A Love Story: Rogersville, Tennessee
ABOUT ROGERSVILLE, TENNESSEE
It all started with a love story. Only two years after the new United States had finally won its independence from Great Britain, a young Scots-Irishman named Joseph was travelling through the far western wilds of North Carolina. Weeks into his journey into the frontier, Joseph came across the home of a hero of the Revolutionary War, Colonel Thomas Amis. Amis, of French extraction, owned lands granted him for his service in the Revolution. His beautiful daughter Mary helped him in their family’s tavern and inn. Legend says Joseph fell in love with Mary a mile or so up the road from her father’s home at the Ebbing and Flowing Spring, after the couple shared a cup of its sweet, cool waters. A year later, in 1786, they were married, and for a wedding present, Mary’s father gave the young family lands a few miles west of his own house. There, Joseph and Mary Rogers set about creating a life for themselves.
It wasn’t just families being started in the Wild West of the Eighteenth Century. The North Carolina legislature, finally able to consider work besides protecting its citizens from British soldiers, turned its attention toward its lands across the forbidding Appalachian Mountains. One of the first tasks was to set up local government — but the question was where. Joseph knew the state was looking for a good location for the post office, the sheriff’s office, the jail, and the courts, and he also knew there were few buildings available fit for purpose. So a few months after he and Mary were married, Joseph presented the state legislators with a plan: locate the courthouse, post office, and other public facilities in his newly-built tavern and home. Situated next to Crockett Spring, named for Davy Crockett’s grandparents who’d sold the land to Joseph’s father in law, Rogers’ Tavern was perfect for the seat of the new county government.
With the courthouse on the way, Rogers set about the task of organizing a town around it. People doing business with the government would need places to stay, taverns at which to eat, and offices for lawyers. In time, all the details of a town would need to be set up. Ever the entrepreneurs, Joseph and Mary set about the task of organizing their land into a street plan. They named the new town for their family, Rogersville. The town grew and prospered. Joseph was named the first postmaster, and his home was used for government business for years. In later life, Joseph built a new post office, this time out of brick, along the Great Stage Road that saw hundreds of settlers traveling through Rogersville on their way to the Cumberland Gap and the new frontier of the Kentucky Territory. By the time of their deaths in 1833, Joseph and Mary’s new town boasted a beautiful collection of inns, homes, churches, and businesses. And the foundation was laid for a grand courthouse to stand as the centerpiece of the town they had founded.
Rogersville still echoes with the love that Joseph and Mary poured into it. Two centuries of history, and the violence of the dark days of the Civil War, have done little to dim the beauty of this little home in the mountains. But time takes its toll, and many of Rogersville’s historic structures, despite diligent work by its citizens, have suffered from the decline of industry and commerce. The town was bypassed by the interstates, and the days of hundreds of travelers passing through downtown have gone. There is much potential throughout the Rogersville Historic District, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973. With the help of HGTV, the people of Rogersville can share the love story of their hometown, and Joseph’s and Mary’s dream will be secure for centuries more to come.