On Tennessee State Route 33 in Claiborne County, the towns of Tazewell and New Tazewell directly border each other. The two communities that share a border and a name were once much farther apart.
"The two towns have grown together," said Jim Welch, a history teacher and resident of New Tazewell. "The only difference we say out here is the red light. You have to really pay attention to the city limit signs to know which town you are in."
Despite blending seamlessly from one municipality to another, each town has its own distinct government, identity, and history.
"Tazewell was established in 1802. It was named for the U.S. Senator Henry Tazewell from Virginia. The town became the seat of Claiborne County just a couple of years later," said Welch. "Legend has it that Springdale was supposed to be the county seat. Then a group from Tazewell got the Springdale representatives too drunk to vote on the day the selection was made. Of course, that is all oral history and there's no way to have any documentation to verify a story like that."
In 1890 the area began to track a new course with the railroad building a route from Knoxville through the nearby Cumberland Gap.
"The railroad was going through here into Middlesboro, Kentucky. It was going to have a stop in the town of Tazewell," said 86-year-old Delbert England, a lifelong resident of New Tazewell and former Alderman. "The train was going to come into that community, but people back then were scared of them [trains]. They protested the railroad coming through town because they thought the train were dangerous and could cause fires with all of those hot coals."
The railroad subsequently changed its plotted course to sweep completely around the community of Tazewell. Although the tracks avoided the community, the railroad still named its new depot a couple of miles away "Tazewell."
"The sign on the depot in New Tazewell only said the word 'Tazewell.' Even until the day it was torn down, the building never said 'New Tazewell' anywhere on it," said Welch.
Businesses and homes began cropping up near the new depot that was rejected by Tazewell. Eventually the growth produced an entirely new town based around a depot named "Tazewell."
"With two places named Tazewell, people started calling Tazewell 'Old Town' and the new area New Tazewell," said Welch. "They originally tried to call the new town 'Cowan.' That was what this area was called because old man Isaac Cowan owned a store out here and he is who provided the land for the train depot. That name didn't last."
"There was a friction between Tazewell and New Tazewell," said England. "Tazewell resented the fact that this new town was growing and people were building their businesses here along with their homes. There was some bitterness and rivalry that lasted a long time. Any time this area would get something new like a hospital, it was always hard to get anyone to agree on whether to have it in Tazewell or New Tazewell."
England said he once proposed the two towns merge into a single community, but the idea was quickly rejected by representatives from Tazewell.
England said those days of bitterness are long gone, with both communities now operating with a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation for the greater good.
"Our students all go to the same high school. We have one fire department that serves both towns. I haven't heard any of that fighting between the two towns in a very long time," said England. "Today it really is one place."
Both towns also share the natural beauty of an area just a few miles from the Cumberland Gap.
"This is a beautiful place where lots of tourists like to come through and visit," said Welch. "There is a lot of history here and it is a wonderful place to live."
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