By Mike Steely
Rogersville in Hawkins County has a special place in East Tennessee history. If you’d like to drive up to that old city you might want to make it a loop trip and see lots of thing along the way.
My suggestion is to go northeast on Rutledge Pike, or Highway 11W, and make the first stop on the loop at the Grainger County seat in Rutledge. Grainger County is well known for its tomatoes and the county seat also boast of its historic courthouse, a cabin said to be Andrew Johnson’s tailor shop, and the old Rutledge jail. Just north of town is a former popular health spa, Tate Springs.
Highway 11W takes you north out of Rutledge and then east to Bean Station, one of the first settlements in East Tennessee. But don’t be confused because the little “truck stop” town on the current highway isn’t the original location of the community. When the lake was created the town was moved to higher ground and you can walk the beach west of town during low water and see the remains of buildings there.
Further on if you hang a left on the highway you’ll pass through the little town of Mooresburg, the site of an old time spa resort. Passing Mooresburg, 11W then crosses the lake and heads east to historic Rogersville.
The Hawkins County seat goes way back in history. Davy Crockett’s grandparents, who were killed by Indians, are buried there. The downtown is straight out of the 1880s and filled with shops and law offices. Several large older homes are there and it’s the home of a newspaper and printing museum in the old Rogersville train depot just two blocks from downtown.
From Rogersville you can drive south on State Highway 66 to Bulls Gap, the childhood home of country music star Archie Campbell. In order to get into the original “downtown” you need to cross Highway 11E. You’ll find the city hall occupies the same building as the Archie Campbell Museum. Nearby are abandoned water towers, a historic but empty hotel, and a railroad museum. Bulls Gap would be ideal for a “period” movie set, much like an old west ghost town.
Back up at Highway 11E you can take a left and drive through a couple small towns until you reach Morristown. The Hamblen County city is known for its overhead sidewalks downtown and the Crockett Tavern on the east end, a reproduction of Davy Crockett’s father’s inn.
You can return to Knox County by continuing to follow Highway 11E until it ends on Asheville Highway. However, if you wish a longer drive back to Knoxville you can take Highway 25E back through Bean Station and climb Clinch Mountain along the same route that pioneers took. Stop at the overlook atop the peak and look out on the Tennessee Valley and the Smokies in the distance. The restaurant at the pull off on top still operates and, at one time, advertised Vinegar Pie as its specialty.
If you continue north on 25E you eventually come to Tazewell. The historic little town has a “downtown” section just one block off the highway and a restored gasoline filling station nearby. It also has a cemetery with Civil War graves and a little-known Union fort atop the hill behind the town.
Heading south from Tazewell on Route 33 you will pass an old water mill on the right and eventually come to Maynardville and then Knoxville by way of Halls and Fountain City.
The trip takes a few hours but is ideal for a Sunday drive with the family. Take your camera and stop in each community to look around. A day away from home and work can refresh you and expand your appreciation of our area.