A drive along TN Hwy 30 and the Reliance Historic District is truly a drive into the past. From U.S. Hwy. 411, the highway goes through the Cherokee National Forest and parallels the Hiwassee State Scenic River. From U.S. Hwy. 64, the highway meanders along Greasy Creek through the Cherokee National Forest. For most of the route, there is little to remind you that it’s the beginning of the 21st Century. You will be able to enjoy the beauty of the same wildflowers enjoyed by the Cherokee who once called this place home and see the same Great Blue Heron, Eagles, Hawks and other birds that have nested here for centuries.
Elements of the Reliance Historic District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, lie on both sides of the Hiwassee River at the Reliance Bridge. While the 1912 bridge has been replaced, the district features four buildings that were built before the turn of the 20th century: The Watchman’s House, now available for rentals; the Vaughn-Webb house, still a family residence; the Hiwassee Union Church, now available for weddings and special events; and the Higdon Hotel. Historic stone walls still stand, as does a fish weir used by Cherokee to trap fish. Early farm buildings adorn the corn field. A general store, celebrating its 7th anniversary, offers rafts, tubes and funyaks for fun on the Hiwassee as well as cold drinks, snacks and souvenirs.
The district was listed on the National Register because of its local architectural and historical significance and the fact it represents a significant and distinguishable entity which conveys a sense of time and place.
While settlements were taking hold in other parts of the county and Benton was being developed, the Reliance area was still occupied by the Cherokee. The earliest known settlers of record were T.A. Toomey and D.A. Haskins, who established farms south of the river. Elisha Dodson purchased most of Toomey’s holdings, including a water-powered grist mill and saw mill located near the bridge. This mill, commonly called Dodson’s Mill, ground grain for farmers in the surrounding area and turned freshly-cut logs into lumber and became the center of what would become Reliance. Dodson’s slave Carol supervised Cherokees who had escaped the Removal in the construction the stone walls that still stand. Carol also helped build the first mill on the river, had cast its wheels, built its rock dam and tended the grinding. When he married Lindy, another slave, Dodson freed them both as a wedding present.
Around 1880, Joseph Dallas Vaughn purchased Dodson’s Mill and other tracts to create the largest and most productive farm in the area.
Early settlers relied on farming and timber as their primary sources of income, with the main crops – then as now -- being corn and hay. Reliance was located along a mail route and area mail was left with Sarah Reed Vaughn, whose daughter Alice married into the Webb family, which still owns the family farm.
In the late 19th Century, the arrival of the railroad and river ferry and the location of nearby logging camps helped Reliance develop into a small commercial and social center for the surrounding area. By the early 20th Century, a bridge replaced the ferry as the main form of transportation across the river. A community building, an early resident’s farm, two buildings associated with the railroad and the bridge combined to form the historic district. All of the historic buildings are of the same material and scale, while the Vaughn-Webb House and Higdon Hotel display interesting sawn wood ornamentation.
The Vaughn-Webb house, located on Hwy. 30, was built in the late 1880s. In addition to operating a grist mill, the Vaughn family grew corn and hay, raised cattle, hogs, and mules, and cut timber. Stones from the grist mill can be seen at Webb Brothers Store, and cattle can still be seen in the fields.
The Higdon Hotel was built by Calvin Higdon on the north side of the river after the L&N Railroad purchased right-of-way for track construction in 1888. The large two-story frame hotel with a two-story front porch provided accommodations for the railroad personnel and travelers. It is located on Childer’s Creek Road just a short distance away from the north end of the bridge on Tellico-Reliance Road (TN Hwy. 315).
The Watchman’s House was built in 1891 for use by the railroad watchman, who checked the railroad bridge for burning embers after the train passed over. It is located just across the bridge.
The Hiwassee Union Church and Masonic Lodge joined forces around 1899 to build a two-story frame building with a full porch across the front. The upper floor was used by the Masons, with the church meeting on the first floor. During the week, the church was used as a school for a short time.
During the first decade of the 20th Century, the forests attracted the attention of large timber companies. The Pendergast Lumber Company build a logging camp called Probst about a mile upriver from Reliance. At its peak, there were more than 25 buildings in Probst. Several families of the workers lived as tenants on the Vaughn-Webb farm. Over the years, several store sites were operated by various tenants on the farm.
Changes took place between 1915 and 1930. The mill burned in 1915, although it was rebuilt and continued to operate into the 1940s. Much of the timber supply was exhausted and the Probst camp closed. With the increasing use of automobiles, fewer passenger trains stopped in Reliance and the hotel ceased to operate around 1920.
The grandsons of Joseph and Sarah Vaughn opened Webb Brothers’ Store on May 15, 1936 to serve as general store, post office, gas station and library. Still in existence, it is now housed in a 1955 building and is celebrating its 75th anniversary as a still-operating general store. The mill was demolished in the 1950s, and both the church and Masons ceased using the 1899 building in the 1960s.
In 1969, a whitewater rafting service was begun by the Webb family, bringing a new era of activity to the community, which still retains its historic character.
Cross the bridge at Reliance and turn right to the John Muir Trail and Forest Service Road 108 along the Hiwassee River leading to the Apalachia Powerhouse. The Hood Mountain Overlook provides a great view of Big Bend.
Or you can take TN Highway 315 (Tellico-Reliance Road) into the Tellico Plains area, once the site of a Cherokee town and now home to shops featuring antiques and artists.
Trout fishing, hiking, and floating are favorite recreational activities.