MCMINN COUNTY

MCMINN COUNTY

 A Short History

from the

The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture

 

1.     COUNTY HISTORY
2.     BATTLE OF ATHENS

3.     COMMUNITY COLLEGES
4.     CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS
5.     ENGLEWOOD MILLS
6.     HISTORIC HIGHWAYS
7.     MAYFIELD DAIRY FARMS;
8.     JOSEPH MCMINN;
9.     RAILROADS
;
10.   DEWITT C. SENTER;
11.   TENNESSEE WESLEYAN COLLEGE;
12.   TREATIES;
13.   WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT
14.    HISTORIC RESORTS

 

 

1. COUNTY HISTORY

McMinn County, located in southeast Tennessee, was established by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1819. Named for Governor Joseph McMinn, the county was created from lands ceded by the Cherokees in the Hiwassee Purchase.

Calhoun, the first town and county seat, was established in 1820 across the Hiwassee River from the Cherokee Indian Agency. The need for a more centrally located seat of government led to the county seat's removal in 1823 to Athens, fifteen miles north. Athens was chartered in 1822. By 1830 McMinn County had a population of over 14,000, including 1,250 slaves.

The Hiwassee Railroad began construction of one of Tennessee's first railroads in McMinn County in 1837. Plans called for a line from Dalton, Georgia, through McMinn County to Knoxville, a distance of ninety-eight miles. Financial problems and a general economic depression statewide halted construction in 1839 after the completion of sixty-six miles of graded roadbed and a bridge at Calhoun. Work was resumed in 1849 by the East Tennessee and Georgia Railroad. Athens served as the railroad's headquarters until 1855, when the central office was moved to Knoxville.

With the arrival of the railroad came the new towns of Riceville, Sanford, and Mouse Creek (now Niota), which developed along the line. During the Civil War, the railroad gained added significance, serving as a vital link for transporting troops and supplies between the Lower and Upper South.

Like most East Tennesseans, McMinn Countians experienced divided loyalties during the Civil War. Although Tennessee joined the Confederacy in 1861, the county furnished troops to both Confederate and Union armies. While no major battles were fought within the county, thousands of troops passed through, and the area suffered severe economic hardships.

Following the war, lack of capital hampered growth and development, but by the late nineteenth century, recovery, spurred by the railroad, was well under way. Two new towns, Jellico Junction (later Englewood) and Etowah, were established along railway lines. Etowah came into existence in 1905 as a railroad town, the Atlanta Division headquarters of the Louisville and Nashville (L&N). By the 1920s employment reached over two thousand, and some twenty trains passed through Etowah daily.

In 1920 McMinn County's young representative to the Tennessee legislature, Harry T. Burn of Niota, cast the deciding vote approving the Nineteenth Amendment which granted women the right to vote. The Senate had passed the measure, but a tie vote occurred twice in the House. Having previously voted with the opposition, Burn switched his vote, breaking the tie, and making Tennessee the required thirty-sixth state to approve ratification.

In 1921 McMinn County became the site of the construction of the first concrete highway in Tennessee, a fourteen-mile stretch of the Lee Highway (U.S. 11) from Athens to Calhoun. A small section of this road is still in use today.

McMinn County suffered severe economic hardship during the Great Depression. Etowah was most affected since its economic base was tied to a single industry. When repair shops were closed and the division headquarters of the L&N moved to Knoxville, employment in the county fell to fewer than one hundred. To aid in recovery, the National Youth Administration built a scout lodge in Etowah. While World War II brought a temporary revival, the boom days of the railroad town were over.

Perhaps the most notable event in McMinn's history occurred on August 1, 1946, when returning GIs overthrew a corrupt political machine with ties to Ed "Boss" Crump. A large number of armed deputies took ballot boxes to the county jail to be "counted" behind barricaded doors, refusing requests for GI observers to witness the counting. After several hours of a raging gunfire battle, those inside the jail were dynamited into surrendering. This "Battle of Athens," in which, miraculously, no one was killed, resulted in governmental reform. The county court system of government was replaced by a county council-manager system, the first in Tennessee.

Following World War II, McMinn County experienced rapid growth and economic development as existing industries and businesses expanded and several corporations, including Bowaters, the world's largest newsprint producer, established major plants in the area. Educational opportunities increased with the expansion of programs at Tennessee Wesleyan College and the opening of Cleveland State Community College. Also, dairy farming increased during the first three decades following the war. The presence of Mayfield Dairy Farms, one of the largest dairy processors in the Southeast, was a major factor in stimulating the growth in dairying.

McMinn County's primary historical attractions are the exhibits at the L&N Depot, Etowah; the Englewood Textile Museum; and the McMinn County Living Heritage Museum, Athens, which interprets the county's history from the days of the Cherokees to the economic transformations of the 1940s through thirty exhibits. Antebellum landmark buildings include the Old College of Tennessee Wesleyan College and the Cleague Building, both in Athens. The county's 2000 population was 49,015.

 

Bill Akins and Genevieve Wiggins, Tennessee Wesleyan College

 

 

2. BATTLE OF ATHENS

Officially, the "Battle of Athens" in McMinn County began and ended on August 1, 1946. Following a heated competition for local offices, veterans in the insurgent GI Non-Partisan League took up arms to prevent a local courthouse ring headed by state senator Paul Cantrell and linked to Memphis political boss Ed Crump from stealing the election. When Sheriff Pat Mansfield's deputies absconded to the jail with key ballot boxes, suspicious veterans took action. A small group of veterans broke into the local National Guard Armory, seized weapons and ammunition, and proceeded to the jail to demand the return of the ballot boxes. The Cantrell-Mansfield deputies refused, and the veterans, now numbering several hundred, opened fire. The ensuing battle lasted several hours and ended only after the dynamiting of the front of the jail. The surrender of the deputies did not end the riot, and the mob was still turning over police cars and burning them hours later. Within days the local election commission swore in the veteran candidates as duly elected. The McMinn County veterans had won the day in a hail of gunfire, dynamite, and esprit de corps.

The battle of Athens stands as the most violent manifestation of a regional phenomenon of the post-World War II era. Seasoned veterans of the European and Pacific theaters returned in 1945 and 1946 to southern communities riddled with vice, economic stagnation, and deteriorating schools. Undemocratic, corrupt, and mossback rings and machines kept an iron grip on local policy and power. Moreover, their commitment to the status quo threatened the economic opportunities touched off by the war. Across the South, veterans launched insurgent campaigns to oust local political machines they regarded as impediments to economic "progress."

In Athens, the Cantrell-Mansfield ring colluded with bootleg and gambling interests, shook down local citizens and tourists for fees, and regularly engaged in electoral chicanery. While communities such as Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Chattanooga boomed, Athens languished, and veterans returned to a community beset with more problems than opportunities. When Cantrell and Mansfield employed their typical methods to nullify the veterans' votes and reform efforts, the ex-soldiers resorted with the skills and determination that had brought them victory overseas.

