Oliver Springs, Tennessee

Early History

Opening of the Union Peoples Bank in Oliver Springs on December 9, 1947.

Settled in 1821, we have a 190-year tradition based around the famed mineral springs in the area which led to part of our name. Thanks to Richard Oliver, the town's first postmaster from whom the town gets the rest of its name, Oliver Springs began to develop around the tourism attracted by the mineral springs. The land around Oliver Springs had been used for centuries as an Indian hunting ground, but it was the springs that encouraged them to stay. The springs, whose reputation for miraculous medicinal properties, lasted until the 20th century, were known as “Tah-hah-lehaha” to the Cherokee -- a name that means ‘healing waters.

The land remained unexplored until 1761, when Elisha Walden traveled through the Clinch and Powell River Valleys. Settlement in the area did not begin in earnest until the 1790′s. The town of Oliver Springs was originally known as Winter’s Gap in honor on Maj. Moses Winter, the first settler. Growth remained slow, but by 1826, Richard Oliver became the town’s first postmaster. The town was re-named Oliver’s in his honor, then briefly Popular Springs, and then to Oliver Springs. Oliver had built a 35-room inn in the 1830′s and began the first promotion of the mineral springs. The inn was used as a hospital by both sides during the Civil War. Joseph Richards bought Oliver’s land in 1873. He built the first resort hotel, which was replaced in 1895 by a 150 room hotel. From 1895 until it burned in 1905, the Oliver Springs Hotel was a nationally known destination. The railroad, which came to Oliver Springs in 1888, brought thousands of visitors to the springs. Due to being improperly insured, the Hotel was not rebuilt. The town decided to cover the springs in later years. Evidence of water conduits and reservoirs can still be seen on the site.

In the early part of the twentieth century, the area became dependent on the coal industry. According to historian Keith Glass, the Windrock Coal and Coke Company, a subsidiary of the Bessemer Coal, Iron and Land Company of Birmingham, Alabama, began operating a coal mine near Oliver Springs in approximately 1904.

In 1942, during World War II, the U.S. government bought up the neighboring communities of Robertsville, Edgemoor, East Fork, Elza, Bethel, Scarborough, and Wheat and built the secret city of Oak Ridge as part of the Manhattan Project, code name for the atomic bomb. During this period one of the most prominent buildings in Oliver Springs— the Dr. Fred Stone, Sr. Hospital— was built by Dr. Fred Stone, who worked as a physician and examiner for new Manhattan Project employees. Eventually the economy of Oliver Springs became dependent on government employment in Oak Ridge, and suffered when employment levels declined at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s. 

In the years following the end of the Cold War, Oliver Springs and its neighbors have struggled to re-establish a solid foundation on which to base their economies. Oliver Springs has experimented with several industries. In the late 1990s, the movie October Sky was filmed in Oliver Springs, as well as nearby coal mining areas and the downtown area of Knoxville. Currently, the local economy is beginning to take advantage of the mountains, which are very popular among all-terrain vehicle (ATV) riders with the largest privately owned off-road facility in the United States called Coal Creek OHV located on Windrock Mountain.

Abston/Daugherty Building


We are currently in the process of   restoring the Abston Building in Oliver Springs. The building is on the National Register of Historical Places and will serve Oliver Springs and the surrounding communities as a historical museum and archives to house the many artifacts that have already been donated by the community. It will feature a meeting room, theater, replica of streets and businesses of the past, coal mining artifacts and much more.

The Abston Building was built in 1915 as a garage but has served many functions central to the community since that time such as a bus station, a theater, a bowling alley, a church meeting location, and a snack bar. The building is approximately 52 feet wide by 110 feet deep. The building is located at 505 Winter Gap Avenue in Oliver Springs.

Colonial Hall


The oldest home in Oliver Springs, Colonial Hall. There are different accounts as to the origin and date of the house, some accounts take the original to 1799 and Major Moses C. Winters but I believe it would date to after the property was purchased by Louis Rector in 1819 and his old log cabin was built. Louis Rector was the son-in-law of wealthy William Butler. He had bought twenty-one acres from Moses C Winters in 1819. Elizabeth Rector then increased it to ninety-six acres by buying adjoining land. Here he built his cabin at the corner of Main and Springs Street which contained six large rooms.

Elijah Cross would acquire the home from Rector after he fell behind in taxes and the Sheriff sold the property to Cross in 1868. It was then sold to Joseph B Christie of Crawford County, Ohio for $3,000 on January 31, 1881. The heirs of Christie would sell to Col. John G.Scott in August 1882 for the same $3,000. Scott was the person that subdivided the property that would become Oliver Springs and the remainder which included the house to his daughter, Ellen W. Scott. Ellen would then sell the house, store building and some adjacent lots to Lillie L. McFerrin (formerly Hannah) on December 2, 1886.

The Richards Mansion


In the Joseph C. Richards Estate settlement, it shows that the payment of $8,000 was paid for the construction of the Mansion on August 10, 1893. This would be six months after the prior home burned. The Mansion was built under the supervision of a Mr. Muecka, who was a Strutt Street and Oliver Springs resident of Austrian extraction. Only the finest craftsmen were employed. There were no construction plans, but the idea for the home came from a photo in the Scientific American Magazine. The house was constructed with three stories and a basement, a round observation tower, or cupola, provided a panoramic view of the town, the nationally-known resort hotel one hundred yards to the North at the foot of Walden Ridge. The rotunda and a large hall of the first floor were utilized as a living room-ballroom combination. The house was decorated with carved mantels and tiled fireplaces. The hand carved banisters and staircases were said to have been imported from England. Some of the innumerable windows were of stained glass and leaded. The windows in the rotunda had curved glass. A gas plant in the basement provided gas for lights, but a dynamo would later be used to provide electricity. 

The house remained in the family until the murders of Margaret and Ann Richards along with 16 year-old errand boy Powder Brown where all three met their final fate February 5, 1940. The case is still unsolved. According to a news article the house and 14 ½ acres was then sold to the American Legion and after installing a new furnace the home burned October 1946. Very few photos exist of the home in a quality that show the many details of the splendid home and this drawing is a combination of a few and one very good one from Robbie Underwood.

Khotan Depot


The time was around 1904 on the L & N branch of the Cow Creek line at the Khotan Depot. The side spur on the left ran to the Piedmont or Khotan tipple. In the distance was the Windrock Mountain that had almost been completly clear cut of its timber. The newly laid track would soon begin carring out the black gold. The Windrock Coal & Coke Company’s #1 mine is located on Windrock about four and one-half miles north of Oliver Springs. It lies in the southern edge of the Wartburg Basin, at an elevation of 2,400 feet above sea level. This location commands a splendid outlook over the valley to the south. The camp can be reached from the Khotan depot.

H. Sienknecht Company department store


The H. Sienknecht Company department store building was occupied in the latter part of 1901 or first part of 1902. The town was booming at the time from the coal mining industry. The town's first bank was housed in the store building until the building next door was built; the "Oliver Springs Banking Company" was chartered in 1904. Next door to the bank was the Richards Store building that housed the Richards families store used for the coal miners that they employed. The Sienknecht store building at the time was the largest in three counties. The Southern Railroad tracts ran next to the store