The third smallest in area among the ninety-five Tennessee counties, Hamblen County is located between the Holston and the Nolichucky Rivers in a fertile, well-watered valley sheltered from the north winds by Clinch Mountain and from southern storms by the Smoky Mountains.
Hamblen County was formed in 1870 from parts of Jefferson, Grainger, and Hawkins Counties. After much controversy, the county was named for Hezekiah Hamblen, a lawyer in Hawkins County. Morristown, which was incorporated in 1855, was named county seat, but it would be four years before a county courthouse was constructed. This building, designed by architect A. C. Bruce, is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
Cherokees, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Shawnees roamed the East Tennessee hills and valleys in the days before settlement began in what would become Hamblen County. In 1783 Robert McFarland and Alexander Outlaw migrated from Virginia to claim land grants on the “Bend of Chucky.” Gideon Morris and his brothers, Daniel and Absalom, were the next settlers, and they took land grants within the present city limits of Morristown, providing the community with its name. More settlers arrived when a road connecting the stage routes from Abingdon, Virginia, and Knoxville was constructed in 1792. William Chaney, Thomas Daggett, Richard Thomas, and John Crockett were among those who lived along the road. By 1800 several communities had been established, including Russellville, Whitesburg, Springvale, and Panther Springs.
Panther Springs boasted a store, a church, and an academy in addition to several residences. The ever-flowing spring, with its vast volume of water, continues to be an object of interest. Panther Creek State Park, encompassing two thousand acres, is located on this historic spot. Nearby Cherokee Lake, created by the Tennessee Valley Authority's Cherokee Dam, provides additional opportunities for outdoor activities.
Russellville, another early settlement, is rich in colorful history and, at one time, was larger than Morristown. The famous Boone Trace and Buffalo Trail of the Indians, running from Kentucky through Tennessee to North Carolina, passed through Russellville. Colonel James Roddye built the first home in Russellville soon after his return from the Revolutionary War battle of Kings Mountain. By the late 1850s, the town boasted a drugstore, a railroad station, a theater, and an academy.
The first industry in the county was Shields' Paper Mill, located at Marshalls Ferry on the Holston River. The mill operated from 1825 to 1861 and produced a fine paper from rags, lint, and wheat straw. Two books were printed there. Other early businesses included the Morristown Manufacturing Company and J. F. Goodson Coffee Company (maker of JFG Coffee), which now operates from Knoxville. In the first half of the twentieth century, textile mills and furniture companies dominated local industry.
A number of Hamblen County residents have made their mark on Tennessee history. Davy Crockett, the son of John Crockett, lived in Hamblen County until shortly after his marriage to Polly Finley. He later served as a member of the Tennessee State Legislature and as a representative in the U.S. Congress. His colorful personality and heroic death at the Alamo in 1836 made him a legend. DeWitt Senter served as governor of Tennessee, 1869-71. U.S. Senator Joseph Anderson lived at Lowland from 1797 to 1815 and became comptroller of the U.S. Treasury after eleven years in the Senate. Helen Topping Miller, noted author, lived at Arrow Hill until her death in 1960. Herbert Sanford Walters served in the U.S. Senate and was chairman of the State Democratic Executive Committee and a member of the National Democratic Committee. Z. Buda, Mayor of Morristown, 1972-78, was noted for his efforts to keep taxes low and for his fight to prevent the construction of a regional prison in the city. He remains the largest donor to Walters State Community College (WSCC), having established several scholarships for needy students. Two residents of Hamblen County, Alvin Ward and Edward R. Talley, received the Congressional Medal of Honor in World War I.
Agriculture continues to be an important factor in the county's economy. The fertile farms produce beef, dairy products, and vegetables. Tobacco annually boosts the economy with revenues in excess of five million dollars. A two-century farm on Leeper's Ferry Road known as the Lewis and Lucinda Leeper Farm originated from a two-hundred-acre land grant of August 1780 awarded to Captain Thomas Jarnagin for services in the Revolutionary War.
Hamblen's recent economic development has been phenomenal. Two large industrial parks (East and West) house a variety of businesses. According to 1999 figures, the six largest industrial employers in the county belong either to the automotive parts industry (two companies, 2000 employees) or the furniture products industry (four companies, over 2900 employees).
Hamblen County's citizens enjoy a wide variety of social and cultural advantages. The county's school system is widely recognized for its excellence. In 1881 the Methodist Episcopal Church established Morristown College, a historic African American school. In the late twentieth century, it became a branch of Knoxville College before closing its doors. Walters State Community College, named for Herbert S. Walters, offers continuing educational opportunities to students throughout the region. Twenty-five religious denominations maintain churches in the county. Many fraternal and civic clubs, as well as a Theater Guild, offer service and recreational activities for residents. The Hamblen County Chapter, Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities, has made the reproduction of the Crockett Tavern an international attraction. Rose Center (1892), the oldest school in Morristown, was restored as a civic center and is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. “Mountain Makin's,” a local festival, is held there annually. The county’s population was 58,128 in 2000.