Contributed by Mary Kathryn Bacon Fleming and Jean Barnes Dawson
The Fall Branch community is located fifteen miles northwest of Jonesborough and ten miles south of Kingsport on State Route 93, about one mile north of interstate 82. A large creek, fed by seven freshwater springs, turns northward through the village and falls seventy-five feet over a cliff into Horse Creek.
Deeds dating back to the 1780’s refer to this area as the “falls branch of Horse Creek.” According to local accounts, Horse Creek received its name due to a great flash flood that floated some horses down the creek and over the falls into the water below, drowning them.
The following is an excerpt from the annual catalog of the Fall Branch High School 1907-08. “Fall Branch is situated in the northwestern corner of Washington County. It has three churches, several business houses, a double daily mail and telephone lines to all the principal points in East Tennessee. The beautiful scenery of the mountains, with Chimney Top towering 3076 feet among the clouds, the delightful climate, and the picturesque falls, make the village one of the most attractive spots in this Switzerland of America. The nearest town in the historical county seat, Jonesboro, some 15 miles away.”
One of the earliest settlers in the Fall Branch area was Isaac White, a Revolutionary War soldier who came to Washington County from Guilford County, North Carolina in 1781. In 1794, he received a North Carolina land grand for 400 acres “on the fall branch of Horse Creek.” This land is located at the present intersection of Highway 93 and Interstate 81. The White cemetery, containing the remains of several generations of this family, is located just south of the highway interchange. Other early settlers in the area were John English, Thomas Gibson, John Whitlock, Abraham Hulse, Gabriel Morgan, Peter Morgan, Jess Crouch, David White, Terry White, Stephen White, Abraham Moore, James Whitlock, William Mullenix, John Vincent and John Haws.
The Crouch family settled in the community quite early, and the area was unofficially known as “Crouch Town” for many years. Jemima Crouch kept a boarding school for students of the Fall Branch Seminary in what is now known as the Hopper house; this building is said to be over 150 years old.
In 1843, James A. Wells purchased land from Jesse J. James just south of the village. On this tract, Wells built a large brick house; this home was later owned by the McCrary family until it was razed in 1972 for the construction of Interstate 81.
In the early 1800’s, Gabriel Morgan built a large grist mill on the cliff near the head of the falls. This mill was operated by members of the Morgan family for over one hundred years and was torn down in the 1930’s. A large frame house, still standing, was built near the mill by the Morgans; the last member of the family to live there was Paul Morgan, a great-grandson of Gabriel Morgan.
Another old home still standing in the community was constructed in the late 1850’s by Joseph Sheppard. It is said that during the Civil War, Confederate soldiers would go through a trap door in the living room into the basement and hide in the root cellar.
On Saturday, July 28, 1827, several members were dismissed from Double Springs Baptist Church for the purpose of organizing a church at Fall Branch. They met and having constituted Brethren Reese Bayless and Joseph Crouch as a presbytery, organized the Fall Branch Baptist Church. In January 1848, the church agreed to build a new meeting house of brick. Many of the early church records were lost during the Civil War. The name was changed to the First Baptist Church of Fall Branch in 1975.
The grounds for the Fall Branch Methodist Church were given and the first church built by John and Elizabeth Cox Vincent about 1815. The present sanctuary, except for the south wing, was built about 1845. The church was closed in 1915, but was reactivated in 1939 when the Southern Methodist congregation moved from its location in the south end of the village back to the old church. The 1845 sanctuary was bricked in 1947. The addition to the south (wing?) was completed in 1968. At present, the other churches in Fall Branch are: Fall Branch Christian Church, the First Free Will Baptist of Fall Branch and Landmark Independent Missionary Baptist.
A post office was established at Fall Branch in April 1830. The name was changed to James’ Cross Roads in 1836. From 1854 to 1893, it was called Falls Branch. The name once again became Fall Branch in august 1883. After Rural Free Delivery began in 1900, Amos R. Moulton, II was one of the first mail carriers in the community.
In October 1858, a dispensation was granted by the Grand Lodge of the State of Tennessee to establish Johnson Lodge No. 274, F. & A.M. in the village. Officers were installed on the 7th day of December 1858 by the Rev. Noah Baldwin. The existing Masonic building was completed in 1869. The Lodge is still active.