Although recalled fifty years later with a certain amount of local pride, the battle of Athens initially proved a source of embarrassment, and many residents abhorred the violent, extralegal actions of the veterans. The image of gun-wielding hillbilly ex-soldiers shooting it out with the Cantrell-Mansfield "thugs" that blazed across national and regional newspaper headlines enhanced East Tennessee's reputation for violence and lawlessness. The Good Government League, empowered by the veterans' victory, scored few successes in its efforts to eradicate the vice, corruption, and arbitrary rule of machine government. Nevertheless, the battle of Athens exemplified the southern veteran activism of the postwar period and defined the disruptive political impact of World War II.

 

Jennifer E. Brooks, Tusculum College

4. CIVILIAN CONSERVATION CORPS (CCC)

On March 31, 1933, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed legislation to create the Civilian Conservation Corps, the first of the New Deal agencies. The CCC employed young men and gave them an opportunity to develop new skills and prepare them for future employment as the nation recovered from the Great Depression.

Originally established as the "Emergency Conservation Work Program," the CCC was renamed in 1937. Although there are no official records, estimates of the number of young men who participated in the nine-year program reach approximately three million. Congress extended the program to include African Americans, Native Americans, and World War I veterans. Enrollees performed a variety of conservation activities including reforestation, soil conservation, road construction, flood and fire control, and agricultural management. The CCC also completed a number of tasks associated with the development and construction of state and national parks. The CCC provided food, clothing, and shelter, as well as education, vocational training, and health care. The Department of Labor, the War Department, and the Department of Interior administered the CCC; state and local labor offices assisted with selection and enrollment procedures.

The CCC's Fourth Corps area, District C, included Tennessee plus western North Carolina, northern Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Organized on April 25, 1933, District C fielded forty companies, including three "Veteran White," one "Veteran Colored," two "Junior Colored," and thirty-four "Junior White" camps. Tennessee supported eleven district headquarters located in Memphis, Union City, Jackson, Paris, Columbia, Nashville, Tullahoma, Cookeville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Johnson City and fifteen branch offices located in Dyersburg, Murfreesboro, McMinnville, Shelbyville, Clarksville, Springfield, Cleveland, LaFollette, Maryville, Loudon, Rockwood, Morristown, Elizabethton, Kingsport, and Bristol. The state's first CCC company set up headquarters at Camp Cordell Hull near Limestone Cave in Unicoi County in 1933. By the following year, Tennessee sponsored thirty companies.

Enrollment was offered to single men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-eight; however, the reinstituted CCC of 1937 made enrollment available to men between the ages of seventeen and twenty-three. Applicants had to prove their marital status, provide evidence they had been unable to find employment for at least two months, and demonstrate that their families could not provide education or training comparable to that made available to members of the corps. Enrollees signed up for a minimum of six months, and few members participated for more than one or two years. The state's motto, "Select, rather than collect," reflected the high honor associated with participation in the CCC. Tennessee's CCC boys earned thirty dollars per month, twenty-five dollars of which went to families or was deposited with the War Department until the corps member received his "honorable discharge."

Tennessee's total number of CCC companies reached its peak in July 1937, when the state supported forty-six camps. By the time the CCC disbanded, more than seventy thousand Tennesseans had served. In 1942 changing American ideas about the CCC and congressional pressure to end the program resulted in the agency's dissolution, but in Tennessee, the CCC had completed work in seventeen state parks as well as in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The national success of the CCC is directly attributed to Roosevelt, who seldom compromised his values concerning the need for the agency and a national conservation movement.

Ruth Nichols, Nashville

Suggested Reading(s): John A. Salmond, The Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1942 (1967); Carroll Van West, The New Deal Landscape of Tennessee (2001).

 

[Note from your McMinn County Hosts: McMinn and surrounding counties had groups of young men who joined the CCC. One CCC camp was located not far from the current Athens hospital on Hwy 39 west.]

7. MAYFIELD DAIRY FARMS

Established in 1923, Mayfield Dairy Farms has evolved into one of the major southern milk and ice cream products companies. It began as an antebellum family farm in McMinn County that continued as a family-run business into the late twentieth century. In 1833 Thomas Brummitt Mayfield and Sarah Rudd Mayfield established a farm on 510 acres east of Athens on the Madisonville Road. In 1923 Thomas Brient Mayfield Jr. took the family's forty-five-cow dairy operation and bought an existing ice cream factory in Athens, creating the Mayfield Creamery.

The creamery proved successful and remained in business during the Great Depression. In the postwar boom of the late 1940s, the Mayfields decided to upgrade and expand their operations, building a new modern milk and ice cream plant in Athens between 1948 and 1950. Over the next two decades, the Mayfields continued to modernize and improve operations; during the 1950s, for instance, the dairy was the first in Tennessee to ship its milk in mechanically refrigerated trucks. In 1976 Mayfield Farm was designated an official Tennessee Century Farm; the following year Mayfield expanded its ice cream sales into the Atlanta market.

In the mid-1980s Goldie D. Mayfield and her children operated a 1,400-acre farm, while the company expanded sales of the Mayfield Dairy brand name across the state. Dean Foods of Franklin Park, Illinois, acquired Mayfield in 1990, but kept everyday affairs in the capable hands of the Mayfield family. The company built its second plant, for milk production, at Braselton, Georgia, in 1997. Currently Scottie Mayfield is president of Mayfield Dairy Farms, and Rob Mayfield is vice-president, production and technical service manager. Milk from 325 farms across the South supply milk to Mayfield Dairy Farms. Its Athens plant employs 575 workers.

Carroll Van West, Middle Tennessee State University

8. JOSEPH MCMINN

1758-1824

Joseph McMinn, farmer, state legislator, Indian agent, and governor, was born at Westchester, Pennsylvania, on June 22, 1758. McMinn served in the Continental army during the American Revolution. After the war, he moved to the future Tennessee and bought a farm in Hawkins County in 1786.

In 1790 Territorial Governor William Blount appointed McMinn to county office, and in 1794 he represented Hawkins County in the Territorial General Assembly. As a member of the state constitutional convention in 1796, McMinn was chosen to deliver a copy of the state constitution to U.S. Secretary of State Timothy Pickering in Philadelphia. He was elected to the first Tennessee State Senate and later served three times as Speaker of the Senate. He was governor of Tennessee for three terms between 1815 and 1821. During his tenure, the Jackson Purchase was completed, the State Capitol was moved from Knoxville to Murfreesboro, and the Bank of Tennessee was incorporated.

