The French Broad Driving Tour

Believed to be more than 260 million years old, the French Broad is one of the oldest rivers in the world. It rises in North Carolina near the legendary Revolutionary battlefield for Kings Mountain and is one of only three rivers to cut through the spine of the Appalachian range. It flows through Asheville and later Newport before it arrives in Knox County and joins with the Holston to form the Tennessee River. Its unusual name evokes the colonial era, dating from when it was presumed to flow away from the original English colonies, and toward French territory.

This driving tour is designed to take you along the river to the east side of town, where the French Broad forms a fertile valley. In this valley, many early pioneers, some of them arriving from the former colonies by flatboat, settled and raised crops and formed a community. Some of them, like James White, lived in the area for a time before coming a bit farther downstream to build a fort and help found a city. Others, like Pennsylvania-born Francis Alexander Ramsey, stayed in the beautiful area, content to commute to town on horseback.

This confluence, where the French Broad River joins the Holston River to form the Tennessee River, was the destination of the first steamboat to reach East Tennessee, in 1828, and the county's busiest industrial wharf even in recent years. With the arrival of railroads, the area became central to the regional marble industry. The French Broad corridor has witnessed remarkable things over the years, including the youth of one of America's earliest aeronautics innovators, the burial of an early automobile racer killed at the Indianapolis Speedway, and three modern Hollywood movies that took advantage of its diversity of rural vistas for convincing historical settings.

Along this tour are the sites of the region's first churches, the birthplace of the University of Tennessee – and century old homes along the picturesque river that flows through the farms and forests. From James White Fort in downtown Knoxville to Seven Islands State Birding Park, prepare for a captivating and beautiful drive.

Tour Highlights and Stopping Points

At the beginning of the tour is Riverside Drive. Riverside Drive is an old road. It may be Knoxville's very first road to be called a "drive," a modern term perhaps suggestive of pleasant auto tours of the countryside. It first appears by that name in 1913, when automobiles were just becoming popular among the affluent, replacing earlier roads called East Front Street and Brabson's Ferry Road, named for a ferry that crossed the Holston near its junction with the French Broad.