Kingsport City

Sullivan County, Tennessee

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Kingsport City Hall is located at 225 West Center Street, Kingsport, TN 37660.
Phone: 423‑229‑9400.

Stone-Penn House


Kingsport as described in 1939 [1]

Kingsport is a mountain-circled industrial city on the shores of the Holston River in the heart of the Southern Appalachians. To the east stretches the wall of the Blue Ridge, to the west are the gaunt ridges of the Cumberlands, to the north the rugged Clinch Mountains, while to the south and nearer to the valley loom Chimney Top and the Bays Mountain range, tumbling away southeastward into the ranks of the Great Smokies. These ranges are little changed in some respects since the first pioneers followed the buffalo trails over their timbered heights and built their cabins in the Holston Valley. Farmed first by the Indians and later by white pioneers, the valley of the winding Holston with its fertile bottom lands has long been an agricultural area. Kingsport, a modern city in its industrial development, still bears marks of its rugged pioneer ancestry.

Although Kingsport has been settled since 1761, the modern city has grown from a small village in 1907, with a population of less than a thousand, to a modern city with a balanced group of industrial units that offer a diversity of employment. Planned as an industrial center, the city received its charter on March 2, 1917. Dr. John Nolan, internationally known engineer and city planner, superintended the designing of the public buildings, homes and parks. He was assisted by Earl S. Draper who is now (1938) director of the TVA Department of Regional Planning. The aim was usefulness, beauty, and a variety in each structure and in the city as a whole. Before a street was paved definite areas were set aside for residential sections, industrial divisions, and business centers. Open areas were left for recreational development as the city grew. Street parkways and parks at intersections were designed; trees were planted throughout the business section.

The principal streets radiate from a circle drive and small park in the geographical center of the city. The U. S. Post Office, of Georgian Colonial design, and six churches are built around this circle.

Local citizens are mostly of English and Scottish stock. The mountain folk who work in the local plants have adapted themselves to an industrial life but in many cases have retained their roots in the land. Some live on the home farm and work in the city. Others cultivate gardens around their urban homes. There has never been any labor strife in Kingsport, a point of pride with local citizens. Having the advantages of a present-day city, Kingsport and its surroundings retain some of the charm of early America. Tucked away in the hills hereabout are old water mills and cabins with wide fireplaces, stone chimneys, and rafters hung with drying herbs.

Dr. Thomas Walker, leader of the first organized exploring expedition into Upper East Tennessee, while following Reedy Creek down to North Fork of the Holston in the early spring of 1750, found a well-marked Indian path that crossed the Holston River at Long Island and extended through what is now the southern part of Kingsport. This was the trail used by Daniel Boone and his party in 1769 when marking out the route to Wilderness Road.

The first Anglo-American structure on the site of Kingsport was Fort Robinson, built in 1761 near the fording place of the Holston at Long Island. Later, Fort Patrick Henry, erected at the same site in the spring of 1775, was the outpost of white civilization beyond the mountains.

Kingsport was known variously as Island Flats, Fort Robinson, Fort Patrick Henry, the Boat Yard and Christianville. The last name was for Gilbert Christian who bought land and intended to build a town. The Boat Yard seems to have been the generally accepted name until 1774 when it was called King's Port because it was used as a port, or boat landing, for the shipping of iron, bacon, salt, and other commodities to towns down the Holston and Tennessee Rivers. Some people credit the origin of the name to William King of Abingdon, Virginia, owner of a salt works, who hauled his product to the Boat Yard for shipment. In 1774 Colonel James King established a mill at the mouth of Reedy Creek and later built an iron works and a nail factory. Early settlers met with bitter resistance from the Cherokee, when they began to occupy the valley, but finally defeated the Indians in the Battle of Island Flats in 1776. The battle took place in the cane brakes which covered what is now the heart of the business district of Kingsport. On July 20 of the following year, the treaty of the Long Island of the Holston was made between the whites and the Cherokee.

Situated on a main north and south post road, Kingsport was a busy place in the early 19th century. In 1806 the town's industries consisted of four powder mills, a charcoal iron furnace and iron works, oil mills for turning out pure linseed oil, tanneries, grist mills, and saw mills.

A minor battle took place at Kingsport, December 13, 1864, during the War between the States. After a day's fighting the Federals captured the entire Confederate force.

The town's development was at a standstill for more than 2 decades following the war. Manufacturing revived a little in 1885 when David and William Roller and C. N. Jordan established a brick and glazed tile plant. Up to the 20th century, railroads had ignored Kingsport and followed the valleys to the northeast and southwest. But in 1909 the Holston valley was connected with Cincinnati and the Carolina coast by the Carolina, Clinchfield and Ohio Railroad. Thus Kingsport obtained an outlet to the Great Lakes and the Atlantic.

Civic-minded citizens organized an improvement association to establish a planned industrial city on the flatlands adjoining Kingsport. The association assembled a select group of industries, chosen for diversification of business, elimination of undesirable and dangerous industries, and to fit the available supply of labor.

Under this scheme a cement plan was erected, followed in succession by a brick oven, extract plant, and a tannery. To take care of the needs of the growing community a power plant was constructed, and by 1917 a hosiery and pulp mill were in operation. Less than a decade later Kingsport had a methanol distillery, a book manufacturing and book cloth establishment, a cotton spinning and weaving mill, and a belting plant. Industries added later include the manufacture of cellulose acetate for camera films, acetate yarns, and other products. With these major industries have come many smaller businesses.

The University of Tennessee has a co-operative agreement with Kingsport industries whereby students, largely from the engineering and chemistry departments, are given practical training. These students divide their time between the plants at Kingsport and the university and thus gain practical experience in industry while earning part of their expenses.

Kingsport was the first city in Tennessee to adopt the city manager type of government, and the city charter was approved by the Bureau of Municipal Research of the Rockefeller Institute in 1917.

  1. Works Progress Administration, Federal Writers' Program, Tennessee: A Guide to the State, American Guide Series, Tennessee Department of Conservation, Stratford Press, 1939.

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