Oliver Springs, Tennessee
Oliver Springs is a town rich with history. Nestled in a natural gap at the foot of the majestic Cumberland mountain range and blessed with huge natural resources, Oliver Springs traces its roots from the Native American cultures who were drawn to the varied mineral springs, to the hardy frontiersmen expanding westward from the original colonies, to wealthy industrialist who transformed this area into a mecca of healing waters, ornate Victorian mansions, mystery and intrigue. It's all here.
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 an early settler Richard Oliver, of which the town gets the rest of its name, the town of Oliver Springs began to develop around tourism to 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 meaning ‘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. 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 nearby coal mining areas as well as the city’s downtown area. 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.