The curious canines of Surgoinsville—Hawkins County, Tennessee

Terror in the Tri-Cities—Tennessee & Virginia

The Tri-Cities Region encompasses the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee and part of southwest Virginia, surrounding the major cities of Kingsport and Johnson City in Tennessee, and Bristol, VA/TN, which is situated astride the state line. This area, in the heart of Appalachia, is noted for its culture, mountain lore, and ghost stories.

This series looks at a representative haunting in each of the region’s counties and it’s one independent city.

Legend of the Long Dog and Friends
US-11W north of Surgoinsville

Perched on the state line with Virginia, Hawkins County is one of the oldest counties in Tennessee. Two major paths make their way through the borders of this county. The Holston River snakes its way through much of the county on its route from Kingsport to Knoxville where it converges with the French Broad River to create the might Tennessee River. The river provided mobility to Native Americans and later settlers to the area.

The Natives also trod a path near to the river that was later dubbed the Great Indian War Path which connected the heart of the Muscogee Nation in Alabama through to what would become Upstate New York. European settlers would later claim this path and use it as they migrated throughout the Appalachians. As settlers claimed the area, the path was utilized as a stage coach route from Knoxville to Kingsport. This road is now followed by US Highway 11 West.

In the late years of the 18th century and into the early 19th, these paths attracted hordes of settlers, but also highwaymen and bandits who preyed like wolves on the unwary travelers, which gave rise to many stories and legends in these parts. Kathryn Tucker Windham, the great Alabama storyteller, published her version of one of these legends from the small town of Surgoinsville in her 1977 book, 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey.

The opening parts of her story, which are likely fictional, describe a common sighting of the “Long Dog” on the road just northeast of Surgoinsville. However, the heart of her piece includes the legend of the “Long Dog” and the experience of Marcus Hamblen, a member of a prominent local family. The legend that she confers involves one of the most famous of the bandits to haunt the state of Tennessee: the infamous John Murrell.

Known as the “Great Western Land Pirate” and the “Rob Roy of the Southwest,” John Murrell was among the most notorious of the thieves and highwaymen who prowled the South. Born in Virginia in 1806, Murrell spent his formative years in Williamson County, Tennessee (just outside of Nashville, this county includes Franklin). Around the age of 16, he was imprisoned for horse theft and remained in the state prison in Nashville until 1830. Upon release, he resumed a rollicking life of crime and recruited others to join his band of outlaws. This dubious group primarily operated along the Mississippi River and along the Natchez Trace from Natchez to Nashville until Murrell’s arrest and conviction for stealing a slave in 1834. For this theft, he served ten

John Murrell bandit
Portrait of John Murrell made during his second time in the state prison in Nashville.

years in prison before he was released in 1844 having been reformed. Later that year Murrell died in Pikeville, Tennessee.

It seems, however, that Murrell’s real life does not hold a candle to his oversized legend. Much of his legend was spurred on by an 1835 pamphlet written by one of the primary witnesses against him. This pamphlet accused Murrell of inciting a slave rebellion, one of the top fears for planters of that era. As a result of the pamphlet, slaveholders and law enforcement throughout Mississippi questioned, tortured, and even hung some of their slaves along with white outsiders who were implicated as being members of Murrell’s gang.

Returning to the legend that haunts the landscape outside of Surgoinsville, Murrell and his men attacked a family camping under a large white oak there. The family’s dog attempted to defend his family from the marauders but was as brutally slaughtered as well as his family. As a result, the spirit of this dog has been known to appear to travelers along this road near the old oak.

One of the more remarkable encounters happened to a young man named Marcus Hamblen. Walking the road one night, Hamblen was shocked to see a luminous and abnormally long dog approach from behind the old white oak. Hamblen picked up a fence rail and swung it at the animal when it got close enough, but the rail passed cleanly through the creature. As he ran the dog continued his pace until the phantom disappeared suddenly at a particular curve in the road. Hamblen supposedly kept his eye out for the curious canine and continued to see his spectral friend many more times.

Since the old road was paved and named the Lee Highway, sightings of the luminous Long Dog have grown fewer and fewer. Since the Lee Highway was designated US Route 11 West, sightings have nearly stopped, though the white oak is still alive and continues to preside over the now four-lane highway. It should be noted that the oak is on private property, though it can easily be viewed from the road.

Maxwell Academy Surgoinsville Tennessee
Maxwell Academy in 2015, by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

This area is no stranger to spectral activity. Heading north from Surgoinsville, just past the old white oak, turn left onto Stoney Point Road. After a short distance, the road turns a corner and a marvelous antebellum brick building comes into view, this is Maxwell Academy. Built around 1852, this building was originally used by the congregation of New Providence Presbyterian Church and also utilized by a school established by the church. The building that still stands was constructed on this site in 1901, to replace the original structure lost in a fire. It seems that the voices of children are still heard within the old building. Justin Guess notes that during an ice cream social held in the building guests were treated by sounds above them, though no one was upstairs.

