Rogersville, But What’s a Name?

The evolution of receiving, keeping, and changing names can be complicated, but some of us experience it multiple times throughout our lives. My song for this blog is “Changes” by David Bowie:

The Crocketts
If you enjoyed my blog about Davy Crockett and his ties to Morristown, you might be interested to learn that in 1775 his grandparents settled Crockett Springs near the Watauga Colony that was eventually named Rogersville. 


Crockett Springs Park & Arboretum was named after the Crockett family, and remains a busy park for locals. 


You can visit the Crockett Tavern Museum and family log cabin in Morristown, about half-hour drive away. Here is my blog entry about Morristown if you care to learn more. 



The Amises
I would be remiss not to mention that Native Americans and especially the Cherokee were the original inhabitants of the Rogersville area, but there is an alleged rare case of this land being purchased from the tribes rather than stolen. Three separate treaties of Hopewell, Dumplin, and Holston attempt to substantiate this but were only signed after many long years of battle and strife. 

During one such battle of the French-Indian War, the elder Crocketts were tragically murdered, and their land was sold to a French Colonel named Thomas Amis. He built a stone fortress and opened several businesses to serve his community including a distillery, general store, blacksmith shop, and various mills. 

Just a few miles from downtown, visit the Thomas Amis’ Historic site and estate. Amis Mill Eatery is the most popular feature of the historic site, and the entire grounds are on the National Register of Historic Places.


The restaurant is known for its crisp, square, grilled garlic bread and plentiful outdoor space.


This is the grilled chicken marsala over pasta, and the queso macaroni and cheese was fantastic too. 


A large multi-level patio wraps around the side of the building, overlooking the Amis Mill and Dam. 


Each menu also has a map for touring the rest of the grounds. A gravel road runs up the hill beside the restaurant past an antique blue truck and continues to the rest of the historic site markers.


A wedding arbor, pavilion, art structures, and barns line the path. Walk the short Birdhouse Trail loop that runs between the arbor to the pavilion, if you need some exercise after your meal.


At the top of the hill you will see the Amis family cemetery and Thomas Amis’ circa 1781 house, which the owners of the Amis Mill Eatery now live in. This family purchased the property over a decade ago with intentions to preserve and curate Rogersville history, and quickly became local favourites.


After passing the house, follow the gravel drive downhill until you reach the main road again. The Big Creek Visitor Center will be across the street and there are a few places to sit near the water or have a picnic. 


From here, the Ebbing and Flowing Spring is hardly one minute away. It was previously named Sinking Spring and is one of only two known tidal springs in the world. What this means is that the water volume oscillates between a trickle and a flood; from nearly standing still to gushing up to 500 gallons per minute.

The change has been extensively observed and timed to note that it occurs roughly every 2.5 hours, or every two hours and forty seven minutes according to some studies. Regardless of the weather, the water maintains an icy temperature of 34 degrees Farenheit.


Ebbing & Flowing spring actually flows across its namesake, the residential Ebbing & Flowing Road leading to Amis Mill Eatery and the Thomas Amis Historic Site.

During heavy rains it can become too flooded to pass. That was the case for my first attempt to visit, but the second time it was low enough to cross. 


The Rogerses
When Thomas Amis’ daughter married an Irishman named Joseph Rogers, Amis gave them some of his land and Rogers was appointed postmaster.

As was common back then, towns were named after the postmaster, so the growing settlement was named Rogersville. 229193117_302035371699243_8468495771956040507_n

The old Rogers Tavern still stands, barely, over on south Rogers Street. 

If you are especially interested in the Crocketts, Rogers, Hales, and other OG Rogersville families, you can visit some of their graves at the Rogers Cemetery, First Presbyterian Old Cemetery, and a few others in town.


Rogersville was officially founded in 1789, earning its status as the second oldest town in Tennessee.

Before being named Rogersville, the settlement went by a few different names; Frankland, Franklin, Spencer County of Franklin, Hawkins County of North Carolina, and finally Hawkins County of Tennessee.


To get to that point, you need to know about the Lost State of Franklin.

