Jerry Summers: American Temperance University - Harriman, Tn.

  • Wednesday, April 7, 2021
  • Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers
Jerry Summers

Eighty miles northeast from Chattanooga towards Knoxville in Roane County lies a village known as Harriman. It was incorporated in 1890 as a community created out of the temperance movement against the manufacture and consumption of the devil rum (alcohol) which became active in the 1870’s.

From the beginning Harriman was to be a major center of the nationwide effort of the anti-alcohol group to permanently outlaw drinking alcohol in America.  Harriman was known as the “Prohibition City of the Nation.”  In the title to each deed registered at the courthouse contained a clause which stated that in every foot of real estate that was transferred was written a clause “prohibiting the making, using, handling, storing, or selling of intoxicating liquors” under the penalty of revoking the real estate transfer.

Harriman had originally been founded as the headquarters of the East Tennessee Land Company which built a modern three-story office building that would initially be known as Temperance Hall after the movement.

Unfortunately, the land company failed and the building became part of American Temperance University that was created in 1893.

Unique in the legislation that created Harriman were also certain restrictive laws which banned alcoholic beverages throughout the township, and the town's official city seal bore the motto “Prohibition, Peace, and Prosperity.”

In a 53-page Register of the American Temperance University for the 1897-1898 school year the attributes of the University as well as Harriman and the surrounding countryside are described in promising detail to favorably promote the community and school.

Attracting non-drinking students from throughout the country that could easily be reached by several railroad systems, the school opened with its first class on September 12, 1893 with an enrollment of 250 students from 15 states. In 1887 the school reached its highest enrollment of 376 students and 20 states being represented.

In the Law Department the Honorable H.B. Case of Chattanooga was listed as one of the lecturers.  Although no Chattanoogan was identified as being enrolled at American Temperance University, Frank Richy of Cleveland was listed in the preparatory school as a student.  Key City Book Store in Harriman was a branch office of T.H. Payne and Co. of Chattanooga as authorized agent for Roane County textbooks and school supplies.

Harriman was a city of 4,000 God-fearing citizens who enthusiastically welcomed the university.  An auditorium initially named Greenleaf Hall in honor of the donor who contributed $30,000 toward it was erected with a 1,200-seat capacity.  After the school closed in 1908 the building was used as a jail.  It has been preserved on the National Historic Registry and now houses the offices of the city of Harriman and has a historical museum in the basement.

Another three-story brick building titled Munyon Hall served as a boarding house for the male students. There was no separate facility for female students and it can only be assumed that they were housed in private residences.

The third building provided by the citizens of Harriman was a gymnasium which satisfied the mandatory requirement that all students take gymnasium exercise.

The school also had an active intramural and intercollegiate sports program.  Over the years the school played many football games against the University of Tennessee and Maryville College in 1905-1906.  The team lost to Maryville College seven times, and split 10 games with the University of Tennessee with the most lopsided loss to the Volunteers being 104-0 in 1905.  This score remains as the highest ever obtained by a UT team.  In 1907 the squad defeated the University of Chattanooga by a score of 10-0.  The faculty at the school's zenith had over 20 instructors in six courses of study, a law school and a curriculum in post-graduate studies.

Unique for the school was affiliation with three other institutions in the state at Greeneville, Powell’s Valley and White Pine where local students could take additional courses that could be used towards their degree at American Temperance University.

A four-year course of study was also provided for those students studying to be teachers and a preparatory school was created for freshman students deficient in the classic language of Greek and Latin.

Foremost in the schools commitment to prohibition was a requirement that each student upon enrolling had to take the following pledge.  “I hereby promise upon my honor to conform to all the laws and regulations of the American Temperance University, now enforced, or which may be enacted by the proper authorities, while I remain a student of the institution and to yield respectful obedience to all its constituted authorities.”

Although the American Temperance University was only in existence from 1893-1908, it provided quality education to its students.  Among its graduates were several notable individuals including two congressional members of the United States House of Representatives and a justice of the California Supreme Court.

The surviving buildings of the University have been taken over by the city of Harriman and private interests to preserve the historical significance of this important component of the temperance movement.

* * *

Jerry Summers

(If you have additional information about one of Mr. Summers' articles or have suggestions or ideas about a future Chattanooga area historical piece, please contact Mr. Summers at





One of the original temperance buildings at Harriman, Tn.
One of the original temperance buildings at Harriman, Tn.
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