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Athens, Tennessee
City of Athens
McMinn County Courthouse in Athens
McMinn County Courthouse in Athens
"The Friendly City"
"Progress Since 1822"
Location of Athens in McMinn County, Tennessee.
Location of Athens in McMinn County, Tennessee.
Athens, Tennessee is located in Tennessee
Athens, Tennessee
Athens, Tennessee
Location in Tennessee
Athens, Tennessee is located in the United States
Athens, Tennessee
Athens, Tennessee
Location in the United States
Athens, Tennessee is located in North America
Athens, Tennessee
Athens, Tennessee
Location in North America
Country United States
State Tennessee
County McMinn
Founded 1822
Incorporated 1870
Named for Athens, Greece
 • Type Council-manager
 • Total 15.51 sq mi (40.17 km2)
 • Land 15.51 sq mi (40.17 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
860 ft (262 m)
 • Total 14,084
 • Density 904.05/sq mi (349.05/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP codes
37303 & 37371
Area code(s) 423
FIPS code 47-02320
GNIS feature ID 1304889

Athens is the county seat of McMinn County, Tennessee, United States and the principal city of the Athens Micropolitan Statistical Area has a population of 53,569. The city is located almost equidistantly between the major cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga. The population was 14,084 at the 2020 census. The population of the zipcode area is at 23,726


Early history and Civil War

The Samuel Cleage House outside of Athens, set on the site of McElhaney and Sons Nursery, built in the 1820s

The Cherokee were living in McMinn County at the time of the arrival of the first Euro-American explorers. The Athens area was situated nearly halfway between the Overhill Cherokee villages of Great Tellico to the north in Monroe County and Great Hiwassee along the Hiwassee River to the south. In 1819, the Cherokee signed the Calhoun Treaty, selling the land north of the Hiwassee (including all of modern McMinn County) to the United States. McMinn County was organized on November 13, 1819 at the home of John Walker in what is now Calhoun. The Native American village, Pumpkintown (a corruption of Potemkin town), was located on a farm about two miles east of present-day Athens. It is sometimes incorrectly identified as a forerunner of Athens. Athens was laid out and chosen as the county seat in 1822. The name "Athens" may have been chosen due to perceived topographical similarities to Athens, Greece.

By 1834, the population of Athens had grown to over 500. Prominent early settlers included William Henry Cooke, who operated an iron forge near modern Etowah, and Samuel Clegg (or Cleage), a construction entrepreneur. Jesse Mayfield, whose descendants founded Mayfield Dairy Farms, arrived in the early 1820s. The Hiwassee Railroad received a charter in the mid-1830s to build a railroad connecting Knoxville, Tennessee and Dalton, Georgia. The railroad began construction in 1837, although financial and legal problems delayed its completion until 1851. In 1836, General John Wool arrived in Athens to help coordinate the Cherokee Removal. Although initially voluntary, the operation became a forced removal in 1838 when many Cherokee refused to leave. The removal culminated in the forced march west that became known as the Trail of Tears. Wool set up his headquarters at the Bridges Hotel, which was located across the street from the McMinn County Courthouse.

McMinn County was divided during the American Civil War. The well-established railroad brought numerous pro-secessionist and anti-secessionist speakers to the county, including Andrew Johnson, Horace Maynard, John Bell, and William "Parson" Brownlow. In 1861, McMinn County voted against secession by a narrow 1,144-904 margin. The county sent 12 units to the Union army and 8 units to the Confederate army. General William Tecumseh Sherman was briefly headquartered at the Bridges Hotel in McMinn County while preparing his "March to the Sea."

Post-Civil War

THC marker at the "Battle of Athens" site

After the Civil War, the railroad lured business opportunists to McMinn County. In 1887, several investors established the Athens Mining and Manufacturing Company with plans to convert the town into a model industrial community and initiate large-scale mining operations in the area. Textile mills, flour mills, and timber mills dominated the county's industry by the late 19th century, complemented by furniture and appliance factories in the 1920s.

In 1946, several McMinn County World War II veterans ran for local office in hopes of removing a county government deemed corrupt. On August 1, local authorities locked themselves in the county jail along with the ballot boxes. Suspecting foul play, the veterans armed themselves and assembled on a hill across the street from the jail. After an exchange of gunfire, the county authorities surrendered. The ballots were counted, and the veterans' ticket was elected, ending the Battle of Athens.


