This land has been "camped" by the Earhart/Rhea family since 1775. In that year, Rev. Joseph Rhea, having immigrated to America from Ireland and living in Maryland, purchased the original 2,000 acres of land encompassing what is now the home of Bristol Motor Speedway and Earhart Campground. The property was known by multiple names in the early years in the Rhea family, including the farm aptly called "Elm Circle," for the stately elms under which Rhea delivered many sermons, as perhaps the first protestant minister to do so in the land that would eventually become the state of Tennessee, as well as "Old Ireland," which was the name given to the original log home built in 1800, but no longer standing.
Rhea returned to Maryland in 1776, intending to bring his wife and children back to this area, but he died during preparation for the return trip; thus his son John forged ahead and brought the rest of the family back here. The original home, "Old Ireland," was constructed in 1800 and was located on property now owned by Joe Nemecheck and Associates. This home burned in 1949.
The present homeplace was built in 1806 by William Rhea and his wife, Elizabeth. It was the childhood home of Charles and Robert Earhart, whose grandmother, Margaret Rhea, and her husband, John Taylor Earhart, purchased from James Rhea, William Rhea's grandson. The home continues to be the home of Robert Earhart and family. The property has grown smaller throughout the years, mostly due to having been divided among the descending generations of the family occupying the land. Besides having shrunk from its original nearly 2000 acres, the area has also been host to many experiences and changes. The area where the racetrack now stands was once a natural salt lick for game in the area, thus providing a popular hunting ground for native Americans of the region. The traffic/occupation of these native American hunters was significant enough that in more recent years, any time those grounds were plowed for planting, many relic hunters wandered them in hopes of finding unearthed artifacts.
The large fields behind the house once served as a training area for the militia prior to the Revolutionary War. Presidents Andrew Jackson and Andrew Johnson were both guests at the original home. During the Civil War, as Yankees occupied the house and area immediately surrounding it, many families gathered and hid their horses and livestock in Burr Hollow, where the Bristol Dragway is presently located. Still standing, a small white frame structure adjacent to the house originally served as a private school for the Earhart/Rhea children. A governess, was hired as a teacher for the children, would also reside in the home during her tenure as teacher. Around 1898, a narrow gauge railroad was constructed around the mountain on the east side of the farm, near where the full hook up sites are located. The railroad ran into Virginia and western North Carolina. There was also a section of track and a station located along the boundary of the campground – hence the name "Earhart Station" Campground. The last train ran along these tracks in 1937, after which the tracks were removed and put toward the war effort in 1942. Volunteer Baptist Church and the BMS maintenance shop now occupy this former railroad path.
The grounds have always been home to dairy cattle, and in the earliest years, these cattle were milked by hand in a log structure barn. Milk, in large metal cans, was picked up on a daily basis at the farm. The square-cut rock on which these cans were placed for pick up can still be seen near the steps to the house; it was also used for women to mount horses side saddle. The large dairy barn still on the property was built in the late 1940s and continued to be used twice a day until 1995 as a milking facility for the herd. The final "Grade A" certificate issued to Elm Circle Farm is displayed in the campground office.
The changes that have taken place at both the speedway and the Earhart campground in the last 15 years have been tremendous, as both have grown by leaps and bounds during this time. In 1994, the bridge crossing Beaver Creek at the entrance to Earhart East was constructed, with the adjacent pedestrian bridge being added in 1998. In the same year, the large hill was removed from the east site, and the following year the shower house was constructed on the newly leveled land. Also in 1999, in the same area, due to the construction of the Alan Kulwiki grandstands at the speedway, the creek had to be relocated in order to allow for an access road around the racetrack. To assist in this effort to benefit the Bristol race fans, Earhart Station LLC relinquished nearly three acres of land to Bristol Motor Speedway so that this new construction and relocation could be accomplished.
Growth continued in 2000 with the first/front section of the Ridges area being completed, which was followed by the back section's completion on the ridge in 2003. A second shower house was opened in 2005. As racing progresses and the needs of the race fans continue to change, so will the progress and changes at Earhart Campground.