About 1860 when the railroad was being built from Clarksville to the West, construction revealed rock formations that suggested a violent event had occurred. The closer they came to Cumberland City, Tennessee, they began to find more strange rock formations. Sometime the rock was almost vertical instead of being in horizontal layers. Some of the rocks that are usually found hundreds of feet below the surface were on the top of the ground and the rocks that are usually on the top were hundreds of feet below the surface. Dolimite, was one of the minerals that was found and as the workers neared Wells Creek.
Soon Tennessee state geologist J.A. Stafford began studying this phenomenon. In his report Geology of Tennessee, 1869, he wrote, “Because of its location being in close proximity of Wells Creek, I have named it the Wells Creek Basin”.
In 1874, Resources of Tennessee by Killebrew and Stafford, They also write that Wells Creek runs through this basin. The rocks dip at a very great angle, and some places are nearly vertical. This basin at first was thought to be caused by a volcano. After more studies and core drillings, the general interpretation is that a meteor impact caused the formation of the Wells Creek Basin.
In 1947, Ordsman Company core drilled to 2000 feet in what they though was a salty dome.
In 1963, NASA gave Vanderbilt University a grant to study the Wells Creek Basin and Ordsman gave Vanderbilt University their information on the core drill. NASA was planning the Moon voyage and since the moon also has craters, they wanted the study. One of the men participating in this study was Dr. Richard G. Stearns, at that time he was with the State of Tennessee Department of Conservation, Division of Geology. He is now a retired Professor of Geology at Vanderbilt University. Using the same site they drilled an additional 500 feet down, making this core drill 2,500 feet. Dr. Stearns and Dr. Charles T. Wilson, Jr. also a Professor of Geology at Vanderbilt wrote a book in great detail called Geology of the Wells Creek Structure, Tennessee.
Their belief along with other scientific studies from geologist from Columbia University and University of Ohio, is that between 100 and 200 million years ago, a meteor nearly 1000 feet in diameter, weighing in excess of 100 million tons and traveling in excess of 36,000 miles per hour struck what is know today as the Wells Creek area. It is believed that it penetrated about 2,00 feet before exploding. The impact created a crater about four miles in diameter and one half mile deep.
Shatter cones and breccia have been found at this site. They are rock formations that are only found at known meteorite impact sites through out the world. Shatter cones are formed by shock waves created by the tremendous impact of meteors.
Cumberland City, Tennessee is located on the northern side of the Wells Creek Basin and Erin, Tennessee is on the southern edge. The Cumberland River cuts through the northern end of the Wells Creek Basin.
On March 15, 2004, Dr. Stearns along with the Houston County Historical Society dedicated a historical marker for the Wells Creek Basin. It is located on Highway 149 at the entrance of the Highland Rim Head Start Building.
Information provided by Bob McKinnon, County Co-Historian