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Lake County


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Located in the northwest corner of Tennessee, Lake County is bounded by Kentucky on the North, Reelfoot Lake and Obion County on the East, the Mississippi River on the West, and Dyer County on the South. The smallest county in the state, Lake County covers 210 square miles. Its flat terrain contains some of the richest soil in the state. The county was named for Reelfoot Lake, which was formed by a series of earthquakes that jolted the region from December 1811 to mid-March 1812. Despite popular legends that attribute the name of the lake to “Chief Reelfoot and his Indian Bride,” the lake was named for Bill Jones, whose clubfoot gained him the nickname “Reelfoot Jones.” Jones died in March 1839, when he slipped from a foot log, fell into Spring Creek, and drowned. Thereafter the creek was known as “Reelfoot Creek,” and since it fed the lake, the shallow body of water acquired the name Reelfoot also.

The Tennessee General Assembly organized Lake County in June 1870, and Tiptonville was designated as the county seat. Lake County's economy was based on agriculture, with cotton and soybeans the chief crops. Farmland has remained in the same families for generations, and Lake County has several Tennessee Century Farms. In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, cotton gins operated alongside the tracks of the Illinois Central Railroad, ginning as much as forty bales per day. Located on a spur of the railroad, the community of Ridgely was once the site of several cotton gins, whose abandoned operations are still visible. 

It contains twenty-two villages, including the communities of Ridgely, Tiptonville, and Wynnburg. In the great Mississippi River flood of 1927, Ridgely became the site of one of the 154 emergency relief camps established by the American Red Cross. 

Wynnburg was created by Samuel F. Wynn, when he divided his farm in 1907 to accommodate the construction of a branch line of the Illinois Central from Dyersburg to Tiptonville. Wynn donated land for a depot, schools, and churches, and the town acquired its name from the family.

Tiptonville, the county seat, dates from 1857 but was not incorporated until 1900. Located on a small rise known as the Tiptonville Dome, the town also served as an emergency relief camp during the flood of 1927 and again during the flood of 1937. Tiptonville also was the early home of Carl Perkins, whose combination hillbilly music and rhythm and blues influenced early rock-n-roll.