History of Rockwood, Tennessee
Rockwood, Tennessee was born on land that was once part of the Cherokee Indian Nation. During the War Between the States, General John T. Wilder, a Brigade Commander in the Union Army recognized this area to have valuable deposits of iron with the nearby ridges containing large deposits of coal. Soon after the war, General Wilder and Captain Hiram S. Chamberlain purchased 728 acres of the iron rich land in this valley. With the construction of the first iron furnace in 1868, they created an iron production company that built the town of Rockwood. The name Rockwood originated from the president of the newly formed Roane Iron Company, W. O. Rockwood.
The Roane Iron Company built a community church, a commissary and school as well as houses. Rockwood was known as a “Company town.”
In 1879 the Cincinnati Southern Railway completed a rail line one mile east of the Furnace and the part of town known as new Rockwood was laid out. “Old Rockwood” and “New Rockwood” met and incorporated in 1890. The first Rockwood High School graduating class was in 1892.
The Tennessee Central Railroad came into Rockwood in 1900. Subsequent years saw the building of many more homes, businesses, churches and schools. Other industries came to this growing community with the Rockwood Knitting Mill being established in 1905 and the Rockwood Stove Works in 1916. Chamberlain Memorial Hospital followed closely, being erected in 1917. The Great Depression did not ignore Rockwood and heralded the onset of decades of economic problems. Starting in the 1920’s, the Roane Iron Company was closed and reopened several times, with a final dismantling in 1964.
Interstate 40 by-passing Rockwood created an economic downturn. The automobile traffic that had once found food, fuel and lodgings in Rockwood as they traveled the Old Dixie Highway, now raced around it on the new interstate highways. In more recent years, expansion of Oak Ridge National Laboratories and Watts Bar lake water-front development has brought a new influx of people into the Rockwood area.