White County, Tennessee
1. Gas. While boring for oil in Hickory Valley many years
ago gas was struck, which shot up a flame of gas through a two-inch pipe
forty feet into the, air. It continued to flow for eighteen years,
double the life of the average well. Gas has since been struck and piped
into town. An oil expert from Pennsylvania said that in his opinion
there was a fine lake of oil nine hundred and fifty feet under the soil
where the above gas was struck. In 1818 while boring for salt on the
Calfkiller near Blue Spring, John P. Graves struck gas and he and some
of his men were seriously burned.
7. The County is bountifully watered. There are innumerable
springs. The short creeks are Wallace Creek, Jesse Williams, on which
once was a mill, Lost Creek on which the first mill in White County was
built, Taylor's Creek, Short Creek, Sink Creek, Town Creek, Doe Creek,
Bickford's Mill Creek. The long creeks are Caney Fork, Cherry Creek,
Cedar Creek, Plum Creek, Wild Cat Creek, Calfkiller River, Taylor's
Creek, Rocky Creek, and Clifty Creek.
The climate of White County is comparatively even. The winters are comparatively mild while the summers do not as a rule go over eighty-five degrees, extremes of heat being very rare. The mountain part of the County in summer time is about eight degrees cooler than the low lands. It is a fine climate for summer resorts.
The eastern part of the County for six or eight miles is
Cumberland Mountain Plateau. It is mostly gently rolling and is suitable
for fruits and vegetables and fine for grazing. The potatoes grown on
the plateau are equal to those grown in Michigan. Coves and small
valleys cut their way into the mountain on its Western side. These coves
are very fertile. Leaves washed down make a rich mold. These coves often
open into wider valleys, as the Valley of the Calfkiller which runs
through the County, widening as it reaches Southward. Through the center
of the County west of the Calfkiller Valley there runs a narrow mountain
range, the highest peak being the Gum Spring Mountain, named from a gum
around a boiling spring. This peak is twenty-seven feet higher than the
opposite Cumberland mountain. West of this central ridge is the barrens.
This land was formally supposed to be barren. There are many fine farms
in this section now. But in the pioneer days there was no timber in this
section of the County. This land is comparatively level and when the
white settlers first came it was covered with a tall grass and not a
tree could be seen. Some parts of it were covered with canebrakes. The
Indians burned these canebrakes and grass lands to run game for their
winters' kill. Great herds of buffalo and wild horses roamed over these
lands. When the Indians were driven out, and these fires ended, the
timber grew and this section of the County is well timbered now. The
coves and valleys in the early days were also burned over every year by
the Indians so that there was no timber there. There was timber on the
hills and on the sides of the mountains and in secluded coves and
valleys where the fires were not apt to rage.
Hat makers. In the beginning hats were made of straw, skins, and buckeye splits. Early in the history of the County regular hat makers came making hats of wool, fur, and cotton. A man named Hardin ran a portable hat establishment in the lower part of the County before 1840. W. C. Brittan ran a hat factory in Sparta, the first regular hat factory in the County, working six or eight hands. A man named Ross made hats at Cave. Joe Phifer made hats at Yankeetown. All these were before the Civil War.
There were so many distilleries that only the most important ones can be mentioned. Perhaps the first regular distillery was established up the river from Dodson's Chapel soon after the settlement of that section. Dave Snodgrass at Yankeetown and his brother James on Cherry Creek made whiskey almost a hundred years ago. There was a distillery on Town Creek long before the Wakeman & Hodge Distillery was erected. Simpson Burgess made whiskey long before the Civil War. After the War, owing to the tax on whiskey, he made brandy. Pertle had a distillery at Cassville in 1850. In 1840 there were thirty-two distilleries in White County. After the Civil War the leading distillers of the County were: John A. Blackburn, whose distillery was established in 1874; Jasper Camp, 1880; Steward Clark, 1885; Major Passons, 1877; George McBride, 1880; Pleasant and Nattie Austin, 1867; Edmond Cunningham and Pleas Farley during the Civil War period. Bunker Hill had three saloons before the Civil War. Owing to the war tax on liquor wildcatting became rampant. Liquor was sold in practically all stores in the early days of the County. The first drug stores in Sparta were really high class saloons where liquors and medicines were sold. The most noted liquor business in White County was Mountain Springs Distillery owned by Wakeman & Hodges, J. Hodges being the general manager. It was organized in 1882 and employed about fifteen men all the time. Its capacity was one hundred and fifty gallons a day. It was located at the Obe Jett Spring South of Sparta. This firm supplied the territory around Sparta and shipped great quantities to other states, at one time shipping three hundred barrels to Germany. The average sale ran about six hundred dollars a day and they paid in taxes about two hundred dollars a day. They not only made their own liquors but they bought practically all the brandy made in Warren County. They manufactured their own barrels and kept on hand about a hundred thousand staves. They bought all the surplus corn and hogs in the County. They usually kept at least five thousand bushels of corn in stock and fattened about four hundred head of hogs at a time. The net cash income clear of all expenses was about one hundred and fifty dollars a day. The distillery was stopped by the United States Government for illegal acts.
