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Mountain City, Tennessee
Buildings along Church Street
Buildings along Church Street
Location of Mountain City in Johnson County, Tennessee.
Location of Mountain City in Johnson County, Tennessee.
Country  United States
State  Tennessee
County Johnson
Founded 1836
Incorporated 1905
 • Type Mayor-Alderman
 • Total 3.37 sq mi (8.73 km2)
 • Land 3.37 sq mi (8.73 km2)
 • Water 0.00 sq mi (0.00 km2)
2,418 ft (737 m)
 • Total 2,531
 • Estimate 
 • Density 723.15/sq mi (279.18/km2)
Time zone UTC-5 (Eastern (EST))
 • Summer (DST) UTC-4 (EDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s) 423 Exchange: 727
FIPS code 47-50400
GNIS feature ID 1328969

Mountain City is a town in, and the county seat of Johnson County, Tennessee, United States. The population was 2,383 at the 2000 census and 2,531 at the 2010 census. It is the northeasternmost county seat in Tennessee. In addition, at an elevation of 2,418 feet (737 m), it has the distinction of being the highest incorporated city in the state.


When the first Euro-American explorers arrived in what is now the Mountain City area in the late 17th century, well-worn Native American trails passed through the area. In 1949, workers at the Maymead quarry (just south of Mountain City) discovered a cave with several early Mississippian-era (ca. 1000 A.D.) burials inside. The Needham and Arthur expedition of 1673 is believed to have passed through the area, making use of the gap at Trade to the south. Explorer Daniel Boone made use of the same gap on an expedition to what is now Kentucky in 1769, and today part of the Daniel Boone Heritage Trail— which follows Boone's route— passes through Mountain City.

Roderick Butler house

The first permanent Euro-American settlers arrived in the Mountain City area in the late 18th century, among them Leonard Shoun and Revolutionary War veteran Alexander Doran. The area was initially part of Carter County, but the difficulty of reaching Elizabethton (the county seat) led to the creation of Johnson County in 1836. That year, a county seat for the new county was platted on land purchased from William Vaught, and named Taylorsville after Colonel James P. Taylor. The name of the town was changed to "Mountain City" in 1885, presumably at the urging of Roderick R. Butler (1827–1902), a prominent citizen and U.S. Congressman, who wanted the town's name to reflect its situation amidst one of the highest valleys in Tennessee. Butler's mansion, now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, still stands near the center of the town.


See also: Music of East Tennessee

In May 1925, Mountain City was the site of a musical gathering, the first Mountain City Fiddlers Convention, that is considered a landmark event in the modern history of Appalachian traditional music. The convention contributed significantly to the development of country music, and is commemorated every summer, at the Old Time Fiddler's Convention in nearby Laurel Bloomery.


Mountain City, viewed from Sunset Memorial Park; the Iron Mountains rise in the background.

Mountain City is located at 36°28′6″N 81°48′14″W / 36.46833°N 81.80389°W / 36.46833; -81.80389 (36.468444, -81.803856). According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 3.3 square miles (8.6 km²), all land. At just over 2,400 feet (730 m), Mountain City is situated in one of the highest valleys in the state of Tennessee. Doe Mountain rises to the southwest, Forge Mountain rises to the east, and the Iron Mountains rise prominently to the north. The Tennessee-North Carolina border runs opposite Forge Mountain approximately 5 miles (8.0 km) east of Mountain City, and the Tennessee-Virginia border passes about 10 miles (16 km) to the north.

U.S. Route 421 (Shady Street) connects Mountain City with Bristol, Tennessee, to the northwest and Boone, North Carolina, to the southeast. Tennessee State Route 67 traverses the Doe Creek Valley on the north side of Doe Mountain, and connects Mountain City with Carter County and the Watauga Lake areas to the west. A spur of S.R. 67, S.R. 167, follows the Roan Creek Valley on the south side of Doe Mountain, rejoining S.R. 67 at Shouns in the southern part of Mountain City. Tennessee State Route 91 connects Mountain City to Laurel Bloomery, Tennessee, and Damascus, Virginia, to the north (the road becomes Virginia State Route 91 at the state line).


Historical population
Census Pop.
1850 118
1860 159 34.7%
1870 236 48.4%
1880 278 17.8%
1890 249 −10.4%
1910 592
1920 724 22.3%
1930 1,058 46.1%
1940 1,021 −3.5%
1950 1,405 37.6%
1960 1,379 −1.9%
1970 1,883 36.5%
1980 2,125 12.9%
1990 2,169 2.1%
2000 2,383 9.9%
2010 2,531 6.2%
2019 (est.) 2,437 −3.7%

2020 census

Mountain City racial composition
Race Number Percentage
White (non-Hispanic) 2,170 89.86%
Black or African American (non-Hispanic) 25 1.04%
Native American 8 0.33%
Asian 12 0.5%
Pacific Islander 2 0.08%
Other/Mixed 85 3.52%
Hispanic or Latino 113 4.68%

As of the 2020 United States census, there were 2,415 people, 873 households, and 458 families residing in the town.


Tennessee's lowest temperature on record was reported in Mountain City on December 30, 1917, at −32 °F (−36 °C). Mountain City has an oceanic climate (Cfb) with monthly averages ranging from 35.2 to 70.2 degrees Fahrenheit in December and July, respectively.

Arts and culture

Mountain City is the location of the Johnson County Welcome Center & Museum. The Center offers tourism information about the county and the museum showcases the history of the area and has a large collection of Native American and pioneer objects.

The Steve Earle song "Copperhead Road" is set in the vicinity of Mountain City.


Notable people

  • Clarence Ashley (1895–1967), old-time musician
  • Roderick R. Butler (1827–1902), U.S. congressman
  • Dave Loggins (b. 1947), musician and songwriter best known for the song "Please Come to Boston"
  • Jeff Reynolds (b. 1956), college basketball coach
  • Clyde Shoun (1912–1968), Major League Baseball pitcher

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