What’s the story behind Wheat’s Curve?

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Wheat’s Curve

Wheat’s Curve, the rest of the story.  Just outside of Sparta TN,  There is an interesting twist in the highway listed on many maps as The Broadway of America. Also-known-as US 70, this was the first paved road in the United States to reach from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

As a rule, road builders try to make highways as straight as possible. So when you encounter an almost right angle in a highway, you know that there must have been a reason. This bend is so pronounced that someone erected signs announcing (or warning) its position. Dubbed “Wheat’s Curve” for the family of Morgan Wheat who lived along the cusp, this curve has continued to slow traffic for the better part of a century.

Of course, for a segment of the population, a curve notorious enough to have its own moniker becomes a dare. It has been the site of many accidents through the years, some were sincere mishaps; others were caused by waging on who could travel the fastest through the curve; and of course, this has been the site of many traffic fatalities.

The alleged Wheat’s Curve speed record was set by a moonshiner who made the quarter-circle at 105 miles per hour. Interestingly, yet another segment of this same highway and still in Tennessee is where the story that became the movie Thunder Road took place.

Along with the sadness of the injured and the killed are a few anecdotes that have humorous twists. Ricky Mcbride remembers standing by the guard rail waiting for a school bus when a truck carrying pigs overturned unleashing startled swine that soon covered three subdivisions. Ann Holland recalls that incident and adds that the neighborhood children made sport of trying to catch the little pigs.  Carless Wiinnett remembers a similar day when a chicken truck overturned.

Civil Engineers spend years learning to calculate trajectory for vehicles likely to travel a given road so there must be a compelling reason to include a sharp change in direction at that locale.  We may never know for sure, but after studying maps of the area, and noting that the Louisville & Nashville

L&N Railroad Map. Note that Bon Air and Monterey predate Cookeville and Sparta

Railroad spur, that had been built decades before takes a similar turn in the same area; I think we might be able to deduce the reason for the curve. Apparently underlying geology resulted in these speed-breaking turns for both the highway and the railroad. White County Tennessee has more caves than any other county in the entire USA. Both the railroad and US 70 converge, just south of Sparta, on a ribbon of stable land bordered on one side by the Calfkiller River, and one the other by a huge, cave-induced depression called a “sink”.

Note the topo-map below. The contour lines illustrate elevation change. The contour lines that have tick-marks denote the geologic anomaly known as a sink. The tick marks point inward, and as you can see, this sink is probably over 3000′ long. Sinks are avoided for construction purposes because they flag unstable earth. Engineers for both the railroad, and the highway sought to avoid the mountains to the west, the river to the east, and at all cost, they skirted that unstable land in the sink. The cost of avoiding those three natural wonders was a temporary reduction in speed on both the rail and the pavement. Wheats Curve topo

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JR’s Place in Wheat’s Curve

One more good reason to slow down at Wheat’s Curve is JR’s Place. Known for ages as Webb’s Package Store, and operated for decades by WWII POW, Carl Webb and wife Margie.  Jimmy Ray Cantrell purchased the business last year and has converted it to a friendly tavern complete with a great selection of brew, karaoke, and various entertainment offered by local talent. I suggest that you try the “Third Shift” beer, but watch out for the boiled eggs that are soaking in napalm – – but I guess that fiery flavor sells a lot of brew.

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Rock Island Market, a Place to Eat

2014-11-14 13.02.37Driving old highway 70 from Sparta, TN to Rock Island is like moving backward through time. The path of one of the oldest roads through the state, The Old Kentucky Road, intermittently crosses the newer, now bypassed, highway seventy and the architecture along the way reflects that history. Some of the plantation homes you pass were  clearly here before the Civil War.

I normally drive this road when I am going to visit Rock Island State Park. But today, I am driving it because I am craving home cooking. The Rock Island Market is an unlikely place to expect a good meal. As you drive past, it looks like the kind of convenience store that sprang up everywhere during the nineteen seventies. But anywhere near meal time, the parking lot is jam packed – – those folks ain’t folks shopping for groceries. You enter the restaurant through a side door in the market and are greeted by a 2014-11-14 13.07.33stone fireplace that Cracker Barrel would be proud to display.

There is a cafeteria-style buffet straight ahead to display the daily specials, but you sit down to be served – – and the service is as good as the food; and the price even makes it better. So the next time that you are missing grandma’s or mom’s home cooking, take a deep breath and a slow drive to one of the better diners that I’ve been in for a long long time. You won’t regret the trip.

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Virgin Falls

Photographer unknown . .

Virgin Falls, near Sparta TN, is the crown jewel of trekking beauty. The creek feeding Virgin Falls comes out of Little Chestnut Mountain, runs about 150 feet, plummets 110 feet, and disappears into the same mountain from whence it came. Rumors have it that no one knows where the water comes from or where it goes – – I know the source and hope to be able to announce it in the upcoming months. Perhaps, one of the most unique things about the lack of a visible creek entering or exiting Virgin Falls – – is that Virgin Falls is not so unique; there are four other waterfalls within five miles that similarly do not have streams leading to them, or out of them. The second most popular is known as Lost Creek, the falls where the remake of “The Jungle Book” was filmed.

