History of Campbell County, Tennessee

Time Line


By Dallas Bogan

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


     Jonathan Cunningham, on June 12, 1802, bought a portion of land on the west side of Powell's River and Grant's (Cedar) Creek. This land was in addition to the lands he owned at the fork of the Clinch and Powell's rivers, later known as Walnut Grove. David Haley and his children's families had settled in the same section by 1800.

     Robert Burton, in 1801, encouraged the iron works on Grant's Creek. Jonathan Cunningham, along with his sons David, James and Hugh, built a dam 13 feet high across Cedar Creek just above the mouth of Sugar Hollow. Joel Bowling and several other masons erected the forge and fireplace. Ore for the forge was to be taken from "an entry of an iron ore bank built for Robert Burton by John A. Reeves" at the foot of the mountain near Big Creek Gap" ( present day LaFollette).

     (The road over which the ore to the new forge was hauled was a "trail cut out for Thomas Campbell, William Barbour and Thomas Chrisman" by John Whitman. The latter enlisted in the Revolutionary War from Hampshire County, Va., and did his part in building Fort McIntosh about thirty miles below Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh). He then marched to the head of the Muskingum River in Ohio and assisted in building Fort Laurens. He again enlisted and was discharged on January 28, 1782, because of sickness. He died near the mouth of Whitman Hollow on Indian Creek in 1846 at the age of ninety-five.)

     Captain Jason Cloud and several rivermen transported the heavy hammers and irons for the forge. Captain Cloud enlisted himself in the flatboat trade down the river and was linked with the small alliance of men who participated in the settlement of the Mississippi River Valley.

     The Cunningham family supplied the charcoal for the forge. The area around the forge at that time was littered with virgin timber. The enormous oaks were cut into cordwood for the coal hearths. The massive stocks of oak were piled several feet high. After firing the wood the earth was thrown over the whole mass which the collier watched day and night until the whole accumulation was burned into charcoal. With the deleting of the giant trees the fields were then cleared for corn.

     In 1816 a flatboat of pork valued at $909.09 left the mouth of Cedar Creek for New Orleans. Those receiving their wages for their helping hand was John Williams, Sr., who was to receive $50 for his services, along with Solomon Mason who was to receive $75 for his labor down the river. (One Solomon Welch, a boat hand, was arrested in Natchez with his fine and costs amounting to $7.34.) The account for their supplies for the trip included "potatoes and pork $4.; Flower, $3.; Whiskey $1; and $5 received for the use of the boat."

     On November 4, 1814, Harris Ryan advanced to "David Cunningham all his things and hogs in Pulaski County, Kentucky," to secure payment for the forge. And on May 15, 1822, Ryan sold to George, James, William and Bowling Baker a parcel of land, which he bought from Cunningham's heirs. This parcel of land began on the west side of Grant's (Cedar) Creek twenty-five poles below the iron works and then near a west course so as to take in the house where the Baker's lived. From this time on the location was known as Bakers Forge.

     A rather crude accident happened to George Baker in the summer of 1826 when he was returning from Jacksboro riding a rather energetic black horse. As he crossed the divide from Sweaton Spring Hollow to Sugar Hollow, the horse bucked and refused to continue past a scrubby post oak. Baker and the horse made several tries to pass the tree by the path. The horse suddenly reared and bolted through the heavy timber hitting Baker's head on a giant oak tree. He was dead on impact. For years men on horseback made a half circle in the path past the oak where the incident happened.

     Byrd Flemming purchased John Archer's plantation on Cedar Creek for $600 worth of bar iron. For several years the iron from Baker's Forge was transported to South Carolina. Drivers who drove their mules to the Carolina marketplace handled the shipments. A post office was established in the area named Boy in tribute to Judge Elihu Hall Boy.

     The estate of Ewin Baker, minor and orphan of George Baker, on June 30, 1830, wrote of the amount of iron produced at the forge. The following notes by the owners and forge worker were: John Comer, Phillip Mallicoat, Thomas Nations, William York, John Madren, William Stanley, James and William Baker, and Bowling Baker.

     James Baker, in 1837, sold his land which he rented to the ore miners "at the east side of the branch [in Powell's Valley] near Hunter's mill extending to the ford opposite where William Cox formerly lived on the west side of the Branch and near the mouth of a branch where Reason Wright lived in 1836."

     Baker's Forge was not as profitable after the death of George Baker due to the difficulties of mining the ore and the declining supply of appropriate wood for charcoal, along with the added operating expense in hauling the ore. Among the number of killed at the forge included a slave who was killed on top of the ridge north of Sugar Hollow. From this fatality the ridge has been known as Negro Ridge.

     Different individuals and partnerships advanced many iron works after the building of the forge on Cedar Creek. The Doaks constructed a forge on Davis Creek, as did William Lindsay on Cove Creek. William Crosswhite, John Cooper and William Wilson worked the latter forge.

     On September 1, 1843, John Jones bought a parcel of land at the mouth of Sugar Hollow, "Beginning at the forge and fireplace." Jones later became a well-known physician and was elected County Clerk of Campbell County.

     On October 20, 1849 David Sharp sold Laban Sharp a piece of land "near an oar [ore] bank of George Baker and Company." George W. Baker and John Comer, in 1852, mortgaged the forge and the house where "Alexander Rogers formerly lived" to James Cooper, David Sharp and James H. Grant. The iron industry was almost discarded during the Civil War. However, a few years after the war the forge was operated by Isaac N. Jones, William Harris, Eli Wilson, James McGlothin, Crockett Rosier and John F. Longmire. Matt Easter, an ore miner, was killed at the ore bank in the valley and
was buried at the old Baker's Forge.

     The article this week was taken, with the kind permission of the fine folks at the Campbell County Historical Society, from the excellent book, "Land of the Lake," written by Dr. George L. Ridenour. I would highly recommend this book to the folks who are interested in the early history of Campbell County. It can be purchased through the Campbell County Historical Society/Museum in LaFollette.

Time Line