Tennessee's First Frontier


FortWataugaCarter County, originally known as the Watauga Settlement, was first settled in 1769. Located near the Watauga River and what is now Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, the Watauga Settlement was the first permanent settlement following the 13 original colonies.

By 1772, a group of settlers, under the direction of Chairman John Carter, formed the Watauga Association to bring order to the frontier. This established the first organized government with a majority-rule system in American history.

Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area is also the site of the Transylvania Purchase, the largest, private land deal in U.S. history. Twenty million acres of land were purchased, igniting the westward expansion of the United States.

Carter-MansionCarter County was formed in 1796, deriving its name from John Carter's son, General Landon Carter, who was a prominent settler and landowner of the time. The city of Elizabethton was established in 1799 and adopted its name from the General's wife, Elizabeth Maclin Carter. The Carter's mansion, the oldest frame house in Tennessee, has been restored and sits on its original site in Elizabethton.

Toward the end of the 19th century, the ET&WNC Railroad constructed a rail line through Carter County to connect the iron mines with Johnson City. The establishment of the railroad brought much growth to Carter County.

In 1912, the Watauga Power Company built the Wilbur Dam on Watauga River. Two generators were installed, making electricity available to citizens for the first time. In 1945, Tennessee Valley Authority purchased and rehabilitated the dam.

In the late 1920s, the Bemberg Glanzstoff Company began constructing two large factories in the west end of the city. The factories became the county's largest employers throughout most of the 20th century.

The area's rolling hills, rivers and lakes have lured many visitors to Carter County over the last 200 years, including visitors such as President Andrew Johnson and Daniel Boone.

We're working hard to preserve the stories of our past since so much rich history influences who we are today. The Doe River Covered Bridge, Carter Mansion, Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area, Roan Mountain State Park, Watauga Lake and the Veterans Monument and War Memorial are just some of the historical treasures we cherish in Carter

Historical Highlights:

  • Historic Downtown Shopping District:Saunter down the streets of Historic Elk Avenue, enjoying the sites and sounds of our enchanting downtown. "Shop 'till you drop" was never truer. Dip in and out of numerous antique shops, novelty boutiques, craft shops, restaurants, service providers and much more.1--Bridge
  • Covered Bridge:Also known as the "Queen of Landmarks," is located along Historic Elk Avenue in downtown Elizabethton. Take a trip to 1882 as you walk through the shady passage of probably the oldest covered bridge in the state. Bridges were covered during the 18th century to fend against harsh weather and keep horses from getting spooked.
  • Walking Tour: Hop in the car or take off by foot and visit the historical and architectural highlights of Elizabethton. Your appreciation for Carter County will grow as you uncover their unique stories.
  • Quilt Trail: Learn the artistry of traditional quilts as they adorn historic family barns. Plan your trip through 6 Tennessee counties, visiting over 75 unique barn blocks. Guided motor coach tours are also available.
  • Sycamore Shoals State Historic Area: Join handfuls of re-enactors and history buffs as they tell the story of the establishment of democracy and declaration of independence of Carter County. Sycamore Shoals works hard to preserve the culture of our predecessors through demonstrations, festivals, classes, reenactments and much more.
  • Carter Mansion:Visit the oldest mansion in the state of Tennessee! John Carter, who was a prominent leader and member of the Watauga Association, built the mansion between 1175-1781 along the Watauga River. The mansion has been carefully restored and still sits on its original site. Over 90% of the materials in the interior are original!
  • Appalachian Trail:The historic Appalachian Trail weaves from Maine to Georgia, covering over 2,100 miles of Appalachian mountain ridgelines. Volunteer hiking clubs pieced the trail together during the 1920s and 1930s, linking adventure seekers to the most spectacular views across America. The trail dips through Carter County, winding its way through the Cherokee National Forest and Roan Mountain.


Sycamore Shoals State Park             Roan Mountain State Park