Part of the intrigue about visiting Virgin Falls is the considerably-rugged 4.8 mile trail leading to the namesake of this wilderness area. The first third of the trail is rough which unfortunately makes the last third even rougher. The majority of the 1300’ elevation change that takes place along this trail is within the first 1.5 miles of the trail head. Thus, when returning, you are climbing out the last third, not to mention the first mile includes a stream that is often not fordable without getting wet.

Big Laurel Falls by Chuck Sutherland

Big Laurel Falls by Chuck Sutherland

One saving grace about this rugged trail is that there are two more attractions that you encounter while venturing to Virgin Falls. either of these attractions alone would make it worth the trip. The first is Big Laurel Falls. Big Laurel Falls is the result of the above-mentioned stream that just drenched you while you were fording it, dropping over the mouth of a sizeable cave entrance and disappearing into that cave – – thus there is no downstream after the falls – – and this is often a huge volume of water.

Sheep Cave, courtesy Tim Wooton

Sheep Cave, courtesy Tim Wooton

The second “main” attraction along the trail is Sheep Cave. Sheep cave rests in a mysterious looking sink that somehow invites you to drop off the main trail and check out the bottom. The descent is steep, but can be done without rope; however, you are going to wish that you had a rope on the return.

Lastly, is the waterfall that gave this wilderness its name, Virgin Falls. There has not been a season when I’ve seen this falls that it is not spectacular. Once, in the winter it had been below freezing for five days. The trip in was almost like a black and white movie; mostly devoid of color. But, with the leaves off the trees you get to see some beautiful karst topography that you don’t get to see otherwise. And, after several days of temperatures in the teens, the mist rising off the warm water from the cave freezes on every plant stem within thirty yards of the falls. When the sun hits it, it is like looking at a giant glass menagerie and sometimes the refraction is blinding.

Virgin Falls, courtesy Ross Cardwell

Virgin Falls, courtesy Ross Cardwell

“But wait, there’s more.” There are two three more side attractions that you should see while you are at Virgin Falls. The first is, while at the main falls, take a few minutes to hike down to the headwaters of the Caney Fork River – – if you are lucky enough to have a fishing pole, even better. The second side-track is  a spur trail that leads off the main trail up a steep ascent to Martha’s Pretty Point. Finally, when you have made it back to your car – – exhausted; turn right out of the parking lot, follow the fork to the right about four miles and visit Welch’s Point; this is one of the most spectacular overlooks in Tennessee and has only recently been opened to the public. Now, you can drive within 400’ of the escarpment – – especially a blessing if you’ve just come off the Virgin Falls Trail.

mill stone at virgin falls by ross cardwell

Mill Stone at Virgin Falls, Courtesy of Ross Cardwell

ladder stair by ross cardwell

Stair/Ladder, Courtesy of Ross Cardwell


Welch’s Point is now open


Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Tennessee Department of Conservation and Environment have reached an agreement allowing Welch’s Point to remain open all year long. This is one of the most spectacular overlooks in the state of Tennessee and will offer those who are unable to hike the Virgin Falls Trail a perspective of what the Mid-Cumberlands has to offer.

Please be aware that you are driving through a wildlife refuge as you drive to Welch’s point and the side trails past Virgin Falls are not open during hunting season. Virgin Falls Trail remains open all year long.

To get to Welch’s Point; about half-way between Sparta and Crossville, turn south off of US 70 onto Eastland Road (next to LBJ&C). The closest GPS address will be 5747 Eastland Rd, Sparta, TN 38583 (Gulf Trading Post).

From the Gulf Trading Post, turn south onto Scott’s Gulf Road. Follow the gravel road and fork to the right immediately past the parking lot for Virgin Falls Trail. About three miles past the fork, you will enter a large gravel parking area with the remains of an old cabin and the hint of a view into the Caney Fork River valley; then follow the foot trail (about 400′) to the overlook. The park closes at sundown. Welch’s Point may be closed for ice, snow or inclement weather.


Room for Both

Representative, and senatorial candidate, Paul Bailey and White County’s newly elected County Executive, Denny Wayne Robinson met with members of Tennessee Trails and Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency at Welch’s Point in September. Just over one month later, there is indication that Welch’s Point will soon be open to visitors in addition to hunters. This shows the 2014-09-17 17.52.07benefit of living in a democracy. White County, we need to be talking this up. Every citizen in this county and state has a stake in access to Welch’s Point and the remainder of Scott’s Gulf, now known as the Bridgestone Centennial Wilderness Area.

