The valley before you was located at the heart of Cherokee Indian tribal territory until the late 1700's
Welcome to the Overlook at Panther Creek State Park.
The platform, on which you stand, is dedicated in memory of Bill Catron, founding member of the Friends of Panther Creek State Park. Many were inspired by his love and devotion to the park. Today, his legacy lives on not only at this site, but also through countless volunteer hours of the Friends group. We appreciate the kind generosity and hard work of the following groups who selflessly devoted their time to seeing this overlook completed.
Friends of Panther Creek State Park
The University of Tennessee College of Architecture and Design and School of Art
Because there is no evidence of established Cherokee villages within this area, formerly known as Panther Springs, it is believed the Cherokee considered this part of the Great Hunting Ground. The land was set apart by the Great Spirit for hunting, not habitation.In this valley, the Cherokee hunted deer, elk, small mammals, and game birds to supply yhe necessary food and clothing for the tribe. They also harvested fish from the river that once flowed freely at the base of this ridge, which they called the "Hogoheegee" or "Big River."
Crossing this basin and spanning much of the Appalachian area was a system of foot trails developed by the Cherokee Indians, known as the Great Indian Warpath. One of the most notable trails in this area bypassed Panther Springs, travelling from Jefferson City to Morristown.
The trail has since become part of our modern-day highway system as U.S. Route 11 East of Andrew johnson Highway.
The first white man to ever set foot on this promising land is lost to history. It could have been Daniel Boone or an adventurous hunter who reported to the Watauga settlers, causing a tide of immigrants to come this way.
The early settlers referred to the "Hogoheegee" as the "Indian River."
The first European settlers in this area were issued land grants by the State of North Carolina, which previously owned much of modern-day Tennessee. On September 20, 1787, grants were issued to Edward and Jesse Riggs and Gideon Morris for the land that is now called Morristown.
Between 1792 and 1793, the settlers cut a road, presently called Main Street, through what is now Hamblen County. It was on this route that most of the early settlers built their homes. The river was renamed the Holston in honor of Stephen Holstein who surveyed the river by canoe in 1761, This river served as a major transportation route for settlers, carrying them from Virginia and North Carolina, just as it carried Daniel Boone through the Cumberland Gap, while he traveled the Great Warriors Path, a trail that allowed hundreds of thousands of pioneers to settle the American frontier. Militiamen also rallied along the edge of the Holston River before going to the Battle of Kings Mountain and Cowpens during theRevolutionary War. Today, the original river channel still exists beneath the depths of Cherokee Lake.
How did this community become known as Panther Springs?
Legend claims that Panther Springs was named after a Virginian Colonel Bradley. He shot and killed a panther that fell into the creek, fed by the spring. Although other stories have been circulated, this is the most accepted legend. Now officially considered an endangered species, the panther, or Eastern Cougar, once roamed the hills of East Tennessee in abundance.Early settlers would gather on Sundays at the Springhouse to socialize, picnic, and listen to sermons. They also used the cool Springhouse to store milk and eggs to slow the spoiling process.At one time Panther Springs was considerably more important than Morristown. It was the first stop on the stagecoach route from Knoxville to Abingdon, VA. The stagecoach route stopped at a tavern built by John Tate. Weary travelers sat fireside, smoking and socializing, at Tate's Tavern. Tate also built a two-story log cabin that he used as a store.
Panther Springs slowly slid into obscurity when a railroad was built in the late 1850's, bypassing the small community, and opting for a stop in Morristown. This resulted in a gradual shift of population and commerce to Morristown.
Panther Springs was a typical pioneer village with a store, post office, blacksmith shop, church, school building, and homes.
During the Civil War, Panther Springs Academy served as a hospital.
Panther Springs Academy was established in 1845 on a hill located just southwest of the spring. It served as a hospital during the Civil War. The greatest threat the hospital faced was Smallpox that killed many soldiers.
In fact, about 130 Confederate soldiers are buried at the cemetery of the old New Freedom Missionary Baptist Church. During the war, the residents of Panther Springs lived as normally as possible.
Those who did not go to war continued to farm and gather at the Springhouse while trying to support the soldiers. Kate Livingston, a former academy instructor, described local Civil War events in her diary.
Thursday 3 September 1863
Papa made a coffin for Dr. Hood's child Dixie. About a hundred Yankee cavalry passed through Panther Springs en route for Morristown near ten o'clock.
Friday 25 December 1863
Christmas, rather cold and cloudy. Mr. Young, Shelton and McCutheron left about 11 o'clock. A great many soldiers were there. 'Tis the first Christmas we ever spent under the sound of cannons.
Friday 1 April 1864
Rained. A good many Federal cavalry and infantry went up to the xroads to-day. We heard the music very plain when they passed the Springs.
—Kate Livingston (b. 1841)
Excerpts from her diary kept between 1859-`68
Farming was an essential part of life in the Panther Springs community.
Even those who owned businesses held an interest in farming and many provided for their families by raising crops. Initially, farmers grew corn, small grains, hay, and tobacco for personal use, but later began cultivating wheat and tobacco for trade.
Students from first through eighth grade attended the Hiawatha Schoolhouse. When in operation, the Schoolhouse was without electricity. Classrooms were heated with wood burning stoves and windows provided the only light. Water for the school was retrieved, by bucket, from the Smallman Springhouse nearby. W.N. Ramsey, a local educator, minister, businessman, and landowner, served as Principal from 1925 to 1926. Ultimately, the school closed in 1940 and was purchased by the Spoone family.
The church was also a large part of life in Panther Springs. In 1905, Mary Senter Franklin, the sister of Governor DeWitt Franklin, built and dedicated Panther Springs United Methodist Church. Some settlers attended the New Freedom Missionary Baptist Church, while others went to services help regularly at the Panther Springs Springhouse.
TVA began construction of Cherokee Dam on the Holston River in August of 1940.
The people living in the Tennessee Valley during the 1930's were struggling even by the standards of the Great Depression. The land was overworked and depleted. The best timber had been cut and crop yields were low. As part of his "New Deal" to lift the nation from the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt asked Congress to create an agency, "clothed with the power of government but possessed of flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise." Congress responded by establishing the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) with the passage of the TVA Act on May 18, 1933.
TVA provided assistance for farmers, planted trees, controlled forest fires, and improved habitat for fish and wildlife. The electricity generated by TVA dams was the most dramatic change to the Valley. Electric lights and the use of modern appliances made life easier. Electricity also drew industry to the region, providing desperately needed jobs. TVA began construction of Cherokee Dam on the Holston River in August of 1940. The dam was constructed to generate hydroelectric power to meet the needs of industry should the United States enter World War II. The dam was completed on December 5, 1941, just two days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. The generating capacity of the four hydroelectric units at Cherokee Dam is 135,200 kilowatts of electricity.
The dam was constructed using 694,200 cubic yards of concrete and 3,304,100 cubic yards of earth and rock fill material. The concrete portion of the dam is 1,697 feet long. The dam is 175 feet high and stretches over a mile - 6,700 feet - from one end to the other.
Panther Creek State Park provides 1,435 acres of land for public recreation and wildlife habitat.
From 1945 to 1959, the Hamblen County Parks Committee leased approximately 775 acres of land from TVA. In 1963, a steering committee was established to determine the practicality and likelihood of developing that area into a state parl.The plan received overwhelming support and on August 10, 1967, a new lease agreement was established between the State and TVA, providing 947 acres to be maintained as a state park. By 1968, the State had purchased 488 additional acres from surrounding private landowners construction of park facilities began.