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History of Elizabethton

Tennessee's First Frontier History
Settled in the late 1760's, Carter County's historical notability is among the most fascinating in the state. Home of the first permanent settlement outside the original 13 colonies and the first majority-rule system of American democracy, the Watauga Settlement at Sycamore Shoals (in what is now Elizabethton) was home to prominent military officials, legislators, and members of the Constitutional Convention.


Sycamore Shoals, at the convergence of the Doe and Watauga Rivers, was also the site of the largest private land deal in American history. Resulting in the purchase of 20 million acres of land, the Transylvania Purchase marked the beginning of the westward expansion and gave all the lands of the Cumberland Watershed and extending to the Kentucky River to the settlers.

In 1780, 1100 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals before making a 14-day march to King's Mountain, South Carolina, where they confronted and defeated Major Patrick Ferguson's British militia.

City History
Even though Elizabethton was founded in 1799 as the county seat of Carter County, the town did not have an organized form of government until the early years of the 20th century.

The legislature appointed a commission of five members, Landon Carter, Reuben Thornton, Andrew Greer, Zachariah Campbell and David McNabb, to establish a county seat including a courthouse and prison.

The committee selected a 50-acre tract at the base of Lynn Mountain, east of the Doe River. Elizabethton was named in honor of Elizabeth MacLin Carter, wife of Landon, for whom the county had been named.

The land was divided into 77 lots, most of which contained one-half acre. All the lots save two were sold at public lottery. By an act of the legislature passed Oct. 23, 1799, the 50 acres was officially recognized as the town of Elizabethton.

Originally, the town was located east of the Doe River, but in 1897 a new 15th district was formed west of the Doe and A.H. Taylor, a Democrat, and R.T. Johnson, a Republican, were elected as the first magistrates to represent the new district on County Court.

According to a "Later History of Carter County," written by local historian, Frank Merritt, several Elizabethton residents met in 1903 with the hopes of incorporating a county seat. However, it took a couple of years for their efforts for incorporation to be successful. The city of Elizabethton began operating under a new charter on May 13, 1905, when the city's first Board of Aldermen held an organizational meeting.

The first mayor was R.A. Smith and aldermen were W.S. Whiting, Samuel Shell, W.R. Allen, C.G. Beasley, and S.E. Reynolds.

In 1922 the City Manager form of government was adopted to replace the Board of Aldermen. The first municipal building was constructed in 1926 and occupied in 1927. The building was located at the intersection of Sycamore St. and Hattie Ave.

Another charter change was made in 1965 to the Modified City Manager-Council form of government. In the fall of 1989, the present City Hall, located across the street from the first City Hall, was occupied.

The City since 1928 has been served by 28 different mayors, and since 1922, the city has had 15 different city managers.

Notable People
Richard Henderson
On Mar. 17, 1775, the Transylvania Company, led by Richard Henderson, was involved in the largest private real estate transaction in the history of the United States. He purchased 20 million acres of land from the Cherokee Indians, that included the Cumberland River watershed and lands on the Kentucky River.

Dragging Canoe
As one of the minor chiefs, Dragging Canoe, opposed to the selling of the Cherokee ancestral hunting grounds, warned the whites they were purchasing a "dark and bloody ground." He and his band of disaffected warriors would wage war against the settlers for the next twenty years.

John and Landon Carter
The Carter Mansion was built around 1780 by John Carter and his son, Landon. It is the oldest frame house in Tennessee. John Carter was elected as Chairman of the Court under the terms of the Articles of the Watauga Association.

John Sevier
John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee, lived along the Watauga River for a brief period of time, and his father, Valentine Sevier, was one of the first property owners in the Watauga Settlement.

William Brownlow
Another governor, William Brownlow, lived in Elizabethton for a brief period of time, and started his newspaper "The Whig" here, later moving it to Jonesborough.

Mary Stover
Elizabethton was the home of Mrs. Daniel (Mary) Stover, daughter of President Andrew Johnson. The president died at the Stover home, located north of Elizabethton on the Watauga River.

Dr. E.E. Hunter
The Covered Bridge was built in 1882 by Dr. E.E. Hunter, contractor, with the help of George Lindamood and three carpenters. The cost was $3,000 for construction and $300 for approaches.