Bluff City, TN

Bluff City Celebrates 135 Years Amid Challenges and Many Changes Since Its Founding

John M. Dabbs
Bluff City signJohn Dabbs/Photographer

Town history

When first a settlement, this was called Choate's Ford. With the establishment of the Abingdon-Knoxville stage line, it became known as Middletown. When the railroad through the area was completed, it was laid out as a town and was called "Union."

When the area came under Confederate rule in early 1862, the name was changed to Zollicoffer, after Brigadier General Felix Kirk Zollicoffer (1812 – 1862). Zollicoffer was a three-term United States Congressman from Bigbyville, Tennessee, and an officer in the United States Army. He served as a Confederate brigadier general during the civil war - and was the first Confederate general killed in the western theater. The town's name changed back to Union after the end of the civil war in 1865.

The name was changed to Bluff City in 1887 and the city was incorporated. As of 2022, Bluff City is now 135 years old. The area of Bluff City was settled just 32 years before Jonesborough was founded as the first town in the area which became Tennessee. The town is named for the large bluffs along the South Fork Holston River, from which almost all of the town can be seen. The nickname "The Bluff City" is held by Memphis, Tennessee in the opposite corner of the state.
Bluff City historical markerBluff City/Tennessee Historical Society

Bluff City is just over 1.5 square miles in size, with another tenth of a square mile of waterway within its boundaries. The small town has its own police department, city hall, sanitation department, volunteer fire department and volunteer rescue squad. With two schools inside the city, one being the former Bluff City High School. Only the Bluff City Elementary School is still in operation. The schools were operated by the Sullivan County Department of Education, with the former High School, later used as Bluff City Middle School, closed and sold to a private non-profit group. It is now operated as Impact Community Center, housing several different non-profit groups and serving the public.
Bluff City boardwalk with lake downSteve4343/Flckr

Bluff City has grown from a town of 410 people in 1880 to a town of 1822 in 2020, according to the U.S. Federal Census.


Bluff City is home to small businesses in the area and a large waterfront pavilion at the upper end of the Boone Lake - South Holston River embayment. You'll find dinosaurs at Backyard Terrors Dinosaur Park, Worley's Cave, and plenty of opportunities for biking, hiking, and fishing. Should you get hungry, you might want to try out the Bluff City Diner, or Pizza Plus - or for the coffee shop crowd, there is always South Fork Coffee - the coffee shop across the road from the Bluff City Little League field which benefits the Impact Center.
Inside Worley's CaveWorley's Cave/Facebook

If you're looking for small-town life even better than portrayed on the Andy Griffith Show as Mayberry, you'll find it here in Bluff City, Tennessee. If you don't believe me, just ask a local. Happy Birthday, Bluff City!

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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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