August 1946, some Americans, brutalized by their county government, used armed force to overturn it. These Americans wanted honest, open elections. For years they had asked for state or Federal election monitors to prevent vote fraud, forged ballots, secret ballot counts, and intimidation by armed sheriff’s deputies, by the local political boss. They absolutely refused to knuckle-under and had been hardened by service in World War II. Having fought to free other countries from murderous regimes, they rejected vicious abuse by their county government. These Americans were Tennesseans of McMinn County, located in Eastern Tennessee. The main towns of McMinn County are Athens and Etowah.
The depression of McMinn County had ravaged the county. Drought broke many farmers, workforces shrank. The Cantrell family backed Franklin Roosevelt in the election in 1932, hoping that the programs would help the local economy. At the end of World War II in 1945, 3,000 veterans returned to McMinn County. Many newly returned ex-GI’s decided to challenge Cantrell politically, the sheriff of McMinn County. Offering honest ballot counts and reform of county government, the GI’s felt that the principals that they had fought for in the past war did not exist in the County. The GI’s won 1,168 votes to Cantrell’s 789. Other GI candidates won by similar margins in five precincts. Once the GI candidates’ victory had been certified, they cleaned up the county government. The GI’s wanted honest government, they set up a three man governing committee, the jail was fixed, and newly elected officials accepted a $5,000 pay limit. The general election passed quietly. McMinn County citizens having restored the Rule of Law returned to their daily lives.
At the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum you can imagine what it would be like to wear the moccasins of the Cherokee or to experience the satins of the Victorian era. Have you ever heard the whirl of the spinning wheel or felt the camaraderie of a quilting bee? Relive more than a century of the rich, turbulent history of Southeast Tennessee at the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum.
Located on Hwy 68 between Sweetwater & Madisonville you can find the Lost Sea and take a guided tour and boat ride. Lost Sea is the world’s largest underground lake. Designated as a Registered National Landmark, the earliest known visitor to the cave was a saber-toothed tiger, whose fossilized remains are now in the Museum of Natural History. A guided walk to the bottom of the cavern is rewarded with a trip in a glass bottom boat.
McMinn County offers a wide variety of recreational opportunities for both young and old. McMinn County so named because it was home to the Cherokee Towns that rested on the western slopes of the Appalachian Mountains. It is best known for its rivers; the Ocoee, Hiwassee, Tellico and Little Tennessee. These rivers, along with Lake Ocoee, Tellico Lake and other smaller lakes and streams, offer more than enough for a vacation of whitewater rafting, floating, canoeing, sailing, fishing and water skiing. McMinn County residents can follow rivers and trails to explore the Cherokee National Forest by car, foot, horseback or boat. For those who love adventure, there is gliding, rappelling, caving, gold panning, hunting, and more. Outdoor recreation is just one offering for this adventure packed county. Museums, historic sites and reenactments spin tales of Cherokee Indians, fur traders, settlers, loggers, miners, railroaders, textile workers, and farmers. Many of the points of interest lie along highways and backroads surrounded by streams, mountains, forests and small towns. Cherokee National Forest is the only National Forest in Tennessee. The southern portion of the forest lies in McMinn, Monroe, and Polk County. The forest is open for camping, picnicking, top fishing, whitewater rafting, and miles of hiking and horseback trails. Some of the most scenic driving views can be seen here in the Cherokee National Forest.