The town of Athens, Tennessee, was created in 1822, on land obtained from William Lowry and Joseph Calloway. Originally the town boundaries consisted of 35 acres bordering on the Eastnalle Creek, which was used as a source of water power to operate the various mills that eventually located along the creek. Important in the location of the town was a healthy water supply, which was provided by a large spring near the center of town.
Nine commissioners were designated to lay out the town in lots and to name the various streets. Some of the original names remain today; others have been renamed, while other no longer exist. The town received its official name on August 23, 1822, by the Tennessee legislature. Local lore gives credit to Elijah Hurst, one of the commissioners, for suggesting the name Athens for it fitted a description of the ancient city of Greece, which he had read about.
The following year, 1823, the county seat was moved from its original location at Calhoun in order to make the seat of government more accessible to the majority of McMinn countians.
Athens had a population of 500 and according to the 1830 census, was a thriving community consisting of 4 lawyers, 4 divines (ministers), 4 doctors, 10 stores (3 more than Knoxville), 1 tavern, 1 printing office, 1 painter, 2 hatters, 2 tailors, 2 shoemakers, 2 tanners, 2 silversmiths, 1 wagon maker, 2 mills, 1 factory and a male and female academy.
By the early 1830s, Athens had a newspaper, which was published over the next several years by various publishers and under different names. It was not until 1848, when Samuel Ivins, came to town and established the Post to promote the development of a railroad that Athens would have a permanent newspaper, with the exception of the period from September 1863 to December 1867, when the Post ceased publication because Editor Ivins was imprisoned by the Union army for his pro-Southern stance. Eventually the Post would become the Daily Post Athenian, one of the oldest newspapers in Tennessee.
Two major events occurred prior to the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 that greatly affected Athens. The first was the coming of the railroad in 1851. The first railroad construction in the state of Tennessee was commenced about 1.5 miles south from the center of town near the vicinity of the present day Sullins Cemetery. Construction began in 1837 but was halted in 1839 because of financial and legal problems of the Hiwassee Railroad, the company that had been granted a charter by the state to build a rail line from Dalton, Georgia, to Knoxville, a distance of 98 miles. When work halted, the only accomplishment at that time was 66 miles of roadbed, a bridge across the Hiwassee River at Calhoun, and a headquarters building on Jackson Street, across from Mars Hill Presbyterian Church built by Samuel Clegg (Cleage).
Bill Akins - County Historian
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