Unicoi County was established in 1875 and its county
seat is Erwin. During the county’s history, the construction of railroads,
especially the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio railroad played an
important role in developing the economy of the county by providing
transportation and shipping services as well as employment for the residents.
In addition to the railroad, the county was also home to Southern Potteries, a
company that specializes in making hand-painted dinnerware called Blue Ridge China from 1916
to the 1940s. The county also has a 100 year old U.S. Fish Hatchery. Unicoi County
has three Century Farms and the oldest is the Bell Farm that dates to 1854. For
more information regarding Unicoi
County, please go to the Tennessee
Encyclopedia of History & Culture website.
For a brief historical sketch of each farm, click on the farm name.
Allen Hill Farm
The following map is for a general
geographical understanding. It does not provide the specific locations
of the farms because of privacy reasons.
Map courtesy of Carole Swann, Tennessee Department of Agriculture
Allen Hill Farm
Damon C. and Ruby Allen
Prior to the establishment of Unicoi County,
Robert Abernathy Allen established the Allen Hill Farm in 1861. On 107 acres,
the farm produced corn, wheat, oats, hogs, cows and chickens. Robert and his
wife Sarah McInturff Allen had eight children and their son Robert A. Allen
became the next owner of the farm.
During Robert’s ownership in the early 1900s, the
Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad built a line that ran from Elkhorn,
Kentucky through east Tennessee and on into Spartanburg, South Carolina. With
the development of the railroad, Unicoi
County acquired better
transportation services and better access to other areas.
and his wife Emma Bradshaw Allen had two children and their son John Wesley
Allen became the third generation to own the farm in 1940. Under his ownership,
the farm produced corn, soybeans, garden vegetables and livestock. In addition
to managing the farm, John Wesley worked at the railroad mechanical shop.
During World War II, John’s three sons participated in the armed services. As a
result of not having as much labor, fewer crops were raised on the farm.
1964, Damon C. Allen, the great-grandson of the founder acquired the farm and
converted the farm to raising and marketing beef cattle. Damon and his wife
Ruby Allen continue to manage the farm today.
Despite the terror of the Civil War and a disastrous
flood at the turn of the century, the Bell Farm has become one of the leading
progressive farms in Unicoi
County. The Bell Farm was
established by Dr. David H. and Alice Waters Bell in 1854. It initially
consisted of 2,000 acres located five miles east of Unicoi in the Limestone
Cove community. The Bells raised wheat and all types of livestock on their
plantation. During the Civil War, the farm was the site of the Limestone Cove
Massacre that resulted in the death of ten local residents, including the
founder’s brother Jimmy Bell.
The farm’s second generation owner was Henry Edward Bell,
the husband of Hattie Miller. Parents of four children, the Bells survived a
terrible flood in May 1901 that ruined many other farms in the region. Both
before and after the flood, their crops included corn, wheat and oats. The family
also owned cattle and horses on their 120 acres of land.
The founders’ grandson, James W. Bell, was the farm’s
third generation owner. Bell
and his wife Celia Garland owned about 20 acres but were able to raise enough
corn, wheat, oats, buckwheat, tobacco and livestock to feed eight children. In
1964, their son Eugene Bell acquired the farm. The Bells currently raise
tobacco, corn, potatoes, beef cattle, hay, alfalfa and vegetables. In 1983, Eugene received an award
as “Soil Conservation Farmer of the Year.” The farm is now
owned by David Bell, who raises cattle on the farm.
Leon and Janice Rhodes
Located three miles north of Flag Pond along I-26, the
Tilson Farm dates to 1856 when James Tilson and his wife Elizabeth Beals
Tilson began farming 132 acres. They lived in a log cabin, 18 x 20 feet with
an upper loft and raised corn, wheat, tobacco, cattle, and corn. Their marriage was a brief one, for just a
few years later, James joined the Confederate Army. The family has preserved
several letters James wrote to Elizabeth
before he was killed during the Battle of Chickamauga in 1863. Details of his wounds, death, and burial are
recounted in a letter, sent by the solider who tended him, is also kept by the
family. Elizabeth was left to manage the farm and
raise her three small children.
In the early 1900s, the “Old
Ridge Road” connected the farm with the community
of Kittyton, and its post office, about 2 ½ miles away. That community is known as Clear Branch
today. In 1925, Catherine Tilson Mashburn,
the daughter of James and Elizabeth acquired the farm. Along with her husband
William Mashburn, the farm produced tobacco, corn, wheat as well as producing
cattle and swine. The couple had six children and their daughter, Linda Aletha,
married to Henry Sherman Guinn, became
the third generation to own the land.
Under the Guinn ownership, the farm raised tobacco, corn, wheat,
apples, cattle, swine, horses, timber and poultry. In addition to farming,
Henry was also a skilled carpenter. The family recalls that he excelled in making “fine furniture.” He converted the log cabin of the founders
into a woodworking shop and constructed a new frame house in 1930. Henry and Linda had two sons, Robert and
Thomas Guinn. Robert and Thomas served
in World War II. Robert fought with the Army in Europe while Thomas served with the Army Air Force. On
returning home, Thomas built a frame house for his family on the farm in
Robert and Thomas Guinn acquired the farm. On 67 acres, they raised tobacco,
apples, timber and poultry. Thomas and his wife, Mary Lee Lloyd Guinn, had four
children and their daughter, Janice Gail Guinn Rhodes acquired the land in
1991. During the early 1990s, I-26 was
planned through Unicoi
County and twenty acres
of the farm land was taken for the interstate. Janice and her husband, Leon
Rhodes, built a new brick home on the land in 1998. Today, the farm produces
timber, blueberries and apples and raises goats and cattle. A spring house, the 1930 frame house, a stock
barn, a 1950 tobacco barn and the log cabin built by the founders remain a part
of everyday life on this farm that is 150 years old. Janice and two of her three brothers were
born in the pre-Civil War log cabin which is listed on the National Register of
Photo (top): Log
Cabins on the Tilson Farm.
Photo (bottom right): This
tobacco barn on the Tilson Farm dates to the 1950s.