The Town of Oneida was officially incorporated on March 22, 1917 — eight days after the United States entered World War I.
As the 20th Century began, Oneida was little more than a stop along the Cincinnati-Southern Railroad (now the Norfolk-Southern Railroad), which had been built in 1876. Rich in natural resources, this little Cumberland Plateau railroad depot was poised for growth. From the virgin timber that surrounded the farmland in what is modern-day Oneida to rich seams of coal to the west, east and south, Oneida was a land waiting to be explored, and the railroad made that possible.
As World War I began, mining in the region was going full strength as work surged forward to meet the coal demands created by the war. Two short-line railroads — the Oneida & Western, which trekked through what is now the Big South Fork National River & Recreation Area to Jamestown in Fentress County, and the Tennessee Railroad, which traversed the Cumberland Mountains to Devonia in Anderson County — tied into the Cincinnati-Southern at Oneida, creating a hub of traffic as workers and supplies were transported in and natural resources were exported out.
As a result, Oneida was growing. All of the usual staples of a railroad town began to pop up, from churches and barber shops to saloons and hotels. A group of businessmen interested in bringing about improvements to roads and utilities began efforts to incorporate the community, and in 1917 they were successful. Leland G. Carson, a 26-year-old warehouse manager, was the town's first mayor, serving one term in office while also serving in the war with the U.S. Army.
In its first year, the town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen floated a $20,000 bond to build streets and sidewalks. By 1925, most of the town's streets were paved, with historian A.C. Terry writing, "It has been claimed that Oneida has more paved streets than any town in Tennessee according to population and wealth."
A municipal water system was established by 1920. Within five years, a sewer system was constructed. And U.S. Hwy. 27 was graded through the town in 1925. The new highway helped connect Oneida to major eastern U.S. cities, including Chattanooga and Cincinnati.
The 1920s were a prosperous time for Oneida. The decade began with the town featuring 20 retail establishments, four churches and a brick schoolhouse with over 500 students enrolled. By the time the federal highway came through town, four hotels had been established. Farms were lotted off and residential subdivisions began to pop up. Civic-minded residents founded the Oneida Kiwanis Club and started a county fair. Two new banks — First Trust & Savings Bank and Oneida Bank & Trust Co. — joined First National Bank of Oneida, which had been established before the town's incorporation. And a brick schoolhouse served more than 500 students.
Historian A.C. Terry wrote in 1921, "Eight years ago there was not a brick building, a foot of concrete sidewalk or a yard of hard surface road to be found in Oneida. Today we have a number of as modern brick buildings as can be found anywhere. All our main streets are piked, and the business part of the town have a system of concrete sidewalks. The city owns its own light plant. The town has never built faster than is building today, with our wood work manufacturing plants, knitting mill, flour mill, railroad machine shops and nearby coal mines, there is a job and a living for everyone who will work."
Like cities throughout the state and the nation, Oneida suffered through the Depression era that began with the 1929 stock market crash. By the 1940s, however, the town was growing again. The first city hall was built, along with a jail, at the corner of Main and Third Streets in 1941. It served the town's needs for nearly 40 years before the town's business was moved to its present location at the Oneida Municipal Services Building on Municipal Drive in the late 1970s.
Oneida's school system has operated independently since its inception. The Tennessee General Assembly created Oneida City Schools in 1905. In 1917, at the time of incorporation of the town, the Oneida Independent School District was formed. In 1975, the legislature dismissed the independent district and created the Oneida Special School District.
Oneida's high school was destroyed by fire in 1942. Two years later, fire destroyed the elementary schools. New buildings were built for each, with the new elementary school opening in 1948.
As the timber and coal industries began to wane in the region, a strong manufacturing base took hold in Oneida, with some of the world's premier products being made by workers who reside in the town. At the end of World War II, brothers Todd and Charles Tibbals moved to Oneida, purchased the Pearson Wood Flooring Co., and established the Tibbals brand of hardwood flooring. As the post-war housing market soared, so did the Tibbals' operation. In the late 1950s, Tibbals discovered and patented a method for manufacturing parquet flooring using pieces of wood that were initially considered worthless. The Hardwood Tile Company, or Hartco for short, was established.
For the next half century, Tibbals and Hartco would be household names in Scott County, and the company was long the county's largest industrial employer. At its peak, Hartco employed more than 520 people and pumped more than $30 million per year into the local economy. Charles Tibbal son, Howard Tibbals, and other shareholders sold the company to Premark International in 1988. Two transactions later, it wound up under the ownership of Armstrong World Industries. Production at the flooring plant continued until 2010 before being idled.
In the mid 1970s, Barna and Danner Co. began production of log homes in Oneida. Later named Jim Barna Log Homes after Hungarian native Jim Barna Sr. acquired his partner's holdings in the company, Barna became a world leader in the log home industry, with 150 distributors throughout the United States and nearly 20 in Europe.
In the late 1980s, residents and business leaders in Oneida came together in an effort to raise money to rebuild the city's aging schools. In a rallying fund-raising effort that garnered national attention, supporters of the schools and financial donors raised enough money for new buildings across the board, with Oneida Elementary opening in 1992, Oneida High in 1993 and Oneida Middle in 1994.