Monday, January 23, 2012

Harriman, Tennessee

Tennessee apparently was fertile ground for nineteenth century utopian experiments. The three most famous, Nashoba (1826), Rugby (1880), and Ruskin (1894) all had short lives, although Rugby has enjoyed a not-quite-utopian rebirth. Harriman (1891) not only lives on, it is a thriving small city.

Seeking to establish a town free of the ills of Victorian industrial towns, investors bought a large tract of land and founded the Tennessee Land Company. Among the initial investors were Union General and 1888 Prohibition candidate for U.S. President, Clinton Fisk; Isaac Funk and  A.W. Wagnalls of dictionary fame; and a co-founder of the Quaker Oats Company. The company built an imposing headquarters to go with their grand vision of a utopian center of industry and commerce. Temperance, thrift, and morality would lead to prosperity for all. But overextending itself with credit, the company failed to survive the recession of 1893 and was forced into bankruptcy. Their headquarters building became the American Temperance University, which operated until 1908. It now serves as Harriman City Hall.

Although the Tennessee Land Company was short-lived, it did manage to attract a number of other industries to Harriman. Some were wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929, but a paper mill and two hosiery mills continued to operate for most of the twentieth century. Together these industries brought a fairly large number of affluent investors and managers to Harriman who built fine homes along the ridge above the main street.

Cornstalk Heights is now listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. It contains some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture to be found anywhere, and has become a desirable neighborhood not only for people who work locally, but also folks who commute to Oak Ridge and Knoxville. Their annual Christmas tour of homes enjoys great popularity.

But times do change. There is now a liquor store just across the Emory River that even offers discounts to customers who must travel from "dry" counties, such as the residents of Rugby.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds a bit like Sir Titus's vision for Saltaire - temperance, thrift, morality. Ironic that they over-used credit in their attempt to get there.... oops.