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Kingston- From the Western Frontier to the Scientific Frontier

Tennessee Valley Stories
Written by Caroline Eubanks

You do not have to travel to a major city or a museum to see some of the most important historical features in Tennessee. Within the small town of Kingston, you can see Fort Southwest point, a fort built in 1797 marking the most southwestern point of the United States. Also Kingston boasts a world famous uranium plant that was used to create the little boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima.

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Kingston- From the Western Frontier to the Scientific Frontier

Tennessee has played an important role in American history, especially in the small town of Kingston, located a short drive from Knoxville. It was here that exploration west began and where science was forever changed with the creation of the atomic bomb. Both are among the locations on the Top Secret Trail.

The Pioneer Frontier to the West

Fort Southwest Point was established in 1797 as an outpost, named for the fact that it was then the most southwestern point in the United States at the time. It was chosen for its location for access to the Avery Trace, a popular wagon path of the time.

It was established around a block house built by John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee and brigadier general of the militia of the Southwest Territory, which included Tennessee. He was joined by William Blount, a land speculator and delegate of the Constitutional Convention, who became the territory’s governor.

The fort was intended to keep the peace between European settlers and the Cherokee tribe, specifically to keep squatters off Native land. It was here that Lewis and Clark recruited soldiers for their famed journey to explore the area gained in the Louisiana Purchase. Fort Southwest was also the first federal fort in Tennessee when it became a state. It was no longer used by 1811.

Like nearby Fort Loudoun, the fort in Kingston has been reconstructed as an interpretive site. It’s the only pioneer-era fort reconstructed on its original site in the state and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today it has a free museum of artifacts including arrowheads and a canon replica. The University of Tennessee has excavated the land surrounding it, finding graves and long-buried objects. The site is home to a public park with an amphitheatre and frisbee golf course.

The Secret City and the Scientific Frontier

This region was also significant with advances in science through the creation of the Oak Ridge site. The K-25 Gaseous Diffusion Plant was secretly constructed in 1944, overtaking the rural farming community known as Wheat. The location was chosen for its access to water via the Clinch River.

It was at the time the largest building in the world and was the westernmost point of the Clinton Engineer Works, the military facility that has since been nicknamed the “Secret City.” Under its roof, the plant raced to enrich uranium through the new method of gaseous diffusion to cause a chain reaction. Employees also got around the massive U-shaped structure by bicycle.

From here, the enriched uranium went on to the Y-12 electromagnetic plant facility and then was incorporated into the Little Boy bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The important work that took place here ultimately ended the war.

The plant continued to operate well after World War II but in 2017, the diffusion plant was demolished. But curious visitors can still learn about the building’s importance at the K-25 Overlook, which documents the advances in global technology that took place in East Tennessee. The overlook in Kingston has views of where the building once was as well as a visitors center with photos, videos, and historic displays.

While visiting these frontier landmarks, base yourself in one of Kingston’s accommodations. The Gideon Morgan is an 1800s home turned vacation rental with four-poster beds and clawfoot tubs. The AAA Four-Diamond award-winning Whitestone Inn has cozy rooms and a lakefront location.

The Tennessee Valley and the communities of Roane County have left a permanent mark on America’s frontier spirit, educating visitors for generations to come. Find it for yourself by visiting the places that made it possible.

Caroline Eubanks is an award-winning travel writer and author of This Is My South: The Essential Travel Guide to the Southern States. While often found traversing the backroads of the South, she calls Atlanta, Georgia home.

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