In the year 1791, George Roulston, the first printer to enter the State of Tennessee, took his press apart in Fayetteville, North Carolina, packed it on horses’ backs or in wagons and trekked over the trails of the Blue Ridge Mountains into the Holston Valley where Kingsport now stands. There, on the banks of the Holston River at James King’s Boat Yard, he loaded it on a flatboat and floated it down to Rogersville where he set it up and started printing the Knoxville Gazette, the first piece of printing ever attempted in Tennessee.
In crossing over the valley to reach the river, he passed over the spot where the Kingsport Press, once the largest book producing plant in the word, would one day operate. And when he finally got to Rogersville and started his hand press, he was within fifteen miles of the future site of Pressmen’s Home, the home of the International Pressmen and Assistants’ Union in the early 20th century.
Roulstone and his partner, Robert Ferguson, published the first issue of the Knoxville Gazette November5, 1791. Roulstone remained in Rogersville until Knoxville, the new capital of the Territory, was constructed. At the invitation of Territorial Governor William Blount, Roulstone then moved his press to Knoxville. The first issue printed in Knoxville is dated October 10, 1792.
A replica of Roulstone’s 1791 newspaper, printed on his press, is on display at the Tennessee Newspaper and Printing Museum. Also on exhibit are the contents of three other print shops from our area, dating back to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. All the peripheral equipment a print shop would have are also exhibited – a large paper cutter, type cabinets, work tables, wire stitchers, proof presses and so on.
A centerpiece of the exhibit is the last linotype machine to be used to set type for a newspaper in Tennessee. It came from the Rogersville Review, where it was used until 1982.
Also on exhibit are many newspapers from Rogersville’s history, some of them original copies and some photocopies. The Museum is open daily from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. and by appointment. Admission is free, though donations are gratefully accepted. Please call, if possible, before you come.