Campbell County-A look back at the beginning: Jacksboro

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By Charlotte Underwood

Designated as the county seat for Campbell County in 1808, Jacksboro has a long and illustrious history. It was once known as Walnut Cove for the vast number of Black Walnut trees that grew in the area.

Before white settlers moved into the area, the land was used by the Native Americans for hunting and camping purposes. Attracted by the multitude of wild game and fresh water, the pre-Cherokee race traveled and hunted extensively throughout the county. It was these same characteristics which also made the area popular with early white settlers.

The Eagle Bluff in Jacksboro has always been a prominent characteristic of the area and it often provided a landmark for the Native American Hunters and the white settlers alike as they hunted and camped in the area, according to Miller McDonald’s book, Campbell County, A History of… Volume I

Years later, around 1789 Campbell County was still a part of North Carolina because Tennessee had yet to be formed. Land grants of 100 acres could be purchased for as little as five dollars from the state of North Carolina, according to McDonald’s book.

Stockley Donelson was a colonial land surveyor and speculator who sold property, issuing many of the early deeds to individuals in what later became Campbell County. He even had a hand in how Jacksboro got its name due to a land transaction with a family member. In 1793, Donelson secured the title for the area that encompasses Jacksboro and the land southwest of it from the governor of North Carolina. Donelson was a man of influence and power in the area and was part of most of the major early transactions in the Walnut Grove region. Among these land transactions was the sale of 2,000 acres of land to his brother-in-law Andrew Jackson. ‘These acres began at the mouth of the first branch that falls into the cove’ and made up a large part of the area that includes Jacksboro and Caryville, according to McDonald.

To understand how Walnut Cove became known as Jacksboro, information from Jackson’s history is needed. Elected as the Major General of the Tennessee Militia in 1802, Jackson defeated the Creek Indians at Horsehoe Bend in 1814. A victory over the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January of 1815 made him a national hero and by 1819, Jackson had become among the most popular men in Tennessee.

On May 31, 1819 Walnut Cove’s name was changed to Jacksonborough to honor Tennessee’s great hero. The next name change to the current one also came about because of Jackson. Elected as president of the Unites States twice, Jackson garnered many enemies, among them a party that was known as the Whigs, later to be known as the Republicans. There were many Whigs in Campbell County who disapproved of how Jackson was running things. According to McDonald, this may account for the later name change.

On May 27, 1829, the name was changed to Jacksborough in order to conform to the name spelled out in the enabling legislation creating Campbell County. And then on August 8, 1887 the name was shortened to its current spelling-Jacksboro.

The location of Jacksboro as the county seat was settled after much debate.

When the county was created from parts of Claiborne and Anderson Counties in 1806, a board of commissioners was appointed to lay out the most suitable place for the purpose of erecting a courthouse, prison and stocks. Commissioners James Grant, William Hancock, Jacent Cloud, Robert Glenn, Richard Linville, Sampson David and John English could not agree on a spot, McDonald said. There were three possible localities that all were in contention to be the county seat. These included Grantsboro, at the forks of the Powell and Clinch Rivers, Big Creek Gap, later known as LaFollette, and Walnut Cove, later called Jacksboro.

All the commissioners favored different locations, not being able to agree to any one spot. After a lengthy impasse, the general assembly convened on November 30, 1807, passing an act that appointed a new board of commissioners because the others had failed in their duty. The new board did however have several members from the old board as well.

The new board consisted of Thomas Murray, Robert Glenn, Sampson David, John English, John Yount, James Rice and John Newman. Vested with the same powers of the original board, it did not take them long to get to the task at hand and decide on Walnut Cove. On January 20, 1808, the commissioners fulfilled their duties by purchasing 60 acres of land from Colonel Hugh Montgomery, laying out streets and public grounds in what is now the present site of Jacksboro.

In 1808, the first courthouse was erected. It was located in the very center of Walnut Cove at the intersection of Kentucky and Main Streets. It was a small two-story courthouse with 40 feet by 50 feet dimensions. The first floor housed a courtroom, an side-room and office for the county clerk. The second floor could only be reached by outside steps and it provided space for the register of deeds and circuit court clerk. Later the clerk and master’s office and the trustee’s office were on the second floor. Many of the activities that formed Campbell County into a viable and lasting government occurred in this little courthouse, McDonald’s book said.

It was also noted in McDonald’s history book that prior to the building of the courthouse, initial court proceedings took place at Richard Linville’s farm at Big Creek Gap in 1807.

Another active member in the county and the area of Jacksboro was Sampson David. A prominent businessman who owned a general store, David also was elected several times as a county commissioner. Named to the original and second board of commissioners, David also had his hand in other establishing factors such as road layout. In 1805, David, along with several others were elected to lay out a road over the Cumberland Mountain at Eagle Bluff to the Kentucky line. Incidentally, this road went through the center of Walnut Cove, by David’s store and through his property. Though he died in 1826, David had a lasting affect on Jacksboro. His store was located on the land behind the present town hall.

