Port Royal, once one of the most prominent towns in colonial Tennessee, was a longhunter camp as early as 1775 and truly settled by the early 1780s. Port Royal's strategic location at the junction of main roads and the Red River made it a hub of commerce for northern Tennessee and south central Kentucky, and a major stagecoach route. It was the only stop in Tennessee on the “Great Western Road” stagecoach line between Nashville and Illinois. It was said to be in the running to become state capital, losing by one vote. Four of the delegates to the 1796 State Constitutional Convention were residents of Port Royal.
Port Royal was the second Tennessee site to be named to the official Trail of Tears National Historic Trail. Others are Audubon Acres, Brainerd Mission Cemetery and the Chattanooga Regional History Museum in Chattanooga and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore. Port Royal was a stop on the northern removal route, in 1838 and 1839. It was the last stop before leaving Tennessee, where the Cherokee camped and replenished supplies and ground corn for meal.
Port Royal is also closely connected to the Bell Witch legend, as it was the town closest to the site of the disturbances. Port Royal became a State Historic Park in 1978. Today, many visitors come to fish and canoe the Red River and see the remains of the old community. Given its history as a commercial and travel hub, transportation is an important theme in the activities and programs in the park.
Hiking is a popular activity within Port Royal. The Overlook Trail, a short stroll along the top of the bluff, overlooks the Red River and the bottom below. The Trail of Tears is an original, preserved section of the Trail of Tears certified by the National Park Service. This trail, rated easy, is about 300 yards long. The River Bottom Trail connects to the Trail of Tears, providing a leisurely walk through a forested river bottom.
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