Dec. l5, l954 was a redletter day for any young person living at the time, and is clearly recalled by those folks even today. Cartoon character Jiminy Cricket sang “When You Wish Upon A Star” and Walt Disney came on his Disneyland show to introduce the first episode of “Davy Crockett, Indian Fighter.” Several episodes were to follow and to an audience that exploded in size and extended into Europe, Asia and Africa. A mad and extended marketing frenzy began, tempting young Davy Crockett fans with a thousand different items promoting their hero.
Caught dead in the center of the Crockett craze, Morristown seized on the fact that the frontier hero had lived much of his early life on that exact spot, and it didn’t hurt that the town was celebrating its 100th birthday celebration in l955. That celebration, heavily influenced by the Disney show, had a strong pioneer theme which was aided by the opening of the Crockett Tavern Museum by a visit from Fess Parker – Davy Crockett himself – pioneerstyle storefronts, parades, and a lot of overall fun.
As Elvis, hula-hoops, the Beatles and other fads followed ol’ Davy, the museum remained in place, annually hosting visitors from several countries and most of the states. (Ironically, not a lot of local folks have visited the museum.)
Part of the reason for the museum’s appeal to the visitors is the museum director, Sally Bennett, a former schoolteacher who has become a widely recognized Crockett authority. In her volunteer duties at the museum, where she struggles at keeping the tavern open, it’s almost common-place for Sally to be approached by a writer doing another Crockett book, where she gladly shares her information. Other museum volunteers include Herb and Shirley Townsend, Kathy Scott, Linda Burke, Cindy Moses and Julia Jordan.
Davy was born on Thursday, Aug. 17, l786, three years after the American Revolution at Limestone in what was then the State of Franklin. One of nine children, Davy was the fifth of John and Rebecca Crockett’s six sons. His paternal grandparents had been massacred nine years earlier in what is now the center of Rogersville. Father John Crockett had fought in the Revolution and had made a promising start as a family man, but was soon to go into a long downward spiral. In fact, over the years and as was frequently done at the time, he would sell off the labor of his children for long periods of time, beginning with his oldest daughter, Margaret. Bound out to a Jonesborough family, the 12-year old soon found herself in a motherly way, presumably by the master, and was put out of the house. Turned away from home, Margaret was given shelter by a minister’s family and died shortly after giving birth.
One of Davy’s earliest memories of Limestone was when his brothers and a friend were saved from going over a waterfall by a neighbor’s last ditch effort. The waterfall can still be seen today. By 1792, the family had left Limestone for a five-mile move to a tract on the headwaters of Lick Creek. There, young Davy witnessed his father pushing a silk rag through the bullet-hole of a neighbor who had been accidently shot.
In 1794, the Crockett’s moved to Cove Creek in Greene County, where John became partners in a grist mill. Just as the mill was being completed, a flood washed the potentially promising business away. John Crockett never fully recovered from this blow. A year later, a tract of land that he had bought on Mossy Creek on the site of the present Jefferson City, was sold off in a bankruptcy sale. John Crockett was then able to move his family to a piece of property owned by a Quaker, John Canady, who lived in the Panther Springs area. On this piece of property on the Old Stage Road between Virginia and Knoxville, Crockett opened a third rate tavern to accommodate the travelers.
By l798, John Crockett had decided to profit from 12-year-old Davy by bounding him out to Jacob Siler to drive a herd of cattle 400 miles to Virginia. Once there, Davy stayed with Siler until the call came to slip away during a snow storm and return home.
In l799, John Crockett decided to send thirteen year-old Davy and his older brothers to Benjamin Kitchen’s school near Barton’s Springs. Davy only lasted four days at the school when a fight with an older student left him afraid to return to school or to stay at home. Heading to Jesse Cheek’s store (near the present MAHLE factory), Davy ran away from home in an adventure that lasted nearly three years, before returning home in l802.