Athens is located at 35°26′53″N 84°36′7″W / 35.44806°N 84.60194°W / 35.44806; -84.60194 (35.448171, -84.602069). The city is situated amidst a series of narrow, elongate ridges and low hills that are characteristic of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Province. The Unicoi Mountains rise roughly 20 miles (32 km) east of Athens, and the Tennessee River flows nearly 20 miles (32 km) to the west. Starr Mountain, one of the more noticeable ridges in McMinn County, is located roughly 15 miles (24 km) southeast of Athens.

Oostanaula Creek (sometimes spelled "Eastanalle" or a similar variation) rises in the hills north of Athens and traverses the city approximately 30 miles (48 km) upstream from its mouth along Hiwassee River. Other major streams in the area include Mouse Creek, which parallels Oostanaula to the west, and Chestuee Creek, which parallels Oostanaula to the east.

Athens is centered around the junction of U.S. Route 11, which connects the city to Sweetwater to the north and Cleveland to the south, and State Route 30, which connects Athens to Etowah and U.S. Route 411 to the southeast and Decatur to the west. Interstate 75 passes west of Athens.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 13.5 square miles (35 km2), all land.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1860 678
1870 974 43.7%
1880 1,100 12.9%
1890 2,224 102.2%
1900 1,849 −16.9%
1910 2,264 22.4%
1920 2,580 14.0%
1930 5,385 108.7%
1940 6,930 28.7%
1950 8,618 24.4%
1960 12,103 40.4%
1970 11,790 −2.6%
1980 12,080 2.5%
1990 12,054 −0.2%
2000 13,220 9.7%
2010 13,458 1.8%
2019 (est.) 14,020 4.2%

2020 census

Athens racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 10,660 75.80%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 1,395 10.28%
Native American 35 0.25%
Asian 197 1.4%
Pacific Islander 4 0.03%
Other/Mixed 752 5.34%
Hispanic or Latino 1,041 7.39%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 14,084 people, 5,530 households, and 2,991 families residing in the city.

2010 census

As of the census of 2010, there were 13,458 people, 5,704 households, and 3,498 families residing in the city. The racial makeup of the city was 84.87% White, 9.12% Black, 0.35% Native American, 1.64% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, and 2.61% from two or more races. Those of Hispanic or Latino origins constituted 5.27% of the population.

Out of all of the households, 61.33% were family households, 42.39% were married couples living together, 26.30% had children under the age of 18 living in them, 4.33% had a male householder with no wife present, and 14.60% had a female householder with no husband present. 34.52% of all households were made up of individuals, and 14.39% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.91.

The population was spread out, with 22.69% under the age of 18, 59.97% ages 18 to 64, and 17.34% age 65 and over. The median age was 39.1 years. 53.52% of the population were females and 46.48% were males.

The median household income was $31,062 and the median family income was $44,419. Males had a median income of $37,120 versus $28,889 for females. The per capita income for the city was $18,259. About 22.2% of families and 24.8% of the population were below the poverty line, including 35.8% of those under the age of 18 and 17.2% of those age 65 and over

Athens media

Athens is served by one daily newspaper publication, The Daily Post Athenian as well as seven radio stations, (four FM, and three AM), and one Comcast TV channel, 95.

  • FM
    • Jack FM Country, (which is actually licensed to Decatur, Tennessee)
    • WJSQ Country
    • J-103 religious (licensed to Etowah, TN) simulcast with WBDX in Chattanooga
    • WKPJ-LP 104.5 religious, an affiliate of 3ABN Radio Network
  • AM
    • WCPH 1220 Adult Standards, (licensed to Etowah, TN) an affiliate of The Music of Your Life
    • WYXI 1390 Oldies
    • WLAR 1450 Oldies (Formerly Simulcast of WJSQ)


  • United Grocery Outlet, a regional discount supermarket chain, has its corporate headquarters and distribution center in Athens.


Tennessee Wesleyan University, organized in 1857

Colleges and vocational school:

  • McMinn County Higher Education Center
  • Cleveland State Community College
  • Tennessee Wesleyan University
  • Tennessee College of Applied Technology of Athens

McMinn County Schools operates public high schools serving the city.

High schools:

  • McMinn County High School

Athens City Schools operates public elementary and middle schools.

Middle schools:

  • Athens City Middle School

Elementary schools:

  • City Park
  • West Side
  • North City
  • Ingleside

Rogers Creek and E.K. Baker schools, operated by McMinn Schools, are not in the Athens city limits, despite having Athens postal addresses.

Private schools:

Fairview Christian Academy ( K-12)

Christ Legacy Academy (K-12)

Notable people

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Athens (Tennessee) para niños

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