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Strawberry Plains, TNIn western Jefferson County beside the Holston River lies Strawberry Plains. Nearly 8,000 people live in Strawberry Plains. At one time, there was one bank, one post office and several small businesses. Most of its citizens work in Knoxville or the nearby zinc mines. The children in Strawberry Plains attend Rush Strong School and later attend high school at Jefferson County High School. Over the years Strawberry Plains has changed dramatically, yet the small town atmosphere has remained.

The history of Strawberry Plains in western Jefferson County dates back to the late 1700’s. Andre Michaux, a French historian and soldier in the Revolutionary war, told of his visits there from 1793-96. He recorded his visit on May 22 to Colonel King on the Holston River at the McBee’s Ferry. The area, as described by Michaux, was barren north and east of the ferry where wild strawberries matted the earth in season. “The berries covered the ground as with a red cloth. The fetlocks of a horse walking through the fields became red like blood.” The burning of vegetation learned from the Indians is the reason the area was so barren. This barren area became known as Strawberry Plains, the only community with that name in the United States.


Strawberry Plains - Jefferson County History

Strawberry Plains NOT Straw Plains

One of the first settlers, William Williams, came from Buncombe County, North Carolina, about the year 1808 and acquired 1200 acres of very fine land lying along the Holston River and including what is now the little town of Strawberry Plains. The Plains were then surrounded by forests and canebrakes, which were inhabited by Indians. In those early days strawberries were called “strewberries.” Long time residents truly resent the shortening of the name to Straw Plains and to make the point they retort, “Would you rather have a straw pie or a strawberry pie?”


Cherokee Indians
The Cherokee Indians settled in the area because of the warm climate and plentiful resources. The Indians lived simply off the land and its animals. By 1830 the Cherokee Indians of East Tennessee had become industrious farmers and slave-owners. By mastering the Cherokee alphabet, invented by Sequoyah (George Gist), they became a literate people with their own newspapers and books. One of the largest Cherokee village remains has recently been excavated in Strawberry Plains. The Cherokees felt as if the white man were an intruder. Two battles were fought for possession of the bluff overlooking the Knox-Jefferson County line. The Indians were pushed back. Under threat of military action by the Federal Government, they signed away their territories in Georgia and Tennessee in 1835 and within three years had been moved west of the Mississippi. The Cherokee domain became public land and was thrown open to homesteading and purchase.


Social Life
During this time period social life in Strawberry Plains was a means of turning toil into pleasure. In the 1790’s rail splitting, log rollings, house and barn raisings, apple cuttings, molasses makings, and quilt making all became social get-togethers. The women gathered to cook and satisfy the appetites of the men folk.
The women pieced and quilted scraps into bed coverings. When the quilt was finished, before it was removed from the frame, a cat was placed in its center. The unmarried ladies would then shake the frame and the girl to which the cat came nearest, according to legend, would be the next to marry. Folk dances were popular at parties. One favorite was the Virginia Reel. Skip to My Lou was another popular folk dance. A well known game during this period was William Tremble Toe. Any number could play this game. Players would sit in a circle and all but one player would put one finger from each hand on a table or flat surface. The person who was “it” would go around the table tapping each finger as this verse was repeated: William, William, trimber, tucker He’s a good fisher, Catches him hens, Puts thme in pens, Some lay eggs, some none. Wire, briar, limber lock Three geese in a flock, One flew east, one flew west, One flew over the cuckoo’s nest Y-O-U-T, you’re out! The person whose finger was tapped on the word “out” would be put on a pack saddle formed by the arms of two of the big players. He was then taken toward the door and asked, “Where’d you like to live, thorn bed or feather bed?” If the answer was “Thorn bed,” he was let down easily. If the answer was “Feather bed,” he would be bounced 3 times and set down. The game could get rougher depending on the players.


Holston River
The Holston River has played an important part in the history and settlement of Strawberry Plains. The Cherokee Indians named it “Coot’-Clawby.” In 1761 Stephen Holston surveyed the river in a canoe. Gradually the river was named Holston after this early explorer. The early settlers in Strawberry Plains arrived from North Carolina traveling down the Holston River.
Indians

Strawberry Plains - Jefferson County History

The Cherokee Indians settled in this area because of the warm climate and plentiful gifts from the earth. The Cherokees often battled invading tribes and felt as if the white man were an intruder. Two battles were fought for possession of the bluff overlooking the Knox-Jefferson County line. The Indians were pushed back. The Indians lived simply off the land and its animals. A simple recipe that the Cherokees often enjoyed is said to be Indian Bean Bread. Indian Bean Bread 4 cups cornmeal 2 cups cooked colored beans ½ teaspoon baking soda 2 cups boiling water
Put cornmeal into bowl, mix in beans that have been drained. Add baking soda and water. Form into soft dough balls. Drop into boiling water. Cook 45 minutes or until done.
The Indians were also credited with the naming of the Dumplin Valley Community in Strawberry Plains. A party of Indians was cooking dumplins near the creek in that community. A mishap caused the dumplins to be overturned into the creek. From that time on it was called Dumplin Creek and the area around it was called Dumplin Valley.

