By Mike Steely
The unique location of Indian Mountain State Park in Jellico, Tn., not only makes it the “First Tennessee State Park” for southbound travelers on Interstate 75 but also gives the park the recognition of being the only state park built on a strip mine.
If you’re headed north into Kentucky or Ohio or returning from there you might consider taking a short side-trip and visiting one of our state’s most unusual parks.
Jellico is my birthplace and I was a child the land where the park is now located was nothing more than an abandoned swamp of deep pits, weeds and wildlife. The creation of a park there is an example of what can be done with waste land.
The 200-acre park features camping, a playground, picnic shelters and tables, fishing, paddle boating, and a swimming pool. The camping area has 49 paved sites with water, electricity and a dump station. The park’s most popular feature on weekends and evenings is the walking and jogging area for local residents.
During warm weather the shelters are often booked for family reunions, birthdays, wedding receptions, and other gatherings. The lake created in the park is well used by local crappie, bass, catfish and bluegill anglers.
The park sits at the foot of Indian Mountain, one of the peaks that surround the valley town of Jellico. On the way into the park, from the only exit off I-75 just inside the Volunteer State, you’ll pass through the 1880s town that has been struggling with bankruptcy, political problems and safe drinking water. The area is prone to flooding and that’s true for the park as well.
Jellico is proud of its coal-fueled past and was once a thriving community with an opera house, busy downtown and many noted citizens. John Fox Jr., the author, lived there and wrote about it. Grace Moore, the opera and movie star, is from there as is Homer Rodeheaver, music director for Evangelist Billy Sunday and composer of many spirituals.
Downtown Jellico has a small Veterans Park and the buildings that remain look as if they were straight out of the 1880s, which they are. There’s a nice museum inside Buck’s Hardware on Main Street that’s open to the public and has relics, photos, etc. of the area’s past. Among the various newspapers on display there you might find one or two with my name on them. Many years ago I edited the newspaper there.
The town is split between the busy Tennessee side and the smaller Kentucky side. The U. S. Post Office downtown is worth a visit and once served as the Mine Rescue headquarters when deep coal mining was booming.
You might notice that most of the buildings in downtown Jellico are on the east side of Main Street. That’s because an explosion on the railroad tracks took out much of the west side of town many years ago.
During the week Indian Mountain State Park, located on the west side of town, is not usually busy. You can get camping and other information on the internet or call the park at 423-784-7958.