Northeast Tennessee gave the world country music as well as the Long Island Iced Tea. The region is made up of eight counties and borders Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina. With 230 miles of rivers and nearly 300 miles of Appalachian Trail, the area is mostly laid back and rural, with small cities and towns that do a superb job of preserving their history.
Andrew Johnson National Historic Site
Paramount Center for the Arts
Kingsport Carousel & Park
International Storytelling Center
White Duck Taco Shop
Hale Springs Inn
Greeneville is an idyllic small town of roughly 15,000 which serves as the seat of Greene County. It was founded in 1783, which is coincidentally the same year that the United States defeated Great Britain in the War of Independence. The town is surrounded by rolling hills and perhaps most well-known for being the home of President Andrew Johnson. Johnson’s family homestead, grave, and National Historic Site are all located in Greeneville, but there are plenty of other museums and quirky historical sites located in the town.
You can check out a 1981 DeLorean from Back to the Future as well as more than 30 other classic cars and trucks dating all the way back to 1901 at the City Garage Car Museum. At the Greene County History Museum, you can learn about the county’s history dating all the way back to 10,000 B.C. Interestingly enough, during the American Civil War, Greene County served as a stronghold for pro-union abolitionists. Another little-known fact is that Greeneville briefly served as the capital of the now-defunct state of Franklin. There’s a colossally underwhelming replica of the former capitol building along College Street.
Read more about museums and historic sites in Greeneville here.
Rogersville is replete with historical sites dating back to to the 1700s as well as a burgeoning colonial-style Main Street. The westernmost town in this list, Rogersville claims Tennessee’s oldest post office as well as the volunteer state’s oldest printing press, which dates back to 1791. There’s a replica of a 1791 newspaper in the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum, which offers free admission.
Outside of town, you can visit the Thomas Amis house, which is the oldest stone house in Tennessee. Dating back to 1781, the Amis once hosted Andrew Jackson and is also the place where the first Tennessee state map was drawn. The current owners offer guided tours dressed in period costumes. For dinner, you can dine at the Amis Mill Eatery, which offers Cajun-inspired southern cooking in a serene setting overlooking Big Creek.
If you’re staying in town for the night, consider staying at the historic Hale Springs Inn, which dates back to 1824. Three former American presidents stayed there (Jefferson, Johnson, and Polk).
Founded in 1779, Jonesborough is known as the “Storytelling Capital of the World.” During the first weekend in October, Tennessee’s oldest town hosts the National Storytelling Festival, which attracts roughly 10,000 guests (nearly double the town’s population) from around the world. If you can’t attend the festival, you can still visit the International Storytelling Center on Main Street throughout the year.
Main Street is lined with different-colored, mostly Federal-style brick buildings. None of the buildings were burned during the American Civil War, so the area maintains its antebellum charm. Only one private residence remains on Main Street. For a bit of Victorian charm, check out the Chester Inn, which is the oldest commercial structure in downtown Jonesborough. Each column represents a different architectural style that can be found in Jonesborough. As is the case with many historic inns in Northeast Tennessee, former presidents Jackson, Johnson, and Polk have stayed at the Chester.
Known as “The Model City,” Kingsport straddles the border between Hawkins and Sullivan counties and is famous (to southerners at least) as the birthplace of the Long Island Iced Tea. The downtown area lies east of the Holston River’s south fork and has its own selfie trail. For food, Pal’s is a 29-location, regional fast food chain beloved by locations and popular with visitors to Kingsport as well as the rest of Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. Between Main and Sullivan Streets, you can find plenty of other dining options as well. For something a bit sweeter, check out Bellafina Chocolates, which is housed inside a former road crew office. They use no preservatives and even make their own French macarons, which are not easy to find in Northeast Tennessee. 100% of their profits go to children’s charities.
A bit outside of town, you can check out Bays Mountain Park & Planetarium. The 3,500-acre natural basin is home to local animal habitats as well as areas for fishing and mountain biking. There’s a picnic area, but guests are asked not to feed the animals. Animals include bobcats, deer, otter, raccoons and wolves, the highlight for most guests being the latter. If you are there at the right time you can hear the wolves howl.
The largest city in this list, Johnson City is part of three different counties and has a downtown area with close proximity to hiking and biking trails. The city lies just west of the Cherokee National Forest and is an ideal base from which you can explore the rest of Northeast Tennessee. In addition to biking and hiking trails, there are the Southern Dozen motorcycle rides, which set out in all directions from the city. The trails have quirky names such as Howling Wolves, Ten Million Trout Eggs, Vinegar Pie, and the Brewly Noted Beer Trail, and can just as easily be enjoyed from a pickup truck (or even a Prius).
Bristol is recognized by the United States Congress as the birthplace of country music. State Street serves as the border between Southwest Virginia and Northeast Tennessee. Although the Birthplace of Country Music Museum is on the Virginia side, it’s just a short walk from the divided downtown area. The most recognizable landmarks on the Tennessee side are the Paramount Center for the Arts and the 162,000 capacity Bristol Motor Speedway. The downtown area itself is an attraction with its quirky shops, bars, cafes, and restaurants. One of Bristol’s most peculiar eating establishments is The Angry Italian, which has been serving Chicago-style pizza since 1964. As owner and executive chef, Keith Yonker proudly proclaims, “Everything except the water comes from Chicago.”
Where to Stay in Northeast Tennessee
This post was sponsored by the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association. During my visit, I stayed in Greeneville at the General Morgan Inn and Conference Center, which is an ideal base from which to explore Northeast Tennessee.
All pictures were shot with a Panasonic Lumix ZS100 4K Point and Shoot Camera.
Have you been to Northeast Tennessee? Leave a comment below!