Sweetwater, TN is the largest of the four cities that make up Monroe County. Part of the city spills over into McMinn County, also. It was established in 1852 and was officially named in 1875. Sweetwater was used by the Cherokee since 1817 and they called it "Soitee Woitee" for "happy homes". Sweetwater is also home to America's largest and the World's second largest underground Lake called The Lost Sea (discovered in 1905 by thirteen year old, Ben Sands). The Lost Sea is a part of the Craighead Caverns (Great Smoky Mountain foothills). A City Hall was built in Sweetwater in 1897 (which still stands today) and the final City Hall complex was completed in 1978-79.
Sweetwater's foundation was built along with the railroad that rolled through Monroe County in the early 1850s. The city officially incorporated in 1875.
The confusion about the origin of the name began in the 1900s. That's when W.B. Lenoir was asked to write an article on the history of Sweetwater Valley for the local newspaper.
"W.B. Lenoir and a friend concocted this story about John Howard Payne having dinner with a Cherokee chief in this valley, A book Was published in 1916 and admitted they made it up.
Lenoir's book explains that Sweetwater had "few if any traditions" and that he and a friend decided to "invent a legend."
"Have John Howard Payne on his trip from Virginia to Georgia travel through Sweetwater Valley, stop there and be entertained by a hospitable and highly intelligent chief," wrote Lenoir. "Narrate that he [Payne] was also so much taken with the happiness of the Indian home that it inspired him to write the words and music of the song 'Home Sweet Home'; naming it 'Swatee Watee,' which in the Cherokee vernacular meant 'happy home.' As a matter of fact neither of us knew of such words in the Cherokee language, and if there were such words had not the remotest idea what they meant."
"And that was published in the Sweetwater Telegram.
The term "Swatee Watee" does not exist in the Cherokee language and certainly does not translate to "happy home." In truth, the name Sweetwater is somewhat self-explanatory.
The groundwater supply is abundant throughout the region surrounding Sweetwater. The Lost Sea is located a few miles from the city. One small spring in downtown Sweetwater has served as part of the city's water supply since 1908.
The city bought Cannon Spring from the Cannon family after lightning struck downtown and nearly burned it all down. The Cannons sold it for about $900. Today it still pumps out about 300,000 gallons of water a day for the city.