Noted Cities in the Tennessee River Valley that have Shaped America
The Tennessee River Valley is a region steeped in history and at the centerpiece of it all is the Tennessee River. Flowing 652 miles through seven states, Virginia, Georgia, North Carolina, Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Tennessee, the Tennessee River derives its name from the Cherokee town of Tanasi. Cities and towns along the waterway have played an important role in forming the region’s identity and heritage.
Today, travelers can experience a bit of the diverse heritage and learn about each town’s role in shaping the region into a geotourism hotspot through historical structures, natural areas and other attractions
Spanning 7 states, the Tennessee River Valley spans history from frontier days to the space race. Traveling the region is a history lession that can be experienced through historic sites, cultural events, and some notable towns,
Located about a mile from the I-65 and I-565 junction in north Alabama is the oldest incorporated town in the state. Mooresville is home to four distinctly historic buildings. The circa 1821 Stagecoach Tavern is reportedly the oldest frame public building in the state of Alabama and has served as a post office, tenant house and an antique, glass and china repair shop. The circa 1839 Brick Church is a distinctively elegant Greek Revival building and held regular worship services until the 1960s. The circa 1840 Mooresville Post Office is the oldest continuing operating post office in the state and one of the oldest in the country. It contains original call boxes that visitors can still see today (during normal business hours). The circa 1854 Church of Christ, owned and maintained by the Church of Christ, is where President James A. Garfield once preached. U.S. General James A. Garfield was stationed here in 1862 and Andrew Johnson was an apprentice tailor. The entire town is on the National Register of Historic Places and a visit here is truly like stepping back in time.
Visitors to the Shoals area can expect a day (or several days) of inspirational exploration. The area offers a compelling story from celebrated leaders such as Helen Keller and W.C. Handy, father of the Blues. FAME Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound along with other recording studios made Muscle Shoals, Alabama, the Hit Recording Capital of the World in the 1960s and beyond. Mick Jagger, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, Willie Nelson, Percy Sledge, Rod Stewart, Bob Seger and Lynyrd Skynyrd are just a few of a long list of talented musicians who found a place in history by recording in Muscle Shoals. Today, there are recording studios all over the Muscle Shoals area, still making hits and propelling artists to fame. This area is still home to some pretty well-known musicians, including John Paul White of The Civil Wars, David Hood of the Swampers, Norbert Putnam, Spooner Oldham, Gary Baker, Will McFarlane, Donna Jean Godcheax and others. For visitor information on recording studios, visit .
Copper mining was a major industry for many years in southeast Tennessee and north Georgia. Copper was first discovered in the basin in 1843, and by the 1850s large mining operations were taking place, but careless industry practices over the years resulted in a massive environmental disaster. With the formation of TVA in 1933, one of their top priorities was to remedy the damage done to the area. Learn more here.
Today, the area is still known as the Copper Basin and is a popular area for visitors due to the fact the geological region features two rivers, two bridges, two towns and two states. McCaysville/Copperhill is one town with two names because it is split by the Georgia-Tennessee state line. The McCaysville Visitor Center should be visitors first stop for a look at old photos and objects exploring the mining heritage of the Basin, and before leaving, look for the blue line that shows the split. It’s the perfect place for a selfie while standing in two towns and two states.
Established 17 years before Tennessee was granted statehood, Jonesborough is a unique town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains. Its well-preserved Main Street takes visitors on a beautiful journey through the past. Walk where Daniel Boone, Andrew Jackson, David Crockett, John Sevier and so many others have been. One of the best ways to soak in the history and the charm is through a walking tour of the historic downtown area. For those who want to learn about the town on a more leisurely stroll, grab a free self-guided walking tour brochure at the Visitors Center and take in nearly 30 spots all within walking distance throughout the historic downtown district.
Jonesborough also has a rich storytelling heritage and today is known as the Storytelling Capital of the World. For many, Jonesborough is where the storytelling revival began and to celebrate this heritage, the International Storytelling Center hosts storytelling concerts online.
Founded in 1827 by William Clark of Lewis & Clark fame, Paducah's origins and prosperity can be attributed to its strategic location at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee rivers. Paducah thrived due to its port facilities along the waterways that were used by steamboats. A factory that manufactured red bricks was established and a foundry for making rail and locomotive components was built, ultimately contributing to a river and rail industrial economy. In 1856, Paducah was chartered as a city. The community continued to capitalize on its geographic location by becoming the site of dry dock facilities for steamboats and towboats and, in turn, headquarters for various bargeline companies. Paducah also became an important railway hub for the Illinois Central Railroad (ICRR) due to its proximity to the coal fields in Kentucky and Illinois.
In recent years, Paducah has transformed into a hub for artists and in 2013, it was designated as a Creative City by UNESCO. The scenic riverfront at the heart of downtown is the site of historic markers, beautiful murals and visiting steamboat dockings. "Portraits from Paducah's Past," the city’s esteemed public art project, features more than 50 life-sized portraits from Paducah's past by Robert Dafford, one of America's most prolific mural artists. These murals showcase the history of Paducah, from its founding to the flood of 1937 and how it’s cultural heritage is shaped by the rivers.
Located in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwest Virginia, Abingdon is one of Virginia’s most historically-significant towns. The site of present-day Abingdon is located on a well-traveled wilderness route called the Great Road, which many pioneers traveled through the Blue Ridge Mountains on the way to settle the new American frontier. According to local legend, the area was named Wolf Hills by Daniel Boone in 1760 after his dogs were attacked by a pack of wolves. Some of the architecture in the Historic District dates back to the late 1700s. The Barter Theatre is the longest-running professional theatre in the United States since it opened in 1933. It survived the Depression-era by allowing theatregoers to pay admission with vegetables, dairy products or livestock. In 1860, Martha Washington College opened in a former private residence in Abingdon. The college closed in 1932, but the grand building affectionately known as “The Martha” re-opened as a hotel in 1935.
Nestled along the shores of beautiful Watts Bar Lake, Kingston was once a major steam boat hub on the Tennessee River, and the most southwestern point in the United States. Two years prior to the founding of Kingston, Fort Southwest Point was established in 1797 as a federal frontier outpost. It was chosen for its location for access to the Avery Trace, a popular wagon path of the time. 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. The University of Tennessee has excavated the land surrounding it, finding graves and long-buried objects. Today it has a free museum of artifacts including arrowheads and a canon replica.
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