Friday, October 28, 2016

Historic Downtown Harriman Tennessee

After cruising through Harriman Tennessee’s expansive and interesting Cornstalk Heights Historic District, my next goal was to locate and photograph 4 historic buildings in the downtown area.  Actually, Laurie took most of the photos…  

Harriman’s Carnegie Library is included in the town’s Roane Street Commercial Historic District…which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. (NRHP) The library was built in 1909 using a grant of $10,000 from Andrew Carnegie of Carnegie/US Steel.  Carnegie was worth about $310 Billion (2007 dollars) and for a time he was the richest man in the world.  He contributed to the building of 1,689 libraries in the USA!  When this facility opened in 1909, over 2,000 people attended the ceremony.  The town’s population was only about 3,000 at the time.

This commercial historic district is centered along Roane Street (US Hwy. 27/TN Hwy 29) in the center of town.  This historic district encompasses 31 historic or ‘contributing’ buildings.  One-third of these buildings were constructed between 1890 and 1895, which includes the period in which Harriman was founded and when the town experienced its fastest growth.  The second period of development for this Historic District took place during a slower period of growth ranging from 1895 to 1939.

This isn’t an attempt to photograph the Harriman Fire Department’s building…although I do love that old “Fire Hall” sign over the garage entrance!   I was trying to capture a photo of the back of that big brick 2 and a half story structure on the other side of the Fire Department.  It’s Harriman’s former City Hall…

The city of Harriman was founded as a Temperance Town in 1889 by temperance movement activists.  Frederick Gates, a New York-born minister and plant manager sought out a land venture that could attract industrial and economic development while avoiding the vice-driven pitfalls of late 19th century company towns.  He and his fellow prohibitionists chartered the East Tennessee Land Company in May 1889.

In subsequent months, the company acquired several hundred thousand acres of land around what is now Harriman, including the plantation of Union Army colonel and state senator, Robert K. Byrd.  The company's early investors included 1888 Prohibition Party presidential candidate General Clinton B. Fisk, who served as the company's first president, Quaker Oats co-founder Ferdinand Schumacher, and publishers Isaac K. Funk and A. W. Wagnalls.

FYI…The temperance heritage was slow to fade away.  There were no liquor stores in Harriman until 1992.

This Richardsonian Romanesque structure with ornamental brickwork, turrets and stonework was built in 1890.  The city hall was originally built as the East Tennessee Land Company's headquarters.  When the Land Company failed the American Temperance University took over the building as its base of operations.  Eventually the city took over the building, finally moving out in 2009.  This imposing structure is now operated as the Harriman Heritage Museum.  Although I found references for this museum as a local attraction, I couldn’t find a link to it…

The initial land auction by the East Tennessee Land Company for Harriman was held in late February 1890.  It was attended by over 4,000 prospective buyers from across the nation.  Several hundred lots were sold netting over $600,000.  The most expensive lots were along Roane Street and in what is now Cornstalk Heights, most of which sold for over $2,000 apiece.  The lots closer to the Emory River typically sold for less than $500 apiece.

The Princess Theatre is also part of the commercial historic district.  This 3-story brick and stucco Art Moderne theatre was built in 1939.  I do have fond memories of going to movies in downtown theaters like this one…standing in line for Davy Crockett for example.  My hometown of Jackson Michigan had at least 2 movie theaters in the 1950s. 

Back in the day, the Princess Theatre was downtown Harriman’s crown jewel, a 900-seat showplace that provided entertainment to movie-goers from Harriman and surrounding areas.  The original Princess Theatre opened in September 1926.  In January 1939, a fire destroyed the building.  That led to the construction of the current Theatre.  The first movie shown in this new theatre was “Fifth Avenue Girl” starring Ginger Rogers.

With varying management the theatre stayed open until 1999.   The Princess Theatre Foundation formed in 2004 to raise money for a rehabilitation project.  Two neighboring buildings have been connected to the theatre for restrooms, dressing rooms, green room, storage and an elevator.  The City of Harriman owns the theatre.  Roane State Community College, with the support of the Princess Theatre Foundation, operates the facility. 

The Princess doesn’t show just movies anymore.  It’s a performing arts and education center that includes the Channel 15 television station.  The stage was more than doubled in size, and the theatre was restored back to its 1930s art deco grandeur.  Today, the theatre and it’s used for concerts, movies, dance performances, community events and education. 

This large structure is Harriman’s United States Post Office.  This Beaux Arts brick building with its 4 Ionic columns on its fa├žade was built between 1910 and 1914.  Apparently, former large windows or perhaps additional doors flank the current insignificant entrance from Roane Street to the building.

Harriman is named for Walter Harriman, a governor of New Hampshire.  His son was managing director of the East Tennessee Land Company.  As a Colonel (later General) in the Union Army Walter Harriman had traveled on foot through the area with his 11th New Hampshire Regiment and he’d camped for several days on the Emory River near the future site of the city.  An elderly local resident later told the directors that Harriman had said that the site would be the perfect place for a town.  Based on this conversation the directors chose the name of "Harriman" for their town.

That’s all for now… Just click on any of the photos to enlarge them.

Thanks for stopping by for a short historical tour!

Take Care, Big Daddy Dave


  1. A truly amazing post, Dave, and I love all your photos! Your posts are always fascinating, enjoyable and I learn much from them, so thank you so much for sharing. I love buildings that were built in the 1800's and early 1900's. They certainly don't build them today like they used to, and the buildings of today seem like paper as compared to the buildings of yesterday, with the stone and brick, thick walls and high ceilings.

  2. This look beautiful too David, xoxoxo