Appalachia Place names

Tennessee Has Some Odd Place Names

a road in Tennessee

The other day I was reading one of my favorite blogs, Tennessee Mountain Stories and I just loved one of the posts.

Beth Durham, who runs Tennessee Mountain Stories had shared an excerpt from Harry Lane’s “Tennessee Memories.”

I emailed Beth and asked if I could share the post with you and she graciously said yes.

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The tools of everyday life are honored in Tennessee place names. The Sawteeth, ridges in The Great Smokies of Sevier County, are an example. Tilthammer Shoals in Sullivan County recalls the heavy drop hammers of the many forges that once were numerous on the landscape. …Whetstone Mountain in Morgan County and Grindstone Hollow in Coffee County recall the times, not long past, when virtually everyone sharpened his own knives and other tools. Slabtown Branch in Johnson County brings to mind sawmill villages that once were found in the state, as does Sawblade Road in Cheatham County.

Sometimes, Tennessee place names commemorate hard and unpleasant times. Difficult and Defeated in Smith County certainly indicate as much, as does Troublesome Hollow in Sullivan County. So, too do these: Poorhouse Branch in Robertson County; Dismal Gap in Anderson County; Penitentiary Gulf in Bledsoe County; …Calfkiller River in Putnam and White Counties; …No Pone Ridge in Meigs County and Burnt Pone Creek in Campbell County; Starve Pond in Lake County.

Even names of cemeteries in Tennessee are at times quite amusing, whether accidentally or by intent. An example is Faint Hope Cemetery in Hardin County; others are Ruffian Cemetery in Hardeman County; Coward Cemetery (and who is not, about being “planted there!), in Hawkins County; Scratchunder Cemetery in Haywood County, Hotwater Cemetery in Hamilton County; Poor House Cemetery in Warren County…Moulden (Mouldin’?) Cemetery in Knox County;…Humble Cemetery in Bledsoe County; …Not to mention Freewill (whose?!!) Cemetery in Lake County!

A sense of mystery and superstition ore observable in some place names: Booger Hill and Booger Swamp in Jackson and Putnam Counties, respectively; Hoodoo Community in Coffee County; The Deadening and Black Drowning Creek in Cumberland County; Dark Hollow and Haunted Hollow in Johnson County; Scary Hollow and Hall Deadening Hollow in Perry County. A number of places’ names indicate things devilish – old Beelzebub himself, or his fiery place of destruction: Devil’s Backbone (Marshall County and Cocke County); Devil’s Kitchen Branch and Devil’s Elbow in Greene County (the latter also in Smith County); Devil’s Nose Mountain (Hawkins County); Hell Hole (White County); Devil’s Looking Glass (Unicoi County)…

The pleased palate is remembered in the names of numerous locations: Fattynbread Branch and Pumpkin Avenue (Dickson County); Hushpuppy Lake (Dyer County): Yum Yum Community (Fayette County); Sorghum Patch Hollow and Sugartime Springs (Franklin County); Slay Bacon Area (Sevier County – we thought all bacon had been “pre-slain”!); Onionbed Ridge (Sullivan County); …Poke Patch Creek (Cumberland County); Buttermilk Road and Cabbage Island (Knox County); …Okra Community and Tater Hill (Pickett County); and Lickskillet Branch (Hawkins County).

In which of these Tennessee streams would you prefer to swim: Ebbing and Flowing Spring or Washboard Creek (Hawkins County); Greasy Creek (Henderson County): Scarce Grease Branch (Grundy County), or Big Fiery Gizzard Creek (Grundy County)? Or perhaps Briarpatch Lake (Henry County)?

Among the more memorable names in the state are several given in honor of old ladies in families, or other relatives. These include Granny White Pike (Davidson County); Aunt Sal Hollow (Jackson County); Grandma Hollow and Grandaddy Hill (Campbell County); Mammy’s Creek and Daddy’s Creek (Cumberland County); Aunt Lude Ridge (Lewis County); Granny Branch (Benton County); Aunt Jane Hollow (Hamblen County); Daddy Ridge (Overton County); and Granny Scot Hollow (Wayne County).

