Bulls Gap, Tennessee
Located in Northeastern Tennessee, Bull's Gap was the scene of several battles during the Civil War. It's name comes from John Bull, a gunsmith from Pennsylvania who settled here in 1794.
In 1792 John Bull received a North Carolina land grant for fifty-five acres of land on Bays Mountain near an important east-west passageway over the mountain. Bull operated a stage line through this pass which became known as Bull's Gap. The first post office in the area was Bays Mount which was located approximately a mile and a half from the present day town.
In 1857 when the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad began construction of a line from Bristol to Knoxville, the area was known as Branchville. Upon completion of the Rogersville line by the Rogersville and Jefferson Railroad in 1870, the town was renamed Rogersville Junction by the railroad. Around this same time period, the Bays Mount post office was moved into the community and was renamed Bulls Gap at the request of residents in town. In 1904, the railroad changed the name of Rogersville Junction to Bulls Gap to end the confusion of two names for one community. The name of Bulls Gap appears to be the name the townsfolk used long before the powers that be changed it.
The East Tennessee & Virginia Railroad (ET&VA) built the first tracks through the Bulls Gap area. Constructed by slave labor under adverse conditions of mud and water, combined with company financial problems caused by the panic of 1857, the last 130 miles took over one year to complete. The ET&VA line connected with the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad and provided a route from Bristol, Tennessee to Atlanta, Georgia with connections in Washington, D.C., Knoxville, Memphis, Augusta, and Charleston. In 1886 the two combined to form the East Tennessee Virginia and Georgia Railroad.
Upon completion in 1858 plans were made to build a line to Rogersville. However, with the advent of the Civil War the Rogersville line was not built. Because of the Bulls Gap became a strategic location for both armies during the War. Bulls Gap became a fortified town and between 1863 & 1865 many battles were fought to gain control of the town and its railroad. Throughout most of the war, the Federal forces maintained control of the town.
After the war, Bulls Gap and the damaged railroad began a rebuilding period. The earlier planned Rogersville connector was completed around 1870 and the town began to grow and prosper at the junction between both lines. According to Goodspeed's 1887 History Of East Tennessee, Bulls Gap had "two churches, a good school, four stores, and a hotel." In a 1885 account, the Smith House (later Gilley's Hotel) was listed as one of the best hotels all along the ET, VA& G railroad. The town had become an important supper stop on the main line.
Around the turn of the century, the rail lines through Bulls Gap became part of the Southern Railway system. The town continued to grow and, according to a 1912 Bulls Gap Board of Trade pamphlet, there was a population of over 1,200 and "some fourteen passenger trains a day, also many freight trains." In the 1920's, Southern Railway had several railroad related structures in town including, water towers, sand house, depot, and a dormitory, along with other support facilities ( some of these are still standing today and can be seen on a drive through the "old part of town".)
The early development patterns and the late nineteenth and twentieth century growth of Bulls Gap reflect the economic importance of the railroad in this community. The commercial center of town was built between the junctions of the two lines and close to the depot. The hotels were built within a stones throw of the tracks and the town then grew around the junction. As the importance of the railroad faded in America the town life around town began to dwindle and move away from the center of town to 11-E and highway 66. The depot was eventually torn down by the railroad and many of the commercial buildings are still vacant today. But when you cross the railroad bridge going through the old part of town it still reminds you of what this town used to be and the potential that it has.
The Bulls Gap Railroad Museum and Community Development Corporation has acquired the Gilley' Hotel from a donation by James Walls and has plans to renovate the building to house the Museum itself. Also they recently received a grant to remodel an 8 unit apartment building in downtown. The Gilley's Apartment Building has been renovated and is now available for lease. Please contact Clinch-Powell for more information.
Much of the above information came from a brochure titled Historic Bulls Gap Tennessee that can be found at the town hall in Bulls Gap.
We would like to Thank the Town of Bulls Gap for all of their help and support.
Town of Bulls Gap
139 South Main Street
P.O. Box 181
Bulls Gap, Tennessee 37711
Robin Horner, Mayor
The narrative of info was written by Linda Cole and Steve Campbell