William Anderson was our first tanner. He was located in Sparta. In 1840 there were sixty-eight tanneries in White County. Some of the leading tanners of that period were Alec Goodwin, Dick Baker, Jack Whitley, C. C. Young, Newt Cameron, General Gooch Smith, Dave Snodgrass, and a Mr. Stroud. The leading tanners of the County since 1860 were Jack and George Simmons, twin brothers, John Goodwin, and James Goodwin. Some of these tanners were also makers of leather goods. Two of the most noted saddle makers of the County were Howard Farley, and Joe McBride who from 1865 to 1885 made saddles which were sold in almost every state in the Union. Local cobblers at different places in the County made shoes. Some of these were Cid Golden, and Wink Sapp on Cherry Creek, Jack and George Simmons, John Goodwin at Bakers Cross Roads. From shortly after the Civil War for a great many years John Walker and Charlie DeBow had a harness factory in Sparta and made nearly every kind of leather goods.
The first mill in White County was established some time
before 1808 on Lost Creek. It is mentioned in Morris' Universal
Geography. Scarbrough built a mill on the Caney Fork River in 1812.
William Glenn and Thomas Simpson built mills on the Calfkiller in 1815.
The following corn mills were built between 1815 and 1820: Sam Denton,
six miles from Sparta on the Calfkiller, Thomas Sperry and Jacob A. Lane
on Town Creek. William Bosson on the Caney Fork, Clark Swindle on Cedar
Creek, T. B. Rice and J. W. Taylor on Calfkiller. Simpson's mill became
the property of Oliver F. Young in 1871. There was a saw mill on one
side of the dam soon after 1800. Other early mills were Anderson's on
Town Creek, Clark's on Town Creek. This mill was situated only a few
yards west of the present one which was built by Clark in 1866. Taylor's
mill had a saw mill a few yards down stream. Some of the lower
Calfkiller mills ceased to operate when the Tennessee Power Company
began to build their dam. These early mills were all burr mills. The
water wheels, when not overshot wheels, were made by hand or beveled
wood. A few of these burr mills are still running. In the flour mills
the bolters at first were turned by hand, two negroes being employed to
turn the bolter, as was done first at Clark's Mill. Mills were early
constructed on Cherry Creek, the first one by Wilhite, then one by
William Sims lower down the creek. In 1865 Dire White built a mill on
the Caney Fork with a sash saw in connection with it. This is better
known as Mitchell's Mill. This mill employed from thirty to forty hands
and a village grew up there. The mill in lower Hickory Valley was built
by Jesse Williams very early, and another similar mill on lower Caney
Fork known as Bickford's Mill. A carding mill and grist mill owned by
James Robinson was run by steam on Post Oak Creek before the Civil War.
The first roller mill in the County was built in 1840. There were ten
flour mills, twenty-one grist mills, thirteen sash saws, and a great
number of saw mills.
Some Sources of Income Long Ago
Money was scarce in our early history, but the people needed but little money as taxes then were negligible. They made their own clothing and raised their own food. Only a few things were bought from the stores. In 1840 there were only eight stores in the County. Their sources of income were maple sugar, tar, cattle, hogs, sheep and turkeys. Maple sugar and tar were hauled to Nashville. Sol Tollison was the last tar maker. Livestock and turkeys were driven south on foot to market. Turkeys were driven sometimes in droves of five hundred. In order to prevent them from becoming tenderfooted, tar was smeared on their feet. Later horses were driven south. Buying and selling slaves was a great source of income. Two of the largest of the slave dealers were Daniel Clark and W. H. Matlock. They bought negroes in Virginia and the Carolinas, selling what they could here, and taking the rest south. Clark bought and sold about one hundred and fifty slaves a year. The old slave block on which Matlock sold his slaves still stands. Burley tobacco was also profitably grown here, one of the chief growers being a Frenchman named Lyda who built the brick house on the old Jared place. It was reintroduced into the County as a money crop a few years ago. Besides the sources of income mentioned, great numbers of small craftsmen such as shoe makers, saddle makers, harness makers, and the like earned money from their labor. In 1840 there were eight saddle makers in White County.
The first State bank was established in Nashville in 1807,
but did not open for business until 1810. This operated with the
exception of a two-year interim, until 1819 when it failed. It was
called the Bank of Nashville. Great turmoil resulted and Governor McMinn
called an extra session of the Legislature to remedy the unsettled state
of affairs. The second State bank was established which also failed. A
third was soon after established. In 1838 the fourth was established. A
branch of this fourth state bank was established at Sparta in March,
1840, and operated until during the Civil War. It seems to have been the
only bank in the mountain section of the state. Men came for fifty miles
bringing their money for deposit in saddle bags. Robbery of those thus
bringing their money was scarcely ever known. John Jett was the
president of this bank, A. L. Davis, cashier, and G. G. Dibrell, clerk.
