In 1889, Frederick Gates, a Methodist minister from New York, envisioned a town of social temperance and industry where "no manufacture, storage or sales of intoxicating liquor or beverages" would take place. He and several other notable gentlemen chose this area. Mr. Gates created the East Tennessee Land Company and advertised the "Great Land Sale of 1890" across the country. The sale was a success; thousands came from all over to buy land that is now known as "The Town that Temperance Built."
Harriman is named for Walter Harriman, the son of the governor of New Hampshire, Walter C. Harriman, was managing director of the East Tennessee Land Company. As a Colonel (later General) in the Union Army during the Civil War, Harriman had traveled on foot through the area with his 11th New Hampshire Regiment and camped for several days on the Emory River near the future site of the city.
In 1905, Harriman's founders established the American Temperance University to promote their social doctrine. The building is referred to as The Temperance Building and is one of Harriman’s most beloved historical landmarks. It is listed on the National Historic Registry. The Temperance heritage was slow to depart. There was no liquor store in Harriman until 1993. The city of Harriman has been able to maintain many of the original town buildings including The Princess Theatre, one of only a few
theatres still standing today. Town guests can visit Harriman's Carnegie Library, one of the few remaining buildings in the country originally funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, as well as, the magnificent Temperance Building which houses Harriman's Heritage Museum.
Cornstalk Heights Historical District, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, features over 100 homes and structures and was recently featured in the March 2010 issue of "This Old House" as one of the 'Best Old House Neighborhoods' in the US. There remain a considerable number of homes displaying Victorian architecture- many of which have been lovingly restored. Cornstalk Heights residents open up their homes to visitors during the annual Historic Harriman Christmas Tour, in December and the Cornstalk Heights Organization also host a Ghost Tour each year as a well-attended fund raiser.
In the early days, as the population grew in Kingston, settlers traveled across the Clinch River into the area known today as Midtown. With the construction of Interstate 40 and the natural beauty of the river, Midtown has prospered.
The town of Harriman is located right on the banks of the Emory River which provided a perfect place for the city’s Riverfront Park, complete with walking trails, pavilions, and memorials. The routing of Interstate-40, along Harriman's western edge, connected the community more closely with Knoxville and Chattanooga. Being a planned community, Harriman’s streets are basically in a grid pattern, unusual for mountain towns in this area and are wider than would normally be expected.