What is Cumberland Gap?

In simplest terms, it is a V-shaped pass through the Cumberland Mountains, located in the Appalachian Mountains where Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia come together. The base of the gap is about 300 feet above the valley floor, while the south side rises 600 feet above the gap and the north 900 feet.  “The Gap”, as locals call it, has always been. Originally a path for animals exploring the area, followed by Native Americans such as the Cherokee and Shawanee hunting the area and following the Warrior’s Path. The Gap was brought to the attention of settlers by Dr. Thomas Walker, a Virginia physician and explorer, who named the passage and the mountains in honor of the Duke of Cumberland. Daniel Boone along with axemen made the area more accessible to pioneers traveling to the western Frontiers of Kentucky and Tennessee. 


The area was thought to be a potential stronghold for both parties in the Civil War, but no major battles were fought in the area, even though the Gap changed hands a number of times. Abraham Lincoln even spoke of the area and its loyalty to the Union. 


During the late 1800’s investors attempted to make the area the Pittsburgh of the south, but for numerous reasons including the collapse of the Bank of England, the area never did become a metropolitan area. 


The town of Cumberland Gap was not established until 1907. The population of full time residents is less than 500 including graduate students who make the Gap home during their time at LMU. Today the area hosts the students, families, staff and faculty of Lincoln Memorial University, especially their Arts in the Gap programs, as well as visitors to the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park. 


Cumberland Gap might be more important to you than you realize. As many as 54 million Americans can trace their ancestry back to Cumberland Gap.