Mr. Jett died the year after the bank was established and W. M. Young
took his place. Those serving as presidents in the order given were:
James Snodgrass, John Warren, J. G. Mitchell, and William Goodbar.
During the Civil War J. G. Mitchell and two others started to
Chattanooga with the bank's funds, forty-three thousand dollars, it was
sure to fall into the hands of the Federals if left in Sparta. They were
met on the way by bushwhackers and robbed.
White County has never had a bank failure in its history.
The number of White Countians who have been presidents of banks outside
the County is large. Some of the best known of these are Anthony
Much has been made of the, way in which the early settler wasted timber. The early settler had very little timber to waste. At a later period, when forests had grown, there was great waste for timber had very small commercial value until after the coming of the railroad in 1884. By that time there were great forests in White County. Colonel Phil Goodwin and Professor Roe Todd were the chief timber buyers for ten years after the railroads came. They paid a dollar a piece for walnut and poplar trees on the stump. In that first ten year period one million dollars worth of walnut timber alone was shipped out of White County, besides great quantities of other timber. The local uses to which timber has been put are for buildings, fences, and fire wood and for the making of furniture and farm implements and other things made of wood. Until comparatively recent years all of these things including farm wagons were made in White County. Great quantities of White County walnut were used during the World War for gun stocks, first for the Allied Army and later for our own army. Millions and millions of golf sticks have been made out of White County hickory. Hard maple and red beech have been shipped out in great quantities for automobile bodies and for furniture. Great stave companies have consumed quantities of White County white oak for barrel staves and heads. White County oak and hickory, dogwood and persimmon, have been used for shuttles, and for handles and spokes. Some facts from the United States census as to the use of the timber in White County are these: In 1840, 796 cords of wood were sold; in 1880, 38,365; 1930, 18,628 cords; in 1930, 426 cords of pulp wood, 36,784 posts, 3,950 railroad ties, and 132 poles and piles.
Brick kilns have been operated in White County since the early period. Daniel Clark made brick near Clark's Mill which were used in building the old factory, the mill, and the old brick house west of the mill which is now known as the Brock House. Brick were made in the Western part of the County in at least two places as early as 1830. Brick making has never been on a large scale due to the difficulty of finding dirt free from gravel.
Agriculture has always been the chief industry of White
County. A great majority of the people of the County have always gained
their living chiefly from the farm. There is an idea that the pioneer
ruined his land in short order. This is a mistake, except as to hillside
land, and even then he did well considering his chances. He plowed with
a bull tongue plow, which left the land rough and most of the rubbish
was left on top of the soil. Turning plows plowed this rubbish under,
and left the land smooth and hard under the soil a few inches. It is
Before the Civil war a steamboat line operated from Nashville to Sligo on the Caney Fork. This line was run by Amos Livingston Davis. There were two ships, the smaller one named The May Dew, the larger one named Everyday Dick. The farthest a steamboat ever came up the Caney Fork River was to Frank's Ferry. It was the Alleyona. A windlass was used to bring her over the shoals. This was a short time after the Civil War.
In 1897 the County appropriated $60,000 for road building, and later it appropriated another $50,000 to finish the project started. The Road Commission appointed to serve with the County Judge, who was then J. D. Goff, were J. R. Lee, Franklin Wilhite, and Perry Officer. Officer did the engineering. Crushed limestone was put on the road, the road itself being twelve feet wide. This program met with opposition but the opposition largely disappeared when it was seen how small the taxes were. The first auto in White County was owned by Oliver Anderson in 1908. After automobiles began to be common here, the interest in good roads increased and a new period of road building came which has now resulted in nearly every prominent road in the County having a hard surface.
The old hotel at Bon Air was our most noted hotel because Bon Air Springs, as has been stated, was the first summer resort in the South. Sparta had a famous hotel owned by William Glenn covering much more than the Quarles block. Mr. McGee had a hotel which was burned by Stokes men during the Civil War. There was a hotel where the Keystone Hotel was run by Mr. Barnes. There was another hotel where the Lee Hotel stands back of which was a little woodland. The Rhea House was built for the Sparta branch of the old State Bank. The Lee Hotel was built a few years ago at a cost of $100,000.00.
Mining has been an important industry ever since the
opening of the Bon Air Mines. There were small drift mines in White
County years earlier, but these supplied only local needs. The Bon Air
shaft was sunk in 1902. For twenty years the company averaged 350 tons a
day from that one shaft. In 1902 the Eastland mines were