The Wilderness Road Blockhouse

The original Blockhouse, built by John Anderson near the North Fork of the Holston River in what is now Virginia’s East Carter’s valley, was where the Wilderness Trail began. It was the last safe haven for those migrating toward Kentucky, except for a chain of forts, most of which were evacuated during the height of the Indian Wars. The Blockhouse was specifically designed to be easily defended and virtually impenetrable by Indians. There are no known images or detailed surviving descriptions of the Anderson Blockhouse. However, such information does exist for blockhouse structures of the 1775 era and there is no evidence to suggest that John Anderson did not follow the established blockhouse construction practice. John Anderson built the Blockhouse about 1775 and lived at the site until his death in 1817.

Following the death of Chief Bob Benge in 1794 the Indian threat in Scott County disappeared and Anderson constructed a new two-story house. The Blockhouse was converted to a loom house and was used for that and related purposes until 1876. In that year the main house was destroyed by fire and the fire spread to the Blockhouse and it was destroyed also.

The Blockhouse was an important landmark for frontier travelers and served as the gathering place for hundreds of pioneers traveling the Wilderness Road to Kentucky between 1775 and 1800. It sat near the intersection of the pioneer roads coming down the valley of Virginia, trails up from the Carolinas and the Great Warriors Path connecting the Holston and Watauga Valley with the Ohio Valley. Various pioneer journals, the earliest being Brown’s (1782) and Filson’s (1784), identify the Blockhouse as the starting point for the Wilderness Road and provide distances from the Blockhouse to each of the stations between the Blockhouse and Philadelphia to the east and to Crab Orchard Kentucky in the west, where the Road ended. A monument was erected adjacent to the original Blockhouse site in 1921.

In 1998 the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association received, with Congressman Rick Boucher’s assistance, a special Congressional appropriation from TEA-21 funding of $285,000 for construction of a replica of the Anderson Blockhouse.

The DBWTA was not able to negotiate a fair market price for the original Blockhouse site in East Carter’s Valley and other suitable property in that area was not available so it was necessary to look elsewhere for a site on which to construct the Blockhouse replica. As project planning progressed security, long term site care and sustainability of the developed site were addressed. With these issues in mind and the need for a suitable construction site Craig Seaver, Manager of Natural Tunnel State Park, was approached about the possibility of placing the Blockhouse at an appropriate site within the park. Craig was supportative and a presentation was made to the Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The Director approved the proposal and a unique, one-of-a-kind partnership was created with the Commonwealth of Virginia – a private non-profit organization using Federal funds to construct a privately owned permanent structure on State Park property. This partnership proved to be highly successful and will be used as a model for similar projects in the future. The grant received required a 20% local match, cash or in-kind. DCR provided A&E services pro bono to the project and that along with the surveying services provided pro bono by Saxon & Associates, legal services provided pro bono by Lisa Ann McConnell and architectural services provided pro bono by Kingsport engineering firm Spoden & Wilson covered the entire required 20% match. In addition, supporting monetary contributions were received from EASTMAN Chemical Company, Kingsport Times-News, Cox Ford Tractor and the Scott County Chamber of Commerce as well as private individuals.

Area historian, Dr. Lawrence Fleenor, and members of the DBWTA did historical research to determine the most probable historically correct design for the Blockhouse.  The final architectural design was produced by Hal Spoden who has extensive experience in the design of historic structures. Construction began in early 2003 and the Blockhouse was dedicated on October 27, 2003.

The Blockhouse site is accessible daily for public visitation. Outdoor interpretative panels enhance the visitor experience. During the spring, summer and fall the DBWTA presents living history events throughout the season, host visitors on Saturday and Sunday and conducts educational programs for area schools at the Blockhouse. In 2005 the Overmountain Men Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, with generous contributions from the Scott County Tourism Committee, the Scott County Chamber of Commerce the Manville Ruritan Club and the Daniel Boone Wilderness Trail Association placed a Revolutionary War Patriots memorial at the Blockhouse site.
The Wilderness Road Blockhouse received the Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association regional Merit Award-Historic Preservation Division for 2004.