The Heritage of Daniel Haston


The Caney Fork of the Cumberland
Recreation and Camps - Pages 80-82
Back Next

Recreation and Camping on the Caney Fork River

A new sound was heard on the Caney Fork in March 1881 as engineer Eden Muzzy* pulled the whistle cord on the first train to reach the Rock Island depot and the Caney Fork River.  A young McMinnville lawyer, Frank Spurlock, rode on the rear platform of the train with two of his friends.  (The line was extended to Sparta in 1884.)  This marked the beginning of a new era as people could and did ride up on the morning train, enjoy a day of fishing on the Caney Fork and return to McMinnville and other towns on the afternoon train.  Others enjoyed an all day picnic on the Island.

Following the construction of the first dam in 1915-16 and the creation of a beautiful lake, a number of summer cottages were built in the area.  W.T. Young, of A.J. Dyer in the Nashville Bridge Company and Judge Dewitt of Nashville were among the first to build near the mouth of the Collins River.  After the Dam was raised in 1923-25 many more families built along the Collins River.  Mr. Young sold his place and built a new house in an isolated bend of the river above Reno Bridge.  Like Daniel Boone he could not stand being crowded in on all sides with neighbors.

The Power Company had two large houses on the hill above the Dam.  One, known as the Chattanooga house, was used by groups from the Chattanooga office after the dam was raised. During the construction period it was occupied by the company doctor.  The second house, called the Nashville House, was maintained by Mr. J.P.W. Brown and used by his family and office groups from Nashville.  Most of the early travel was by train as the road were very bad until 1925.  Mr. Brown broke all speed records in 1924 when he drove the 75 miles from Nashville to Rock Island in 5 hours.

About half the population was on hand at the depot to meet the 8 P.M. train on Friday and Saturday to see who was coming in for the week end.  This was a part of Rock Island's social life.

P.D. (Posey) Crawford, one of the operators at the Power House lived in a Company house on the ridge between the Power House and Intake.  In the writer's opinion he was the best fisherman, among many good ones, around Rock Island.  Regardless of the season he always knew where the fish were.  The writer has heard his wife say to P.D. when he got home in the afternoon, "Posey will you get some fish for supper?"  It was never very long before he was back with a nice catch.

Spelling from "McMinnville at a Milestone."  The  writer believes it may have been "Mauzy," a prominent Warren County name.

The Webb Hotel

John Webb and his wife built a large sandstone house on the road from the depot to the mouth of Collins River and Dam.  They added a large two story wing on the north side and operated  a popular hotel and boarding house for many years.  They entertained many people from Nashville on summer weekends.

Mrs. Webb was famous for the wonderful food that she served.  The tables were all filled for dinner on Summer Sundays. Uncle Dave Macon, of Country Music fame, was a frequent Sunday dinner visitor in the 1924-27 period.

The Webbs also operated a boat dock and floating swimming pool at the East end of the bridge at the mouth of Collins River.  This was the first of the modern boat docks built on the Caney Fork or any of its tributaries.

Camps and Parks

A number of family owned and group camps were built on the upper Caney Fork, Collins River, Rocky River and Barren Fork.  The larger camps and two State Parks are listed below.

Boy Scout Camp - See Camp Boxwell.
Boxwell, Camp
This camp was established and used by the Scouts from Nashville and Middle Tennessee for many years.  It was established after the Great Falls Dam was raised and was on the White County side of the river opposite Rock Island (the island) and the mouth of Rocky River.  The property formerly belonged to Mr. Fielding Yost, one of the group which pushed the development of the Great Falls Project.  It is an interesting area as it includes the site of the Stone Fort, the Battle of Rock Island and a dripping spring where Indians once camped and made arrow heads and other stone implements.

To reach the camp site turn right off of Hgw. 70S immediately after crossing the Caney Fork River.  Camp Boxwell today, 1973, refers to the Scout Camp on Old Hickory Lake.  There has been some talk of using the area again as a wilderness camp.

There was a group camp on the White County side of the river a short distance downstream from the Mitchell Bridge site which was used for one or two years.  This may have been used by the Scouts.

Website editor's note:  This old camp was located at the Chattanooga Ford, on the south end of the wire (swinging) foot bridge at that site.  In the 1950s it was referred to by local people as the "old Boy Scout camp," but was not in use at that time.  -Wayne Haston (who, as a kid, lived just east of the Mitchell Bridge from about 1950 to 1953)
Fall Creek Falls State Park
The Federal Government began the purchase of land in 1935 and the WPA started construction of roads, trails and other improvements in 1936.  The Park is located on the Cumberland Plateau and includes part of Fall Creek and Cane Creek including the falls.  It is reached by way of Spencer or Pikeville.  In the beginning and for many years it was truly a wilderness area.  Improved roads, a  lake, hotel, cottages and other improvement were completed in 1972.

