A trio of self-described amateur historians has written a local history that fills a vital gap in the story of Sevier County.
Colleen Shannon, Anna Garber and Steve Petty have penned a history of the Boyds Creek and Seymour communities that traces their founding and growth from the earliest frontier settlements through modern times.
The volume, titled “From the Mouth of Boyds Creek: A History of Seymour, Tennessee, and the Boyds Creek Valley,” is published by Friends of the Seymour Library. It is both very readable and also “browsable” – you can easily enjoy individual sections without having to commit to reading it straight through.
“Boyds Creek” is comprehensive, sketching out the life of prehistoric indigenous people and their early conflicts with European explorers and settlers. The book highlights the establishment of a plantation culture along the French Broad and Little Pigeon rivers, and Boyds Creek that depended on enslaved black labor which made industrial-scale farming profitable.
Like much of East Tennessee in the run-up to the Civil War, Sevier County was staunchly Unionist. That’s why men from Boyds Creek were among the saboteurs who tried to burn the Confederate railway bridge at Strawberry Plains. But the outcome of the war would end slavery and the labor conditions that made plantation farming possible.
The writers have delved into historic journals, financial records and census data to flesh out a narrative that tracks changes more than four centuries brought to the region. The book is also rich in stories and memories from living members of the communities.
One of the book’s special focuses is the role that transportation played in the formation of the communities, from the fords that turned into ferries, the rivers themselves that hosted flatboats and then steamboats, the Knoxville, Sevierville & Eastern railway, and the coming of the paved Sevierville Pike, that was superseded by Chapman Highway and then Highway 66.
The writers don’t overlook the folk tales that made the area famous in wider Sevier County: The decaying KS&E trestle over Boyds Creek that train crews would not ride across, but chose to dismount their engine and let it cross unmanned. Or the darker stories of the White Cap vigilantism that plagued the county in the late 19th century.
It’s hard to oversell the importance of this book, which is one of the best local histories I’ve come across. For the first time, a view of Boyds Creek and Seymour emerges that offers the communities a cohesive identity, putting them on a par with the resort and mountain areas of Sevier County.
Patrons in the communities paid the production and printing costs, and the total revenue from the $25-dollar book goes to support the branch library’s activities. Info here.
Garber is a retired East Tennessee journalist from Trundles Crossroads. Shannon, a retiree from the mission agency of the Presbyterian Church, USA, is a Seymour resident. Petty, a retired social worker and health care executive, lives on Gists Creek.
Bill Dockery, a Sevierville native, was an editorial writer and editor for the Knoxville News Sentinel and reviewed books for Scripps Howard News Service.