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Hamblen’s history

Posted on Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 12:58 pm

Hamblen County was formed in 1870 because of transportation difficulties brought on by bad roads and rivers to cross.

The line between Jefferson and Grainger counties was down the middle of Main Street in Morristown, according to Hamblen County historian Bill Henderson. Those on the south side had to go to Dandridge to conduct any business at the courthouse. Those living on the north side had to trek to Rutledge. Either way, it was a minimum of a two day round trip. Neither courthouse could be reached if the Nolichucky or Holston rivers were running high.

According to Henderson, two men were loafing under a shade tree where First Baptist Church in Morristown now stands, when they began discussing how hard it was to get to a county seat. They decided to see if there was any interest in forming a new county that would be accessible to local residents.

An organizational meeting was held at a general store near Panther Springs and the new county was laid out to take in part of Jefferson, Grainger and a sliver of Hawkins counties. Plans were made for a special election. Voters in each of the three counties had to approve the measure for their section to be included. Grainger and Jefferson voters gave it overwhelming approval, but in Hawkins County it was rejected. At the next election Hawkins County residents changed their minds and also voted to join.

The county was named in honor of Hezekiah Hamblen, a lawyer and farmer who lived in Hawkins County. There is no record that Hamblen ever visited the county that bears his name.

Formation of the new county was speeded up by the influence of Gov. DeWitt Clinton Senter, who spent his youth on a farm in the Grainger County section that became part of Hamblen County.

There were four contenders for the county seat: Russellville, Morristown, Springvale and Panther Springs. Russellville was considered the most important town of the four, but Morristown was selected based on its central location.

It was 1874 before a county courthouse was built. Unlike most county seats, the Morristown location was not in the downtown area proper. The site was chosen was at 511 West Second North Street, where it still stands. Before the courthouse was constructed, county offi cials had offices and the county commission, then called the county court, met in various business buildings.

Today, the sheriff’s office and circuit and sessions court are all in the Justice Center at 510 Allison St. The county clerk also has a branch office in College Square Mall.

Until the late 1960s, the county and City of Morristown had separate school systems. When they were combined, the county took overall control of all schools. The school system’s administrative offi ce is located in a former school building at 210 East Morris Blvd.