Morristown, The “Go To” City between Bristol and Knoxville

October 26, 2016 in Editorials

The area of Morristown was settled beginning in the late 1700s. In 1787, land grants were issued by the state of North Carolina to several men including Gideon Morris, on whose lands the city of Morristown began. It developed around a crossroads – an East-West Indian trail that was further developed in the 1780s as settlers traveled along the Nolichucky River, and a North-South stage coach route from Abington, Virginia, to Knoxville. The stage coach route was also called the Great Road. Today, that route is now Main Street and it runs through the heart of historic downtown. The East-West connection is now Cumberland Avenue and was originally part of the Daniel Boone’s Wilderness Trail.

In 1833, the town consisted of a post office, a store, a blacksmith’s shop and several dwellings, mostly of log construction. They were located along Turkey Creek that still flows under some of the downtown buildings. This crossroads location encouraged the development of accommodations and provisions for travelers. As early as 1839, citizens tried to secure a railroad to connect Morristown since road travel was arduous, and there were no nearby centers. Various railroad companies were formed, and they later merged to what became the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia Railroad. It roughly followed the old stage coach route, and it was not until after the Civil War that other rail lines were constructed.

Incorporated in 1855, the population of Morristown was about 500. The Civil War abruptly ended the first growth of the city as it interrupted trade and industry. Morristown, as much of East Tennessee, had men fighting on both sides of this conflict. Another complicating factor was that the city was the divided by two counties, Jefferson and Grainger. Extensive travel was required to obtain normal, everyday legal documents. Hamblen County was formed from parts of Jefferson, Greene and Hawkins County in 1870, and this was an important step in the development of the city.

In the 1880s, another business boom occurred. Flour milling, drug stores, a circus wagon manufacturer, doctors, banks, attorneys, and merchandisers lined Main Street. By the early 1900s, Morristown had become a wholesaling center for hardware, dry goods, groceries and produce in the East Main Street and South Cumberland Street area. Some of the ghost signs for these businesses are still visible. However, the Great Depression caused another downswing. TVA came to the rescue and the resulting cheap electrical power made possible a strong industrial economy. By the early 1950s, Morristown was the third largest manufacturing center in the South and goods could be easily transported by rail. At the same time, agriculture was also a strong segment of the economy.

The creek that ran through town had a catastrophic flood in 1963. Following that flood, it was channelized. As part of the urban renewal effort in Morristown, the SkyMart was born. This second story walkway system is the only one in the U.S. It was constructed and completed by 1967. However, this was the time when shopping centers and suburban development were in vogue. All these circumstance caused the commercial core of Morristown to decline.

Today, folks and visitors are seeing the revival of our historic downtown. There are condos and living quarters accessible by the SkyMart, and it is part of Morristown’s Trail System. Shops are flourishing, including restaurants, a great coffee shop with outdoor seating, antique and collectible stores, specialty and gift shops, a bakery, a country store and ice cream shop, a dance studio, and businesses providing martial arts and other exercise services. Recent additions are Dixie Dust and the Body Boutique.

We are in the process of developing an Entrepreneur Center on the SkyMart, SkyMart Venture Space, that will provide a space for new businesses and old to have a location where the Co.Starters course will be taught and we can utilize our gigabyte internet service to further enhance new growth. The City of Morristown and its certified nonprofit Main Street Program, Crossroads Downtown Partnership, are working together to make the historic, National Register District, that is our downtown thrive. We invite you to visit, dine, shop and stay. Download Downtown Morristown app for your phone where you can view the latest shop specials and virtual tours of the historic downtown.