Monroe county is Tennessee’s sixth largest county by land area. The mountainous landscape in the southeast part of the county includes the crest of the Unicoi Mountains, and as part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, marks the boundary between Tennessee and North Carolina. The headwaters of the Little Tennessee once flowed freely, but three artificial lakes are now the dominant water features.
Monroe stands out, in large part due to its archaeological richness. Much of Tennessee’s history is represented in the county, including the namesake of the state itself. The history of Monroe is as well-documented as any rural county in the country – if not better – thanks to Sarah Sands’ 3-volume History of Monroe County, TN. From Sequoyah to Fort Loudoun to the numerous now-submerged indigenous people’s settlements, our nation and our state’s past are well told in Monroe county.
And Monroe county is much more than just its past, as perhaps best understood by taking a short visit to one of the county’s small towns. Sweetwater, which straddles both Monroe and McMinn counties, is a city with undeniable charm. The city is located on the Tennessee MainStreet Trail and located just off of I-75, is perhaps the county’s best known municipality.
Madisonville, the county seat, just finished a new public library and received another grant to improve and expand existing water infrastructure. Located at the confluence of the Little Tennessee and the Tellico River, Vonore is the most archaeologically rich town in East Tennessee, with sites dating back to the Mississippian period. A trip to Fort Loudon State Historic Park and Sequoyah Birth Place Museum are a must. Tellico Plains resides just outside of the southern portion of Cherokee National Forest and is a popular destination for motorists, motor bikers, and bicyclists. The Cherohala Skyway is a popular route for travelers seeking scenic routes through the mountains.
All told, Monroe county is similar to the other counties that lie on the TN-NC border, possessing just as much or more of the scenery, history, and charm of its northern brothers and sisters. It has managed to embody a sense of place that is well balanced with a commercial identity. There’s a reason people have been settling in this little patch of land for literally thousands of years.