Guest editorial: Where does LeConte name come from anyhow?

Aug. 30, 2014 @ 03:24 PM

Mount LeConte, at 5,593 feet above sea level, is the highest peak in Sevier County, Tennessee.

Clingmans Dome, at 6,643 feet, and Mount Guyat, at 6,621 feet, are both on the Tennessee-North Carolina line. From Sevierville, we see the three peaks, and they appear to be in line, but LeConte is well in front of the other two and solely in Sevier County.

The name LeConte is getting more popular. The new LeConte Medical Center at Sevierville and the new LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge are both multi-million dollar entities. There are eight listings in the White Pages that have LeConte as a first name.

On the mountain top, the LeConte Lodge was established in 1925 by Jack Huff. It has the highest overnight lodging for overnight visitors in the eastern United States.

LeConte Creek enters the west prong of the Little Pigeon River at Gatlinburg after dropping about 5,300 feet. The mountain was measured in 1850. The U.S. Geological Survey brought many prominent explorers and scientist into the Smoky Mountains including the brothers Joseph LeConte (1823 to 1901) and John LeConte (1818 to 1891).

Joseph was a famous geologist while John was a physicist. The U.S. Geological Survey lists Joseph LeConte as the mountain’s namesake. Other authorities maintain the honor belongs to Joseph’s brother John. The LeConte name is of French Huguenot descent.

The brothers were born in Liberty County, Ga. Their father, Louis LeConte, was a well-known farmer owning more than 3,000 acres of land with 200 slaves. The home farm was known as The Woodmanston Plantation.

Both brothers were college professors, and both had attended Franklin College at the University of Georgia. Both LeConte brothers had also received M.D. degrees from The New York College of Physicians and Surgeons. Each practiced medicine for a few years before returning to teach at the collegiate level.

The Civil War found the brothers supporting the Confederacy. They had taught at South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina, and returned there after the war. The college was struggling, so both brothers applied for facility positions at the new University of California at Berkeley.

Both LeConte brothers became outstanding professors at Berkeley and received many honors.

Copyright John B. Waters Jr., Oct. 2013, 107 Joy Street Sevierville, Tennessee.

Sources of information: USGS Mount LeConte, Brief History of Mount LeConte, The Autobiography of Joseph LeConte, A Natural History of Mount LeConte.