Roane County occupies the territory and the junction of the Clinch and Tennessee, and
Clinch and Emory Rivers, and embraces an area of — square miles. The surface is
generally broken or rolling, but while much of the land is broken and untillable, there is
also a large area of fertile river bottoms. Iron and coal of the best quality abound in
inexhaustible quantities, and lie in close proximity to each other. Limestone and marble
are also abundant. The transportation facilities are the best of any county in East
Tennessee. The Cincinnati Southern Railroad transverses it from northeast to southwest,
while the rivers are open for navigation from eight to ten months in the year.
The Indian title to the territory now included in Roane County was extinguished by three
different treaties. The line fixed by the treaty of 1794 extended to within one mile of
Southwest Point. In 1805 all the territory north of the Tennessee and Holston Rivers to
opposite the mouth of the Hiwassee, with the exception of two or three small reservations,
was ceded by the Indians in a treaty made at Tellico. After the purchase of the Hiwassee
District in 1819, the county was extended south of the river.
The first improvement made in the county was the wood road running from the Clinch
River to the Cumberland settlements, which was cut out in 1785. After the founding of
Knoxville, in 1792, it was extended to that place. This road became the most important
thoroughfare in the State, and over it for more half a century passed nearly all the travel
between East Tennessee and the west. About 1822 it was made a stage route, the stages
passing both ways twice a week. It ran through what is now the main street of Kingston.
In 1792 a fort was established at Southwest Point, and a detachment of United States
troops, under Capt. McCLELLAND, were stationed there to prevent incursions from the
Cherokee Indians into the settlements above. The garrison was maintained at that place
until about 1806 or 1807, when it was removed to a point on the right bank of the
Tennessee River, about six miles from the present town of Dayton. On October 23, 1799,
the Legislature passed an act for the establishment of a town to be known as Kingston, on
lands owned by Robert KING, David MILLER, Alexander CARMICHAEL, George
PRESTON, John SMITH T., William L. LOVELY, M. SMITH and Thomas M. CLARK
were appointed its commissioners. KING lived in a small cabin standing about where
FRENCH’S Hotel now is. The first merchant was probably John McEWEN. Samuel
MARTIN & Co., Gideon MORGAN, Thomas N. CLARK, Sr., White & Cox and Nelson,
Smith & King also opened stores during the first eight or ten years after the town was laid
out. Cotton was at that time an important crop and Hugh BEATTY and john STONE both
operated cotton-gins. The latter also filled the office of cotton inspector. Matthew
NELSON opened a tavern in 1809. He was a carpenter by trade, but subsequently was
elected treasurer of East Tennessee, a position he held for many years. His brother
William D. NELSON, was also an early settler of the town. Henry LIGGETT had a
hatter’s shop, and supplied a large section of country with hats. Among other pioneers of
the town may be mentioned Dr. Daniel RATHER, Thomas C. CHILDRESS, William
FRENCH, William LEA, David PATTON and John PURRIS.
Among the most prominent of the early settlers of the county were the
BROWNS–Thomas, John, and William. Thomas BROWN was the quartermaster for the
garrison at the fort, and a politician of considerable reputation. He served several terms in
the Legislature, and on one occasion was a candidate for the United States Senate. Gen.
John BROWN was the owner of a large tract of land, including the present site of
Rockwood, and for twenty-three years was the sheriff of the county. William BROWN
became a lawyer and removed to Knoxville. Perhaps the person who enjoyed the greatest
notoriety among the pioneers of this section was John SMITH T., who lived about two
miles southeast of Kingston. He obtained possession of a 50,000-acre grant of land which
he held in defiance of all other claimants, and was the owner of a large number of slaves.
He was an excellent shot, had fought several duels, and had the unpleasant habit of killing
people on the slightest provocation. The restraint of advancing civilization, however, soon
became distasteful to him and removed to Missouri.
Kingston, from its position on the river and on the main road from Knoxville to Nashville,
soon attained considerable importance, and in 1805, the Legislature voted to hold its next
session there. It assembled on September 21, 1807, but two days later adjourned to
Knoxville. About 1835 the regular steamboat navigation of the river was begun, and from
that time until the war the town continued to prosper. Among the business men of the
thirties were H.H. WILEY, James McCAMPBELL, John PAYNE, George L. GILLESPIE,
Nathaniel HEWITT, James BERRY, Edward McDUFFIE, J.J. MUNGER, W.S.
McEWEN and Henry LIGGETT. Since the civil war the town has been somewhat on the
decline, but its favorable location for iron furnaces and manufactories will undoubtedly, in
time, attract a much large population than it has ever known. The present business
interests of the town are represented by the following firms: S.J. D’ARMOND & Son,
Childress & Martin, Butler & Co., Hartley & Melton and Joseph A. MUECKE, general
stores; C.F. BRAUSE and BROWN Bros., drugs, and M.B. EVERETT, confectionery.
The manufactories consist of a saw mill, operated by C.B. FRENCH; a grist-mill by
William RATHER, and a tannery by John A. FERGUSON.
The first newspaper in Kingston was established in 1855 or 1856 by N.A. PATTERSON. It
was published as the Gazette and the Register until the beginning of the war. In the fall of
1865 the East Tennessean was established with F.M. WILEY as editor. After about six
months it was suspended, but in November, 1866, its publication was resumed by W.B.
REED, who has since continued it as a non-political paper. In 1873 C.F. BRAUSE began
the publication of the Valley News which he continued for about eighteen months, when he
sold it to Rev. G.W. COLEMAN, who, after changing the name to the Indexpendent, moved
it to Maryville. The press was subsequently returned and used in the publication of the
Herald. In 1880 John J. LITTLETON established the Cyclone, a Democratic paper. He
subsequently sold to HOOD & HAGGARD, who changed it to a Republican paper under
the name of the Patriot. It has been published as the Republican, and is now under the
editorial management of S.E. FRANKLIN.
As early as 1806 an act was passed by the Legislature providing for the establishment of
Rittenhouse Academy, and appointing Thomas J. VAN DYKE, Samuel ESKRIDGE, Jacob
JONES, Zachariah AYER and Jesse BYRD, as trustees. To this board were added, in
1809, John PURRIS, M. SMITH, T.N. CLARK, Thomas BROWN, John BROWN,
Matthew NELSON and Samuel MARTIN. There is no evidence, however, to show that
the school was put into operation until 1822, when Rev. William EAGLETON was installed
as principal. His successors up to 1828 were A.G. GALLAHER, John A. HOOPS, Jacob
K. SPOONER, John G. LACKINS. The institution soon gained a wide reputation, and the
attendance, was large. The first building was a log structure, standing in the same lot with
the First Presbyterian Church. In 1832 the main part of the present house was completed,
and in 1853 the wing was added. Among the subsequent principals prior to the war were
George S. RICH, B.F. SMITH, John WYATT, Benjamin V. IRVIN, H.W. VON
ALDEHOFF and William G. LLOYD. For several years after the close of the war the
building was occupied by schools of varying degrees of excellence. Recently the institution
was reincorporated, and is now one of the best schools of the kind in East Tennessee.