Powell Valley

The long valley of the Powell River is visible below much of this Section of the CT. The river lies to the northeast and is a major tributary of the Clinch River; both rivers are too far away to see from the trail. Powell River is named for Ambrose Powell, one of a small group of early explorers who accompanied Dr. Thomas Walker through the area in 1750. Elijah Walden and his party of longhunters arrived in the area in 1761 and frequently found “A. Powell” carved in trees along the river, and so called it “Powell River.”


Settlement of the valley goes back to prehistoric times, with evidence being found of Woodland Indians (a burial mound below Eagle Bluff) dating to 500 AD-900 AD and Mississippian Indians dating to 900 AD to 1500 AD (council house and temple mound in Cove Lake State Park). Subsequently it was a popular area for settlers who initially were mainly agricultural but later were heavily involved railroads and coal mining.


The town of LaFollette grew up around the coal mining operations of brothers Harvey and Grant LaFollette, who established the LaFollette Coal, Iron, and Railway Company here in the late 1800s. The LaFollette home, Glen Oaks, still stands on Indiana Avenue in town (east from traffic light #9). The house was built in 1895 by George Barber, nationally recognized Knoxville architect known for his elaborate Queen Anne-style homes that are found throughout the country. With 30 rooms, Glen Oaks is thought to be the largest house built by Barber.


Although not really visible from the CT, strip mining had a devastating impact on the lands north of the trail and it is only now beginning to recover. In the late 1800s one of the largest iron furnaces in the south was built in LaFollette, with coke ovens nearby. This resulted in the “Great Railroad War” between the L&N and Southern railroads to see who could first get a line across the Cumberland Plateau from Jellico to LaFollette. —WS