The Road to Historic Rogersville
Stagecoaches rumbled through Rogersville, transporting new settlers and future presidents. The dusty road connected the rough-hewn frontier to Washington D.C. and the established cities of the East.
But the town dates to the 1780s, so the stagecoach era was the second chapter in Rogersville history. The first chapter started with an elopement between an Irishman and a wealthy planter’s daughter. Joseph Rogers came to America in 1781 and made his way to a plantation on Big Creek. After he took a fancy to 16-year-old Mary, the couple skedaddled to available land that was to become Rogersville.
The prologue in this history book belongs to the the grandparents of frontiersman David Crockett. They settled here, but died in an Indian attack. Frontier settlers like them moved through this crossroads while using the Cumberland Gap or Holston River to enter the land of opportunity. Joseph Rogers put up a tavern and inn for wayfarers. Once the stagecoach line was in place, more travelers passed through town. The Hale Spring Inn opened in 1824 and through subsequent decades it hosted Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson and James Polk.
A walk down the sidewalks of Rogersville truly feels like a glimpse into a Tennessee history lesson. Crocketts rest in the cemetery near their cabin site. Redbrick storefronts in the Federalist style have seen centuries of history go by. Townspeople sit on benches at the Hawkins County Courthouse on Main Street. It was built in 1836 on the Great Stage Road, now Main Street. Colorful flower boxes and old-fashioned iron lanterns decorate the sidewalks.
I take a look at the Presidential Suites at the Hale Springs Inn and think about the many guests—famous and not so famous— who have slept here. A multimillion dollar renovation has brought charm and comfort to this stately three-story brick accommodation. Its restaurant, McKinney’s Tavern, serves gourmet cuisine inspired by locally grown produce and meats.
Main Street has several popular eateries, albeit less fine dining, more Southern cooking and baking. Oh Henry’s, Sweet Tooth Café and Miss Bea’s Perks & Pies have a loyal, fully satisfied clientele day in, day out. The Local Artist Gallery sells the wares of about 30 local artists. Window displays catch the eye of passersby.
Handcrafted items made by 100 artisans will be just one portion of the town’s annual Heritage Days, set for Oct. 12-14. Craft demonstrations and an art and photography show will showcase the area’s talent. The festival will include Civil War re-enactors at Crockett Springs Park, traditional Appalachian music, regional foods and children’s activities. An antique farm equipment show will be held on S. Depot Street. The 1890 Southern Railroad Depot houses the Newspaper and Printing Museum, a tribute to the Rogerville’s past as a printing center. The Rogersville Heritage Association is housed in the depot.
A trip to this area would not be complete without a stop in Bulls Gap, population about 700. Vestiges of its railroading past stand hauntingly in the town center. People shop at Yoder’s Country Market on Highway 11E. Freshly baked breads, pies, and sweet pastries are reasons people shop here. Fresh cheeses and quality meats are other reasons. Jams, jellies, spices, pasta and a thousand other items make this store a gathering spot.