Early History

The City of Kingsport received its name from a simplification of the name “King’s Port” which was the old name given to the area along the Holston River by early pioneers. The Long Island of the Holston River in Kingsport has a vast and rich history and is a U.S. National Historic Landmark. It was the home of the sacred council of local Cherokee and was a meeting place for treaties and other dealings with other Native American tribes, early pioneers, and settlers. Also, the name of the State of Tennessee comes from the old Yuchi Indian word “Tana-see”, which means “The Meeting Place”. In 1775, Daniel Boone began the Wilderness Road from the Long Island of the Holston when he began his expedition through the now famous Cumberland Gap. In 1822, the Holston River was first chartered by boat. Early pioneers and settlers used the river to transport products and people to Knoxville, where the Holston meets up with the Tennessee River. From there pioneers quickly discovered that the conjoining river systems could lead to the Ohio River and eventually to the Mississippi River and Gulf of New Orleans. The development of the use of the Holston River for transportation and commerce brought many jobs and settlers to the area.


The City of Kingsport has had a myriad of monikers in history. The early Native American inhabitants of the area referred to it as Peace Island or Big Island. Early colonial settlers referred to the area as the Long Island and Island Flats. During the 1700’s, the area was referred to as Fort Robinson and Fort Patrick Henry, due to the existing forts at the time. The city has also been named Christiansville and Rossville, after prominent land owners in the area. None of these names, however, have been official names of recognized settlements/towns. The name Kingsport was accepted in the late 18th century. It does not stem from King George or any other crown, but from Col. James King, who owned the King’s Mill Station at the mouth of Reedy Creek and used the Holston River to ship commodities. The success of his business, gave the city its name, because the area was being referred to as King’s Port, which eventually evolved into Kingsport. Col. James King is also known for serving in the Revolutionary War and bringing in the first iron furnace into Tennessee.


An interesting note about the early stages of Kingsport is that it has been part of so many great states and territories, without moving an inch. Kingsport was first in the territory of Virginia and later in the colony of North Carolina. It was also a part of the short lived State of Franklin, but in 1802 Tennessee drew up new borders with Virginia and Kingsport has been a part of Tennessee ever since.

Civil War History

The Battle of Kingsport, fought on December 13, 1864 took place on the banks of the Holston River at what is now Rotherwood Bridge. A small band of Confederate soldiers led by Colonel Richard Morgan stood their ground against a large Union regiment led by Major General George Stoneman and Major General Cullem Gillem, only to be approached from behind by a Union force led by Colonel Samuel Patton. Outnumbered and outflanked the group surrendered. The war took its toll on the Kingsport area and it took nearly forty years for the area to fully recover.

Model City

According to Margaret Ripley Wolfe, in her book Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City, “Kingsport, Tennessee, is the first thoroughly diversified, professionally planned, and privately financed city in twentieth-century America.” The city was planned, outlined and designed by city planner and landscape architect John Nolen. Nolen’s accomplishments as a city planner are quite impressive. He was the head landscape architect for not only Kingsport, but other successful American cities like Madison, Wisconsin, Roanoke, Virginia, San Diego, California, New London, Connecticut, and Savannah, Georgia. Nolen integrated ideas such as roundabouts, which were common around his home in Massachusetts. Areas for commerce and industry were set up and strategically outlined among the residential areas. The school system was set up based on a model developed at Columbia University. All of these actions took place when the City of Kingsport was re-chartered in 1917.

The Council-Manager Form of Government

The Council-Manager form of government evolved in the 19-teens as a reform movement in response to local governance problems that were occurring in the nation’s cities at the end of the 19th Century and beginning of the 20th Century. This form of government provides for a trained professional administrator to manage the day to day affairs of the city as a means to provide for the efficient, effective and ethical governance of localities. Today, many cities across the nation, as well as cities in other countries, have opted for this form of government. Many cities evolved their form of government during the post World War II era of the late 1940s and 1950s when cities began to grow and develop at a rapid pace.

Kingsport adopted the Council-Manager form of government when it re-incorporated in 1917 and has proudly, and continuously, maintained this form of government. Kingsport set the standard for Tennessee when it became the first city within the State to adopt the Council-Manager form of government. The City has been served by ten city managers since its re-incorporation in 1917.

Kingsport Historical Places

Kingsport has a rich and full history and is home to many sites and attractions that promote the history of Kingsport and eastern Tennessee. The fascinating history of the Kingsport area includes Cherokee Indians, early colonial pioneers, Revolutionary war heroes, Civil War battles, and beneficial government planning. To find out more information about the historic sites and attractions in and around Kingsport please refer to list below.

History Videos

The Netherland Inn Association presents the Living History Video Project to view these videos click here.


Kingsport, Tennessee: A Planned American City, a book by Margaret Ripley Wolfe