The town of Oneida sits directly along the railroad tracks that carve their way over the rugged hills of Scott County. In the town's infancy in the late 19th century, Oneida was actually a border town.
"We have maps that show where the state line with Kentucky was thought to run directly through Oneida at one time," said Bert Walker, president of the Scott County Historical Society. "The border was moved north when the latitude for the border's parallel was officially surveyed. Now the state line is about seven miles north of Oneida."
Even without the border, the most important lines in Oneida's history still ran directly through the community in the form of Southern Railroad tracks that connected Cincinnati, Ohio, with Chattanooga. Before the railroad existed, the area where Oneida is located was known as Pine Creek.
The Southern Railroad built a stop at the Scott County location and named it Oneida. The name was chosen by some of the investors in the railroad who visited the area. These individuals originally hailed from Oneida, New York, and noted that Scott County's topography and native trees reminded them of home. That portion of central New York is named for a local Native American Tribe.
The Oneida post office opened at the railroad stop in 1880. Soon a full community known as Oneida grew up around the rail line.
"The railroad certainly came and allowed transportation. It allowed the shipment of supplies from Cincinnati to New Orleans. Industry also formed around the railroad to take advantage of Scott County's timber and coal. The county had a lot of resources," said Walker.
Oneida may have been too resourceful in the early 20th century. That is when the town repeatedly attempted to tax the railroad for goods that were shipped on the tracks through Oneida. The taxing effort eventually stopped when the state threatened to revoke the town's charter. The town maintained a beneficial relationship with the railroad despite the failed attempt to collect taxes.
"My dad worked on the railroad. My grandfather worked on the railroad. My husband's grandfather worked on the railroad. Most people's lives revolved around the railroad in Oneida," said Oneida resident Jo Newport. "I was born and raised here and if you didn't work for the railroad, your livelihood probably depended on it. The depot was vital for all of the local industries."
Dozens of trains still roll through Oneida on a daily basis, but the town does not revolve around the railroad like it did prior to the 1960s.
"A lot of our young people don't have the same connection to the railroad as the older folks," said Newport. "Today one of the main things people think about with Oneida is the Big South Fork Recreational Area. Downtown Oneida is exactly eight miles from the park entrance. People go rafting, hiking, camping, and ride horses there. It is just a beautiful place, sort of like going to the Great Smoky Mountains but with its own personality."
Locals will tell you Oneida's greatest natural resource remains with its people.
"Oneida is a really nice community and it has had its own history, just like all of the communities in Scott County," said Walker.
"The people who come here say they love the people [of Oneida]. They love the mountains and the natural beauty," said Newport.
I before E, except after ON
According to lifelong Oneida resident Jo Newport, those who move to Scott County town quickly grow accustomed to errors by non-residents regarding the town's name.
"People have a hard time spelling Oneida," said Newport. "It's because the E comes before the I. Most people use 'I before E, except after C' as a rule of thumb for spelling, but it doesn't apply to the name Oneida."
In some cases the town is completely mistaken for another Tennessee community located about 100 miles south of Oneida.
"There are so many times I have heard people mix up Oneida with the town of Niota down in McMinn County," said Newport. "I guess it is because there are some similar sounds and the towns have the same number of syllables. Whatever the reason, it happens a lot."
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