Kingsport is the largest city in Sullivan County. How did it get its name?
It is an interesting story that combines geography with history.
The Holston River in Kingsport is the highest navigable point in the Tennessee River system (1,208 feet). Because of this factor, an island here — known as Long Island — was a popular gathering point for Native Americans and settlers in the 1760s and 1770s.
In the days before roads and railroads, one of the best ways to migrate west through Tennessee was to board a flatboat at Long Island and ride it downstream (the Holson eventually flows into the Tennessee River, which flows into the Ohio River).
During the Revolutionary War, a fort in this area became known as Fort Patrick Henry. Thousands of immigrants left Fort Patrick Henry on boats destined for places such as White’s Fort (later Knoxville) and French Lick (later Nashville). The best known of these was the Donelson Party, whose journey down river is one of the great early stories of Tennessee history.
After the war, a man named William King started a business near the site of Fort Patrick Henry that built boats and sold them to people who wanted to migrate west. King became so well known that the community (first named Christianville) was named for him.
However, if you come to Kingsport looking for Fort Patrick Henry, or a replica of it, you will look in vain. The former site of the fort is now part of Eastman Chemical Company’s Tennessee operations.
Another story: Imagine how you’d feel if they made your home the state capital! Well, it has happened before.
Before Tennessee became a state, it was part of the Southwest Territory. The appointed governor of the Southwest Territory was William Blount. From 1790 until 1792, Blount operated from Rocky Mount, the Sullivan County home of a man named William Cobb.
Today Rocky Mount is open to the public and contains a living history museum.
Sullivan County is one of those counties of northeast Tennessee (sort of like Washington and Carter) that contains history around just about every county. In Blountville you will find the Old Deery Inn, a roadside stopping point built in 1785. Among the people who spent the night at the Old Deery Inn were Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk and the Marquis de Lafayette.
About a block away from the Old Deery Inn is Tennessee’s oldest Methodist Church, Acuff Chapel.
At the northern edge of Sullivan County is Bristol. To be exact, there are two Bristols — one in Tennessee and one in Virginia. The state lines goes right through downtown!
Bristol is considered to be the “Birthplace of Country Music.” In 1927, Ralph Peer of the Victor Talking Machine Company made the first known recordings of country music in Bristol when he recorded singers such as Jimmie Rogers and the Carter Family. (See article on the right.)
Here is the Sullivan County Courthouse.