After retiring from the gubernatorial office in 1821, McMinn bought a farm near Calhoun. Two years later, he was appointed as agent of the United States to the Cherokees. He died on November 17, 1824, at the Cherokee Agency on the Hiwassee River and was buried near Calhoun. Both McMinn County and McMinnville in Warren County are named in his honor.

John H. Thweatt, Tennessee State Library and Archives

Suggested Reading(s): Charles W. Crawford, ed., Governors of Tennessee (1979).

9. RAILROADS

 

Tennesseans considered railroads as early as 1827, when a rail connection between the Hiwassee and Coosa Rivers was proposed. The general assembly granted six charters in 1831 for railroad construction, but these early efforts failed when financial support did not materialize. Early railroad fever struck hardest in East Tennessee. Beginning in 1828 Dr. J. G. M. Ramsey of Knoxville advocated a rail connection between South Carolina and Tennessee. In 1831-32 the Rogersville Rail-Road Advocate (possibly the first railroad newspaper in the United States) favored an Atlantic connection through Virginia.

West Tennesseans also envisioned connections to the Atlantic coast. The Memphis Railroad Company (chartered in 1831, renamed Atlantic and Mississippi in 1833), hoped to connect Memphis with Charleston. Another scheme attempted to link Memphis with Baltimore.

Tennessee's legislature enacted an 1836 law requiring the state to subscribe to one-third of railroad and turnpike company stock (the subscription was raised to one-half in 1838). When the state-stock system stumbled after the Panic of 1837, the ironic outcome was completion of Middle Tennessee turnpikes rather than railroads. The state aid laws were repealed in 1840 under Governor James K. Polk.

Although in force only a few years, the state internal improvement laws spurred some railroad developers to action. The Hiwassee Railroad did not qualify for the state subscription but began construction in 1837 near Athens. Despite achieving Tennessee's first actual railroad construction, the Hiwassee failed in 1842. The LaGrange and Memphis Railroad was the only railroad to qualify for state subscription, and in 1842 it became the first railroad to actually operate a train in Tennessee. A few months later the county sheriff took possession due to unpaid court judgments.

Tennessee's railroad interest revived in the late 1840s, encouraged by successful neighboring states. Georgia's Western and Atlantic was already headed toward the Tennessee River, and it reached Chattanooga by l850, a development that renewed the hopes of Knoxville and Memphis and created the first serious railroad interest in Nashville.

In 1848 the general assembly endorsed bonds of the Nashville and Chattanooga (N&C), but the East Tennessee and Georgia (ET&G) won a precedent-setting direct loan two years later. The General Internal Improvement Law of 1852 provided state loans to railroads at $8,000 per mile ($10,000 per mile by 1854). Every Tennessee antebellum railroad (except the N&C) received grants under this system.

The N&C was the first railroad completed in Tennessee. Incorporated in 1845, it reached Chattanooga by 1854. It was the only state-aided railroad to avoid financial loss to the state. Associated branch lines were completed in the 1850s: the McMinnville and Manchester; the Winchester and Alabama; and the coal mine branch to the Sewanee Mining Company at Tracy City. Another associated line, the Nashville and Northwestern (N&NW), was intended to connect Nashville to the Mississippi River at Hickman, Kentucky. Construction began at Hickman, but the line had been extended eastward only to McKenzie by the Civil War; the eastern end ran only a few miles from Nashville, where it was captured by the Union army, who continued it to Johnsonville on the Tennessee River (the remaining gap was completed after the war).

The Memphis and Charleston (M&C), incorporated in 1846, ran across Mississippi and Alabama to reach Stevenson, Alabama by 1857, where it connected with the N&C, thus linking Memphis to the Atlantic via the N&C and the Western and Atlantic.

The ET&G, chartered in 1848, revived the Hiwassee Railroad. Running from Dalton via Athens and Loudon to Knoxville by 1855, it was the second railroad completed in Tennessee. A more direct route between Cleveland and Chattanooga was completed in 1858. The East Tennessee and Virginia (ET&V), chartered in 1849, was completed from Knoxville to Bristol in 1858, ending East Tennessee's railroad isolation.

Nashville gained rail access to the North through Kentucky. Louisville city subscriptions and Tennessee state aid financed the Louisville and Nashville (L&N), incorporated in Kentucky in 1850. Competitive subscriptions among local governments determined its Tennessee route. Completed in 1859, it hosted an excursion intended to preserve the Union. Several other Middle Tennessee railroads provided Nashville connections. The Nashville and Decatur (N&D) ran from Nashville through Columbia to Tennessee's southern border, where it connected with the M&C and an Alabama railroad to Decatur (it also extended from Columbia to Mt. Pleasant). The Edgefield and Kentucky (E&K), completed in 1860, ran from the Nashville suburb of Edgefield to Guthrie on the Kentucky boundary.

Memphis also established railroad access to Louisville: the Memphis and Ohio (M&O) ran from Memphis to Paris; the Memphis, Clarksville, and Louisville ran from Paris to Guthrie; and the L&N constructed a branch from Bowling Green to Guthrie.

West Tennesseans gained rail access to Mobile, New Orleans, and Columbus, Kentucky, due to the rivalry between New Orleans and Mobile to establish rail connections to the mouth of the Ohio River. The Mobile and Ohio (M&O) reached from Columbus to Jackson, Tennessee, in 1858, and to Mobile in 1861. The Mississippi Central and Tennessee connected with the M&O in 1860, giving New Orleans access to the Ohio a year before its rival Mobile. The Mississippi and Tennessee completed a line from Memphis to Grenada, Mississippi, in 1861, giving Memphis access to New Orleans via the Mississippi Central.

Tennesseans took preliminary steps to begin a transcontinental route through Memphis, Little Rock, and El Paso, but the Civil War dashed any hopes that the South would participate in a railroad to the Pacific.

Tennessee railroad equipment of the 1850s was primitive. Railroad track (mostly unballasted) consisted of light T-section wrought-iron rail on untreated crossties. Tennessee track adopted the usual Southern broad gauge of five feet. The typical steam locomotive was the American type, characterized in the Whyte system as the 4-4-0 (four leading wheels, four drive wheels, no trailing wheels). Colorfully painted and picturesquely named, they were wood fueled, requiring a distinctive balloon smoke stack. Rolling stock utilized wooden construction, link-and-pin couplers, cast iron wheels, and hand brakes. Freight cars were limited to boxcars, flatcars, and gondolas. Passenger cars were crude open air coaches equipped with wood stoves, kerosene lamps, and hand-pumped water. Antebellum railroad depots in larger cities were substantial brick buildings, but elsewhere they were simple wooden structures, often lacking protective canopies for passengers or freight loading ramps.

