Settled in the late 1760s, Carter County’s historical notability is among the most fascinating in the state. Home of the first permanent settlement outside the original 13 colonies and the first majority-rule system of American democracy, the Watauga Settlement at Sycamore Shoals (in what is now Elizabethton) was home to prominent military officials, legislators, and members of the Constitutional Convention.
Sycamore Shoals, at the convergence of the Doe and Watauga Rivers, was also the site of the largest private land deal in American history. Resulting in the purchase of 20 million acres of land, the Transylvania Purchase marked the beginning of the westward expansion and gave “all the lands of the Cumberland Watershed and extending to the Kentucky River” to the settlers.
In 1780, 1100 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals before making a 14-day march to King’s Mountain, South Carolina, where they confronted and defeated Major Patrick Ferguson’s British militia.
European settlers first inhabited the Carter County region in the late 1760s. Among these early settlers was William Bean, who owned a farm approximately eight miles west of what is now Sycamore Shoals of the Watauga River, James Robertson, and Valentine Sevier Sr., the father of John Sevier. In the early 1770s, John Carter, a notable Revolutionary War patriot and father of Landon Carter, established a plantation just north of present-day Elizabethton.
Built in 1882, this white clapboard bridge is believed to be the oldest in the state still in use today. It spans 134 feet across the Doe River and is surrounded by a park with walking paths, benches, picnic tables and plenty of ducks.
The Mansion, located on Broad Street Ext., is the oldest frame house in Tennessee. It was the home of John and Landon Carter, leaders in the Watauga Settlement. Built between 1775 and 1780 on lands bought from the Cherokees, the structure reveals a fine detailed interior.
Located at 1651 W. Elk Ave., the Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area allows park visitors to step back in time to the turn of the 18th century. The park is the home to a reconstruction of Fort Watauga. The original fort was excavated about a mile away on the shores of the Watauga River. The Overmountain Men mustered here in September 1780 before their march to fight the battle of King’s Mountain. Here was established the first permanent American settlement outside the original 13 colonies and the Watauga Association – the first majority-rule system of American democratic government – was formed in 1772. The outdoor drama, “Liberty! The Saga of Sycamore Shoals,” is performed in the Park Amphitheater during the last three weekends of each July. Liberty! is the Official Outdoor Drama of the State of Tennesse. Visitor Center with theater, museum, and bookstore are provided. Picnicking and walking trails are available.
Located on E. Elk Avenue in Courthouse Square, the Veterans War Monument was erected in 1912, and was dedicated in honor of all soldiers of Carter County in all the wars from the Revolution down to the present date. The monument base, which is 20 feet square and 65 feet tall is built out of river rock and cement.
The Veteran’s War Memorial Park located in downtown Elizabethton was built in 2002 as a memorial to Carter County soldiers killed in America’s wars. Monuments are inscribed with names of local soldiers killed in World Wars I & II, the Korean Conflict, the Vietnam Conflict, Desert Storm, and Operation Enduring Freedom. A Veteran’s Memorial Walkway is planned between Elk Avenue and E Street, and will include a Wall of Honor with 3,000 bricks inscribed with the names of local servicemen who have served their country in the military. The walkway is expected to be constructed this year.
Completed on Dec. 1, 1948, the Watauga Dam is 328 feet high and 1,000 feet long at the top, 32 feet thick at the top, and 1,260 feet thick at the bottom. The embankment creates a reservoir 16 miles long and 269 feet deep. The town of Butler was moved to allow Watauga Lake to become a reality. Foundations and memories are all that remain of the old town near Butler, safely guarded in the depths of Watauga Lake. The lake, one of the most pristine in the TVA system, is popular for boaters, fishermen and skiers.
Located in Roan Mountain, and nestled beneath the 6,285-foot peak of its namesake, Roan Mountain State Park has cabins, campground, and a wide range of recreational programs. Atop majestic Roan Mountain grow the largest natural display of Catawba rhododendron in the world. Beautiful any season of the year, the gardens come into full bloom in mid-June.