by Robert Jarnagin, Jefferson County Historian
When the earliest pioneers breached the natural barrier of the Appalachian Mountain range and began exploration into the interior of our great country, news of fertile valleys rich with fresh water and game filtered back to the coastal settlements. By the close of the American Revolution in 1783 permanent settlers had set up a western outpost along the banks for the French Broad River in the area that would later become Dandridge. In 1792, there was sufficient settlement for William Blount, Governor of the Territory South of the Ohio River, to carve out a new county named Jefferson in honor of the Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson. Frances Dean supplied 50 acres of land for the new county seat of Dandridge, named in honor of our country's first First Lady, Martha Dandridge Washington. A courthouse was built and the town prospered with some of the earliest businesses being taverns or ordinaries catering to the travelers and businessmen requiring overnight lodging.
Around 1856 when the East Tennessee and Virginia Railroad constructed it's line connecting Knoxville to Virginia, the route chosen through Jefferson County was north of Dandridge and past the communities of New Market and Mossy Creek (modern day Jefferson City). As commerce shifted to the railroad system, Dandridge's growth slowed but it's importance as the county seat kept the town active.
Today, downtown Dandridge is a National Historic District showcased by the second courthouse completed in 1845 of Greek Revival architecture. Four of the original taverns highlight the walking tour of the historic district - Roper Tavern, Hickman Tavern, Shepherd's Inn, and Thomas Tavern. Federal and Greek Revival dominate the early building styles, all with an unusual backdrop of the Dandridge Dike constructed in 1942 to save the downtown area from the waters of Douglas Lake when the TVA constructed a dam across the French Broad River.
Dandridge provides a delightful mixture of old and new. The courthouse contains a free museum displaying historic artifacts from many area of Jefferson County. Roper Tavern is occupied as a law office. The old Hickman Tavern is now the Dandridge Town Hall, and the Coach House is our Visitors Center where one can find information on Historic Dandridge and a copy of the walking tour guide. Shepherd's Inn is a private residence. The Thomas Tavern is a gift and smoke shop. The old Gass General Store building now houses a steak & barbecue restaurant, general store/cafe, and an art gallery. Drop in at the drug store for a step back in time at the original soda fountain where you can pick up one of their famous milkshakes or maybe a homemade fried apple pie to enjoy under a shade tree out back in the old Revolutionary Graveyard. Maybe one would prefer a carriage ride of the historic district based from a cafe where you can also utilize their high-speed wireless internet connection. Just across the lake from the dike you will find a full service marina with restaurant and lodging.
Come visit us for a day or stay a lifetime.
Shepherd's Inn The Gass Building
Hickman Tavern - Now the Town Hall
Coach House - Now the Visitors Center