A few years after Amis created his fortress and gifted land to his son-in-law Rogers, settlers in the western part of the colony had become fed up with government officials ignoring their demands for resources and rights, so they petitioned for secession from North Carolina.


Earliest efforts to secede were led by Virginian officials John Sevier and Arthur Campbell but a multitude of quarrels led Campbell to back out. Sevier begged favour from Benjamin Franklin and suggested the new state be named Frankland.

Joseph Rogers joined in and petitioned to make Rogersville the municipal center of the State of Franklin. He laid out a plan for the town square, and even offered his own property and tavern up as official buildings.

After gaining Franklin’s support, John Sevier became the state of Franklin’s first governor and later the first governor of Tennessee. 

Check out this entertaining breakdown of events:

Franklin was never granted autonomy as its own state but the small victories and losses of its two short years will be remembered. I passed a medical clinic named after the State of Franklin, and the town is full of info plaques noting important sites of that time.

This documentary by Nolpix Media, a friend’s film company that I have had the honour of working with many times, has more info and professional reenactments. 

The Hales
Two of the most famous Rogersville natives are the siblings named Richard and Ruth Hale, born respectively in 1892 and 1887.

Richard Hale was an opera singer and actor for several decades in the 1900s but could not seem to get his name credited on most of his work. He sang in Broadway shows and appeared in Star Trek, Perry Mason, and countless films.

Remember that scene in To Kill a Mockingbird when Nathan Radley angrily fills the tree knot with cement? That was Richard Hale.

Remember the kooky old mystic who yelled “Beware the Ides of March!” in the original Julius Caesar film? Also Richard Hale. 

The list of Richard Hale’s uncredited work goes on throughout his entire opera and film career, even as recently as his role in the 1975 film Escape to Witch Mountain. Since his death in 1981, fans have been continuously working to fill the blanks and create a full compilation of this celebrated performer and to give him his name. 

Richard’s sister Ruth Hale fought to keep her name.  After her marriage to sports columnist Heywood Broun, she was frustrated that all of her legal documents suddenly renamed her as “Mrs. Heywood Broun” and because of this new name, she needed Heywood to be present or give his consent to almost everything she needed to do.

After all, women were not permitted to vote, open bank accounts, take credit, own assets, or make any legal or medical decisions back then, but at least she had a name of her own before she got married. 


Image of Ruth Hale shared from the National Portrait Gallery

When Ruth moved to New York in the early 1920s, she founded the Lucy Stone League. Its mission was to maintain:

equal rights for women and men to retain, modify and create their names, because a person’s name is fundamental to her/his existence, equal actual frequency of name retention, modification and creation between men and women at marriage and throughout life, and equality of patrilineal/matrilineal name distribution for children.

With combined efforts of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, the Suffragettes, the “Lucy Stoners” and other feminist organizations Ruth secured the right for women to vote and posses some legal agency over their lives though this fight unbelievably continues in 2021. 

Members of the collective were often also Abolitionists and pursued other human rights issues. though Ruth always focused on maintaining the rights of women to keep their surnames and, more importantly, their autonomy in tact after marriage. 

Watch this video to learn more about Lucy Stone and how she influenced these fierce women:

Ruth Hale’s passionate work and writings led to her joining the famous Algonquin Roundtable of writers that largely centered around Dorothy Parker. The 1994 film named Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle stays rather true to the Roundtable’s documented history. 

Hale does not get a lot of screen time in the film but there is one scene where another character gossips about her, asking “What’s a name? It’s simply a name!” Ruth’s famous reply was “A wife should no more take her husband’s name than he should hers. My name is my identity and must not be lost” which became the motto of the Lucy Stone League.

She is buried in Rogersville at the First Presbyterian Church’s Old Cemetery. 


Fun Facts: Actress Jennifer Beals played a role in Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle, and she is known for her work onscreen and in her personal life advocating for LGBTQ+ and women’s rights. Dorothy Parker herself was highly vocal of  her disdain for inequality and segregation, and producers took care to include that in the film.


Hale Springs Inn was built in 1824 and was first named McKinney’s Inn after its owner John McKinney. Union soldiers used the inn as a home base during the American Civil War, a battle between citizens who were polarized by their views on slavery and rights.

