Bays Mountain is a range that extends from the Long Island on the Holston River in Kingsport, Tennessee to Blount County, Tennessee, some 115 miles to the southwest. The Cherokee referred to the eastern most part of the mountain as "Sentinal Point". The first white men to record seeing the mountain were James Needham and Gabriel Arthur in 1673.
How the mountain acquired the name "Bays" is unsure. It may have the title from the laurel or rose bay which abounds on the mountain. Also, the name may have derived from an early visitor named J. Bays who traveled through the region with Colonel James Brown and was massacred by the Cherokee. There was also a James Bay with Dr. Thomas Walker's expedition who received a land grant on or near Bays Mountain adjacent to Chimney Top Mountain. Several tales have emerged. One was that the mountain had a Cherokee name that the whites couldn't pronounce and "Bays" was as close as they could get. Another involves a bay horse that drowned in near by Horse Creek. A variation on this tale is that the elusive bay horse hid from the Cherokee on Bays Mountain's summit to avoid capture.
The first settler possibly lived on Bays Mountain as early as 1750, ten years before Daniel Boone's first excursion into the region. The first family known to have lived on or near Bays Mountain is that of William Robert Hamilton, M.D., who around 1760 owned land in the area of Blair's Gap. This was patented in England before the Revolutionary War. After the war the American land office disallowed any such land titles and he thus lost much of his original holdings. Between 1775 and 1782 several men procured land grants on the eastern part of the range. Brant Ward Noland, Newton Nowlan, Benjamin Merritt, Vachel Dillingham were among them. The most productive, however, were the Goads, John, Margaret, William, Gabriel, and Peter. Other clans on the Horse Creek side were the Craft, Easley, Anthony and Kain. On the Holston River side were the Woods, Cloud, Ridley, Bledsoe, Holt, Ross, and Pryor families.
Christianville (later called Kingsport) was a known as "head of navigation" because of the boat yard built by William King of Saltville, Virginia. The tall trees on Bays Mountain supplied the long timbers needed to build the flatboats to carry the pioneers westward.
In 1824 Richard Netherland purchased 700 acres and by 1855 owned 1,531 acres on the mountain. He kept it wild and undeveloped for his own sporting use. In 1802 Michael Starr settled the area now known as Dolan's Gap. This area was also owned by John Peoples and finally the Dolan family. By 1854 Isaac DePew, a Revolutionary War veteran owned 3000 acres which included part of Dolen's Gap. In the 1820's Pleasant Creasey also accumulated land on the mountain and by 1875 the Whetsel family owned most of Creasey's land. Other land owners during the 1800's were Rogans, Pickens, Hickmans, Bachmans, Gregg and Steadman families. Until the 1960's numerous families lived on and around the mountain. These families lived rather isolated lives and the land remained virtually unchanged until early in the Twentieth Century.
During the Civil War most of the people who actually lived on the mountain (with a few exceptions) were Union sympathizers. The surrounding Sullivan County , however, was known to be a hot bed of Confederate sympathy. The ridge of the mountain served as a secret trail from Kingsport to Knoxville. Bays Mountain along with other highlands offered for many people refuge from the cruel war.
Refugees were not the only thing hiding on and around Bays Mountain. Evidence abounds that gentlemen were carrying on the fine art of making distilled spirits. That's right, Moonshine! Stills have been found, confiscated, and destroyed as late as the 1960's.
In 1907 a group of businessmen began buying land on top of the mountain. Their plan was to build a dam and create a lake which would be the water supply for the future city of Kingsport. The site was particularly well-suited for this because the formation of the two parts of the mountain made it possible to only build a small dam to create the lake, complete with its watershed well protected. In 1914 these men sold the property to the Kingsport Waterworks Corporation. By that time the property included the entire watershed, 1300 acres.
From 1915 to 1917 a series of events took place that would forever change the landscape and the course of history for a part of Bays Mountain. These events also set the stage for the creation of Bays Mountain Park.
In 1915, trees and buildings were removed from the area to be covered by the lake. On April 1916 work began on the dam. Stone was quarried about a hundred and fifty feet below the dam itself. The remains of this quarry has been partially covered by the present park access road. The stone was hauled to the dam site by teams of mules. A crane at the spillway, powered by a mule, was used to hoist the stones up on the dam.
When the dam was completed, all the property owners were moved out except one woman, who for several years continued to cultivate a field near the lake. This field is kept cleared to this day and is used as a wildlife feeding area. Water began flowing to Kingsport in November of 1916, three months before the city was incorporated.
During the early years of the now Eastman Chemical Company, logging took place on and around Bays Mountain for the purpose of producing wood alcohol. A train was put into service to haul the logs from the base of the mountain to the plant itself. The path of the tracks roughly follows the present Reservoir Road.
As the city grew the reservoir failed to meet the needs of the expanding population. The Holston River became Kingsport's main source of water, and the use of Bays Mountain Lake for water supply was discontinued in 1944.
Fortunately, for the next 25 years some aldermen had the foresight to keep the property for some esthetic use, thus having prevented it's sale for commercial development. For many years though, there had been a growing, undefined, but apparent community interest in the creation of a recreational area for Kingsport atop Bays Mountain. By Spring of 1965 the question of what should be done with the city-owned property had reached the Planning Commission. H. Andrew Scott, hoping to "develop a feeling of appreciation for the beauty of the mountain throughout the community" published his now famous editorial "A Project We Should Support" as guest editor of the Kingsport Times News. With it's publication, many seprate groups and individuals throughout the area now had a well defined goal.
On June 1, 1965, Mayor Hugh Rule appointed a three man comittee to study the feasibility of making Bays Mountain a City Park. Joseph H. Lewis, Dr. Kirk Allen and Karl Goerdel were appointed. The committee's recommendations were given to the Board of Mayor and Aldermen on December 8, 1965. $5,000.00 was approved for prelimiary work. The Bays Mountain Commission was created by Mayor Joseph H. Lewis on September 5, 1967. It's first members were Merritt Shobe, James C. White, Karl Goerdel, Harry V. Steadman, and James H.Thornton.
On November 22, 1967 a consultation fee was paid to the National Audubon Society for advice in setting up the nature preserve. A three man team spent several weeks early in 1968 studying the 1300 acre mountain site. There report stressed the site's unique qualities, "It is a self-enclosed watershed... rare today, especially so close to a metropolitan area" ; "also unique for it's isolation and quiet and freedom from urbanized noise pollution" The report points out the rich mixture of forest plants and trees found atop Bays Mountain. "Seldom has a single site in one park area displayed so many good features, so many natural and diverse habitats, such exciting topography, so much natural beauty...to develope the park as a Nature Conservation Education Center would give Kingsport a distinction and a uniqueness". One of the Audubon team members, Robert Holmes became the park's first director.