Located in and along the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Blount County, Tennessee, (population 115,535) was named in honor of Territorial Governor William Blount and established in 1795. Prior to this settlement, the area was home to the Cherokee tribe, who established their capital at Chota and a village at Chilhowee.
Lumbering was Blount County’s first primary industrial trade. In 1901, the Little River Lumber Company was chartered, and the community of Townsend was created. In 1914, the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) built several plants for aluminum production in the area, thus transforming its economy. It also established a company town that it called Alcoa. Manufacturing is still the largest industry in Blount County. Since its first resort was built at Chilhowee Mountain in the 1850s, tourism has also been essential to the area. Today, tourism is Blount County’s second largest industry and accounts for 2,700 jobs in the county.
Today, Blount County is home to six incorporated cities: Alcoa, Friendsville, Louisville, Maryville, Rockford, and Townsend. Each spring and fall in the Great Smoky Mountains, more than 20,000 visitors come together for the Townsend Heritage Festivals, which celebrate the rich heritage and culture of Appalachia and the Townsend community. These festivals feature regional bluegrass bands, traditional dances, storytellers, and a plethora of crafts. The festivals have been selected several times as one of the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 events.
Townsend also features the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center, an interactive and educational facility where visitors can see how the area has evolved from 5,000 B.C. to 1930, from Native American inhabitants through the European settlers. The museum offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of earlier inhabitants by demonstrating the variety of lifestyles throughout the area’s history. The museum features eight reconstructed outbuildings, galleries, an indoor auditorium, and outdoor amphitheater.