…A considerable number of Tennessee names may be attributed simply to humorous imaginations. Spankem Branch (Moore County); Bona Factus Branch (Morgan County): Screamer Community and She Boss Church (Maury County); Black Ankle Creek (Meigs County); Jackass Hollow (Montgomery County); Pulltight Hollow (Hamilton County); Bucksnort Community (Hickman and Gibson Counties); Ugly Hollow (Greene County); Squeeze Up Bluff (Wayne County); Henpeck Lane (Williamson County); Wild Bill Road (Wilson County); Graball Community and Doodle Hollow (Sumner County); Random Shot Landing (Tipton County);…Wallop Hollow (Union County); Fuss Hollow and Bugtussle Hollow (Lincoln County); Scratch Ankle Hollow (Marion County); …Big He Creek (Sequatchie County); Steep Gut Hollow (Claiborne Country); …Shakerag Hollow, Falling Over Branch, and Pinchgut Hollow (Jackson County); Rotten Fork School (Fentress County); How Come You Creek (Cumberland County). And yes, folks, there really is a Grinders Switch in Hickman County, as Minnie Pearl has so often indicated and – a Hootin Hollow (“Holler”) in Bradley County!

—Harry Lane – “Tennessee Memories”

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I hope you enjoyed reading about unusual Tennessee names as much as I did. Be sure to jump over to Beth’s blog for a visit, I know you’ll be glad you did.

Tipper

bowl of vegetables

Come cook with me!

MOUNTAIN FLAVORS – TRADITIONAL APPALACHIAN COOKING
Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. For the rest of the class details go here.

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23 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    June 14, 2019 at 11:39 am

    I love odd names for our Rd,s and countys. We live right up from sevier county. Greeneville Tn. ( Baileyton) My favorite place. Love Good ole Tn. Enjoyed this post Tipper. God Bless you.

  • Reply
    Wanda Devers
    June 14, 2019 at 9:31 am

    Enjoyed this so much especially since I am a Tennessean.

  • Reply
    Janis Sullivan
    June 13, 2019 at 7:00 pm

    Being from Cumberland County, TN., I sure enjoyed this one. My grandparents lived at Hangin’ Limb, Putnam Co., TN. near Monterey, TN. I would love some more odd name histories.

    • Reply
      Beth Durham
      June 16, 2019 at 12:14 am

      Janis, I grew up just across the holler from Hangin’ Limb. Got people buried in Muddy Pond (the cemetery, not the actual pond you know). Mr. Lane’s article about the odd place names was lengthy and I had to break it into 2 different posts. Even then I cut out quite a lot – surely he mentioned Hangin’ Limb, I’ll have to go back and look.
      I’d love to see your comments on any of The Stories – I’m always looking for people from the plateau.

  • Reply
    Aaron Patterson
    June 13, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    I think my hometown of Buck’s Pocket Alabama is the most unique of them all!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    June 13, 2019 at 1:48 pm

    Tipper,
    On the way to Piercy’s Creek, as boys we use to leave the trail and head up Mule Face and come out near the Southern Gap. We’d stop and eat our fill of buckberries or blueberries along the way. When we got to Piercy Creek, we’d cut us a pole to fish with, we had our line and hooks with us. You wouldn’t think a native trout to be right in the shallow water, but them things would come out from a rock or creekbank, grab that ole redworm and you’d think you had a real big one. We all had baccer cans (usually P.A.) packed to the brim, full of jackets or wasper larvie, or red worms just waiting.

    I started off talking about odd names or places, but got otherwise subtracted. …Ken

    • Reply
      Ed Ammons
      June 13, 2019 at 8:29 pm

      “got otherwise subtracted” Never heard it put that way but it says it exactly. I’ll barrie it sometime if that’s OK!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 13, 2019 at 12:09 pm

    Let’s not forget Meat Camp in Watauga County, NC. Then there’s Aho nearby. I heard people called something that sounds sorta like that before. That’s Doc Watson country and closeby to Roy Pipes’s Darby.
    There is a Boomer in Wilkes County. Was it named after a kind of squirrel?

