Friday, October 7, 2016

Fort Southwest Point – Kingston Tennessee

While Dawn Marie was in town visiting us, I decided to go for a drive one day…with the goal of locating and photographing historic landmarks or places along the way.  I’d worked out a relatively short route over to Kingston, then Rockwood and Harriman Tennessee.

Our first stop was just south of Kingston off of TN Hwy. 58…

Laurie and I had driven this road several times over the last few years but we’d never stopped to explore this site.  Fort Southwest Point is an historical reproduction that sits on 30 acres that are owned and operated by the City of Kingston.  The site itself is called Southwest Point Park.  This attractive visitor’s center greets those who stop by to learn about the Fort…

Our photos of the interior of the Visitor’s Center didn’t come out too well.  Historic items cover the walls and fill several showcases.  This photo just covers one little corner of the exhibit area.  Note the pottery, furs, manikins dressed in Cherokee garb…and the huge collection of stone tools, spearheads and arrowheads.

There also are a few taxidermy mounts, some old time tools and implements plus artifacts recovered from the site of the Fort itself.  In addition, there is a scale model of the original fort.  It provides visitors with a past and future look at this fort… The staff was very helpful and informative…and they encouraged us to watch a short film about Fort Southwest Point before we went up to the Fort itself. Very interesting.

This is the view of Fort Southwest Point from the base of the hill near the Visitor’s Center.  This is the only fort in Tennessee that is being reconstructed on its original foundation.  Currently, the completed sections of the fort include a barracks (left), the blockhouse in the center, 250 feet of palisade walls and some ancillary structures.

Fort Southwest Point was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972…

This is the view from the fort looking out over Watts Bar Lake.  The construction of the Watts Bar Dam on the Tennessee River back in 1942 caused the formation of this lake/impoundment.  Back in the late 1700’s when the fort was built, the river bottom was far below the level of today’s lake…and the fort on this hill dominated the area and it provided great sight-lines for the soldiers stationed here…

Isn’t this little chapel beautiful?  It sits on the hillside just below the fort overlooking Watts Bar Lake.  Apparently, there was some evidence that there may have been a chapel near or in the fort… In any case, one of the Kingston park employees told us that he’d built it.  He was proud of his accomplishment…and he should be too!  I suspect that it can be rented for weddings…but I couldn’t find anything about it on the Internet.

Once inside the stockade walls, we approached the back of the blacksmith’s and tack shop with the barracks in the upper left of the photo.

Constructed in 1797 and garrisoned by federal soldiers until 1811, the fort served as a major point of interaction between the Cherokee and the US government as well as a way station for early migrants travelling between Knoxville and Nashville.

Although there are no records and few contemporary descriptions pertaining to the fort's design and structure, archaeological excavations conducted in the 1970s and 1980s have determined the fort's layout.
Historical Footnote:

·       In 1803, 8 soldiers from Fort Southwest Point were recruited to accompany Lewis and Clark on their expedition to the Northwest and the Pacific Ocean.  Only 4 of the recruits qualified for the mission.

This photo is of the inside of the blacksmith’s shop.  The tack shop is right next door. 

The early records regarding the fort's construction were destroyed in a fire but historians have determined that the fort was completed by federal troops under the command of Captain John Wade and Captain Richard Sparks in July 1797.  The fort was originally referred to as "Fort Butler" after Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Butler (commander of federal forces in East Tennessee), but the name had been changed to "Fort Southwest Point" by 1798.

Based on the map of the fort, we believe that this is a second barracks under construction…

Lieutenant-Colonel Butler moved his headquarters to Fort Southwest Point in 1799, when nine companies (7 infantry, 1 artillery, and 1 dragoon) totaling roughly 400-500 troops were garrisoned at the fort.  Around the same time, nearby lots had been sold for what eventually became the city of Kingston.  It was named for Major Robert King, an officer stationed at the fort.

This shelter with an old time outdoor oven is just one more feature of the fort.  When special events are staged at the fort, history comes to life with interpreters dressed in period costumes. 

Historical Footnote:

·       One might assume that the primary mission for the fort and its garrison was to protect settlers.  Actually at first it was more to provide escort service across Cherokee territory.  A prime portion of the mission was to ensure that travelers did not illegally settle on Cherokee owned lands.  In addition, the troops began to further protect Cherokee rights by forcibly removing white settlers who had illegally settled on Cherokee lands.  Much to the sorrow of the Cherokee, that mission for the troops didn’t last long…

This is a frontal view of the tack shop (left) and the blacksmith shop (right) with the palisade walls in the background.

Historical Footnotes:

·       Fort Southwest Point was Roane County Tennessee’s first post office.

·       The first Indian School was located at the fort.  In the late eighteenth century, reformers starting with Washington and Knox, in efforts to "civilize" or otherwise assimilate Native Americans (as opposed to relegating them to reservations), adopted the practice of educating native children in current American culture, which was at the time largely based on rural agriculture, with some small towns and few large cities. 

·       In 1801, Fort Southwest Point’s importance increased when the roles of Agent of the War Department for Tennessee and Cherokee Indian Agent were combined with Fort Southwest Point being chosen as headquarters for this dual function.  Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs was chosen for this important role.  By all accounts he was a fair-minded man, who took his responsibilities seriously.  In response to the Cherokee’s complaint that their annuity for the lands they seceded had been paid in relatively useless luxury goods, Meigs ensured the payments took the form of tools, livestock and goods to help their economic situation. 

Fort Southwest Point is located at 1226 S Kentucky Street, (TN Hwy 58), in Kingston Tennessee.  Phone: 865-376-6584.  The fort’s website can be found at

Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them…

Thanks for stopping by for a short history lesson!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave 


  1. I learn a lot about our area from you and I've lived here for nearly 50 yrs

  2. Dave, what a delight to see your post in my news feed today! I really enjoy your posts, the information and photos that you share are fun, fascinating and I learn a lot. I love the little chapel!!! Thank you so much for sharing.