Take a drive on Interstate 75 in Campbell County and you will inevitably notice the pungent name associated with Exit 144.
"People on the interstate see 'Stinking Creek' and they keep right on going," said Roy McKinney, resident and business owner on Stinking Creek Road. "It can definitely be a deterrent when people see that name."
The name almost prevented McKinney from moving to the area from Indiana almost a dozen years ago.
"We knew we wanted to live in the area Cumberland Mountains. We met with a guy who was selling a few acres of land and he started driving in this direction. I leaned over and mentioned to my wife that there's no way I'm living on no stinking creek," said McKinney.
Prior to visiting Stinking Creek, McKinney said he assumed the odor must refer to the sulfur runoff commonly associated with coal mining operations.
"We knew this was coal country at one time and I have been in other areas that had that type of sulfur odor." McKinney added, "Then when we got here and walked around the property, we fell in love with the whole area. The only thing you could smell were wildflowers and great mountain air."
It has been 230 years since residents in the area sniffed the stench that earned this body of water the name Stinking Creek. Prior to the unfortunate olfactory incident, the stream was known as Sugar Creek.
Sugar Creek, the Tennessee River, and almost everything else in the area froze during late 1779 and early 1780. Many historians still consider 1780 the coldest winter in American history. The temperatures that season along the eastern seaboard were even cold enough to freeze the salt waters of the upper Chesapeake Bay in Virginia.
George L. Ridenour published a book in 1941 on the history of Campbell County titled "The Land of the Lake." Ridenour described the frigid conditions' devastating effect on wildlife near Stinking Creek as follows:
"Animals that had drifted to the cane breaks and timber perished in the bitter cold. When spring and summer came in the beautiful valley of cane and meadow, all the animals had perished from the cold. It was an animal charnel house."
When spring and summer arrived, the putrid odor of rotting animal flesh overpowered the area. Ridenour said both Indian and white hunters steered clear of the creek due to the stench.
"From that time until the present the name of the creek and the beautiful valley has remained Stinking Creek," wrote Ridenour.
Residents in the area have no intention of changing the stinky name that stuck a couple of centuries ago.
"I asked one of the locals why they don't change the name back to its original name of 'Sugar Creek.' He said, 'Because it keeps most Yankees away.' It didn't work on us though," laughed McKinney.
The fragrant name does not steer a sizable amount of tourists away from driving four-wheelers throughout Stinking Creek at the Ride Royal Blue ATV Resort. The name also did not stop McKinney from building a couple of rental cabins directly beside the flowing waters of Stinking Creek.
"We decided to name it Black Pine Cabin Rentals instead of putting Stinking Creek in the title of the business. Stinking Creek Cabins probably wouldn't attract too many visitors," laughed McKinney. "We do have a link on our website that explains the folklore behind the name Stinking Creek. It makes a good conversation piece for visitors. Most of all, when folks come down through here they say, 'Oh my God. I had no idea it was this beautiful.' It's a great little creek and the best kept secret in East Tennessee."
McKinney added, "And it doesn't stink."
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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'
Other Namesake Segments
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- November 29, 2011: Turkey Creek
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- Dec. 31, 2010: Henley (Street) Bridge
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