In the East Tennessee town of Rogersville, you’ll step back in time to an era gone by. It’s almost like time has stood still for decades in this small town. My mom and I were retracing some family roots last Thanksgiving and spent a couple of nights in Rogersville where many of the buildings date back to the 1800s.
The area was settled in 1775 by Davy Crockett’s grandparents and was established as a town in 1789. It’s the second oldest town in Tennessee. The town’s founder, Joseph Rogers immigrated from Ireland in 1781. He made his way to the area just east of present day Rogersville and found work on the plantation of Thomas Amis. He likely settled in the area because the rolling hills and morning fog would have reminded him of his homeland of Ireland. In 1786 he eloped with Amis’ 16-year-old daughter Mary. Needless to say the relationship between father-in-law and son-in-law wasn’t on the best terms. In 1786, Rogers purchased a 281-acre tract of land from Robert Crockett (David Crockett’s uncle) following the death of Crockett’s parents in an Indian attack at the site of Crockett Spring Park. In 1789, the North Carolina Legislature passed a bill allowing Joseph Rogers and his partner James Hagan to change the town’s name from Hawkins Court House to Rogersville. The area was a great thoroughfare for settlers heading for Kentucky and middle Tennessee. Several inns popped up in Rogersville. The first newspaper in the Territory South of the River Ohio, the Knoxville Gauzette, went to print here in 1791. The unique pink and red marble quarried in the area was used in the Tennessee State House and National Capitol in Washington.
Hale Springs Inn is in a building dating back to 1824. John A. McKinney built the three-story, Federal style building on the Great Stage Coach Road connecting Rogersville to Knoxville. It was first named McKinney’s Tavern with a true tavern bar and guest rooms. During the Civil War in the 1860s, the inn became the Union headquarters because it faced north. When the Confederates retook Rogersville in 1863 during the Battle of Big Creek, they used the Kyle House across the street as their headquarters since it faced south. The inn’s name changed to Hale’s Spring House when George A. Murray purchased it and wanted to advertise its connection to the Hale’s Spring spa not far from the inn. In 1982, Carl and Janet Netherland-Brown purchased and renovated it, then 2003, Rogerville Heritage Association purchased it.
The historic inn has nine spacious rooms and suites, all with private baths. It also has three presidential suites all named after Presidents which have been previous guests to the inn: Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, and James K. Polk. True to an old inn, a full sit down breakfast is included with each room or suite.
My mom and I stayed in the Andrew Jackson suite on the third floor. While he was president, Jackson stayed at the inn and used the balcony to address a crowd with a political speech. There is an elevator to the second floor, but it’s a historic inn, so you have to take the stairs up to the third floor. The common areas on each floor are filled with beautiful antique pieces, and the rooms and suites are no different.
As we opened up the door to the Andrew Jackson suite, we were floored with the beauty of this 2-bedroom suite. The large room has a beautiful king size bed, fireplace, and seating area. The smaller bedroom has a queen size bed. There is a large bathroom in the suite. In 1836, the 7th President of the United States had just finished his second term and was on his way from Washington to Nashville. He made a stop in Rogersville for a large celebration and banquet at the McKinney Tavern (Hale Springs Inn). After the banquet, Jackson spent the night at the Tavern and continued on his way to Nashville the next morning. He spent the night in the room where my mom and I stayed. It’s appointed just as it would have been when he stayed in it – minus the modern amenities like the television.
After checking in, we headed downstairs for a light dinner in McKinney’s Restaurant and Tavern. We opted for the Tavern and enjoyed a wonderful tortilla soup. It was perfect on a chilly fall night. We also split a fabulous spinach salad and dessert.
The next morning I went out a walk. The town was a little extra sleepy since it was Thanksgiving morning, but it was a wonderful chance to take the Rogersville walking tour guide and read up on all of the historic buildings as I walked by.
We enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving lunch filled with all of the traditional treats of Thanksgiving – turkey, sweet potatoes, dressing, and of course pumpkin pie. Needing to work off the lunch, we headed out to explore more of the area. Fall is also a wonderful time to explore the old Amis Plantation along Big Creek. We drove into the countryside of rolling hills headed for Thomas Amis Historic Site, which is home to the oldest stone dam in Tennessee. The Amis Dam and Gristmill were constructed around 1780. You can still see the dam and Gristmill ruins as you walk along Big Creek. The stone home is still standing today, 237 years later!
Take a fall road trip through East Tennessee. Visit Rogersville and stay at Hale Springs Inn. You’ll enjoy the journey back in time.