Welch’s Point was partially funded by the Tennessee Heritage Conservation Trust Fund which gains its dollars from a transfer tax. Whenever ALL Tennesseans sell their real estate, they are taxed on the transaction and therefore, the funds should only be spent on properties that are available to all Tennesseans.

The Bridgestone Centennial Wilderness Area was a gift to all Tennesseans from the Bridgestone tire company. The restrictions on the Bridgestone gift are riddled with statements indicating that the “uplands” portion was to be managed as a wildlife management area (hunting), and 1000′ from the rim line and down into the Caney Fork River Canyon were to be open for other activities including hiking, kayaking, caving, etc.

Currently, the entire area is closed off from September through December except for hunters. If managed, like Bridgestone indicated in their restrictions – – there is ample Room for Both.

As you encounter Paul Bailey and Denny Wayne Robinson, let them know that you appreciate their efforts. Take a moment to contact them and your other representatives to ask why the restrictions are not being enforced as written and filed in the White County Courthouse. The deeds to both properties are available on CragrockUSA.com for your perusal.

It is long past-time that these properties are available for all Tennesseans to enjoy. Please share this link with friends and any pertinent facebook groups and lets get these Tennessee treasures open to all – – all year long.



Milksick Mountain


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Milksick Mountain, , Island in the sky

Milksick Mountain, near Sparta TN, allegedly got it’s name when early settlers noted that those who consumed the milk from cattle grazing on this mountain often became ill; some died. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died of the same malady. At that point in White County history, land was open to grazing and people fenced their yards to keep livestock out. Enough people were harmed by the cattle that eventually the mountain was fenced off to keep the cattle from consuming the whitesnake root which grows along the slopes and results in tainted milk.

I once visited a pit in the side of Milksick Mountain and noted that many of the surrounding trees were damaged by lightening. Some of the scars on the trees had grown over, some were quite fresh indicating that lightening truly does strike the same place more than once. In the case of this pit, Elwin Hannah, a geologist friend explained that the ionized air emanating from the pit probably attracts lightening.

On a final note, and how suiting as we approach Halloween, I have often heard that Milksick Mountain is haunted by a witch. Many have reported hearing “blood curdling” screams along the mountainside at dusk. Some discount the shireking as a mountain lion – – or could it be someone who lost their life from drinking the tainted milk a long, long time ago?

I would love to hear any stories that you have to share regarding Milksick Mountain.


Leesia Champion added:  Near Doyle, there was supposed to be a headless horseman that haunts the road I live on Halloween night. One Halloween night I dressed up and rode my horse to scare the kids on a hay ride. My horse spooked so badly in that area I had to put her up.

Also the property that I live on used to be the old Iva Mason property. She came up missing and has never been found, but they say she was in my well. The last time she was seen was selling cattle and then nothing afterwards. Sometimes at night you can hear piano music – – she had played the piano.

Robert Sparkman added: Spent many a night up at the fire tower. We thought it was a Sasquatch. Heard some real weird stuff up there.

Steve Ware My Boy Scout troop 174 hiked cross-country from my house on Windsor Drive to the Fire Tower and back. We did it all by map and compass. Of course Dad, the scoutmaster, kept tabs on our navigation. It was a wonderful hike and lots of fun. Yert!

Karen Hyder LaFever My greatgrandfather’s farm is just south of Milksick. We live there now. My grandfather told many stories of the wild sound heard. He said he had heard many bobcats scream but none were like this. He told of a coon hunt on the mountain on night. The dogs were turned loose to search for coons. the hunters built a fire and sat around waiting for the howling to begin. All of a sudden he said everything got deathly quiet. Then out of no where a very cold breeze came through their camp and the fire went out. Their dogs appeared all of a sudden with no howling, only shivers. They heard this horrible scream and they all left the mountain quickly.

Tommy Frasier I lived at the base of Milksick in the late 80s. I heard some odd sounds.

Pam Hall My grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Goolsby lived on Milksick when their youngest son Donnie was born. He got sick from the cows milk. Grandma gathered fresh greens in the spring for a salad and they all got sick from them. Grandpa was giving her the dickens because he said she should know what was good to eat since her mother was a herb woman. They moved back to Sparta after that.

Carless Winnett our scout troop camped up there and we stayed awake all night waiting but nothing happened but we were ready to leave,used to take my girl friends there to,lol

Debbie Terry Ward This is the story of Milksick Mt as it has been told to me all of my life. The main thoroughfare from Sparta to Spencer was the Hickory Valley Road. A small circus came through the area and one of the “cats” got loose. The theory was it was a panther because of the scream. I grew up in Hickory Valley at the eastern side of the mountain. I do know the cattle or animals would not go near the mountain and the “scream” could be heard at night.

Kenneth Brogden has told about my grandfather, Joe Terry, going toward the mountain with the coon dogs and found him running back to the house as fast as he could go and the dogs were ahead of him. Kenneth did see an animal but it went back to the mountain as Pa got closer to home. This has been the general consensus of the event from the men of this era of what happened.