White County

Welcome White County White County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2010 census, the population was 25,841. Its county seat is Sparta.


White County is a county located in the U.S. state of Tennessee. As of the 2020 census, the population was 27,351. Its county seat is Sparta.



On September 11, 1806, an act of the Tennessee General Assembly created White County out of Smith and Jackson counties, responding to a petition signed by 155 residents of the area. The county’s original geographic area included all of what are now White and Warren counties, as well as parts of modern Cannon, Coffee, DeKalb, Franklin, Grundy, Putnam, and Van Buren counties.

The origin of the county’s name is disputed. The county is officially held to be named for John White (1751–1846), a Revolutionary War soldier, surveyor, and frontiersman who was the first known white settler of the area. White had moved his family to the Cumberland Mountains from Virginia in 1789.[4] However, some historians suggest the county was named for Revolutionary War soldier James White, the founder of Knoxville.

A temporary county seat was established near Rock Island, now in Warren County. Three years later a permanent county seat was established on the banks of the Calfkiller River and named Sparta.

Grave of Confederate bushwhacker Champ Ferguson near Sparta

In 1840, White County became a destination for people from all over the country when Christopher Haufmann erected a large hotel on Bon Air Mountain, part of the Cumberland Plateau. The hotel was near some mineral springs as well as being at a high altitude; both were thought to promote health, and people came from far and wide for the “cures” advertised by the resort.[5]

White County was the site of a very large saltpeter mining operation during the Civil War. The Cave Hill Saltpeter Pits (No. 1 and No. 2), located on Cave Hill near the mouth of England Cove, were intensively mined. Relics remain from that operation. Saltpeter is the main ingredient of gunpowder and was obtained by leaching the earth from these caves.[6]

The Civil War deeply affected White County, although no major battles were fought in the area. As it was on the border between the largely pro-Union East Tennessee and pro-Confederate Middle Tennessee, the county was the scene of bloodshed from partisans (called “bushwhackers”) of both sides.One famous Confederate guerrilla operating in the area was Champ Ferguson, who caused much mayhem and destruction before he was arrested after the war on May 28, 1865. Ferguson was tried by a military court, convicted and executed by hanging, one of only two Confederates executed for war crimes. He is buried in France Cemetery near Sparta.

Over the subsequent decades, White County slowly rebuilt from the ashes of war. The county was connected to the outside world by railroad, mainly because of the booming coal mining industries being started on Bon Air Mountain. The mountain was rich in bituminous coal, and enterprising local businessmen were quick to realize the profit potential that represented. Several mining towns sprang up on the plateau part of the county, including Bon Air, Eastland, and Ravenscroft.

In 1981, a dispute between a local mining company and residents escalated and later became a Tennessee Supreme Court case known as Doochin v. Rackley. The disagreement began when the local coal companies began to strip mine residents’ private land. The court ruled in favor of the defendants because the Broad Form Deed did not recognize strip mining as a legal form of mining.

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