During the early formative period of Campbell County, Walnut Cove established itself as a hub of activity as the county seat. During this early time, the county’s boundaries were changing with neighboring counties. It wasn’t until around 1832 that they began to stabilize. Campbell County sprawled from the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River to its Claiborne County line. The county’s main thoroughfare for transportation was the Kentucky Road. During this time there was a rough road, more of what was known as an Indian trail that ran along the foot of Cumberland Mountain, northwest, up Powell Valley, through Claiborne County to Cumberland Gap and the Wilderness Road. Also during this time, little settlements existed in what are now called Jellico, Elk Valley, Oneida, Helenwood, Huntsville, Caryville and Fincastle. Only Walnut Cove, Grantsboro and Big Creek Gap were rapidly growing areas that were quickly taking on the form of organized communities.

It was a time of hard work and survival for the early settlers.

However, people did socialize whenever they could. Church gatherings were popular, but when court was in session, it was also a popular and exciting event that people attended. Work and other activities were often set aside when the dates were set for the county or circuit court to meet. This was a time for old friends to get together, to hear the latest goings on or to just sit in the courtroom and listen to the silver tongued southern lawyers as they spun their spell binding arguments for one side or another, according to McDonald’s book. Horace Maynard was one of these lawyers. “Many times his eloquence in the first courthouse was the cause of discussion and reflection long after the case had been settled,” McDonald’s book said.

Thomas Wier was a successful landowner, merchant and postmaster who served as trustee during the later years of the first courthouse. Wier also owned a general store on the corner of Main Street and Cove Street. He sold merchandise such as a set of knives and forks for $1.87, a pair of shoes for $1.75, or two pairs of boy’s shoes for $3. Patrons could also purchase 14 yards of Calico material for $2.80, according to a store ledger dated March 24, 1855. The old store and post office building were not torn down until the present First Baptist Church was constructed at the site.

In 1849, Campbell County was reduced in size when Scott County was formed. The county boundary from the Big South Fork was moved eastward. Families and residents that had been part of Campbell County for 43 years had recognized the need to have a county seat closer to them than Jacksboro was. In 1850, Union County was created, thus reducing Campbell County’s size even more. After this, the county’s boundaries became basically what they are today.

It was during the early 1850s that county legal and administrative activities had grown so much that there proved to be a need for a larger courthouse in Jacksboro. The new courthouse was built east of the present one in 1855. Afterwards, John Bibee bought the old courthouse, made an addition, and turned it into a hotel.

The second courthouse was a two-story log and timber building with wooden siding painted white. Located across Kentucky Street, the second courthouse lasted through the Civil War and the beginning of reconstruction before burning down in 1883. During the years of the second courthouse, it was a ‘tumultuous’ time for Campbell County, leading up to and going through the Civil War, McDonald said.

When Abraham Lincoln was elected as president in 1860, Campbell County had 366 slaves owned by 62 persons, according to McDonald’s book. The county’s population at this time was 6,650. The county’s total tax assessment was $1,410,465. The war left its mark on Jacksboro, along with the rest of the county. Many Campbell Countians sided with the Union; it was a hard time with families often fighting against one another. The reconstruction proved even harder, but through effort and perseverance it was achieved.

Eventually by the 1870s, a railroad was constructed from Knoxville to Wheeler’s Gap, now Caryville. Jacksboro, along with the rest of the county prospered from this. It was all part of the beginning of the industrial growth of the area and as a result, there was an increase in population as people moved into the area.

The third courthouse was built in 1885. The county was already established in agriculture, timber and coal. As the county seat where business was conducted, Jacksboro was at the front of the rapid development.

The first county judge at the third courthouse was R. D. Perkins. He was born in Elk Valley and at one point served as chairman of the Republican Committee for Union and Campbell Counties. Known to be an interesting character, Perkins was also known to love strong drink as well as his horse, which he rode everywhere, McDonald’s book said. One day when he had too many drinks, he decided he had to go to the courthouse to see to some business. He saddled his horse and rode it to the courthouse and right on up the steps into the courthouse. It was a matter of great attention, as he had allegedly neglected to put anything on except his boots and hat, McDonald’s book said. He also had the habit of riding his horse to the post office, backing it and retrieving his mail. In time, the judge realized he had a drinking problem and went through a ceremony with Joseph Wier administering the oath for Perkins to swear off drinking. Despite being quite colorful, Perkins was a well thought of judge who carried his duties out with fairness. His body rests in the Jacksboro Cemetery.

During this time of the late 1800s, it was quite common for homemade and store bought liquor to be available in homes and farms. On many tables a mason jar or a jug of whiskey sat for any one who came to visit or who might like a drink before or after dinner. Capitalizing on this, a whiskey distillery was opened in Jacksboro in 1891. Known as the Israel Wilson Distillery, it produced corn whiskey which was sold commercially. It operated in Jacksboro for many years and was located at the corner of Kentucky Street and Spring Alley.

As the turn of the century approached, Jacksboro was doing well, with general stores, a hotel, a distillery and many other businesses all meeting in the small 60 acre hub of activity that made up the county seat. It was this title which Jacksboro held so proudly that caused some problem, when right as the century turned; an effort was made to move the county seat to LaFollette which had vastly grown in size and influence.

The second part of Jacksboro’s history will appear in two weeks in the November 25 edition of the LaFollette Press.