Tennessee archaeology dates the State's first inhabitants to 12,000 years ago The earliest artifacts from the Paleo-Indian period date from 10,000 BC and suggest that the first Tennesseans were hunters of great mastodons. By the 18th century, the only native people living permanently in Tennessee were the Cherokee, who had claimed all the central and eastern portions of Tennessee as their hunting grounds in the 16th and 17th centuries, and called themselves the “Principal People”. It is believed that they were a detached Iroquoian tribe. These are some of the Native Americans John Sevier fought in order to protect European settlers in and around Sevierville.
Sequoyah (Sequoia), a well known Tennessean, was born in 1776 to a Cherokee mother and a Virginia fur trader. In 1821, Sequoyah developed the Cherokee alphabet and by the early 19th century the Cherokee had distinguished themselves as the first and only literate Native American tribe. Today, the Cherokee language is the second most widely used Native American language. You can see the archaeological exhibit of east Tennessee’s first inhabitants at the Sevier County Heritage Museum in historic downtown Sevierville.
A SEVIERVILLE BY ANY OTHER NAME
Sevierville (Severe ville) is named for John Sevier, one of the leading figures in the history of Tennessee. Sevier was a frontiersman, soldier, war hero and politician who served under George Washington in the American Revolution and distinguished himself at the battle of King’s Mountain.
In 1784, Sevier became the first governor of the State of Franklin, a new state that had been carved out of the land around Watauga. Later, Franklin because part of North Carolina and John Sevier was accused of treason for resisting the annexation.
When the State of Tennessee was formed in 1796, Sevier became its first governor, serving from 1796 until 1801 and again from 1803 until 1809. Sevier later served as a state senator from 1809 until 1811 and was a member of the US House of Representatives in 1811.
Nicknamed “Nolichucky Jack” for his exploits along the Nolichucky River, Sevier died in Georgia during a boundary negotiation with Creek Indians in 1815.
IF THESE WALLS COULD TALK
Historical buildings abound in Sevierville, whether they are special in their design, renowned because of their builders or remarkable due to events that transpired within their walls.
Sevierville was named as the county seat of Sevier County in July of 1795. Four county courthouses proceeded the fifth and current courthouse, which was built in 1896 at a cost of $21,041.93. The current courthouse was designed by the McDonald brothers as an example of the Beaux-Arts classical style and utilizes bricks manufactured by African-American mason and Sevierville resident, Isaac Dockery. Remodeled in 1970, the courthouse rises 130 feet above the surrounding city of Sevierville and contains a four-sided Seth Thomas clock set into its elegant tower.
Built in 1886, The New Salem Baptist Church is the oldest surviving building in Sevierville. It was originally built as a Union Church for and by black congregations and is the oldest surviving brick church and the only surviving historic African-American church in Sevier County.
EVIDENCE OF THE RURAL LIFE ABOUNDS IN THE ARCHITECTURE
Many cantilever barns, dominant during the 19th and 20th century in Sevier County, are still standing. In the typical cantilever barn, the wings acted as an umbrella to the log cribs below them.
The Harrisburg Covered Bridge- After relocating to Sevier County, the Early Brothers rebuilt the Harrisburg Covered Bridge which was once the center of several commercial activities. The bridge is one of only twelve remaining covered bridges in East and Middle Tennessee. It is 83 feet long and sits on a limestone foundation.
A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
While the Pigeon River provided essential transportation for agriculture and commerce, it has also been the cause of many floods occurring off its banks. The earliest recorded flood was in 1875 when the river measured 19.5 feet. Floods as recently as 1963 have left Sevierville as a declared disaster area by the Small Business Administration. In 1966, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) began a flood protection program which was completed in 1967 in which work was done on the west prong of the Little Pigeon River thereby preventing further flooding. Since the completion of that project, there have been no further floods in Sevierville.
ELECTRICITY FOR ALL
In 1942, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) relocated 525 families who lived near the banks of the French Broad River in northeastern Sevier County in order to build Douglas Dam. The $41.8 million dam flooded over 33,000 acres of farmland on the William Trotter farm and destroyed the old James Trotter House, but it brought electricity to East Tennessee and provided energy for the war effort, especially in Alcoa where sheet metal was produced for the war’s fighter plane.
Although Douglas Dam was constructed primarily to produce electricity, it was also conceived as a flood control device and recreational area and it was instrumental in changing the economic fortune of Sevier County.
Douglas Dam was designed by architect Roland A. Wank and was the largest construction project in Sevier County. Although its architecture contrasts sharply with the traditional rural architecture of Tennessee, this and 16 other dams designed by Wank are considered masterpieces of architecture and engineering.
Sevierville is in the heart of the country that birthed what was once called Hillbilly music. But now, many authorities consider the songs of the southern mountaineers to be the only true folk music ever produced by the European immigrants to America and they hearken back to the British ballads of the 18th century pioneers.
English Musicologist, Cecil Sharp, said in Smoky Mountain Country by North Callahan that he was tremendously taken with the [Southern Mountaineers] themselves, their strong character, their individuality, the isolation and its affects upon them and their music. The mountain people were sheltered by rugged mountains from the rest of the world and by this very condition, he concluded, they had retained in all its purity the most lyrical folk music in the world.
Even today, music inspired by the Smoky Mountains is recognized the world over. The most prolific and well known musician to come from Sevierville is country music legend and philanthropist Dolly Parton. One of twelve children born in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, Dolly has remained faithful to her mountain roots, even as her international fame continued to grow. After opening her Dollywood theme park, which helps preserve mountain music and crafts while creating jobs for area residents, she also began the Dollywood Foundation, which funds many charities in the region.