Claiborne County

Decades before the famed Watauga Association and the expeditions of James Robertson and John Donelson, this Claiborne county region served as a major migration gateway for settlers traveling westward via the Cumberland Gap and the Warrior’s Path into the Clinch and Powell River valleys. The town of Tazewell, the county seat and center, lies on the slope of the northernmost ridge of the ridge-and-valley section of the Appalachians.


The county’s beginnings as the gateway into the state are somewhat ironic given that now the county is one of the most isolated in our East Tennessee region. Though certainly not the only factor, in our automobile-centric culture a 20 mile drive from I-75 to the west, and almost a 30 mile drive from I-85 to the southeast, may make Claiborne seem less attractive to industries looking to relocate and tourists looking to travel.

So far we have been spotlighting the counties in our region classified as ‘distressed’ by both the Appalachian Regional Commission and TNECD. Claiborne falls in this category as well. Claiborne county ranks 88 out of 95 on overall health among TN counties, according to County Health Rankings.

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According to the U.S. Census & the TN Dept. of Labor & Workforce Development:

  • 24% of people are currently below the poverty level
  • The unemployment rate in 2014 was 8.6% (compared to the state rate of 6.5%)

Claiborne County’s Economic and Demographic Profile can be found here, on the East Tennessee Economic Development Agency’s website.


From the Clearfork Community Institute to the work of Marie Cirillo, to the ongoing conversation around mountain top mining, to one man’s dedication to keeping his fellow citizens informed, one finds in Claiborne that Appalachian spirit of resiliency, care of place, and richness of spirit that is often caricatured but never overestimated.

Unemployment rates seem to be steadily falling in our East Tennessee region, and Claiborne is at the forefront of this trend. The county’s unemployment rate has fallen at almost twice the rate of the rest of the state since 2013, down from 10.1% to 6.0% in November 2016, according to TNECD.

Claiborne is one of the most unique locales in our region; it is an important part of the DNA of our region. Should you want to see Claiborne for yourself, the county’s annual Powell River Regatta, coming up in April, 2017. While there, take advantage of a historic tour led by rangers at Cumberland Gap Historic Park in nearby Middlesboro.