By 1860 Tennessee had completed 1,197 miles of track, which represented about 13 percent of the South's total of 9,167 miles. Southern railroads represented only about 30 percent of the total national rail mileage, and they were comparatively small organizations with inferior equipment running on lighter rail. However, Tennessee's strategic location as a border state between North and South destined its railroads to play a significant role in the Civil War.

In the spring of 1862, with the fall of Forts Donelson and Henry to Federal gunboats, Confederate General Albert S. Johnston realized that Nashville was indefensible and retreated toward Murfreesboro. Plans to evacuate supplies from Nashville faltered when panicked citizens and bridge washouts overwhelmed southbound railroads. Johnston, aware that he could not defend both Middle Tennessee and the Mississippi, decided to protect the river and Memphis. The most strategic point was the railroad junction at Corinth, Mississippi, where the M&O joined the M&C. Using railroads extensively, Johnston concentrated troops from all over the Confederacy at Corinth. Meanwhile, Federal General Ulysses S. Grant gathered his forces at nearby Pittsburg Landing on the Tennessee River. The two forces met in a major battle near Shiloh Church in April 1862. Johnston was killed, and the Confederates retreated, leaving Union forces in control of the only Confederate rail line between Virginia and the Mississippi River. The outcome disabled Confederate rail transport west of Chattanooga and north of Vicksburg and permitted Union rail access southward to Alabama and Mississippi and eastward to Stevenson, Alabama, near the important rail junction of Chattanooga.

Grant was assigned to guard the railroads providing communication with the Mississippi, and General Don Carlos Buell was assigned to take Chattanooga. But Confederate General Braxton Bragg delayed federal movement toward Chattanooga with a series of harassing raids by Nathan B. Forrest and John H. Morgan against the federally occupied M&C and N&C railroads, allowing time for Confederate troops to move by rail from Tupelo to Chattanooga. Grant created a defensive railroad triangle encompassing Memphis, Humboldt, and Corinth.

The state's railroad system became of even more strategic value in 1863. After the battle of Stones River, massive quantities of supplies arrived at Murfreesboro via the N&C, and Federal forces erected the enormous Fortress Rosecrans to protect this critical supply depot.

The Confederates decided to concentrate additional forces at the center where Bragg and Rosecrans were evenly matched. In a remarkable transportation feat, Confederate troops traveled by rail from Virginia (1,000 miles by a difficult indirect route, necessary because Federals had taken Knoxville), while others marched from Mississippi. In September 1863 Rosecrans advanced to Chattanooga, and Bragg withdrew to Georgia. Rosecrans recklessly pursued Bragg until the Confederates delivered a severe blow at Chickamauga, forcing the damaged Federal army to retreat back to Chattanooga. Bragg advanced on Chattanooga, occupying Lookout Mountain and Missionary Ridge, from which vantage point his forces could control the city's transportation. With Federal forces reduced to near starvation, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton devised an ambitious plan for the massive railroad transport of Federal troops from Virginia to relieve the siege of Chattanooga. Generals George H. Thomas (who had replaced Rosecrans) and Grant used these forces to conquer Chattanooga, effectively delivering all of Tennessee to Federal control. This amazing transportation feat proved that, under the control of strong centralized authority, railroads could project substantial military force across great distances within a short time.

In 1864 Confederate General John B. Hood conducted raids against the Federal rail lines to Chattanooga. Hood invaded Tennessee, hoping that the Federals would follow him to supposedly advantageous terrain. Sherman sent Generals Thomas and John Schofield to Tennessee, where they defeated the Confederates at the battles of Franklin and Nashville in late 1864. The Confederates retreated from Tennessee for the last time, leaving the state's railroads completely in Federal hands. Although the Confederate railroads had served their military forces well, when Federal forces secured control of the Southern railroad network, they solidified access to the superior manufacturing capabilities of the North, which ultimately led to Union victory.

The Civil War left Tennessee's railroads damaged and most of its railroad companies in financial straits. Governor William G. Brownlow attempted to reconstruct the whole railroad system, and by 1869 the general assembly had appropriated $14 million dollars for railroad companies. However, widespread corruption among legislators and railroad officials led to fraudulent use of the funds. Tennessee defaulted on bonds maturing in 1867-68, causing a severe drop in the state's securities and excessive speculation in its bonds. Investigative committees had little effect, and suggestions of repudiating bonds were silenced by threats of military reconstruction by Washington Radicals. Brownlow was succeeded by DeWitt C. Senter, who eventually abandoned Radicalism and worked with the Conservative legislature to reverse Radical measures. In 1879 the general assembly and Governor Albert S. Marks uncovered the flagrant corruption of railroad and government officials.

Especially during the 1880s, Tennessee railroads expanded substantially. The railroad network nearly tripled its antebellum size to a substantial 3,131 miles by 1900. Simultaneously, railroad track and equipment evolved into more sophisticated forms for more effective passenger and freight transportation. However, the biggest change in the state's railroads was in the gradual shift of finance and control from local parties to northern interests. By the 1890s, the bulk of Tennessee's railroads were consolidated into just three major systems dominated by northern control: the Southern, the L&N, and the Illinois Central (IC). Amazingly, these three large systems would continue to maintain their corporate identities for nearly a century!

The Southern Railway Security Company, controlled by the Pennsylvania Railroad, pioneered use of a holding company to consolidate Southern railroads: it controlled the East Tennessee, Virginia and Georgia (ETV&G--formed by the 1869 merger of the ET&G and ET&V) by 1871 and leased the M&C in 1872. The Pennsylvania abandoned its southern initiative after the Panic of 1873. The rapidly growing ETV&G had absorbed the M&C by 1884, and was in turn acquired by the Richmond and Danville in 1887. These companies entered receivership in 1892, and J.P. Morgan reorganized them by 1894 to form the long-lived Southern Railway. The Southern acquired the Cincinnati Southern (Cincinnati to Chattanooga) in 1895.

The L&N remained prosperous while expanding rapidly in the late nineteenth century. This dominant Middle Tennessee line absorbed the Memphis, Clarksville, and Louisville by 1871; the M&O and the N&D by 1872; the E&K in 1879; and the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis (previously formed when the N&C acquired the N&NW in 1872) in 1880. Although the railroad remained in local and southern hands into the 1880s, the Atlantic Coast Line actually controlled the L&N by 1900.

The IC absorbed several West Tennessee lines after the war, beginning with the New Orleans, St. Louis and Chicago in 1877 (a consolidation of the New Orleans, Jackson, and Great Northern and the Mississippi Central with its 1873 extension from Jackson, Tennessee, to Cairo, Illinois). The IC acquired the Mississippi and Tennessee by 1889, and the Chesapeake, Ohio and Southwestern (C. P. Huntington's Louisville to Memphis line) in 1893, giving control of most West Tennessee railroads to Edward H. Harriman. (Tennessean Casey Jones achieved his folksong fame on the IC during a fatal run south from Memphis on April 30, 1900.)

