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Erwin, Tennessee
Town of Erwin
View along Main Street in Erwin
View along Main Street in Erwin
The Valley Beautiful
"Where the Mountains and the People Welcome You."
Location of Erwin in Unicoi County, Tennessee.
Location of Erwin in Unicoi County, Tennessee.
Erwin, Tennessee is located in Tennessee
Erwin, Tennessee
Erwin, Tennessee
Location in Tennessee
Country United States
State Tennessee
County Unicoi
Settled 1780s
Founded 1876
Incorporated 1903
Named for David J.N. Ervin, early resident
 • Type Municipal Corporation
 • Total 4.13 sq mi (10.70 km2)
 • Land 4.13 sq mi (10.69 km2)
 • Water 0.01 sq mi (0.01 km2)
1,673 ft (510 m)
 • Total 6,097
 • Estimate 
 • Density 1,434.32/sq mi (553.76/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 423 Exchanges: 735,743
FIPS code 47-24360
GNIS feature ID 1328148

Erwin is a town in and the county seat of Unicoi County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 6,097 at the 2010 census. It is part of the Johnson City Metropolitan Statistical Area, which is a component of the Johnson City–KingsportBristol, TN-VA Combined Statistical Area – commonly known as the "Tri-Cities" region.


The town of Erwin received its name by a mail mishap. On December 5, 1879, the name of the town was Ervin, in honor of D.J.N. Ervin, who had donated 15 acres (61,000 m2) of land for the county seat. A typo made by post office officials caused the name to be recorded as Erwin. The mistake was never corrected.

Erwin earned some notoriety in 1916 when the only known public execution of an elephant in Tennessee occurred in the community. Mary, the elephant, had killed her handler, Wallter Eldridge, in nearby Kingsport. As home to the region's largest railway yard, Erwin was the only community with the means to carry out the death sentence. Surrounding communities decided that Erwin was the best place to carry out the execution and Erwin obliged, even though the town itself was against it. An estimated 2,500 people turned out at the local railway yard to see Mary hoisted by a crane to meet her demise. The town has recently implemented a yearly festival to help raise funds that go exclusively to the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN.

Between 1916 and 1957, the Southern Potteries plant operated in Erwin along Ohio Avenue. The plant produced a hand-painted dishware known as Blue Ridge that became popular nationwide in late 1930s and 1940s. Blue Ridge pieces are still popular items with collectors of antique dishware.


Erwin is located at 36°8′42″N 82°24′39″W / 36.14500°N 82.41083°W / 36.14500; -82.41083 (36.145036, -82.410796), The town is situated in a valley at the confluence of North Indian Creek, which approaches from the northeast, and the Nolichucky River, which enters the valley from the mountains to the southeast. Just before reaching Erwin, the Nolichucky passes through a narrow gorge popular with whitewater rafters.

The Nolichucky River, approaching Erwin from the east, as seen from the Appalachian Trail

Erwin is surrounded by the Cherokee National Forest, and mountains dominate the view in all directions. Buffalo Mountain rises to the north, Rich Mountain rises to the west, and the Unaka Mountains rise to the south and east.

The Appalachian Trail passes east of Erwin. The trail crosses the Nolichucky near the western end of the Nolichucky Gorge, at a place known as Unaka Springs. Nearby is "Moaning Rock", a large boulder near the trail that is supposed to be the site of a long ago murder of a stranger. According to local lore, the murdered man's spirit is still around, and if anyone stands on or even touches the rock, " moans as if under a heavy burden."

Interstate 26 passes through western and southern Erwin. Tennessee State Route 107 (North Main Avenue) connects Erwin to Unicoi to the north and the Embreeville area and Washington County to the west. Tennessee State Route 395 connects Erwin with the rural parts of Mitchell and Yancey counties to the east in North Carolina, crossing the Unakas at the 3,100-foot (940 m) Indian Grave Gap (the road becomes North Carolina Highway 197 at the state line).

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2), of which 3.5 square miles (9.1 km2) is land and 0.28% is water.


Historical population
Census Pop.
1910 1,149
1920 2,965 158.1%
1930 3,623 22.2%
1940 3,350 −7.5%
1950 3,387 1.1%
1960 3,210 −5.2%
1970 4,715 46.9%
1980 4,739 0.5%
1990 5,015 5.8%
2000 5,610 11.9%
2010 6,097 8.7%
2019 (est.) 5,918 −2.9%

2020 census

Erwin racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 5,417 89.05%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 19 0.31%
Native American 10 0.16%
Asian 11 0.18%
Other/Mixed 185 3.04%
Hispanic or Latino 441 7.25%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 6,083 people, 2,657 households, and 1,632 families residing in the town.

Economy and culture

Nuclear Fuel Services has a major facility in Erwin. It began operation in 1957 as the Davison Chemical Division of the W.R. Grace Company. Production activities at the Erwin facility include preparing enriched uranium to be processed into nuclear reactor fuel, processing uranium hexafluoride into other uranium compounds, and downblending high-enriched uranium to convert it to a low-enriched form for use in commercial nuclear reactors. Historically the facility also worked with thorium compounds.

Erwin was host to a CSX rail yard, diesel shop, and car repair facility, which closed in 2015.


In 1940, the city hosted a Minor League Baseball team of the Appalachian League called the Erwin Mountaineers. The same league's Erwin Aces played there in 1943 as did the Erwin Cubs in 1944, both as farm clubs of the Chicago Cubs. The Aces won the 1943 Appalachian League playoff championship.

See also

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

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