Brief History of Smith County
Smith County is located in Tennessee and has an approximate population of 19,200 people. The county’s seat is known as Carthage. Carthage is located on the northern front of the Cumberland River, below its junction with the Caney Fork River. Its location was a source of conflict with many residents wanting it to be located in Bledsoesborough, while William Walton wanted it to be located at the junction of Cumberland River and Caney Fork. The people who wanted the county seat to be located in Bledsoesborough were referred to as the polecats, while William Walton supporters were known as the moccasin gang.
The county was legally established in 1799 and it is named after Daniel Smith, a former US Senator as well as a veteran of the Revolutionary War. Smith was also the first person to make a map of Tennessee. The county was established through a private act making it the fifth county to be created in the region known as the Middle Tennessee.
The first European settler in what would later be known as Smith County was William Walton. He chose the spot in redemption of his land grant and later built a home at the northern side of the Cumberland River. He hotly contested the proposed location of the seat at Bledsoesborough and won. The seat would now be located near his property after he deeded the county government 50 acres of his property to build the new courthouse. The commissioners for the deeded land gave him $1 in return. The commissioners then sold the lots and used the proceeds from the lots to construct public buildings. By 1806, Carthage had a post office and in 1879, the county seat had the most elegant courthouse in the entire state of Tennessee. The building was placed in the National Register of Historic Places towards the end of the 1970s.
Other notable settlers included the likes of Daniel Burford, Peter Turney, Tilman Dixon, and William Saunders. These settlers decided to settle in Dixon Springs, owing to the vast agricultural lands in the area. In fact, Dixon Springs had the most arable land in the entire county. It is no surprise, therefore, that Dixon Springs was the most densely populated town in the county. Tilman Dixon, considered by historical experts to have been the first settler in Dixon Springs, built a historic home where the first county court meeting was held. The house was reported as still standing as recently as 2009 (Maggart, 2011).
These early settlers inhabited lands that already belonged to the Indians. Thus, they had several violent encounters with the Indians until the latter finally succumbed and surrendered their land to the white settlers.
Growth of Industry and Towns
Crucial to the survival of these pioneer settlers were the streams, which were used to turn Walton’s mills. The streams also provided a route for the county and Walton especially to market his products to other nearby counties. Seeing how successful Walton had become, other settlers began building mills near other streams. For instance, John Lancaster built a mill on Smith Fork and established the Lancaster Town nearby (Maggart, 2011).
New Middleton was built on Mulherin Creek while a settler named Jenning built a mill on the mouth of the Round Lick Creek. Jenning’s mill was aptly situated as the Trousdale Ferry Pike traversed through it. Rome, a town located at the Round Lick Creek, grew partly due to the Trousdale Ferry Pike.
In fact, Rome developed so quickly that it had, at one point in time, rivaled Carthage as the county’s port and trading center. The Rome Ferry had even plied the Round Lick Creek transporting traders and their wares from one shore to the next. However, Rome began to decline with the diminishing attraction of steamboats. Pleasant Shade, built at the mouth of Peyton’s Creek, and Difficult and Defeated, built on the Defeated Creek emerged as great trade centers in those early days.
The development of the railroad systems in the 1880s also saw the birth of cities in communities that were in close proximity to the rails. These cities included the likes of Hickman, Brush Creek, and Gordonsville. Gordonsville was founded in 1801 and became the largest town south of the Cumberland River. It was a major rail center and Smith County incorporated it in 1909 owing to its economic potential. One of the few high schools in the county is located in Gordonsville.
South Carthage, a few miles across the river from the county seat, developed as a rail center predominantly serving the northern part of Smith County. To make movement easier, a bridge was built that spanned the entire Cumberland replacing the ferries. The bridge was opened in 1908 and was operated as a toll bridge until its demolition.
Until the 1960s, most industries in Smith County were associated with farm produce. The industries included distilleries, gist mills, tanneries, and flourmills concerned with the processing of timber, saltpeter, and tobacco. The Cordell Hull Dam that was constructed in the 1960s as well as the construction of an industrial park with several industrial plants located within, have led to the diversification of the economy. The mining of the county’s rich supply of zinc has also led to many companies moving away from the county’s traditional industries. Some of the biggest industries in Smith County include Savage Zinc, and William Bonnell’s Aluminum Extraction Company (Maggart, 2011).
The best tracts of land in the county were granted to the surviving soldiers of the Revolutionary War. The State of North Carolina granted these parcels of land to the survivors through land warrants. The tracts of land awarded to the settlers ranged from 600 acres to several thousands of acres depending on one’s rank in the war and subsequent contribution to the same. The early settlers used to farm cotton and cereals and had large herds of livestock.
However, the farmers soon abandoned the cultivation of cotton, as it was not profitable during that time. They opted to cultivate tobacco, a crop that was and continues to be more marketable and profitable than cotton. Tobacco is currently the staple crop of Smith County, making the county the sixth largest producer of tobacco in the entire state.
Dr F.H. Gordon introduced the cultivation of blue grass and keeping of fine breeds of cows into the county in 1836. He brought Durham cattle on his return from Kentucky to the college and grew blue grass for pasture for the cattle. Other plants that grow in the area or were previously grown in Smith County include Indian corn, Irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, oats, rye, and wheat. Livestock kept in the area by the farmers for milk and meat included the likes of horses, cattle, sheep, mules, asses, and pigs.
As with many other newly established counties, the first descendants of the settlers did not have access to school or to education for that matter. However, schools began to develop in the county with the increase in trade and growth of subsequent towns. The first school to be established in Smith County was the Geneva Academy in Carthage. The Carthage Female Academy was then built in 1842 and was made a branch of the Geneva Academy so that it could benefit from its public funds.
The most notable resident from Smith County is Cordell Hull. Although not his birthplace, the Nobel Peace Prize winner practiced law in Carthage for several years. Cordell served as the secretary of state during Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure. He is the longest serving secretary of state as he held the position for eleven years. He received the prestigious award in 1945 for being the mastermind behind the creation of the United Nations. The Cordell Hull Dam that is located on the Cumberland River in Smith County is named after him. In addition, the lake created by the dam is known as the Cordell Hull Lake. The Cordell Hull Bridge was also named after the decorated former governor (Maggart, 2011).
Other influential people from the county are the Gores. Albert Gore Sr served as the U.S. Representative from Tennessee from 1939 to 1953 and hails from Carthage, Smith County’s county seat. The former Congressman is credited with sponsoring and establishing the Interstate Highway System, which was the largest public works project in the history of the United States at that time. Speaking out against the Vietnam War eventually cost him his Senate seat but many civil rights activists saw him as a hero for speaking out against the ills of the war.
Albert Gore Jr followed his father’s example and entered into politics. He was elected Congressman from Tennessee and served from 1977 to 1985 in that capacity. He served as the U.S. Senator from Tennessee from 1985 to 1993. He was also appointed the 45th Vice President of the country in 1994 during Bill Clinton’s presidency. The younger Gore was awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for his efforts towards raising awareness on climate change and finding solutions to some of the issues surrounding climate change.
Maggart, S.W. (2011, Feb 27). Smith County. Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Retrieved on 13/2/2016 from http://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entry.php?rec=1213