Tennessee's railroad technology developed rapidly during the late nineteenth century. A massive 1886 effort converted the antebellum Southern broad gauge track (five feet between rails) to the national standard gauge (four feet, eight and one half inches), eliminating many costly transfers at junction points. Track was ballasted and made more robust, and steel rail was introduced in the 1870s. Railroads began to use creosote on wooden bridges and trestles (crossties remained untreated), and metal components appeared on large bridges. Locomotives grew larger and used more efficient coal fuel. Specialized freight locomotives such as the Mogul (2-6-0) in the 1870s and the Consolidation (2-8-0) in the 1880s appeared, and by the 1890s, Ten Wheeler (4-6-0) passenger engines had begun to ply the tracks. Wooden construction still dominated rolling stock, but refinements included air brakes (1870s), steel-tired wheels (about 1880), and automatic couplers (required by the Federal Safety Appliance Act of 1893). By the 1880s passenger cars acquired gas lighting, enclosed vestibules, and steam heating. By the 1890s passenger cars had wide vestibules, air-pressured water supplies, and electric lights powered by axle generators and batteries. The Railway Post Office car appeared in 1869, and sleeping cars (invented in the North in 1864, but slowly adopted in the South) became more common. Freight cars increased in capacity, some utilizing steel underframes as early as the 1870s. Ice-bunker reefers (for refrigerated fresh produce) appeared in the 1870s.

Depots acquired formal stylistic traits, although there was a divergence between urban and rural stations. Elaborate urban depots reflected Victorian Gothic, Richardsonian Romanesque, Neo-Classical, and Beaux Arts Classical styles. Many rural depots displayed Carpenter Gothic features, while others exhibited Stick, Eastlake, and Queen Anne characteristics. Some railroads adopted standardized designs and color schemes for their buildings.

Tennessee's late nineteenth-century railroad growth reflected a larger economic revitalization, based on extractive industries controlled by northern interests. Numerous small railroads developed specifically for timber/lumber, iron mining/smelting, coal, and phosphate transportation. The mountainous topography of East Tennessee led to the creation of unusual lines which were uniquely configured to accommodate sharp curves and steep grades. These railroads adopted narrow gauge (three feet) track and geared locomotives to access valuable but remote resources.

The first two decades of the twentieth century involved moderate growth for Tennessee railroads, culminating in the all-time maximum state rail mileage of 4,078 miles in 1920. The Southern, L&N, and IC continued incremental growth; L&N notably gained a foothold in East Tennessee in 1905, with completion of its Atlanta to Cincinnati line which passed through Knoxville.

Creosote treatment (previously confined to bridges and trestles) finally was extended to crossties around 1912. More powerful locomotives evolved, including the Mikado (2-8-2) for freight and the Pacific (4-6-2) for passenger use. Passenger cars obtained steel underframes, and by 1913-14 all-steel coaches and diners appeared. Freight cars grew in size and developed steel-framed superstructures. Sophisticated signaling and control systems evolved, contributing to both efficiency and safety. Tennessee's most impressive depots, designed to serve multiple railroads, appeared during the early twentieth century; especially notable are Nashville Union Station (1900) and Memphis Union Station (1913).

The major effect of World War I was the imposition of federal control on Tennessee's railroads. A centralized system which consolidated operational activities and facilities during the war replaced rivalry between competitors. Financial difficulties beset the railroads when federal control was lifted in 1920--even the relatively prosperous L&N experienced a deficit, its first since 1875.

After 1920 Tennessee railroads began a long decline. The primary cause was the development of an extensive highway network with its growing fleet of cars, buses, and trucks. Airlines contributed to the decline in rail passenger operations. New pipeline systems and improved water transport affected rail freight operations. Excessive government regulation, along with preferential funding of newer transportation modes, also contributed to overall railroad decline. Tennessee's total railroad mileage continued to diminish--to 3,573 miles by 1940--as did the railroads' share of transportation traffic.

During the 1920s and 1930s (and despite the damaging effects of the Great Depression), the railroads attempted to fight back by developing more efficient freight equipment, additional passenger comforts (especially air conditioning), and faster speeds (as suggested by the adoption of streamline design). These measures only marginally slowed the railroads' loss of freight and passenger traffic, however.

The increased rail traffic during World War II improved railroad profitability. Operating on considerably less total track mileage than in World War I, technological improvements allowed railroads to carry larger volumes of traffic during World War II. In contrast to the excessive government intrusion of the earlier war, during the second conflict the railroads remained under private control.

Diesel locomotives first appeared on Tennessee railroads during the early 1940s. Diesels were more efficient and required less maintenance than steam engines, allowing railroads to replace elaborate steam locomotive servicing facilities with simpler diesel facilities. Most Tennessee railroads were completely dependent upon diesel power by the mid-1950s.

The postwar years brought further decline in Tennessee railroads. Railroad traffic share continued to diminish, substantially in freight transportation and to virtual extinction in passenger operations. By 1995 continued abandonment had reduced Tennessee's total rail mileage to only 2,634 miles--smaller than the state's 1890 rail network.

In the late twentieth century corporate consolidation again emerged as a major theme in the state's railroad history. The Southern Railway became part of Norfolk Southern as a result of the 1982 consolidation of the Southern with the Norfolk and Western. The L&N became one of the Family Lines created by the Seaboard Coast Line (SCL) in 1972. Most of the Family Lines were formally merged in 1983 to form the Seaboard System Railroad, which was renamed CSX Transportation in 1986. CSX inherited the traditional Middle Tennessee dominance exercised by the L&N for nearly a century and broadened its influence in East Tennessee through another merged Family Line, the Clinchfield Railway. Widely known for its remarkable engineering through challenging mountainous terrain, the Clinchfield crossed Tennessee (a major shop facility is located at Erwin) on its passage from South Carolina to Kentucky. The Illinois Central merged with the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio in 1972 to form the Illinois Central Gulf Railroad, owned by IC Industries. It serves primarily the western division of Tennessee, with strong connections to the Gulf coast and to northern cities.

The Tennessee Central Railroad, created by controversial promoter Jere Baxter in the 1890s, fought L&N's Middle Tennessee monopoly for many years, managing to survive until bankruptcy in 1968, after which its remaining assets were divided up in 1969 between the Southern and L&N.

Tennessee railroads continue to evolve technologically to cope with changing economic conditions. The once vast fleet of boxcars has been mostly replaced by "piggybacking" of trailer-on-flat-car (TOFC) and container-on-flat-car (COFC). TOFC/COFC is a key component of the intermodal freight concept which seeks to minimize en route handling between various modes of transportation. Another method for lowering costs involves unit trains: long strings of high-capacity rolling stock which convey massive quantities of bulk commodities. Unit trains carry coal, Tennessee's top bulk commodity.

