History of Maryville Tennessee
The history of Maryville begins like many other Appalachian Mountain towns; the Cherokee inhabited the area long before white settlers arrived. The Great Indian Warpath ran along the route of modern US-441 in Tennessee. A historic Cherokee village known as Elajay was located along Ellejoy Creek and the Little River (near the Heritage High School).
The first known white settler of the area was John Craig, a Revolutionary War veteran. In 1785, Craig built a wooden palisade enclosing cabins at what is known as Fort Craig at the present-day Maryville. Many stations were built along the frontier as to defend settlers against Cherokee attacks. Craig later donated 50 acres next to his fort for the founding of a new town.
The city was incorporated on July 11, 1795; it was named in honor of Mary Grainger Blount, the wife of the territorial governor William Blount.
A family by the name of Houston moved to the area from Virginia in 1808. One of the sons, Sam Houston, was put to work as a clerk in a store by his older brothers, but soon ran away. Houston lived for a few years with the Cherokee at Hiwassee Island, learning their language and gaining an appreciation for their culture. When he finally returned to Maryville around 1811, he started a one-room school house. This school house still stands just off US-441, near the community of Wildwood.
During the Civil War, Maryville was a center for the abolitionist movement. Generated through the Society of Friends, the movement had a relatively large presence in Blount County.
Although the town remained mostly pro-Union throughout the Civil War, Maryville was not liberated by federal troops until May 1864. In August of the same year, a Confederate cavalry attacked the local courthouse where Union troops had taken shelter. In an attempt to dislodge the federal soldiers, the Confederates set fire to many buildings, including a store where the city’s records were kept. An African-American slave by the name of Polly Tool, rescued most of the records and was later honored by a statue in the Blount County courthouse. Following the abolitionist history of the town, Maryville elected W.B. Scott, the second African-American mayor in U.S. history in 1869.
During the 1970s, the city began a renewal project called “Now Town”, in an attempt to restore and attract visitors to downtown Maryville. Old buildings were renovated, traffic re-routed, slums cleared and a park was built. In the end, the project failed to bring new visitors and the area remained in decline in the 2000s when the city agreed to reverse many of the “Now Town” changes.