Many Methodist families, along with their Baptist neighbors and Masonic brothers, exhibited an unusually progressive spirit over the years. Among them are these family names: Baines, Barnes, Baskette, Bishop, Cottrell, Cox, Crouch, Crumley, Duncan, Easley, Fullkerson, Gibson, Hall, Haws, Henry, Hood, Jones, McCrary, Moody, Moore, Morgan, Morrison, Moulton, Murr, Pierce, Powell, Seaver, Shepard, Shipley, Smith, Stevens, Vincent, Wall, Warren, Wells, Wexler, White, Whitlock, Worley, and Yancey.
In 1857, several citizens of the community presented a memorial to the Tennessee General Assembly requesting that Fall Branch be incorporated “with all the powers and privileges usually granted in such cases.” The petition was signed by Lemon Bennett, William Mullinex, R.M. Hopper, Thomas Porter, John H. Crouch, George M. Crouch, Samuel R. Shepherd, William Porter, G.W. Gibson, J. Pickens, J.H. Crouch, Cyrus Cox, and E.S. Edwards.
In 1869, Fall Branch was incorporated by the state of Tennessee, as follows: “The inhabitants of the town of Fall Branch are hereby constituted a corporation and body politic, by the name and style of the Mayor and Aldermen of the town of fall branch; and by that name shall have perpetual succession; may sue and be sued; plead and be impleaded in any of the courts of this state; may purchase and sell, receive and hold property, real, personal or mixed, within or without the corporation; and shall have and use a common seal, and may change the same at pleasure.” The boundaries of the town and the election of officials were set as follows: “Beginning in the center of Main Street half way between the property of T.H. Reeves and A.R. Moulton, and from thence, in every direction, one-fourth of a mile; and the qualified voters residents within said corporation, six months next preceding the day of election, shall, on the first Saturday of March, 1870, proceed to elect a Mayor and three Aldermen; which election shall be held by any constable of either of the counties of Washington, Sullivan, and Greene, whose district borders on Fall Branch; and whose certificate of elections shall authorize the Mayor and Aldermen to qualify and enter upon the discharge of their duties for one year, or until their successors are elected and qualified.”
Long before there was any state support for public schools in Tennessee, this village provided local financial support for its schools. Under the leadership of a local school board, money was raised for an extra two months of school. This gave Fall Branch an eight month term when the county provided only a six month term. They also maintained their own two year high school long before county or state support came. For these reasons, pupils from surrounding areas came to Fall Branch for schooling. Boarding facilities were provided. The village, also, through the 1890’s supported a college curriculum. The first school, built in 1842, was called the Fall Branch Seminary. The Seminary, a brick building, stood on the site of the Billy Sampson house. Students from neighboring counties and other states attended school here; while school was in session, as many as fifty students would sometimes board at the home of Jemima Crouch. The school building was destroyed by fire at the close of the Civil War. A four room frame building was constructed on land given by Jessie Baines and George Whitlock in 1889. The first principal for this school was Professor William M. Vines of Jonesborough. Students came from surrounding areas and rooms were provided by several families. In 1902, this building was replaced with a two-story brick structure. In 1907, Washington County inaugurated a system of county high schools; Fall Branch was one of these and has since operated as a county school. The building was modernized in 1938-39 and again in 1948-49. A new gym was added in 1958-59. Fall Branch High School became a part of the consolidated county high school, Daniel Boone, in 1971. Fall Branch Elementary School is still in operation.
In the early 1900’s a boardwalk was constructed through the entire length of the village – from the top of the cliff to the school. This enabled the children of the community to walk to school without getting their clothes and shoes muddy.
Among the early businesses were the following general stores: A.D. Wexler, S.D. Vincent & Co., J. Walter Moulton, Mrs. I.D. Taylor, and D.W. A.K. White. All advertised in local school catalogs as early as 1892. Amos R. Moulton,I, had a blacksmith shop on the main street near the present First Tennessee Bank Building. This shop was torn down in the 1920’s.
Fall Branch was fortunate to have dedicated physicians in its early years. Among these were E.P. Morgan, Joe R. McCrary, W.A.K. White, and G.R. Duncan. Early dentists in the community were Sam Smith and Eli P. Warren.
In the prosperous days of World War II and afterwards, business boomed. With so many people in the northern portion of the county employed in Kingsport, a branch of the Banking and Trust Company opened in Fall Branch in February 1950. The ownership changed and the name was changed to First Tennessee Bank in 1972.
References: “Early Landowners on the Fall Branch of Horse Creek,” by Jerry and Sandra Deakins; Records of Bess M. DeVault and Doris DeVault; Tennessee Legislative Petition 157 – 1858; “A Few Highlights in the History of the First United Methodist Church of Fall Branch”; Hall, Adda C., Wayside Gleanings. Kingsport; Kingsport Press, 1929.