the manufacture of which article it is supplied with machinery; at present
the property belongs to the Bon Air Coal, Land & Lumber Company, and is for sale. Besides the numerous
portable saw-mills, the manufactories of the county are as follows: First District: C. L Sperry's
corn-mill; Pearson & Co.'s steam saw-mill; Williams & Co.'s steam planing and grist-mill; S. D. Wallace's
steam saw and planing-mill and O.F. Young's saw, corn and wheat-mills, on Calf Killer; M.J. Clark's, Matthias
Anderson's, and A. L. Potts' flour, corn and sawmills on Town Creek. Second District: T.L. & J. M.
Mitchell's and James Williams' corn, flour and saw-mills on Caney Fork. Third District: Taylor & Co.'s
and J. W. Taylor's mills on Calf Killer; H. B. Ward's and G. W. Bickford's saw and corn-mills on Caney Fork.
Fourth District: G. W. Blankenship's, Wm. Bassom's and Cooper & Green's saw and corn-mills on
Caney Fork and Wm. Cooper's steam saw and planing-mills. Fifth District: Wm. Frank's, J. A.
McWhister's, Edward Pollard's, _________ Swindler's and C. Sander's corn and saw-mills on Cedar Creek.
Sixth District: J. A. P. Faucher's wheat and corn-mill on Taylor Creek; H. L. Jones' and B. A. Swift's
corn-mills on Cedar Creek and Joel Hess' corn-mill. Seventh District: W. S. Burgis' corn-mill on
Fallingwater Creek. Ninth District: James Robertson's steam corn and wheat-mill and woolen-carder,
on Post Oak Creek. Tenth District: Mumford Wilson's, Felix Dodson's and J.A. Hayes' corn-mills on
Caney Fork. Eleventh District: Samuel Johnson's, H. C. Snodgrass' and G. W. Gillins' corn and
wheat-mills on Calf Killer River. Twelfth District: George Gillins' corn and wheat-mill on the Calf
Killer and Stephen Wilhite's, S. M. Snodgrass' and James Wilhite's corn and saw-mills on Cherry Creek. A large
distillery, of 140 gallons daily capacity, is operated by Messrs. Wakeman & Hodges, one and a half miles
southwest from Sparta.