Upon entering the quaint town of Rogersville, Tennessee's pioneer history comes to life, even with its close proximity to buzzing Knoxville and the Tri-Cities area.
But, you can easily imagine the tedium and strain of traveling over the seemingly endless crests and valleys of the Appalachian Mountains, your entire life loaded down into lumbering stage coaches, struggling through wild countryside, seeking the promise of starting over in the newly opened lands of what was, at first, the westernmost reaches of North Carolina, then the short-lived State of Franklin, and finally, Tennessee.
Traveling the coach roads through this wild land and emerging into the brick and mortar of Rogersville, a fair city organized on a grid of streets and containing along them inns, distilleries, stores, blacksmith shops and by 1836, a beautiful and imposing courthouse, it must have been similar to that moment when, after crossing the Atlantic, you finally hear the deckhand up in the crow's nest call out "Land-ho!"
Tennessee's colonial vibe can be felt in old towns like these in Northeast Tennessee. Rogersville is widely considered to be the second oldest settlement in Tennessee, one spot behind Jonesborough. It was, at the very least, inhabited by those people who were destined to become Americans at the time that their fellow colonials over in the cities on the eastern seaboard were declaring their independence.
Things change, of course. Modernity resides next to history. Yet, it is possible to stroll the streets of Rogersville and see much of what could be seen there more than 150-200 years ago.
Time has not eroded its most essential colonial and frontier qualities. The old storefronts are still in business, though they may no longer shoe mules. The faire in their restaurants is no longer restricted to what can be killed or grown. But its hisotric downtown has maintained a feeling that can hardly be matched on this side of the Appalachian Mountains.
To experience a town like Rogersville is to come to understand some of the vast history of Tennessee.