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.
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.
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.
Born August 11, 1826 - Died December 31, 1888
The history of this Welsh family begins with the coming to this country in 1848, of a young married couple, Joseph C Richards and wife, who was a former Miss Ann Thomas. Joseph was the next to the oldest son of John and Ann Richards and had been working in the mills in Wales with his older brother David Richards and was an experienced workman. America at this time was opening up iron mills, there was a demand for ironworkers and young Richards was induced by his brother's father-in-law to come to the Land of Promise.
Joseph, his old father, and mother along with two brothers and three sisters come over from Wales and lived in Danville, Pennsylvania. Here he had a lucrative job in an iron mill. After several moves by the Richards brothers, they become united together with Dan Thomas and Thomas D Lewis, brothers-in-law, and after looking over several places decide to locate in Knoxville in 1866-1867. Here there was an old mill that Hiram S Chamberlain as a Union officer moved to Knoxville from Loudon. Knoxville welcomed the family into their population of 8,000 or 9,000. The Richards recruited many other Welsh families. The mill was at that time operated under the name Chamberlain, Richards & Company and later as Knoxville Iron Company.
During the years 1866 - 1773 the Richards folks were in the majority as stockholders and during their time preference was given to Welsh workers as they were of the best character, honest and industrious. In 1871 the employees of the mill presented H S Chamberlain and Joseph Richards with fine canes mounted in solid gold. As time went by, additions were made to the mill, and more capital was needed and it was not long before the Welsh people lost control, and then came differences as to management, which terminated about the years 1873 -1875 in a scattering of many former workers.
In February 1875 Joseph Richards purchased two-thirds interest from Rev, D Hocket for twenty thousand dollars the valuable mineral property known as Winters Gap and made plans to organize a company to develop the resources. Just two years earlier the property was bought from Col. W.A. Hoskins by K. Foote of Louisville, KY, and Rev. D. Hockett. Hockett was an attorney and at one time owned a few shares of the Knoxville Iron Company where Joseph Richards knew him.
From Knoxville, Joseph went to work in Chattanooga and maintained his business interest with Chamberlain at the Roane Iron Company but by 1880 he was in Maine as a superintendent of an iron mill. In 1881 while still in Maine Joseph invested with his son-in-law, Thomas Rees Price in a furniture manufacturing company by the name Richards, Price, and Company of Knoxville. By late 1881 Joseph had returned to Knoxville and in 1882 announced plans for the erection of a hotel called "the Richards House" at Oliver's Springs. In July 1882 it was ready for business. With the building finished the Richards moved from Knoxville. The population of Oliver's at this time was around 250. During these years Joseph opened the Poplar Creek Coal Company and the Oliver Coal Company and shipped coal to all portions of the South from the mines. In 1885 he also purchased half interest in the TT Wilson Coal, Lime, and Wood business in Chattanooga.
Joseph was well known for his church activities when he first arrived in Knoxville and helped form the Welsh Church on Atkin Street. In the years leading up to the construction of the Presbyterian church in Oliver Springs, he traveled to cities like Knoxville and Chattanooga raising funds for that purpose. The church was organized in 1885, the same year Joseph was ordained. Joseph had traveled to Knoxville by train for business the day before his passing. He had complained a little going back on the train but when he reached home he grew worse and died within forty-eight hours at the age of sixty-two.
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.
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.
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
Peak Hotel & Oliver Drug Company with the office of Dr. A.K Shelton upstairs.