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    June 13, 2019 at 10:57 am

    We have Worry and Joy here in Burke County. They are only a mile or so apart. If you ever wander into Worry just ask somebody how to get to Joy. Or you can cross the mountain into McDowell County and find Relief.

    Avery County has Frank and Madison County has Joe. They were named after two men who had no last names I suppose.

    McDowell County also has Mudcut. Such an inviting place name. Buncombe County’s Sandy Mush sounds even worse. Short on corn meal? Stretch it with a cup or two of sand!

    Right out the road here is Knob, NC. That’s all! Just Knob. Other places have a Knob named after someone or something of note in the community. Here nothing or no one rises to that level. So it’s just Knob. I’m gettin up a petition to change the name to Boring.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    June 13, 2019 at 10:05 am

    It seems that when new subdivisions sprang up they tried to give them catchy names. We still have a scenic road called Possum Hollow Road. While driving in McDowell County I asked directions, and I was told I just needed to drive over Johnny Cake Mountain. The Walmart is on Greasy Ridge Road, and there is a whole story as to why that ridge was named Greasy Ridge. We lose our expressive words and expressions, and unfortunately 911 has been able to rename and leave a lot of our old historical names by the wayside. One small community named Hanover, and I can only assume it was named after the very old name once commonly used for Rutabaga. I love reading the interesting origins of some of the small communities, towns, and cities.

  • Reply
    Ava
    June 13, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Some town names not mentioned: Bell Buckle, Soddy Daisy, and Hollow Rock.

  • Reply
    Sanford Mckinney, Jr.
    June 13, 2019 at 9:24 am

    Tipper,
    Here’s another Carter County community name that many people have forgotten: Bitter End, Tennessee
    Bitter End is an unincorporated community in Carter County, Tennessee, United States.. It is located about 12 mi (19 km) southeast of Elizabethton.. The Markland Cemetery is located north of the settlement. This community is located in what is known as the Buck Mountain area. I had a picture of an old school or church, but have filed it away in some unknown file that I have not been successful in retrieving!

  • Reply
    Shirl
    June 13, 2019 at 9:17 am

    We have to wonder how some of the names came about. I don’t think I would like to live up Ugly Hollow and none of the males I know would be caught dead going anywhere close to Henpeck Lane. Try explaining to folks ‘off from here’ that you live in Hell’s Hole or Scary Hollow.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 13, 2019 at 8:58 am

    I just love the colorful names. They seem to have more in Tennessee than we do in North Carolina. I wonder why. Big He Creek, wonder how that name came about, or She Boss Church…make ya wonder, don’t it!

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    June 13, 2019 at 8:54 am

    Of course North Carolina has plenty of its own (and by the way, the Sawteeth aren’t just in Sevier County, they’re also in Swain County, NC).

    But there are a bunch of TN place names not on Harry’s list which are interesting – Devils Nest and Edens Garden Creek, both feeders of the West Prong of the Little River, and nearby Hornet Tree Top.

    But my favorites are a pair of butts. Holy Butt, near Gatlinburg, and Mollie’s Butt, overlooking Cades Cove. I believe it was Paul Fink who wrote a poetic tribute to Mollie:

    In the far-off Smoky Mountains,
    Where the black bear makes his home
    There’s a crag called Charlie’s Bunion
    And a peak called Clingmans Dome
    But the spot that takes my fancy
    And it’s there I’d build my hut
    Is a shapely little hillock
    That is known as Mollie’s Butt.

    There it stands in storm and sunshine
    While the changing seasons pass
    Named, no doubt in tender tribute,
    To some pink-cheeked mountain lass.
    There is found the ripest berry,
    There is found the sweetest nut
    And the setting sun grows crimson
    As it kisses Mollie’s Butt.

    You may scale the high Himalayas
    Braving Everest’s icy scorn,
    You may sink your iron pitons
    In Mount Blanc or Matterhorn,
    But when I go a-mountaineering
    I’ll forsake that common rut,
    For I’m heading for the Smokies
    With my eyes on Mollie’s Butt.

