History of Tellico Plains, Tennessee

Incorporated on July 4, 1911, Tellico Plains was previously known as Great Tellico, Teliquo, Talliquah, Tallequah, Great Terriquo, Talico, and Talikwa. Projectile points found in archaeological surveys of the area document Native American culture here going back over 10,000 years. The nearby Tennessee River and its tributaries provided early transportation and fertile plains. The Unicoi Trail was a footpath used by Creek and Cherokee Indians, for trade, communication, warfare and transportation (a 2-1/2 mile section has been restored for public use and hiking). Remnants of burial/ceremonial mounds and tribal settlements were visible as recently as the 1960s. It is believed that Spanish explorer Hernando De Soto followed the Great War Path into what is now Tellico Plains in the mid 1500s.

Early settlers, many of Scottish and Irish descent, came to Tellico Plains via trading routes from North Carolina and Virginia. At the outbreak of the Civil War, the people of East Tennessee did not amass as much wealth - or own numerous slaves - compared with Middle and West Tennessee. The state was the last to secede from the Union, even though the votes in East Tennessee were 2-to-1 in favor of remaining with the Union. Some say the soldiers joined either side of the battle, depending on who would pay more. During the Civil War the Tellico Iron Works provided munitions for the Confederacy; it was destroyed by General Sherman late in 1863.

Industrial development occurred from the early 1820s well into the 20th Century, by the Tellico Iron Works, Tellico Extract Company, Tellico Cotton Mill, Babcock Lumber, and Stokely Canning Company. In the 1880s, men who included major stockholders of Tellico Manufacturing Company conceived the idea of constructing a railroad to transport valuable resources from the Tellico Plains area. The line was chartered and a standard-gauge railroad was built, with the first train arriving in Tellico Plains on August 21, 1888.

The railroad eventually became profitable, in the early 1900s when Tellico Plains was the hub of a major lumbering industry and related industries, such as pulpwood and tannic acid production. Trains brought coal into town, and the mail went in and out on the train. Passenger service continued into Tellico Plains until August 15, 1953. The railway freight service was discontinued August 30, 1983.

When the US became involved in World War I, the "Old Hickory" Division, 30th Infantry, was composed of State Militia and National Guard units from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee. Most of the "Tellico Boys" serving were in a unit together, M Company, 117th Infantry Regiment, 30th Division, fighting in France and Belgium. As a result of their heroic efforts, they were often called Fighting M Company.

As most of the valuable timber had been removed from the forests around Tellico Plains by the early 1920s, the lumber companies were closing their operations and Tellico Plains was in need of jobs. At the beginning of 1926, the Town petitioned Stokely Brothers and Company, a large vegetable canning operations, to locate a canning plant in Tellico Plains. Stokely opened its plant in Tellico Plains in 1926, and by 1927 had acquired more than 1400 acres. Through 56 years of operation, this plant seasonally canned sauerkraut, green beans, corn, peas, tomatoes, lima beans and other vegetables grown on their farmlands or purchased from area growers. During their final years, beans were trucked into Tellico Plains from throughout Tennessee and other areas for canning. The Stokely Van Camp plant operated until 1982 and was sold to Quaker Oats in 1984. The Stokely family continues operations on their properties in Tellico, primarily growing corn, soybeans and apples.

During the troubled economic times of the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was established to employ young men in conservation projects. Tellico Plains joined the ranks of cities and towns welcoming the CCC. In 1933, the Tellico River Camp offices and mess halls were constructed at Cane Break on the Tellico River, to serve 200 employees. Eight camps established near Tellico Plains were Camp Chickasaw, Camp Rolling Stone, Camp McKrosky, Camp Joe Brown, Camp Chief Jack Starrs, Camp 4494, Grassy Flats, and Turkey Creek. The Tellico Ranger Station, on Tellico River Road, is now located on the former site of Camp Chickasaw. The camps were used by men trimming miles of trails though the Cherokee National Forest, including 65 miles of truck trails, motorways, and four bridges. They also made many areas of the forest accessible to forest fire crews by creating 16 miles of foot trails.

A POW camp was opened in Tellico Plains during World War II, and it became home to more than 200 German prisoners of war. The camp was located on the present Bank Street site of the city's Community Center, fire hall, ball fields, and industrial building. The POWs worked on farms, cut pulpwood, and worked at a number of other jobs locally, guarded by US soldiers. The camp closed September 30, 1945.

During the 1960s, Tellico Plains became home to a garment industry. One of the first operations of its kind, Tellico Manufacturing, Inc., was a jacket factory, employing 50 residents. Through organized efforts of local citizens banding together to attract more industry, the city purchased acreage on Bank Street from Stokely Van Camp, and industrial facilities for Colonial Corporation of America were constructed in the 1960s. This property today also is home to the Tellico Plains Community Center, Fire Department, ball fields, playground, basketball and tennis courts. Over the next few decades, sewing factories in Tellico Plains produced laces, military clothing and gear, men's shirts and vests, pants, and outerwear. Garments were sown for Montgomery Ward, J.C. Penney's, Sears, and other large retail outlets. Delta Apparel produced t-shirts, tank tops, and a variety of garments for Duck Head Inc. until 1996.

Thanks to Charles Hall for providing this historical information.

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