Rock Island State Park
Located in Warren County, Rock Island State Park was established in 1969, but its historical significance dates to the region’s early settlement. A small village called Rock Island, located upstream from the park’s boundaries, was the county’s first permanent settlement and a temporary county seat. Logging was the area’s first important industry. The arrival of the railroad in 1881 led residents to relocate their village from its proximity to the confluence of the Rocky and Caney Fork Rivers to a new place along the railroad tracks. Eventually the improved transportation convinced local capitalists to use the Great Falls of the Caney Fork River, near the confluence of the Caney Fork and Collins rivers, for industrial development. In 1892 Clay Faulkner, H. L. Walling, and Jesse Walling established the Great Falls Cotton Mill and built a small company town known as Falls City. A flood in 1902 severely damaged the company’s facilities and the owners closed the factory, selling their property to the Great Falls Power Company. The Great Falls Hydroelectric Plant, an eight-hundred-foot structure that dams the Collins River, did not go into operation until January 1, 1917, however.
In 1922 the Tennessee Electric Power Company (TEPCO) acquired the dam and its powerhouse. The conversion of the river into a lake created new recreational opportunities at the confluence of the Caney Fork and Collins rivers, especially once the Memphis-to-Bristol Highway (present-day U.S. Highway 70S) was completed adjacent to the dam and lake in the 1920s. The Webb Hotel was constructed around 1920, and a group of Rustic-style summer homes were built for urban families who still come annually to the park area. TEPCO probably built the whimsical “Witch’s Castle” as it developed a park and trails on the Warren County side of the lake in the 1920s. The Tennessee Valley Authority acquired the dam and powerhouse in 1939; the property is listed on the National Register.
Rock Island State Park contains campsites, picnic grounds, trails, boat launches, and an interpretive center. Park personnel also manage Big Bone Cave State Natural Area, which contains important archaeological sites detailing prehistoric life and the mining of saltpeter during the War of 1812 and the Civil War.
Evelyn K. Tretter, “Rock Island State Park,” Tennessee Conservationist (March/April 1987): 9-11