By Mike Steely
You may know it as Sharps Chapel or simply the peninsula, but that huge swatch of state forest just north of Maynardville is actually the Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area. While it is mostly abandoned now, at one time many families lived, worshiped and died there.
Evidence of that prior settlement dot the landscape with home foundations, cemeteries and a few remaining churches. Sharps Chapel is about all that remains of a current living portion of the 24,000 acre wildlife area that is bordered by the Clinch and Powell Rivers. There are many nice lakeside homes on the peninsula before you enter the wildlife management area.
The historic area was originally part of Campbell County but, with boundary changes, it is now in Union. The easiest and only way to get there by car is by passing through Maynardville, crossing the lake, and turning left. From there you will see numerous dirt and gravel roads beyond Sharps Chapel, some which loop back onto the main road. You can actually drive all the way to the western end of the large peninsula. One of the earliest pioneer industries in our region was a mine located at the end of Lead Mine Bend Road on the north side of the peninsula.
The area is reserved for hunting, fishing, wildlife management, and all of it is available to the public. A day away in Chuck Swan is a venture into restored wilderness.
But Sharps Chapel wasn’t the only community to once occupy the spot between the Clinch and Powell Rivers or to have its counties change around it. Historic old Grantsborough, now beneath the lake waters, was one of the first towns incorporated in our state.
Back in 1780 land owned by James Grant, Jacob Womack and John Owens was recognized as a town. Grant set aside 100 acres for a new community. He built a log store and sold lots to several people when the town was located in Knox County. In 1801, it was located in Anderson County only to be absorbed a few years later by Campbell County. It was then transferred and the first school in then Campbell County was in Grantsborough, taught by Page Partwood, one of George Rogers Clark’s soldiers.
Grantsborough grew to become a contender for the Campbell County seat but lost out to Jacksborough, which was named to honor Gen. Andrew Jackson. The little river town had a publisher and printer, two attorneys, stores, churches and a ferry. It became the southern end of the old Kentucky Road and in 1834 had its own post office.
The town changed its name to Agee briefly when Dr. James H. Agee became a state senator.
Grantsborough was a major river stop and the ferry lasted until 1908 when a bridge was built connecting the town with the mainland. The construction of Norris Dam in the 1930s flooded the town and most of the residents were moved north into southern Campbell County where you will still find the Grantsborough road and a church relocated from the little river town that keeps the name.
At the junction of the Clinch and Powell it’s hard to imagine how narrow the rivers were and how Grantsborough played such an important part in the local history of our area.
Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area is a haven for hunters, hikers, horse riding, four wheelers, fishing, boating and picnics. Some of the isolated cemeteries date back to the early 1800s. The roads and intersections in that rural area are marked and most loop back to a main road. Big Spring and Oak Chapel loop have some steep hills but most of the area is fairly flat.
The Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church and the Oak Grove Primitive Baptist Church are there and one is more than 100 years old. There are numerous former home and farm sites there that remain as foundations only or steps.
The area is managed by the TWRA and the Tennessee Division of Forestry. It offers Norris Lake access on three sides and the Sharps Chapel community offers recreation and historic visits to visitors. There’s some 70 miles of shoreline.
You can find Chuck Swan Wildlife Management Area on the internet or you can call (423)587-7037 for more information.