History of Tennessee Land in the Sequatchie Valley

Sequatchie County, the youngest and smallest of the three counties comprising Sequatchie Valley, includes an area of 250 square miles. It was formed by an act by the State General Assembly in 1857 from territory belonging to Hamilton County.

The county was named for the valley in which it is located. The valley was named for the Cherokee Chief, Sequachee, who signed a treaty with the colonial government of South Carolina. Historians who have studied to language and lore of the Cherokee differ over the exact meaning of the word, but the general consensus is "opossum, he grins or runs."

Sequatchie County is located in the center of the valley. It is bordered on the north by Bledsoe County, east by Hamilton County, south by Marion County, and on the west by Grundy County and VanBuren County.

Dunlap

Dunlap CourthouseThe first county court met at the home of Joel Wheeler in the Fillmore Community in 1858. It was decided to locate the county seat at a more centrally located spot, and a site was selected on property owned by William Rankin at Coops Creek.

On June 12, 1858, the name was officially changed to Dunlap in honor of William Dunlap of Knox County who had supported the creation of Sequatchie County in the state legislature in 1857. Dunlap was incorporated as the Town of Dunlap and in 1941 was incorporated as the City of Dunlap, and remains as the only incorporated area inside the county.

Historical Sequatchie County

The Dunlap Coke Ovens
In 1899, a coal mine was opened on Fredonia Mountain overlooking Dunlap, Tennessee. For the next quarter century, the mining operations grew into an industrial complex that contributed greatly to the thriving economy and social structure of a small town.

Constructed at the base of a mountain were a series of "beehive" ovens, designed to turn coal into coke for use in the iron and steel foundries of nearby Chattanooga. The first 24 ovens and the company store were built in 1902.

Then, in 1906, 144 ovens and a steam powered coal washer were constructed. In 1916, a new railroad up Little Brush Creek created the demand for more coke production. Along with a one million dollar coal washer, 100 more beehive coke was built on the east end of the site. These last ovens and the coal washer were used very little due to the company filing for bankruptcy in the mid 1920’s. A total of 268 stone ovens had been built when, in 1927, the mining operations were shut down due to failing coal prices and the onset of the Depression.

The coke ovens lay dormant for more than 50 years, exposed to the ravages of nature; garbage dumpers and rock thieves who dismantled stone from the ovens. In the mid 1980’s local citizens formed a historical group and began efforts to clear away the debris, soon it became a historical sight Today, the ruins of the once thriving complex cover most of the 62 acre park. The property was donated, for preservation, to the Historical Association by Bowater Southern Paper Company. The sandstone and brick walls of the ovens still stand much as they looked when masons built them. Excavation work continues to uncover more of the ovens. The park has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places, and it is maintained by the Coke Ovens Museum Association and The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association volunteers.

Dunlap Coke Ovens Museum
The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association, formed in 1984, set a goal to build an exact full size replica of the original coal company store "Commissary". The original "Commissary" building was constructed in 1902 by the Douglas Coal and Coke Company and was torn down after 1927 when the Chattanooga Iron and Coal Company bankrupted. Historical members researched photographs and maps to locate the original four corners of the "Commissary". The building measured 92 ft. long and 46 ft. wide, and including the observation copula was three stories tall. The reconstruction began in 1987 with ground-breaking ceremonies held at the park. The Studer coal family donated the first $5,000 toward the building fund.

In 1989, Rhea County Historian Mr. David Henry Gray died, and in his will named the Dunlap Coke Ovens Museum as the beneficiary of 30% of his residual assets, totaling over $71,000. Due to Mr. Gray’s generosity, the Coke Ovens Museum became a reality with reconstruction of "The Commissary". The new "Commissary" sits exactly where the old building originally existed. Today it is called the Dunlap Coke Ovens Museum, and is dedicated in memory of Mr. Gray.

Old Rankin HomeThe museum currently houses the largest collection of regional historic coal mining photographs in the state of Tennessee. Hundreds of donated mining artifacts are on display inside the museum. The Sequatchie Valley Historical Association is still accepting any coal related artifacts to add to their collection.

Old Rankin Home
The Old Rankin Home now owned by Wanda Dennis is the oldest home in Dunlap. William Rankin built the house in 1852. The home was used during Civil War as a hospital for Union Troops.