New Providence Presbyterian Church Surgoinsville Tennessee
New Providence Presbyterian Church in 2015, by Brian Stansberry. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

After the academy building became too cramped to hold both the students and the church, a new church was constructed across the road. It should be noted that the congregation of New Hope Presbyterian Church (214 Stoney Point Road) was among the earliest congregations founded in the state of Tennessee, having been founded in nearby Carter’s Valley in 1780. The church moved to this site around 1800 and the peaceful cemetery surrounding the church dates to this time.

tombstone Colonel George Maxwell
The grave of Colonel George Maxwell, 2018, by Glennster. Courtesy of Find-A-Grave.

Among the souls who rest here is Colonel George Maxwell, a veteran of the American Revolution who served at the Battle of Kings Mountain. After Maxwell’s death in 1822, a legend has sprouted that a large black dog guards his grave. It is unknown if this dog is the spirit of a former companion or just a spectral guardian protecting the spirit of the military veteran. In addition to this curious canine, phantom footsteps are supposed to be heard around this grave at night.

Sources

  • Brown, John Norris. “The Legend of the Long Dog.” Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee (now defunct). Accessed 18 July 2017.
  • Brown, John Norris. “New Providence Church.” Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee (now defunct). Accessed 18 July 2017.
  • Grigsby, Blanche. National Register of Historic Places nomination form for New Providence Presbyterian Church, Academy, and Cemetery. 8 March 1976.
  • Guess, Justin H. Weird Tri-Cities: Hawkins County, Tennessee. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  • Libby, David J. “John Murrell.” Mississippi Encyclopedia. 11 July 2017.
  • Sakowski, Carolyn. Touring the East Tennessee Backroads. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1993.
  • Windham, Kathryn Tucker. 13 Tennessee Ghosts and Jeffrey. Tuscaloosa, AL: U. of AL University Press, 1977.

A general and friends–Greene County, Tennessee

Terror in the Tri-Cities—Tennessee & Virginia

The Tri-Cities Region encompasses the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee and part of southwest Virginia, surrounding the major cities of Kingsport and Johnson City in Tennessee, and Bristol, VA/TN, which is situated astride the state line. This area, in the heart of Appalachia, is noted for its culture, mountain lore, and ghost stories.

This series looks at a representative haunting in each of the region’s counties and it’s one independent city.

Greene County, located on the state line with North Carolina, was established in 1783 and named for Revolutionary War General Nathanael Greene. The name of the county’s seat, Greeneville, is also named for him.

General Morgan Inn and Conference Center
111 North Main Street
Greeneville

When the Grand Central Hotel opened in Greeneville in 1884, it was considered the “finest hotel from Chattanooga to Roanoke.” In recent years however, it could be considered the most haunted hotel from Chattanooga to Roanoke.

On a recent investigation one of the more active spirits informed investigators that there were 26 spirits within the hotel. If the spirit it believed, that is nearly a single spirit per room of this 30-room Victorian hotel. Certainly, the spirits have made their presence known.

Among the prominent spirits here is that of Confederate General John Hunt Morgan, who was killed near the site of the hotel in 1864. Definitely, the dashing general didn’t imagine that he would spend eternity in a hotel in Greeneville, Tennessee bearing his name, but evidence proves that he remains here.

John Hunt Morgan
General John Hunt Morgan, from The Photographic History of the Civil War in Ten Volumes: Volume Four, The Cavalry, published in 1911.

Alabama-born Morgan settled in Lexington, Kentucky, where his home still stands and may be haunted. After the outbreak of war, Morgan signed up with the Confederate Army and raised a regiment of Kentucky cavalry which served in the Battle of Shiloh in early 1862. In hopes of convincing Kentucky to secede and join the Confederacy, Morgan conducted a series of raids through the state, eventually moving across the Ohio River into Ohio and Indiana. The raid across the Ohio was unsuccessful and ended with Morgan and his men being captured and incarcerated in Union POW camps.

Ever the dashing and cavalier cavalry officer, Morgan escaped and was assigned to oversee troops in Eastern Tennessee and Virginia. During a surprise Union raid on Greeneville, Morgan, who was staying in the nearby Dickson-Williamson Mansion, attempted to mount his horse and was unceremoniously shot in the back and killed. Before his untimely death, he arrogantly proclaimed that he would never be taken alive.

Years later, with the construction of the hotel, General Morgan was honored in the hotel’s presidential suite where a photograph of him has been hung. Since that time, those staying in Room 207 or nearby have had strange experiences. One hotel staff member reported that the front desk will get complaints about noise in that room. Knowing that the room is unoccupied, the front desk clerk will assure the guest that they will ask the occupant to quiet down.

