Cumberland Gap, natural pass (elevation 1,640 feet) that was cut through the Cumberland Plateau the eastern United States by former stream activity. It is located near the point where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet between Middlesboro, Kentucky, and the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee. The pass was discovered in 1750 by Thomas Walker, and the Wilderness Road blazed by Daniel Boone runs through it. Named for the duke of Cumberland, son of George II, it became the main artery of trans-Allegheny migration that opened the Northwest Territory for settlement and permitted the extension of the western boundary of the 13 colonies to the Mississippi River. During the American Civil War, the strategic gap was held alternately by Confederate and Union troops.
In 1940, 32 square miles (83 square km) of the plateau, with the gap as the central feature, were authorized to be set aside as the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
By: Encyclopedia Britannica
Dr. Walker organized the first known English expedition through Cumberland Gap on April 13, 1750. He named the gap through the mountains after the Duke of Cumberland, the son of King George II. The Walker expedition, under the auspices of the Loyal Land Company, came to Kentucky to explore and lay claim to 800,000 acres of western wilderness. On April 23, 1750, the explorers encountered a river that Walker also named the Cumberland.
After exploring the surrounding countryside, Dr. Walker built a small, crude cabin to give legality to the lands he had claimed. He stayed in the area for a few days and started the journey homeward. On July 13, 1750 he returned to Virginia. He did not return to Kentucky. However, he left a journal that gives an account of his exploration of eastern Kentucky. Among the accounts of the difficulties and hardships in traveling through the wilderness, Walker noted that during their journey his party had killed: 13 buffaloes, 8 elks, 53 bears, 20 deer, 4 wild geese, about 150 turkeys, besides small game. He recorded that the expedition could have “killed three times as much meat, if we had wanted it.” It would not be until Daniel Boone came through the Cumberland Gap in 1769 that there would be a renewed interest in settling Kentucky.
By: Kentucky State Parks
Born in Pennsylvania in 1734, Daniel Boone moved with his family to the North Carolina frontier as a youth. He fought in the French and Indian War, and later served two terms in the Virginia General Assembly. Boone first ventured through the Cumberland Gap on a hunting expedition in 1767. In 1773, he sought to lead his family and several others to settle in Kentucky, but Cherokee Indians attacked the group, and two of the would-be settlers, including Boone’s son James, were killed.
Two years later, a group of wealthy investors spearheaded by Judge Richard Henderson of North Carolina formed the Transylvania Company. Their goal was to colonize the rich lands around the Kentucky River and establish Kentucky as the 14th colony. To that end, they hired Boone, the white man considered to have the most knowledge of the existing trails, to blaze a new trail through the Cumberland Gap. To confront the issue of Native American aggression, Henderson decided to approach the Cherokee directly, and in March 1775 his associates negotiated with the Cherokee to purchase the land between the Cumberland and Kentucky rivers, a total of some 20 million acres, for 10,000 pounds of goods. (Virginia’s colonial governor later nullified the sale.)
On March 10, 1775, Boone and around 30 other ax-wielding road cutters (including his brother and son-in-law) set off from the Long Island of Holston River, a sacred Cherokee treaty site located in present-day Kingsport, Tennessee. From there they traveled north along a portion of the Great Warrior’s Path, heading through Moccasin Gap in the Clinch Mountains. Avoiding Troublesome Creek, which had plagued previous travelers along the route, Boone’s group crossed the Clinch River (near what is now Speers Ferry, Virginia) and followed Stock Creek, crossed Powell Mountain through Kane’s Gap and headed into the Powell River Valley.
About 20 miles from the Cumberland Gap, Boone and his party rested at Martin’s Station, a settlement near what is now Rose Hill, Virginia that had been founded by Joseph Martin in 1769. After a Native American attack, Martin and his fellow settlers had abandoned the region, but they had returned in early 1775 to build a more permanent settlement. Just before reaching their intended settlement site on the Kentucky River in late March, Boone’s group was attacked by some of the Shawnee, who unlike the Cherokee had not ceded their right to Kentucky’s land. Most of Boone’s men were able to escape, though a few were killed or injured. In April, the group arrived on the south side of the Kentucky River, in what is now Madison County, Kentucky.
Did you know? Though Daniel Boone became famous as a symbol of the pioneering Western spirit in America, he was never truly prosperous, and never made much of his extensive land claims. In 1799, he followed his son to Missouri (then owned by Spain) and continued hunting and trapping there until his death in 1820.
Then the railroads came, but they bypassed the Gap after the Civil War, further easing east /west travel. The arrival of the automobile rekindled interest in using the Gap again. In 1908, the U.S. government built a "macadamized" road (layers of compacted broken stone) connecting Middlesboro, Kentucky to Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, and called it the Government Pike. The new road passed by Soldier's Cave, which became a tourist attraction, bringing more automobiles to the area. In 1916, Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee built a similar road connecting the Government Pike to the "Dixie Highway" system.
In 1920, Lincoln Memorial University bought the Gap and tourist attraction "Cudjo's Cave" and surrounding land. In 1925, the Gap was included in the planning of U.S. Highways, on U.S. 411's planned route from Bristol, Virginia, to Corbin, Kentucky. The Tennessee approach was not included, as it had been in the Dixie Highway. U.S. 25 had been assigned to much of the Dixie Highway. By 1926, U.S. 25 was split with an eastern leg passing through the Cumberland Gap. U.S. 58 replaced U.S. 411 in 1934.
In the 1940's, The Cumberland Gap National Historic Park was established to protect and control the 20,000 acres of forested mountain. The tourism of the Cave was booming and with electricity installed, accommodations for overnight lodging was provided. Tennessee shares Cumberland Gap National Historic Park with Kentucky and Virginia, where the famous mountain pass lies.
In the 1990s, the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, a four-lane twin-bore mountain tunnel 4,600 feet long, was built under the mountain to replace the dangerous Gap road. The Federal Highway Administration's Eastern Federal Lands Highway Division administered the tunnel project for the National Park Service. The tab was $280 million, more than twice the estimate, since the old mountain had some surprises for the engineers-a system of underground streams.
The old Gap road was closed, with an estimated 5 deaths per year attributed to it. The Federal Highway Administration spent about $5 million to remove all traces of the old road on the Kentucky-Virginia border and to restore the land to its original beauty. Talented work crews using descriptions from old journals and maps have recreated the terrain to the appearance Daniel Boone first saw. The Cumberland Gap has come full circle through time-the man-made road is gone and the ancient trails returned.
By: US Highways
Northwest of Tazewell, the road bridges the Powell River, and then passes through Harrogate. In the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, US 25E serves as the western terminus of US 58. US 25E used that highway en route to the Cumberland Gap prior to 1996, however, it now uses a new highway leading to the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, freeing up a portion of road that US 58 now uses. US 25E then passes through the tunnel, emerging on the other side in Kentucky.