The Staggers Act of 1980 reduced the federal regulation of railroads, allowing rail companies to respond more effectively to market conditions in state, national, and even international settings. Tennessee's bulk freight rail traffic reflects a relatively healthy economic situation, with the state ranking ninth in total tons carried by rail. Although passenger rail traffic has virtually disappeared in Tennessee, with Amtrak operating stations in only Newbern and Memphis, severe highway congestion around major urban centers has led to interest in the establishment of commuter rail links to surrounding suburban areas.

Edward A. Johnson, Athens, Georgia

Suggested Reading(s): Stanley J. Folmsbee et al., Tennessee: A Short History (1972); Kincaid A. Herr, Louisville and Nashville Railroad, 1850-1963 (1964); John F. Stover, The Railroads of the South, 1865-1900: A Study in Finance and Control (1955); Elmer G. Sulzer, Ghost Railroads of Tennessee (1975); George Edgar Turner, Victory Rode the Rails: The Strategic Place of the Railroads in the Civil War (1953).

[Note from your McMinn County Hosts: Etowah in itís heyday was a major stop for repair of train cars. Itís shops were known far and wide. One man trained so many shopmen that when WWI?? broke out his students were asked "just how big the welding school is in Etowah?"]

 


 

 

13.  WOMAN SUFFRAGE MOVEMENT

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State on account of sex"--Nineteenth Amendment, U.S. Constitution.

In August 1920 the Tennessee General Assembly ratified the Nineteenth Amendment and handed the ballot to millions of American women. The amendment's jubilant supporters dubbed Tennessee "the perfect 36" because, as the thirty-sixth of the forty-eight states to approve the amendment, it rounded out the three-fourths majority required to amend the Constitution. The legislature's historic vote inaugurated a new era for women and for politics and secured Tennessee's place in the annals of American women's history.

Tennessee became the final battleground in a struggle that began in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. The demand for the vote was the most controversial of the twelve resolutions adopted at the first women's rights convention in the United States and the only one that did not win unanimous approval. Suffrage seemed like such an outlandish idea at the time that it made feminists easy targets for ridicule. Still, women like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony persisted and made the vote the focal point of the crusade for women's rights.

Suffragists (as the advocates of votes for women were called) faced stiff opposition, especially in the South. Long after the Civil War, many southerners continued to remember that feminism had emerged as an offshoot of abolitionism. More importantly, the call for women's rights challenged a precept deeply rooted in religion, law, and custom: the belief that women should be subordinate to men.

But in the South as in the North, some women resented their inferior status and joined the quest for suffrage. Elizabeth Avery Meriwether of Memphis was among the first. In the early 1870s she wrote letters to newspapers and briefly published her own journal to promote women's rights and prohibition. Meriwether attempted to cast a ballot in the 1876 presidential election, then rented a theater to explain why she believed women should have the right to vote.

After Elizabeth Meriwether left Tennessee in 1883, her sister-in-law Lide Meriwether took up the cause. Lide Meriwether served as president of the state Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) for the next seventeen years and until her retirement in 1900 led the fight against liquor and for women's rights. The WCTU played a central role in the debate over the hotly contested issue of prohibition: Union members lobbied the state legislature, circulated petitions, and held prayer meetings at polling places where referenda outlawing liquor were on the ballot. As a result of the temperance crusade, many women became convinced that they had a place in politics, and under Meriwether's leadership the WCTU endorsed woman suffrage.

Meriwether founded Tennessee's first woman suffrage organization in Memphis in 1889. The second appeared in Maryville in 1893; the third, in Nashville a year later. By 1897, the year of the Centennial Celebration in Nashville, ten towns had suffrage societies. Suffragists met at the Exposition's Woman's Building in May, heard speeches by suffrage leaders from Kentucky and Alabama, and formed a state association with Meriwether as president.

The state organization held its second meeting in Memphis in 1900, and Meriwether announced her resignation. She had been the driving force for suffrage since the mid-1880s, and her retirement was a severe blow to the struggling movement. The cause received another blow when the WCTU, under new leadership, renounced its earlier endorsement of votes for women. Prohibition had gained public support, but woman suffrage remained unpopular. The temperance union sacrificed women's rights for the sake of its larger goal. After 1900 suffrage activity ceased for several years.

The movement revived in 1906, when southern suffragists met in Memphis to form a regional association. During the conference, Memphis women organized their own suffrage league, the only one in the state for the next four years. In 1910 Lizzie Crozier French, who, like Lide Meriwether, had campaigned for suffrage and temperance since the 1880s, founded a suffrage society in Knoxville. The following year, women in Nashville, Chattanooga, and Morristown established local organizations. Over the next several years, suffrage clubs appeared in towns throughout the state.

In 1913 Sara Barnwell Elliott, president of the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, invited the National American Woman Suffrage Association (NAWSA) to hold its next convention in Tennessee. NAWSA officers accepted the invitation and asked the state organization to decide which city would host the convention. A poll of local leagues produced a tie between Chattanooga and Nashville. At an acrimonious meeting the state executive committee selected Nashville, but the dispute led to a rift in the association, and the state convention in Knoxville during October 1914 split into two factions. Meeting on opposite ends of the same hall, one group elected Lizzie Crozier French president while the other chose Eleanore McCormack of Memphis. Each claimed to be the original organization, and each side blamed the other for the rupture. French's group obtained a charter as the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association, Incorporated (TESA, Inc.). McCormack's faction also called itself the Tennessee Equal Suffrage Association (TESA) but did not incorporate.

Both associations affiliated with NAWSA, but TESA, Inc. welcomed the national convention to Nashville in November 1914. The meeting brought some of the most famous women in the nation to Tennessee, including reformer Jane Addams, founder of Hull House in Chicago, and NAWSA president Anna Howard Shaw, a physician and ordained minister. In addition to business meetings, suffragists also hosted such social events as a barbecue at the Hermitage that featured a race between an automobile with a female driver and an airplane with a female pilot. The convention attracted favorable publicity and increased support for suffrage in Tennessee.

The two state suffrage organizations offered separate proposals to enfranchise women. TESA, Inc., lobbied for an amendment to the state constitution. In May 1915 the general assembly adopted a joint resolution favoring the proposal, the first step in the amendment process. The resolution would have to pass again in 1917 and then be approved by a majority of voters before it could become law. Because the procedure for amending the constitution was so cumbersome, TESA joined with other groups, including the Manufacturers' Association, in calling for a convention to draft a new constitution that would, suffragists hoped, allow women to vote. The disagreement over strategy and TESA's alliance with the Manufacturers' Association, which opposed many reforms suffragists favored, widened the rift between the two state organizations.

