Traveling along the highway we can miss some of the small towns that can provide a getaway from the hustle and bustle of big cities. Taking us back to small-town living where almost everyone knows each other and drivers wave as they pass. Bull’s Gap is a small town with an estimated population of Bull’s Gap in 2022 is 733. (World Population Review, 2022) The town covers 1.2 miles in Hawkins County, Tennessee. While it isn’t the busy town that it used to be the trains still pass through.
Bull’s Gap, like Jonesborough, was part of the would-be State of Franklin and the downtown is on the National Registry of Historic Places. Where Jonesborough’s economic growth grew beyond being a railroad town where it attracted people of varying education levels and occupations, Bull’s Gap seems to have continued to rely on the railroad. The decline of the railroad put a strain on the town that was dependent on it for jobs and bringing visitors into town.
Founded in 1792 after gunsmith John Bull received 55 acres on a land grant in the Bay’s Mountain area of the east-west passage. (Price, 2018) Taking advantage of the location, Bull ran a stage line through the passage and the area became known as Bull’s Gap. The gap continued to be capitalized on with the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad laying track starting in 1858.
During the Civil War, the strategic location of the town played an important role to both armies, as they tried to gain control of the railroad that runs through town. The town was fortified from 1863 to 1865 with many battles fought over control of the town and the railroad that runs through it. The Federal forces sustained control of the town throughout most of the war.
The railroad has played an important part in the economy of the town. (Price, 2018) Many lines have run through the area, including the Southern Railway Systems. The decline of passenger trains, automobiles, and the building of highways have had a significant impact on the town. With no jobs with the railroad, many people had to leave the area to gain education and or employment.
Railroad Lives On
The Bull’s Gap Railroad Museum isn’t just a museum, but a gathering place for the locals. The museum contains artifacts of East Tennessee railroad history and honors the people that worked on the railroad. Locals want to share their stories and family history connections with the railroad to help future generations understand its importance and how change can impact the future. The front porch is the perfect place to sit and watch a train pass by.
Archie Campbell Museum and Homeplace
If you are of a certain age from the South, you probably watched “Hee Haw” and know of Archie Campbell. Born in Bull’s Gap and Campbell were a treasured singer, comedian, television personality, and painter. Today a museum and homeplace stands in the historic downtown area including artifacts of Campbell’s life, including photographs, recordings, and posters. But be aware that it is only open on weekdays.
The Need for Speed
The need for speed is apparent at the Volunteer Speedway. Located just off of Interstate 81 Volunteer Speedway is often referred to as the “World’s Fastest Dirt Track.” Race cars speed around the high-banked short (4/10-mile) track at an average of 120 miles per hour clocking 12 seconds per lap. Volunteer Speedway offers fans affordable fan entertainment with competitive racing activities from March to early fall.
Other Things to See and Do in Bull’s Gap
- Yoder’s Country Market offers food and gifts. They feature Mennonite baked goods made from scratch without preservatives.
- Laurel Run Park offers walking paths, hiking trails, fishing, sports fields, and picnic areas. The 1984 movie, The River, starring Mel Gibson and Sissy Spacek was filmed on the 440-acre farmland area which became the park following the filming.