Chilhowee Gap was formed by the Little River basin through the Chilhowee Mountains. Originally known as Murphy’s Cove, it was renamed Miller’s Cove around 1800, when settled by the Miller brothers—Andrew and Alexander. In 1845, George Amerine built a forge in Miller’s Cove. It served as Blount County’s largest ironworks until the time of the Civil War. While other settlers arrived and additional development occurred, such as a grist and saw mill built by John Waters, the big transformation in the Cove came in 1901, with the arrival of J. W. Fisher.
Mr. Fisher came to Miller’s Cove in search of an isolated site to construct a foul-smelling tannery. He found what he was looking for; and subsequently, in 1901, the Schlosser Leather Company was chartered to “tan hides and manufacture leather,” as well as “to operate flour mills and build railroads.” A growing community quickly sprang up around the newly constructed tannery, which soon became Blount County’s largest employer. Needing a name for the fledgling and flourishing community, the names of Schlosser’s two owners—Walton and England— were combined. The first part of “Walton,” the “Wal,” was combined with last part of “England,” the “land,” and the new community was called “Walland.”
At the beginning of the twentieth century, with the meat packing industry growing throughout the nation, the market for tanneries to turn hides into leather was in great demand. Consequently, the Schlosser Tannery proved to be most successful. For instance, the tannery’s profitability enabled Walland to have the first nine-month school in Blount County. Whereas other schools in the county were only in session for six months, Walland, thanks to the fact that the tannery picked up the tab for the extra three months salaries, was able to extend the school year three additional months for its children.
The success of the Schlosser Tannery soon created a problem for J. W. Fisher and his son, A. J. Fisher, who served as the tannery’s superintendent. The need for tanbark to handle 300 to 400 hides a day was too much for the tannery’s local tanbark providers. A far greater supply of tanbark was needed to keep up with demand. Thus, J. W. Fisher turned to Clearfield, Pennsylvanian for a possible solution to his problem.
Colonel W. B. Townsend was a successful and industrious business man. He owned a coal mine, a tile factory, a sawmill, and a logging railroad. However, almost all the timber in Pennsylvanian’s Alleghenies had been logged, resulting in Colonel Townsend looking for a new location for his next logging enterprise. Hearing of the Colonel, J. W. Fisher extended to him an invitation to come to Tennessee and see for himself the primitive, pristine, and virgin forests of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Obviously, Fisher’s invitation to Townsend to come to Tennessee was in hopes that the Colonel would provide an abundant supply of tanbark for the Schlosser Tannery. Although Fisher got his wish, it wasn’t the comparative pittance the Colonel could make providing tanbark for the tannery that brought him to Tennessee, but the far prettier penny he could make harvesting lumber from the Great Smoky Mountains. The tannery got its tanbark, but Townsend made a fortune, cutting and selling 560 million board feet of timber from the Smokies’ mountainous terrain.
The boom days of Walland, brought about by Fisher teaming up with Townsend, suddenly came to an end on January 7, 1931. On that snow-covered morning, residents were awakened, by the alarming sound of the tannery’s whistle, to a strange red glow in the sky canopying their valley. The Schlosser Tannery was on fire! In that sad sunrise, the livelihoods of most of Walland, as well as much of its hopes for the future, went up in smoke.