A third statewide suffrage organization appeared in Tennessee in 1916 when Knoxville women formed a branch of the Congressional Union (later renamed the National Woman's Party). The union represented the militant wing of the suffrage movement and never gained a large following. State chair Sue Shelton White, however, attracted national attention in 1919 when she and other radical suffragists were arrested for burning President Woodrow Wilson in effigy during a demonstration in Washington, D.C.

Opponents of suffrage--antisuffragists or antis--also organized in 1916, forming a branch of the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. Virginia Vertrees of Nashville became the group's first president. When ill health forced her to resign, Josephine Anderson Pearson of Monteagle replaced her. Smaller than the suffrage organizations, the association nevertheless became a potent force because it received support from some of the most powerful political lobbies in Tennessee, including distillers, textile manufacturers, and railroad companies. Virginia Vertrees's husband John, a Nashville attorney who represented a major distillery, directed the association from behind the scenes.

Suffragists and antis faced off in 1917 when the general assembly considered a proposal to grant women the right to vote in local elections and for president. Suffragists lobbied hard for the bill; antis worked equally diligently against it. Suffragists won a major battle but lost the war when the House passed the measure but the Senate defeated it. Suffragists then resorted to another tactic. Before the session adjourned, both TESA and TESA, Inc., renewed the call for a constitutional convention. Antis mobilized a counterattack. Convinced that a majority of men opposed votes for women, John Vertrees and others maneuvered for a referendum on woman suffrage. They hoped that a decisive defeat at the polls would put the issue to rest. The legislature refused to approve the referendum, but lawmakers scheduled an election on a constitutional convention for July. On July 28, 1917, voters overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

A few months earlier, in April 1917, the United States had entered World War I. Suffragists threw themselves into the war effort. They sold war bonds, organized Red Cross chapters, planted "Victory Gardens," and raised money to support European orphans and provide luxuries to American soldiers overseas. The war gave suffragists the opportunity to demonstrate their patriotism and to counter the argument that women should not be allowed to vote because they could not contribute to national defense.

In 1918 TESA and TESA, Inc., reunited, and the following year they once again lobbied the general assembly for the right to vote in municipal and presidential elections. This time they succeeded; both houses passed the bill in April. John Vertrees immediately filed a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality, but the Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the law. Tennessee suffragists had won their first major victory.

Two months after Tennessee granted women partial suffrage, Congress passed the Nineteenth Amendment. By the spring of 1920, thirty-five states had ratified it. If one more state approved it, women might be enfranchised in time to vote in the fall elections. When the Delaware legislature unexpectedly defeated the amendment in early June, suffragists pinned their hopes on Tennessee. They knew that they faced a difficult struggle. Although suffrage had gained popular support, strong opposition remained. Before debate on the amendment could begin, suffragists had to persuade the governor to call a special session of the legislature. Governor Albert H. Roberts had spoken against woman suffrage during his campaign two years earlier. He belonged to the antiprohibition wing of the Democratic Party, and his closest advisers opposed votes for women. He feared that women would vote against him because of his opposition to women's rights and prohibition and because of persistent rumors about his relationship with his highly paid female personal secretary. Roberts faced a tough race for reelection in 1920, and he knew that woman suffrage might bring about his downfall.

Suffragists and their allies mobilized. Sue Shelton White wrote the governor a letter on behalf of the National Woman's Party, and TESA sent a delegation of prominent women to meet with him. Both organizations enlisted pro-suffrage politicians and officeholders, including President Woodrow Wilson. Finally, the governor capitulated. On June 25, 1920, he announced that he would convene the general assembly in August. The governor's announcement set off one of the most heated political battles in Tennessee history. Suffragists and antisuffragists alike converged on Nashville; each side was determined to win the final battle.

Anne Dallas Dudley, Catherine Talty Kenny, and Abby Crawford Milton led the fight for the amendment. All three were leaders in TESA and in the newly formed League of Women Voters, and all were veterans of several legislative campaigns. They were skilled politicians, well versed in the realities of Tennessee politics. They received extensive support from the national suffrage organization. NAWSA President Carrie Chapman Catt coordinated the early stages of the campaign from New York. In mid-July she came to Nashville and remained until the fight was over. The National Woman's Party sent Sue Shelton White and South Carolinian Anita Pollitzer to lobby for the amendment.

The antis criticized the suffragists for inviting outsiders into Tennessee, but they called in their own reinforcements, including the wife of a former Louisiana governor and the presidents of the Southern Women's League for the Rejection of the Susan B. Anthony Amendment and the National Association Opposed to Woman Suffrage. They also received assistance from three prominent southern women--Laura Clay of Kentucky and Jean and Kate Gordon of Louisiana--who favored votes for women but opposed the federal amendment because of their commitment to states' rights. Antisuffragists established their headquarters in the Hermitage Hotel and launched a massive publicity campaign.

Both sides recruited male allies--including newspaper editors, businessmen, and politicians--and courted legislators. Suffragists repeatedly accused antis of using underhanded tactics. Early in the summer, TESA polled members of the general assembly and identified lawmakers who promised to vote for the amendment but who might be susceptible to bribes. By August, every single legislator listed as susceptible had defected to the antis.

The special session convened on August 9. The Senate was solidly pro-suffrage and ratified the amendment four days later. The House delayed. Speaker of the House Seth Walker, who had originally supported the amendment, changed his mind on the eve of the session's opening and used his power to postpone the vote. The House debated the amendment on August 17 and scheduled the vote for the following day. The galleries were packed when Walker called the session to order on August 18. In the tense atmosphere, both sides knew the vote was too close to call. A motion to table the ratification resolution ended in a tie which represented a victory for suffragists, although the real test lay ahead.

The roll call began. Two votes for were followed by four votes against. The seventh name on the list was Harry Burn, a Republican from McMinn County. Suffrage polls listed him as undecided. He had voted with the antis on the motion to table, and suffragists knew that political leaders in his home district opposed woman suffrage. They did not know, however, that in his pocket he carried a letter from his widowed mother urging him to vote for ratification. When his name was called, Harry Burn voted yes.

Suffragists also received unexpected support from Banks Turner, an antisuffrage Democrat who at the last minute bowed to pressure from party leaders, and from Seth Walker, who at the end of the roll call switched his vote from no to aye. Walker's reversal did not reflect a change of heart. It was, instead, the first step in a parliamentary maneuver that would enable the House to reconsider the ratification resolution. But when Walker changed his vote, he inadvertently gave the amendment a constitutional majority; the final tally showed that fifty of the ninety-nine House members had voted yes. Tennessee had ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. During the next several days antisuffrage legislators attempted to rescind Tennessee's ratification, but their efforts failed. On August 26, 1920, Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby issued a proclamation declaring the Nineteenth Amendment ratified and part of the United States Constitution.

