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Namesake: Rockford in Blount County

6:25 PM, Oct 24, 2011   |    comments
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Rockford's northern city limit on Highway 33 is also the border between Knox County and Blount County.  The fact that this border is delineated by a bridge over a body of water on the route between Knoxville and Maryville is fitting considering Rockford's history.

"I grew up in the house that was the original stage coach for Rockford between Maryville and Knoxville," said Nolia Cummings, a lifelong resident of Rockford.  "Rockford is a bedroom community with one factory and a few other small businesses." 

The prominent feature for the town with a population of around 950 residents is the Little River.

"The Little River comes right through town.  It starts out of the Smokies and Townsend and goes through here on to Fort Loudon Lake," said Cummings.  "People do a lot of fishing here and a lot of people float the river in canoes.  Sometimes they do it when the water gets too high and we have to help them dry off and get home."

Public boat ramps make it easy for folks to get out and enjoy the water in Rockford. However, it was work rather than recreation that originally attracted settlers to this portion of the river.

"Early on there was a mill here.  That was many years before Rockford became a recognized place," said Cummings. 

For all of the water's benefits regarding recreation and industry, a couple of centuries ago the Little River also served as an obstacle for transportation between Knoxville and Maryville. Prior to the construction of bridges, the only way to cross the river was to go through the water.  The soft sand and silt along most of the river bottom made crossing the Little River a big challenge.

It was in Rockford that early settlers found a solid way to get from one side of the river to the other.

"There is a shallow ford here that doesn't have the silt and the sand bottom. It's all rock," said Cummings.  "That's where the stage coaches and everything crossed. We've seen documents as early as the 1800s where they called the crossing 'Rocky Ford.'  It probably changed sometime in the mid-1800s to Rockford instead of Rocky Ford."

Today several bridges make it easy for cars and trains to navigate across the Little River in Rockford.  While the advent of solid infrastructure eased transportation and rendered the community's original role obsolete, the expansion of highways and nearby municipalities also played a part in Rockford becoming an official city.

"We incorporated because Alcoa was coming in [this direction] and Maryville was coming out this way.  So when we incorporated in 1972, it was to stay as we are now instead of being part of a larger city," said Cummings.

The city with the rock-solid river bottom remains home to Nolia Cummings because of its firm foundation of friends and neighbors.

"A lot of people who grow up here never leave. A lot of us are third and fourth generation families," said Cummings.  "It's mainly the people. They are just good solid people."

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Note: Namesake is the renamed title of the series formerly known as 'Why do they call it that?'

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