High on a hilltop overlooking Piney Flats, Tennessee, sits a portal to 1791. It’s Rocky Mount State Historic Site, the first capital of the Southwest Territory. Rocky Mount was home to the William Cobb family, who in 1769 came to this part of the western frontier from North Carolina. Years later, President George Washington appointed William Blount as governor of the Southwest Territory. In the early 1790s, Blount lived with the Cobb family at Rocky Mount, making it the territorial capital. Today, when guests visit Rocky Mount, they are transported back to the late 18th century—and costumed interpreters interact with folks like it is 1791.
I grew up regularly passing by Rocky Mount and, like many schoolchildren in the Northeast Tennessee region, went on a field trip or two to the site. One such field trip stands out in my mind. I was in middle school at nearby Mary Hughes, and my Aunt Edith Keys, my Grandmother Hale’s sister, happened to be serving as a living interpreter the day of our field trip. As such, Aunt Edith, a retired university librarian and history enthusiast, was completely in her element, playing an excellent 1791 character. I can’t remember her character’s backstory or what part of the tour she was conducting, but I do remember that she would not break character—not even for family.
It’s one of my favorite Aunt Edith stories, but that day I told my middle school friends and classmates that this particular interpreter was my aunt, and they thought I was joking. To be fair, as the class clown I loved a good laugh—and pretending to be from another era can be worth a chuckle or two—but I was telling the truth. When I asked her, in front of everyone, to confirm that I was her great niece, she simply commented something along the lines of how I reminded her of one of her nieces. She stayed on topic and in character for the duration of the field trip—which is so like her. When I think of Rocky Mount today, I often think of her and this memory that still makes me smile.
Earlier this year, I took my children and two of my nieces to Rocky Mount for a tour. We had a delightful time learning about the Cobb family and what life was like in 1791. From the main residence to the kitchen and the weaving cabin, we enjoyed seeing the artifacts as well as hearing the stories from engaging interpreters, who brought history to life for us. Because we ran out of time on our late-afternoon visit, we were able to return the next day to wander through the interesting museum area and small gift shop. I loved sharing this part of Tennessee history and my own history with my children—and I recommend Rocky Mount as a fun and educational outing for anyone in the Tri-Cities area—and beyond. Special annual events worth mentioning are the upcoming Christmas candlelight tours as well as a springtime sheep-shearing celebration. Whenever you go, enjoy your visit, and have a safe journey to and from the 18th century!