Crab Orchard is almost forgotten

A Day Away By Mike Steely

Crab Orchard atop Cumberland Mountain is one of the most historic communities in our region. The drive up the mountain west of Kingston gives you a small idea of what early travelers and settlers faced. The original route was a Native American trail that was later replaced with a horse and wagon road and Crab Orchard was the first stop for anyone heading west.

Nowadays the little town is just a single exit off Interstate 40 but it has a history much bigger than the place might reveal.

Obviously, the quickest way to reach Crab Orchard is to take I-40 west. If you want to take a full day trip, you may want to stop at Kingston and visit Southwest Point, a frontier fort where a ferry was operated to cross the Clinch River there. The fort was built to protect travelers headed west from Indian attacks.

Continuing up the mountain on the interstate you’ll pass the exit to Harriman and Rockwood. In Rockwood, the old pioneer road climbed the mountain along what is basically the route of Highway 70, which you might consider using on your return.

As you near Crab Orchard, you’ll notice a huge quarry on the right. Today’s Crab Orchard has a post office, a few stores, a school, churches and about 750 residents. It was named for the number of crab orchard trees found there by early travelers and settlers.

Native Americans often attacked travelers at or near Crab Orchard and in 1792 a militia under Captain Samuel Handley attacked a band of warriors there. Two years later a group of travelers was attacked and a noted patriot, Thomas “Big Foot” Spencer, was killed. A nearby peak is now known as Spencer’s Mountain.

When the attacks stopped, Walton Road was built for travelers and stagecoaches between Knoxville and Nashville.

About 1800 Sidnor’s Inn opened in Crab Orchard and Bishop Francis Asbury was among the visitors there. Robert Burke opened a lodge near Ozone Falls called the Crab Orchard Inn. The falls might be a great place to visit if you return along Highway 70.

Crab Orchard stone, a durable sandstone, was used to build early homes there and became popular in our region.

Part of the Cumberland Trail passes through the little town and scenic overlooks dot the surrounding mountains.

You can find connections in Crab Orchard to Cumberland Mountain State Park, Spring City and Fairfield Glades. The next city going west is Crossville where you’ll find most of the chain restaurants and stores you’d find in most cities.

Information on Crab Orchard is available by calling the community’s Town Hall at (931)484-2815. The Crossville-Cumberland County Visitor Center may be reached by calling (913) 787-1755 and you can find it on the internet.