Lava Found in Bumpus Cove

John M. Dabbs

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A pool of hardened lava sits on the shores of the Nolichucky River. Nicole Lewin discovered the large slab over 50 feet long and 30 feet wide. The location near Unicoi and Washington County line sits near the mouth of Bumpus Cove (formerly known as Bumpass Cove).

Professor confirms find

Miss Lewin provided a sample of the lava to East Tennessee State University. The Geology Department verified the sample as hardened lava. The rock evaluation occurred some 30 years ago when she was a student at the University. Returning to the river's bank this winter, the site remains. Surveyors collected samples and photographs. Zeleck Lipchinsky of Berea, Kentucky evaluated the specimens. Lipchinsky is the retired chairman of the geology department for Berea College. He is also the curator of their geology museum. Lipchinsky confirms the specimens to be volcanic rock, also known as lava.

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Volcanic activity in Northeast Tennessee

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, volcanic activity ceased in the Paleozoic era. During that period the area which became the Appalachian Mountains experienced significant activity. Tectonic activity and large-scale volcanic eruptions provided the large mountains the region. Mount LeConte, Mount Rogers, Grandfather Mountain, and others grew during this time. The mountains of the region are over 200 million years old. At 200-300 million years old, they are among the oldest mountain ranges on the earth.

Active volcano in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Many people fell for an online April Fool's joke at visitmysmokies.com in 2016. Many didn't read the article through to its conclusion and missed the part about it being a gag. The story spread to Facebook and Pinterest, along with other outlets. While there are many earthquakes throughout the Volunteer State, these are predominately small. Many small earthquakes are a good thing, as they relieve pressure in the many smaller faults.

History of the cove and logic

Knowing the history of the Bumpass Cove area and the iron mines in the area, it could be leftovers. During the Civil War, Ironworks built on the shores of the Nolichucky processed the iron ore. Iron mines of Bumpus Cove were a great source of prosperity, and one reason the ET&WNC Railroad was born. East Tennessee & Western North Carolina Railroad, nicknamed "the Tweetsie", transported iron. The railroad also transported timber across the mountains into North Carolina. Coke fueled the plants and cooked the ore to separate the iron for use. The lava flow is most likely a remnant from the civil war era iron plants.

The Clarksville Iron Furnace in Unicoi County was built in the 1830s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Operating in the Cherokee National Forest, the owners owned an iron ore deposit in Bumpus. The furnace smelted iron ore with charcoal, produced from the nearby trees. It was situated on Clark's Creek, where a waterwheel powered the bellows. A failure in the millrace flooded the fire and immediately cooled the ore in 1844, putting the mill out of business.

Civil War

While the Clarksville Furnace was used to make nails and wrought iron in Embreeville, other mills of the area were erected in support of civil war efforts. We believe the formation could the remnants from General Duff Green's "Confederate Iron Works". Green purchased the plant in 1862, changing the name. Greene contracted with Confederate Chief of Ordinance, Josia Gorgas. The contract allowed 50% production to be used by the government, the rest would be sold commercially.

Munitions from the Confederate Iron Works would support General Bragg and General Longstreet. The huge furnace was built on the Nolichucky river, just a mile below the mouth of the Cove. The 35 square foot furnace was forty feet high. Barges carried the ore to from trams used at the Bumpus Cove iron mine to the furnace on the river. The war ended before the furnace was at full production. The furnace was in ruins by 1885.

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Exploring Abandoned Sugar Hollow Mine - Bumpus Cove

Video by John Foister on YouTube

Professional views

Professor Lipchinsky states that while lava is found in many places, it comes from volcanic activity. He states there are volcanoes all over the United States, though most all of them are dormant or extinct.

People like to collect lava. They think it is unique and artistic. It is not uncommon to find volcanic rock anywhere in the United States, as people will hire it hauled in to them from about anywhere. I've seen pieces bigger than a truck that were brought in by other people. As for the location on the river, it could be from a volcano or from an old iron mill over a hundred years ago. There haven't been active volcanoes in the lower Appalachians for 200-300 million years. - Zelek Lawrence Lipchinsky, Geology Museum Curator, Professor of Geology (retired) - Berea College, Berea, KY.

The mountains of Tennessee are full of life and adventure. We can only imagine the civilizations which may have come before us. We know some of the Cherokee from the area, but what about those who were here before them? Nature has a way of absorbing the lost and carrying on. Life goes on, just as the world around us.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Bristol, TN
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