After the war ended, the Inn was renamed Hale Springs Hotel to attract tourists visiting hot mineral springs at the now defunct Hale Springs Resort.


In 1998 the inn closed, but five years the later Rogersville Heritage Association purchased the property. They spent millions of dollars on renovations and reopened in 2009 under the new name of Hale Springs Inn.


This lovely inn has its original 1824 heart pine flooring, an antique library, and prides itself on hosting presidents James K. Polk, Andrew Johnson, and Andrew Jackson who once addressed the people from inn’s main suite balcony. 


You can stay overnight in one of the nine rooms or three presidential suites, or just stop in at McKinney’s Tavern for a meal.


The Hale Springs Inn also offers an outdoor event space in the gardens. 


Across the street from Hale Springs Inn is the historic Kyle House, built in 1837.  


Confederates took control of Rogersville during the Battle of Big Creek in 1863 and set up camp in the Kyle House, directly across from the Hale Springs Hotel. 


Kyle House is now the home of a café named Coffee at the Kyle and it functions as the town meeting spot for people and pets alike. 


We had hot lattes and two of the café’s gigantic “muffins” but these delicious treats are legit cupcakes under a thin disguise of breakfast. Muffins, cupcakes, what’s a name?

Below are the Toffee Coffee and the Apple Strudel. 


Other Names and Places
Rogersville will thrill any type of history lover, as the entire historic district is listed on the esteemed National Register of Historic Places.


Rogersville Heritage Association shares its home with the Newspaper & Printing museum inside the old Depot.

One new fact I learned here is that the first newspaper published in Tennessee was the Knoxville Gazette, and it started in Rogersville in 1791. 


The Heritage Association preserves Rogersville history by hosting the annual Heritage Days Festival, various luncheons, tours, lectures, and other events year round.

Check out the Rogersville mural in the tiny Pocket Park on Main Street to guide your journey to historical sites. 


The Hawkins County Courthouse was built in 1836 and is one of only six active antebellum courthouses in Tennessee. 


The historic Swift College for African Americans is now the Price Public Community Center and Swift Museum, preserving over eighty years of African American history and achievements in the Rogersville area. 

I can not glorify institutions like Swift College that were created specifically for African Americans and Freedmen because places like that just added clout and perpetuated segregation. You can read the super churchy history of the place here, but whoever wrote it still seems absolutely oblivious or in denial of the role that the institution and the church they speak about have played. 

Nevertheless, I like what the museum is attempting to facilitate.


The historic Alexander Building on Main Street is now named Mountcastle Arms, leasing apartments upstairs and an art gallery on the ground floor. 


Main Street has dozens of shops and other businesses to keep you busy.


Many of them are in lesser-known historical buildings but often have plaques by the entrance that tell its year of construction and other facts. 


I really enjoy the different architectural features mixed in with the overall Federalist style buildings, with lots of art and small parks between the old brick and concrete. 



Drive or walk down Depot Street and some of the other roads right off Main Street to see some adorable Victorian and Colonial style homes.

If you are up for exploring an abandoned place, check out the Pressman’s House about nine miles north of Rogersville. The site was former headquarters for the International Printing Pressmen and Assistants Union of North America. It began in 1911 and was in operation until it lost funding in 1967.


Pressmen’s Home contained the union’s hydroelectric power production plant pictured below, as well as a training school, utilities, post office, chapel, hotel/lodge, store, sanitarium, and everything else this self-contained community could need back then. 


State Route 66 is a wild, miles-long hairpin curve, then the gravel road leading to the Pressmen’s Home site is full of pits and potholes so take caution. Also watch out for other creeps hanging out in a rural East Tennessee ghost town where arsonists, vandals, graffiti artists, and who knows which other types have taken over. 

Castle Barn was once the dairy barn on the Pressman’s House complex, and it is now an eclectic concert venue. It also hosts one of those “come-as-you-are” churches with the hip youth pastors, if that’s your thing. 

Oh, but I wish movie theatres and restaurants and venues would stop doing that…



In the area for a while? Follow me to Morristown or Greeneville!


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4 thoughts on “Rogersville, But What’s a Name?

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