Once back at home, John sent Davy to Abraham Wilson to work for six months to pay off a $36 debt. Wilson lived a rough life style and Davy was relieved when this period ended. Davy then headed to Panther Springs to work for Quaker Canady. Told that Canady held a $40 note for back rent on the tavern, Davy worked another six months to pay off that debt for his father.
With a year of working off his dad’s debts, Davy went back to working with Canady to earn money of his own – years that earned him six months of education by swapping work for learning with Canady’s schoolteacher son, getting his heart broken by Canady’s niece, Amy Sumner; getting his heart broken again by Dandridge’s Margaret Elder; and finally, meeting and marrying Jefferson County’s Polly Finley a day before he turned 20-years old. Davy had traded of his prized rifle (the same one that Joe Swann owns today) for a horse necessary for a married man.
Canady, who, with his strict Quaker morality, had become a father-figure to Davy, provided an a significant $15 gift while the inlaws gave the young couple two cows with calves. Renting a small farm near Mansfield’s Gap, Davy tended his crops and worked for neighboring farmers. Two sons, John Wesley and William, arrived to pressure Davy to improve his situation. It was l811, when 25-year-old Davy, with his family and father-in-law going along to help out, left East Tennessee to step out into the rest of his life. He was to live more than half his life locally.
The rest of Crockett’s life – fighting in the Indian wars, serving in Congress, and dying at the Alamo, are much more familiar to Crockett fans; but we East Tennesseans can take pride that a true American folk hero had developed his character and left many footprints on the exact spots that we travel over today.
The Crockett Tavern Museum, located at 2002 Morningside Drive, showcases the pioneer lifestyle from that time period. The reproduction cabin is located near the site of the original tavern.
The original tavern was used as a hospital during the Civil War and later served as a “pest house” during the smallpox outbreak. Afterward, it was burned down and the site remained vacant for years.
During Morristown’s 1955 Centennial Celebration and the popularity of the Davy Crockett television show, an effort was made to commemorate the Crockett family.
In April 1958, the museum opened to the public.
The museum is furnished with authentic household items from the time period Crockett lived on the site and the building itself is made from recycled materials dating to the same period.
The logs are from the immediate area and were salvaged from buildings that had fallen into ruin or misuse. They date to the early part of the 1800s. The stairway is from Panther Springs Academy in western Hamblen County, which was built in 1845.
The mantle over the main fi replace was salvaged from the home of Capt. John Jarnagin, which was build in South Hamblen County in 1783.
The log doorplate of the museum is from the cabin where Crockett was born. The front door came from the Tate Store, where the charter for Hamblen County was signed in 1870.
Many other items in the buildings, include the furnishings, are significant to not only Hamblen County, but also surrounding counties.
In fact, the only new part of the building is the roof, which was made the old-fashioned way from hand-cut boards.
The kitchen features a native stone fi replace and cooking utensils of the time where 18th century guests could partake of a meal and then climb the stairs to the sleeping loft to get a good night’s rest.
The basement of the museum contains pioneer tools and artifacts, many donated from local ancestral homes. The loom room contains all the necessary items to produce an item of clothing or a decorative piece for the home of the time period.
A pioneer mode of transportation, the Conestoga wagon, can be seen underneath the corncrib shed on the property. A millstone from the mill operated by John Crockett in Greene County.
Present-day visitors to the Crockett Tavern Museum are greeted by helpful guides who explain to visitors the use of many items that appear strange today.
Visitors from nearly every state and many foreign countries have toured the museum. Local school and other groups also visit to learn about the East Tennessee’s famous son.
The museum is a non-profit venture operated by the Hamblen County Chapter of the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities.
The Crockett Tavern Museum is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday between May and October. Admission fees are $5 for adults, $1 for students ages 5-18 and free for children under 5. Seniors (65 and over) and current AAA card holders receive discount admissions. Group discounts are also available.
Tours last approximately one hour and arrangements can be made for special tours or children’s birthday parties.
A variety of Crockett and pioneer-related items are for sale in the museum’s gift shop.
For more information, call the Crockett Tavern Museum at (423) 587-9900.