Tennessee suffragists were elated and proud of the pivotal role their state had played. "I shall never be as thrilled by the turn of any event as I was at that moment when the roll call that settled the citizenship of American women was heard," Abby Crawford Milton wrote. "Personally, I had rather have had a share in the battle for woman suffrage than any other world event." (1) The victory was especially sweet because of the deeply entrenched hostility that suffragists faced in the South; only three other southern states--Arkansas, Kentucky, and Texas--ratified the amendment in 1920. The suffrage movement in Tennessee that had begun with Elizabeth Avery Meriwether's lone crusade ended with a triumph that guaranteed millions of women the right to vote and changed the face of American politics forever.

Anastatia Sims, Georgia Southern University

(1) Abby Crawford Milton to Carrie Chapman Catt, 5 February 1921, box 1, folder 17, Carrie Chapman Catt Papers, Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville.

Suggested Reading(s): Kathleen C. Berkley, "Elizabeth Avery Meriwether, 'An Advocate for her Sex': Feminism and Conservatism in the Post-Civil War South," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 34 (1984): 390-407; Anastatia Sims, "'Powers That Pray' and 'Powers That Prey': Tennessee and the Fight for Woman Suffrage," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 50 (1991): 203-25; A. Elizabeth Taylor, The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee (1957); Marjorie Spruill Wheeler, ed., Votes For Women! The Woman Suffrage Movement in Tennessee, the South, and the Nation (1995); Carol Lynn Yellin, "Countdown in Tennessee, 1920," American Heritage 30 (1978): 12-23, 27-35.

14. HISTORIC RESORTS

 

Early tourist resorts in Tennessee were almost invariably close to mineral springs in mountainous East Tennessee. Reflecting a widespread belief in the efficacy of the ancient practice of hydrotherapy, or the "water cure," visitors endured arduous journeys to highland spas to drink and bathe in "health restoring" springs. While some invalids visited mineral springs in East Tennessee as early as the 1790s, resort development formally began after 1830.

Tennessee's earliest spa, Montvale Springs, was located on the western slopes of the Great Smoky Mountains in Blount County. Although one legend holds that Sam Houston discovered the springs in the early 1800s, Native Americans were likely the first visitors to partake of the mysterious subterranean waters. In 1832 Daniel Foute built a rustic log hotel at Montvale Springs to cater to southern health seekers. Advertised in 1841 as a "fountain of youth and health," visitors also came for hunting, social life, and scenery. In 1853 Asa Watson, a wealthy Mississippi Delta planter, bought the property and built the famed Seven Gables Hotel, a two-hundred-foot-long, three-story frame structure with 125 rooms. Touted as the "Saratoga of the South," the hotel attracted a clientele of southern planters and urban elites who sought to escape the malarial lowlands during summer. Among the famous visitors were William G. Brownlow and Sidney Lanier.

While Montvale Springs evolved into a luxurious spa, other historic Tennessee resorts originated as exclusive cottage colonies. The most famous antebellum cottage resort was Beersheba Springs in present-day Grundy County. According to legend, Mrs. Beersheba Cain discovered the spring in 1833 while on a horseback journey with her husband. After the state authorized the construction of a first class road to the mountain in 1836, Beersheba Springs became much more accessible. Wealthy families from Tennessee and Louisiana erected cottages and made annual pilgrimages to the springs. In 1854 Colonel John Armfield, a planter and slave trader, purchased the springs, where his slaves constructed a lavish hotel and summer home. In the late 1850s the luxurious accommodations at Beersheba Springs attracted such wealthy patrons as Leonidas K. Polk and William Murfree, whose daughter, Mary Noailles Murfree, later wrote influential local color stories about mountain life that reflected her interactions with local residents at the resort.

The Civil War completely disrupted life at Tennessee's spas. During the war, some families sought refuge in their mountain retreats, but they were often harassed by pro-Union mountaineers. After Union forces swept through Beersheba Springs in July 1863, local mountain residents plundered the cottages and hotel. At Montvale Springs, Unionist sentiment in Blount County forced the Laniers, the pro-Confederate owners of the resort, to close the hotel in 1863 and flee to Georgia, never to return.

At the end of the war, Tennessee resorts faced very bleak circumstances. Most former patrons of the state's spas were either dead or financially ruined. With few patrons and a general lack of capital or credit in the South, highland resorts like Montvale Springs and Beersheba Springs fell into the hands of northern owners. Northern investors also financed the development of new resorts in late nineteenth-century Tennessee, including Allegheny Springs, Henderson Springs, and Cloudland Hotel, a large three-story hotel built in 1885 atop Roan Mountain by midwestern industrialist John T. Wilder.

Nicholson Springs, a spa on the banks of the Barren Fork River near McMinnville, represented a notable exception to the trend of northern capital investment in Tennessee resort development. In 1881 Dr. J. W. Ransom of Murfreesboro bought the property from the Crisp family and built Crisp Springs Hotel as a summer sanitarium that attracted a middle class clientele. Ransom served as owner and physician in residence until he sold the hotel to Mrs. Electa Nicholson of Nashville, who changed the name of the resort to Nicholson Springs. Nicholson and her heirs owned the hotel until it closed just before World War I.

With the rise of modern automobile tourism in the twentieth century, Tennessee's historic resorts struggled to adapt and generally fell into decline. Montvale Springs and Nicholson Springs were abandoned and destroyed by fire in the 1930s, but Beersheba Springs survives as a quaint retreat, though it never recaptured its antebellum glory. One exception is Red Boiling Springs in Macon County. Three historic hotels within a National Register-listed historic district still operate there, and many groups and companies hold conferences at Red Boiling Springs.
Forgotten by modern society, these historic nineteenth-century resorts provided the foundation for Tennessee's tourist industry, now one of the state's largest sources of income and revenue.

C. Brenden Martin, Middle Tennessee State University

Suggested Reading(s): Margaret Brown Coppinger, Beersheba Springs, 1833-1983: A History and a Celebration (1983); Marie Summers, "Nicholson Springs Resort Hotel: A Nineteenth Century Spa," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 45 (1986): 244-55; Charles B. Thorne, "The Watering Spas of Middle Tennessee," Tennessee Historical Quarterly 29 (1970-71): 321-59; Jennifer Bauer Wilson, Roan Mountain: Passage of Time (1991).

[Note from your McMinn County Hosts: McMinn and Monroe County had the White Cliff Springs Hotel and Spa located on Starrís Mountain out from Etowah. People came from far and wide to take the waters there.]

 

This information came to us from the The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. We are grateful for the Tennessee Historical Society allowing us to use these articles.

This information came to us from the The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture