Old Kentucky Road and Eagle Bluff

In 1805 the Tennessee legislature authorized a road “…over Cumberland Mountain to the Kentucky line, to intersect the road to be opened by the State of Kentucky from Danville to the Southwest Point.” That road was subsequently constructed and became what is today called “Old Kentucky Road.”


The road climbed up to the crest of Cumberland Mountain near Eagle Bluff and proceeded along the crest for a mile before turning westward to Stinking Creek and an ultimate destination of the Cumberland River. It was a rough wagon track maintained by citizens, and in the 1800s a village was located just west of Eagle Bluff. However, with railroads and better highways, Old Kentucky Road fell into disuse and disrepair, and on the 1991 USGS topographical map of the area, it is shown only as a trail. Subsequently, Campbell County improved the trail into a still rough and steep gravel/dirt road and installed underground sewer, water and electricity along the road, all to benefit a proposed residential development to the north. The development failed, and the area became a center for ORV abuse, with the road providing access.


Eagle Bluff is a massive gray sandstone bluff high on Cumberland Mountain and, per tradition, was named for the “great sacred bird” of the Cherokee Indians. The outcrop of Eagle Bluff offers an expansive view down into the Powell Valley and across the Valley and Ridge Province separating the Cumberland Plateau from the Great Smoky Mountains.


Standing on top, notice the wall of the Plateau extends to the right but then makes a right angle turn from its southwest direction and heads southeast. Cumberland Mountain on this eastern edge of the plateau stands on a massif 125 miles long and 15 miles wide that was formed by faults in the rock during formation of the plateau. This mass of land, called the “Cumberland Block,” or sometimes “Pine Mountain Block” for the mountain to the northwest in Kentucky that is also part of the mass, was separated from the rest of the plateau and so was more easily pushed to the northwest by the force of the continental collision, creating an offset of about 10 miles.


At Eagle Bluff, you are standing on the Cumberland Block. The right-angle turn you see is the rest of the plateau that did not get pushed as far to the northwest. So the eastern wall of the plateau makes this right-angle turn to the southeast and runs for 10 miles before making another right-angle turn and continuing to the southwest. Although it is perhaps the most visible landmark in Campbell County, Eagle Bluff fell into private ownership and in 2010 was sold to an individual who has constructed a home on top of the bluff. However, although he has blocked the often abusive ORV access to the bluff, as of fall 2011 he allows hikers to access the bluff on a trail he constructed for such purpose. —WS