Early Settlers
McBee Map
In 1785 Adam Meek, Sr. came to Strawberry Plains from Mecklenburg County, North Carolina. He built a cabin made of round poles covered with grass and bark. When problems with the Indians arose, Adam Meek and his family would hide in nearby caves for protection. In 1788 he moved his family down the Holston River and built a log house. The house had portholes used for shooting at the Indians. Adam Meek, Sr., had three sons and one daughter. The daughter, Sarah, married Lemuel McBee. From this union came the McBees and Parrotts who now live at Strawberry Plains.

Sarah Meek McBee (Photo made during the Civil War) Adam Meek is buried in the Strawberry Plains graveyard.

The McBee family also played an important part in the history of Strawberry Plains. In 1792 William McBee established a ferry across the Holston River. From 1845-1850 his son G.C. McBee built a public toll bridge near the ferry. This is believed to be the first bridge to span the Holston River. The bridge was later flooded and the McBee family resumed the ferry business. In 1902 the ferry was purchased by Knox County.
Strawberry Plains - Jefferson County History
Another notable settler was William Williams. William Williams, fifth child of Col. Joseph and Rebekah Lanier Williams, was born August 8, 1783, and died December 4, 1818. He moved to Strawberry Plains in 1808 with his wife Sarah King Williams. William Williams was Postmaster of Strawberry Plains and a merchant. Sarah King Williams, his wife, was the sister to the Reverend James King and daughter of old Colonel James King. Colonel King, a leader of the Holston Presbytery, donated part of his land holdings to build King College in Bristol Tennessee. In fact, the town of Strawberry Plains is also built on their plantation. Sarah and William had only two daughters, Rebekah Lanier Williams, who was born and died in 1809, and Sarah King Williams, born January 6, 1812. Sarah was the first white child to be born in Strawberry Plains. Sarah grew to woman-hood and married Rev. Thomas Stringfield in 1826, who hailed from North Carolina. Rev. Thomas Stringfield was born in Kentucky in 1706. He embraced religion at 8 years of age and moved to Alabama when he was 12 years old. In the War of 1912 he was a solder under the command of General Jackson and maintained his Christian character throughout. He joined the Tennessee Conference on Nov. 10, 1816, and when the Holston Conference was established he became a member. In 1836 he was elected editor of the South-western Christian Advocate, which he served until 1841. The Stringfield family became a religious, educational, and cultural force in Strawberry Plains. The descendants of Thomas Stringfield and Sarah Williams no longer live in Strawberry Plains, but spread back into North Carolina and west into Kentucky. Rev. Stringfield started the first church in Strawberry Plains, the Methodist church. The importance of education continued as a family tradition. In 1848 Rev. Stringfield and Sarah donated their land and funds to build Strawberry Plains College. In 1852 he was an agent for Strawberry Plains College. He was made supernumerary in 1853, effective in 1854, superannuated again in 1856, and continued until his death on July 12, 1858. The family also donated land to the railroad.

Strawberry Plains - Jefferson County History Strawberry Plains - Jefferson County History

Mrs. Addie Moody and her sister, Miss Sallie Caldwell, are the granddaughters of Adam Meek, Jr., as is Miss Margaret Meek. Adam Meek, Sr., died July 8, 1828, being the first man buried in the Strawberry Plains graveyard at whose grave there was placed a marker. He is buried in the Strawberry Plains graveyard.

Education
There were no formal schools in the 1790’s in Strawberry Plains. Most children were self-educated by reading. These early settlers took pride in their penmanship. Good grammar was spoken and it was a disgrace to be called a “Muggin.” A “Muggin” was someone who murdered the King’s English. Few books were available. In 1790 the Shunem Presbyterian Church loaned books to families to help in educating their young. In 1850 Daniel Meek loaned from his personal library and kept record of those who borrowed his books.

Churches
The first church in Strawberry Plains was the Methodist Church started by the Stringfield family. In later years the Methodist and Presbyterian congregation shared a building for worship. Today a strong bond remains between the congregations of the Methodist and Presbyterian Churches. The Presbyterian Church started in the 1790’s at the head of Lyon’s Creek. This church, named Shunem, was later moved down the creek and called, The Stand. Services were held in the open on a hillside. The church was next moved to a frame building in 1846. In 1864 the church was destroyed by the Federal Army. Another building was built and dedicated in 1867. That church burned down on December 25, 1867. Members worshipped in a school until 1871 when another church was built. One of the youngest churches in Strawberry Plains is the Baptist Church. Organized on September 9, 1917, the Baptist Church met in an old school house. In 1919 the Baptist Church moved into a new building.

Railroads
Strawberry Plains Train Depot
No one knows exactly when the railroad came through Strawberry Plains. The land was donated by the Stringfield family. In 1851 the railroad went through Jefferson County. It was built by physical labor, wheel barrow, and dump cart. A train depot was built in Strawberry Plains. Later some porters shortened the name to Straw Plains. In 1914 Bertha Meek requested of the Vice President of the Southern Railroad that he original name be used. The request was granted, and the depot was renamed Strawberry Plains. The railroad bridge over the Holston River was a strategic transportation device for men and supplies. It was damaged several times during the Civil War. Four forts were built to protect the railroad bridge, two on the Hamilton Farm, one on Holston Hill, and one on the hill above the Methodist Church.


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