General Morgan Inn Greeneville Tennessee
The General Morgan Inn in 2015, photo by Steven C. Price. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Aside from the ruckus in Room 207, the hotel’s restaurant, Brumley’s, has a spirit that’s fond of spoons. Dubbed “Grace,” she “is notorious for stealing spoons, and only spoons, from place settings overnight. But, she only takes from her preferred Green Room.” A server in the restaurant told WJHL, “So, you’ll walk through, and you’ll be like, ‘Ugh, there’s a spoon missing.’ When we polish them, we’re always like really low on spoons. We have to order spoons like all the time. So, it’s crazy. Why spoons? I don’t know. And where she puts them, I don’t know.” Not only that, the spirit regularly adjusts pictures on the wall so that they hang crookedly.

Another spirit, known as “Front Desk Bill,” makes appearances from the neighboring Depot Street Hotel, and is believed to be the spirit of a former hotel employee who loved his job so much that he has remained after his death.

With so many spirits and so much activity, it’s no surprise that this may be one of the most active hotels in the region.

Sources

The lascivious lady–Carter County, Tennessee

Terror in the Tri-Cities Series—Tennessee & Virginia 

The Tri-Cities Region encompasses the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee and part of southwest Virginia, surrounding the major cities of Kingsport and Johnson City in Tennessee, and Bristol, VA/TN, which is situated astride the state line. This area, in the heart of Appalachia, is noted for its culture, mountain lore, and ghost stories.

This series looks at a representative haunting in each of the region’s counties, and it’s one independent city.

Carter County, Tennessee, situated on the state line with North Carolina, possesses a number of haunted places, especially around its county seat, Elizabethton, where just outside of town the Siam Steel Bridge once stood.

Birchfield Cemetery
Dark Hollow Road
Roan Mountain

Roan Mountain, which is shared by Tennessee and North Carolina, is the center of many folktales and legends. For centuries, a mysterious hum or singing has been heard near the top of this mountain and has never been adequately explained as well as the sounds of a spectral bull.

Roan Mountain Tennessee
The town of Roan Mountain with its namesake mountain rising up behind it. Photo 2015 by Brian Stansberry, courtesy of Wikipedia.

On the flanks of the mountain winds a mysterious road called Dark Hollow Road. With such a creepy name, it’s no wonder that the road has spirited legends associated with it. The legend here revolves around a woman named Delinda. In some sources, she is a prostitute, simply a renowned lover, or sometimes she is suggested to be a witch. Most sources agree, however, that she was carrying on relationships with many local men, most of whom were married. In fact, she was suspected of spreading illness to these men, further angering the already spurned wives.

Blogger Jason Norris Brown recounts in his now, sadly defunct blog, Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee, that Delinda was in love with a man named Jankins. When he died, she was suspected of climbing into his casket in order that they spend eternity together. Another version of the legend has the women of the town killing her and hiding her body in Mr. Jankins casket. Following the burial, locals began to notice a shadowy figure around the cemetery at the bend in the road.

A darker version of the story has Delinda being murdered by a group of angry wives. She was invited to a quilting bee, but after her arrival she was tarred and feathered before being hung in a nearby tree.

Birchfield Cemetery Roan Mountain Tennessee Dark Hollow Road
The Birchfield Cemetery on Dark Hollow Road, 2016. Photo by Loyal Limb, courtesy of Find-a-Grave.

There are reports that drivers near the cemetery have experienced an odd bump to their cars, sometimes feeling like a person has jumped on the bumper, which has been blamed on the spirit of Delinda trying to hitch a ride. One story cited by several sources, describes a group of friends driving past the cemetery at night when their car begins to buck wildly as if the driver was stepping on the accelerator and the brakes at the same time.

Paranormal investigator and researcher Justin H. Guess notes in his 2012 book on the hauntings of Carter County that visitors to the cemetery throwing a coin up in the air will have it disappear before it hits the earth. Perhaps Delinda is still trying to collect her fee?

The identity of the exact cemetery has not been reported, though after some digging, it appears this may be the Birchfield Cemetery, which is located across the road from another small family cemetery, the Gibbs Cemetery. Please have respect for the families who own these cemeteries and their loved ones who are buried here.

Sources

  • Brown, Alan. Haunted Tennessee: Ghosts and Strange Phenomena of the Volunteer State. Mechanicsburg, PA: Stackpole Books, 2009.
  • Brown, Jason Norris. “The Phantom Jumper of Dark Hollow.” Ghosts and Spirits of Tennessee.
  • “Do you believe in ghosts?” Johnson City Press. 30 October 2012.
  • Guess, Justin H. Weird Tri-Cities: Haunted Carter County, Tennessee. Kindle Edition, 2012.
  • Manley, Roger. Weird Tennessee: Your Travel Guide to Tennessee’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. NYC: Sterling, 2010.