  • Reply
    Dee
    June 13, 2019 at 8:50 am

    I remember Minnie Pearl talking about Grinders Switch and I just thought she made that up for a story. There may be more than one Grinders Switch. About 1997 my husband and I were on our way down south to see my parents. We decided to take in that longest yard sale that runs from KY through TN into tip of GA. I had been doing work on my Pipes line and had been told there was a pioneer cemetery near Grinders Switch, KY., so we took a side trip to the Pioneer Families Pipes/Gray/ cemetery. We had come down route 127 on the longest yard sale and just toured and passed Old Fort Harrod which is in Kentucky down from Lexington. We turned right off of route 127 and went out several miles to the old pioneer cemetery which sat up on a little knoll of a hill. It was in the doctors fork area.

    Ever since I was a little child, we visited our Pioneer Family Kennedy Cemetery in North East MS. I remember looking across the road from the cemetery and my daddy said that the woods there was “Josie Holler.” How I wish I had asked him who was Josie and why did it have that name. No one lives out there now as the surrounding area has been reclaimed by a pine forest.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    June 13, 2019 at 8:32 am

    I expect each of those names originally had a story behind them. But I also suspect most of those stories have been lost. Some states have an ‘Atlas and Gazetteer’ (?) that compiles those stories.

    One thing noticeable about the old names is that they are grounded in the locality. A pet peeve of mine is the ‘realtor-speak’ (apologies to realtors reading who have not aided and abetted) that uses ‘fotched on’ names totally foreign to the Appalachians and local history, like Jim has already indicated. OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    June 13, 2019 at 8:19 am

    These are just a few of the names I thought of in E.KY. Squirrel Run Branch, Hog Camp, Haricun (hurricane), waller hole (wallow hole}, spice lick, rooin (ruin ky), bear town, troublesome creek, poor house holler, greasy ridge, and hell for certain. Right close to where I live number 8 mine road was changed to Robert’s drive. An older man I worked for remembered when the mines were active and the coal was hauled out using ponies. People of my age still call it number 8.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    June 13, 2019 at 7:45 am

    Tipper–There are quaint names, almost without end, in WNC as well. At least two of your regular readers grew up in the section of Swain Count known as Needmore. In adjacent Graham County there’s Long Hungry Road. There are plenty of interesting names in the Park–Huggins’ Hell (a man named Huggins supposedly got lost in a laurel thicket and when he finally emerged said he’d been in Hell), Defeat and Desolation branches (both feeders of Bone Valley Creek, an area which got its name from the bleached-out bones of a herd of cattle that died there in a late spring snow storm), Ad Valorem Branch (no doubt a place where squeezin’s were made), Smackass Gap (not far from you), Big Butt (on the main ridgeline of the Smokies), Ripshin, Sweat Heifer Creek, and many more.
    There are even books on the subject. William S. Powell’s “N. C. Gazetteer” is excellent; Allen R. Coggins’ “Place Names of the Smokies” is useful but has a great many mistakes.
    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    June 13, 2019 at 7:36 am

    I know we have some funny ones in NC also. I once asked a lady where she lived and she told me it was half way between Chunky Gal and Slap Ass Gap. I thought she was being funny but she wasn’t.

  • Reply
    Jim
    June 13, 2019 at 6:34 am

    The old names are disappearing in a lot of the area I live in in Carter county TN due to the 911 address rules enforced a few years back, and the sub divison6 being built on the old farms. I live in what’s known as Dog Town, but all the new neighbors refer to the road as Bowers Lane. Growing up we had communities such as Turkey Town, Bear town, Deer Pen and white Rock but now only the older natives know where your speaking of when you use
    those names. My favorite was a community where I use to have a deer lease in West Tn called Life’s Highway. I always enjoyed the reaction I got when I told people I was heading down Life’s Highway at deer season.

    Jim

    • Reply
      JustAnOldGuy
      June 14, 2019 at 6:32 am

      Jim, you left out Siam, Black Bottom and Valley Forge, all long established Carter County locations.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    June 13, 2019 at 6:26 am

    I love the names, always makes you wonder when you hear them

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