Center For Transportation Research

Hancock County


Five physiographic provinces occur in the State of Tennessee (Figure 3). From east to west these are: 1) Blue Ridge, 2) Ridge and Valley, 3) Appalachian Plateaus, 4) Interior Low Plateau, and 5) Coastal Plain (Fenneman 1938; Shimer 1971). The proposed project area lies entirely within the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province (Figure 4).

Figure 3: Physiographic provinces of Tennessee.
Figure 4: Northern section of project area.
The Ridge and Valley Province was formed as a large geosyncline during the Paleozoic. Subsequent folding and faulting during the later Paleozoic deformed the thick sediments, forming high narrow mountains. Later erosion downcut these mountains, wearing away the more soluble limestones and dolomites and leaving low ridges consisting of harder sandstones (Fenneman 1938:265-269; Luther 1977:72). The Ridge and Valley Province is drained to the south and west by rivers which flow into the Tennessee River such as the Powell, Clinch, Holston, French Broad, Little Tennessee, Hiwassee, Tellico, and Ocoee. Topographically the Ridge and Valley Province is an assemblage of valley floors surmounted by long narrow even topped ridges (Fenneman 1938:196). Elevations for this Province in Tennessee range from 799 m AMSL on Clinch Mountain to 195 m AMSL on the Tennessee River near Chattanooga (Luther 1977:72).


The Ridge and Valley Province consists of rocks formed through slow sedimentary deposition during the Paleozoic Era. These deposits were laid down in a large geosyncline resulting in formations thousands of meters in thickness. The original sediments of the Ridge and Valley were deposited in this trough and also above the late Precambrian Ocoee Series to the southwest (King 1968:15; Luther 1977:69-70). Deformation of the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge (Ocoee) provinces began in the Paleozoic, possibly during the middle Ordovician. Folding and faulting of the region occurred through a series of thrust faults ending sometime in the late Paleozoic. This deformation occurred along several major faults as well as smaller related fault lines. It caused the Ocoee Series along the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains in the Blue Ridge Province to be pushed over the adjoining section of the Ridge and Valley deposits to the northwest (King 1968:15). Both regions were also exposed to varying degrees of metamorphism during the Ordovician. Although the deposits of the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge provinces are of different origin, the structures and degrees of metamorphism are nearly identical. Continuous erosion since the Paleozoic has produced the modern day topographies of the Ridge and Valley and Blue Ridge provinces (King 1968:15).


The Ridge and Valley Province falls within the Carolinian Biotic Province which is characterized by temperate deciduous forests (Dice 1943:16-18). The entire Blue Ridge and all but the north and south areas of the Ridge and Valley are in the Oak-Chestnut Forest Region. This name is now used primarily for historical reference because the chestnut in this area has been destroyed through lumbering and by the chestnut blight which occurred in the early twentieth century (Shelford 1963:38-39). Oak is the dominant hardwood, with black oak and white oak the most common species. Chestnut oak, scarlet oak, tuliptree, and other species are also present (Braun 1950:238).

Prior to the destruction of the chestnut, the oak-chestnut association occupied the majority of the area in the Ridge and Valley Province. This forest type was closely associated with slopes, rarely occupying flat areas. The broad valley floors of the Ridge and Valley Province contained stands of white oak. Other species included tuliptree, hickory, red oak, black oak, and white pine in the northern part of the region. Mixed mesophytic communities were often found on slopes produced by recent erosion cycles but more commonly occurred in ravines near the Appalachian Plateaus than in areas separated by wide valleys. These areas contained a variety of species of which beech was the most common. Other species included basswood, sugar maple, tuliptree, and red oak (Braun 1950:237-240).


The Ridge and Valley Province contains a great diversity of fauna. Variations in the faunal assemblage from prehistoric to present times were caused mainly by human activity, although the changes have been few. The species listed below have existed both in prehistoric and historic times. Mammals found in this area include white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), black bear (Ursus americanus), gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus), bobcat (Lynx rufus), raccoon (Procyon lotor), otter (Lutra canadensis), squirrel (Sciurus sp.), flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans), chipmunk (Tamias striatus), groundhog (Marmota monax), beaver (Castor canadensis), muskrat (Ondatra zibethica), porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus), bison (Bison bison), eastern elk (Cervus canadensis), gray wolf (Canis lupus), red wolf (Canis rufus), and eastern mountain lion (Felis concolor) (Kellogg 1939:257-297). Rivers and streams contain abundant wildlife including fish, turtles, and mollusks. Species of fish include catfish (Ictalurus sp.), bullhead (Ameiurus sp.), gar (Lepisosteus sp.), sunfish (Lepominae), suckers (Catostomidae), and fresh water drum (Aplodinotus grunniens) (Kuhne 1939:19-115). The more common species of turtle include snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina), mud turtle (Kinosternum subrubrum), and the spiny soft shelled turtle (Tryonyx ferox) (Hon 1963). Abundant pelecypods and aquatic gastropods are also found. Avian species include wild turkey (Meleagris gallapavo), passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorious), Cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperi), red-tailed hawk (Buteo borealis), osprey (Pandion haliaeetus), bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalis), screech owl (Otis asio), barred owl (Strix varia), and great horned owl (Bubo virginianus) (Gainer 1933:7-43). Hancock County Page Contents:
Continue in Hancock County Page
Soil Geomorphology
The Flat Gap Site (40HK5)
The Wilder Site (40HK6)
The Johns Site (40HK7)
Hancock County history
The Cool Branch Cemetery (40HK9)
Southern Appalachian Burial Customs

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Prehistoric and Historic Background
References Cited

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This page was last updated on 20 Jan 2002.

For comments please send email to Chuck Bentz