Rockwood isn't the biggest city in Roane County, a hilly area of 50,000 on Knoxville's doorstep consisting of Harriman, Kingston, Rockwood and Midtown. But what Rockwood lacks in size it makes up for in sheer natural beauty and Southern charm.
Rockwood at one time was inhabited by Cherokee, before a Union officer and geologist, John T. Wilder, discovered iron on nearby Walden's Ridge. In the late 1860s, businessmen mined the area's iron, and the Roane Iron Co. was formed. The iron company's first president was William O. Rockwood, the town's namesake.
Today, Rockwood proper has a small population of approximately 5,000.
But it also sits on one of the top bass fishing lakes in the country, Watts Bar Lake, and is minutes from Interstate 40, which runs west-to-east nationwide and inside Tennessee, providing the best route between Knoxville and Nashville.
OH, THUNDER ROAD
If you like curvy, classic American cars, you’re going to love Rockwood.
Every spring, the Rockwood Thunder Road Festival takes over historic downtown, and the best-looking cars and trucks around go on display, backed by the sounds of live music and crowd chatter. In a nod to rum-running days gone by, the festival hands out the “Best Moonshiner Award” to the overall winner of the car show, and awards the best-dressed hillbilly.
A dozen awards are handed out over the course of the one-day festival, and souvenir and food vendors set up and hang around for those who want to have some hearty festival fare or something to put above the mantel back home.
>To enter the car show, there’s a fee, which benefits the Rockwood Merchants Association and the Rockwood Animal Shelter. It doesn’t cost anything, however, just to show up and have a good time. Visit rockwoodthunderroadfestival.com to learn more.
Source: Rockwood Thunder Road Festival
DOWNTOWN, BACK IN TIME
In downtown Rockwood, the past is alive. The brick buildings and lackadaisical pace at which things move take visitors back a few decades, to a Main Street of drugstores and storefronts.
In fact, the city still has an old-fashioned drugstore with an old-fashioned soda fountain, plus a barber shop, pet store, specialty shops and antique stores.
In downtown Rockwood, visitors and locals alike can also hang out at Homecoming Park, or at the event center or visitor’s center.
*Rockwood takes great pride in its local parks. From downtown’s Homecoming Park to Dr. Tom Fuller Memorial Boat Dock and Lakefront Park, the city has plenty of wide-open space for folks wanting either to take in some fresh air and lounge on the grass under the sun, or get in a vigorous volley with a tennis foe.
*Public parks in town:
- Brickyard Springs Park: 601 Rees St.
- Douglas E. Wilson Community Center: 710 N. Chamberlain Ave.
- Downtown Homecoming Park: Rockwood Street
- Dr. Tom Fuller Memorial Boat Dock and Lakefront Park: 1360 Pumphouse Road
- Gateway Tennis and Ball Courts: 201 S. Gateway Ave.
- J.B. Olinger Ballfield: Intersection of Reese Street and Martin Luther King Avenue
- Mike “Brillo” Miller Sports Complex: 700 S. Chamberlain St.
*Source: Rockwood Parks and Recreation
- Population: Approximately 5,000
- Largest employers: Albahealth, Capstan Tennessee, Chase Instruments Corp.
- Landmarks: Watts Bar Lake
- Date founded: 1868
- History: Rockwood was once the location of a Cherokee village. After the Civil War, a Union general noticed deposits of iron. He purchased 728 acres of land and in 1868 constructed a furnace around which the town developed. The former headquarters of Cherokee leader Chief Tallentuskie was situated in a Cherokee village located in what is now Rockwood.
- Famous residents: Hollywood actress Megan Fox (“Transformers”); and state legislator Harry T. Burn (1885-1977), who helped Tennessee become the 36th state to vote in favor of women’s suffrage
- Unique tradition: The annual Christmas Tour of Homes features the earliest homes built in the area.
*Source: Crossville Cumberland County Convention and Visitors Bureau