By Mike Steely
You may travel Emory Road occasionally or every day. It stretches from Rutledge Pike across north Knox County all the way to Pellissippi Parkway. The route is now a modern county route but the story of the historic route began more than 250 years ago.
Chief Tollunteeskee, a brother to Cherokee Chief John Jolly, took over a trail leading from what is now Kingston up Cumberland Mountain and on to Middle Tennessee. As treaties changed the chief established a ferry near Southwest Point (Kingston) and collected a toll for the crossing and use of the trail. Early white travelers were often attacked along the route.
Until the chief took control the route across Cumberland Mountain was considered so dangerous that many white travelers to Fort Nashborough chose to go up into Kentucky and back down into the middle Tennessee settlements.
The Chief’s village was located in what is now Rockwood, between Clinch River and Cumberland Mountain. Fort Southwest Point was built at the junction of the Clinch and Powell rivers to help protect travelers along the old Native American route. Eventually the Cherokee demanded that one road across the mountains be built to replace several trails in Tennessee that were being used to travel west.
In 1786 Knoxville founder Captain James White and others, including James Robertson, began clearing the trail from White’s Fort, across Emory River and on to Nashville, spending 17 days doing so. The trail basically followed a route cleared earlier by Peter Avery.
The previous year the North Carolina legislature authorized a force of 300 soldiers to help clear a route west.
In 1787 that legislature authorized a road to be cleared and built from the south end of Clinch Mountain to Nashville. The route started at present-day Blaine and the Avery Trace closely followed what became the Emery or Emory Road.
The road crossed the Clinch River at Lea’s Ford near the Oak Ridge marina and passed through Oak Ridge near the high school and went on to Winter’s Gap (Oliver Springs). It continued to the Emory River near Wartburg and up the mountain to Standing Stone in Monterey. The cleared route became known as Avery’s Trace, the Old North Carolina Road, and Emery Road.
Travel was still dangerous and often travelers waited on the banks of the Clinch River for an armed escort.
In 1795 a wagon road was opened from Knox County to Nashville and became known as Emery Road. It became the primary route of travel and connected several other paths and wagon routes. A historic marker at the Melton Hill Marina recalls the original Emory Road. Another marker, near Blaine in Northeast Knox County, marks the original route near its eastern beginning.
Along the way in Knox County the road passed the Nicholas Gibbs homestead. Currently the name “Emory Road” continues on and becomes Karns Valley Road, ending in Karns.
Originally the route turned northwest and cross the Clinch River to pass by the David Hall Cabin, near Claxton. It continued westward, passing through what is now Oak Ridge.