Harriman was founded as a Temperance Town in 1889 by temperance movement activists led by New York-born minister and plant manager Frederick Gates. Seeking a land venture that could attract industrial and economic development while avoiding the vice-driven pitfalls of late 19th century company towns, Gates and fellow prohibitionistschartered the East Tennessee Land Company in May 1889. In subsequent months, the company acquired several hundred thousand acres of land around what is now Harriman, including the plantation of Union Army colonel and state senator, Robert K. Byrd. The company's early investors included 1888 Prohibition Party presidential candidate General Clinton B. Fisk, who served as the company's first president, Quaker Oats co-founder Ferdinand Schumacher, and publishers Isaac K. Funk and A. W. Wagnalls.
The East Tennessee Land Company's plan was to purchase land, build a town based on prohibitionist and other reform movement principles, and establish subsidiary companies to attract industry. After a successful land auction in Harriman in 1890, the company established three subsidiaries: the East Tennessee Mining Company to administer the region's coal and iron extraction operations, the Harriman Coal & Iron Railroad Company to develop the local railroad system, and the Harriman Manufacturing Company to attract industries by providing start-up capital. To project its prosperity and advertise Harriman, the company built an imposing brick headquarters (now Harriman City Hall), with its four picturesque Norman towers, at the corner of Walden Avenue and Roane Street near the center of the new town. By 1892, several rolling mills, factories, and other businesses had relocated to Harriman.
To help finance its early operations, the East Tennessee Land Company borrowed just over one million dollars from the Central Trust Company of New York. In late 1891, capital markets in the U.S. began to freeze, leading to the Panic of 1893. The East Tennessee Land Company, unable to pay the interest on its million-dollar loan, attempted a last-ditch stock sale to raise money to pay off the loan, but the sale failed. In November 1893, the company was forced into bankruptcy.
Today, this building serves as City Hall and a local museum. There are stories that this place is haunted, but as you might expect, all the ghosts act in a manner of sobriety and exalted moral character. The building is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places under the name Harriman City Hall.
This residential district shows the direct influence of community planning and development by one specific company. The East Tennessee Land Company during the years 1890-1895.
The Princess Theatre was once downtown Harriman’s crown jewel, a 900-seat showplace that provided entertainment to movie-goers from Harriman and surrounding areas.