Girl Scouts from all parts of Tennessee had their summer camps in the Park during the 1940s.  It was also used by other organized groups.

Girl Scout Camp
See Fall Creek Camp above.
Hi-Lake Camp
This is a large private camp located on the White County side of the Caney Fork River.  It lies between the river and Hgw. 70S about 1/2 mile East of Walling.  It is on or close to the first Webb School Camp.  The camp has been operating each Summer since about 1935.
Rock Island State Park
Design of this park began about 1968 and construction began within a couple of years.  It includes most of the land between the Collins River and the Caney Fork beginning at the Collins River Bridge and extending West to the Narrows and on into the area that was once referred to as "Shake Rag."  Improvements were made along the left bank of both rivers west of the Narrows.  It includes a former Indian camp site.  Several stone lined Indian graves were found in the area.  A few other similar graves were uncovered in 1924 when the road was graded to serve the summer homes built on the Collins River behind the Webb Hotel.
Webb School Camp
This camp started as a "summer school" located near Walling and at or near the site of Hi-Lake Camp.  The camp was organized and run by Pros. W.R. Webb and G.W. Follin of the famous Webb School at Bell Buckle, Tennessee.  The emphasis in the early days was on Greek, Latin and Mathematics.

Over the first ten years the camp gradually changed form a summer school to a recreational camp.  At the end of the period the camp was moved (between 1918 & 192) to the well known site at Old Bailiff Ferry about 3 miles downstream from the Power House by river and about 4 miles by road from Walling Station.  Permanent wood buildings were erected at the new location.  A large, cool spring provide an ample water supply for the camp and for cold showers.

There was a small farm adjoining the camp.  Prof. Follin's son, Webb Follin, said that after a good rain the boys would search the cultivated fields for Indian relics.  They found many different items which indicated that the Indians must have camped in the area for many years.

The Chattanooga Times of Sunday, June 23, 1935 carried a very fine article by Robert Sparks Walker describing the camp area and many of nature's wonders to be found in the vicinity of the camp.  Venus Falls on Barren Creek, across the river, was one of the spots the boys liked to visit.  Trips down the Caney Fork by canoe were among the summers high lights.  A truck met the boys at Sligo and returned them to camp.

Webb Follin told the writer that their family spend each summer at the camp till he was grown.  His mother looked after he diets provided in the dining room.  He said that the Jack Fish were native to the Caney Fork and spawned each year close to the camp.  He noted that they are now referred to as Walleyes.

The camp was closed in 1939

This camp, operated by the Nashville YMCA, was located on the right side of the Collins River in Warren County a little over a mile of sandy road from the village of Campaign.  By river it was about half way between the Power House Intake and the old Flat Shoals Ford.  It was on a level area, about 100 feet above the reservoir level in a grove of pine trees.  It included a number of permanent wood buildings.

It was built some time after the first dam was constructed, was operating during the 1920's and early 30's but has been closed for a number of years.

John Officer - Fishing Guide

John Officer, who lived in McMinnville opposite the Old Cemetery, was one of Rock Island's best known fishing guides for more than 25 years.  He died in 1955.  Fred Russell in his Banner Column "Sidelines" quoted Sam Grissom, Rock Island store keeper, on John's death.  "Died right on the fishing dock, where he had spent thousands of happy house," Sam said.  "John was one of nature's noble persons." 

The Big Fisherman

The Rev. C.B. Smith, pastor of the First Methodist Church in McMinnville, wrote the following poem and read it as the close of one of his sermons shortly after John Officer's death.

The Big Fisherman turned in his tackle today,
and pushed the boathouse off the shore -
He heard the Master of all good fisherman say;
"John, you'll not be going out anymore."

Then he pillowed his head on the deck of the dock,
To sleep with the things he loved the best.
They had sustained him in life like a sheltering rock:
And in death they were his haven of rest.

They belonged to each other - Big John and the lake,
Also the tackle, the boats - and the baits,
And they were left there together for old times sake
Another whole day before he entered the Gates.

When friends finally found him and took him home,
It was like taking a child from his toys to bed,
Who slept among them as he  played all alone -
And never really knew when the long day had fled.

John loved his friends like he loved the lake -
The Lassings, the Montgomerys, the Hunts and the Hills,
And these ties of friendship can nevermore break;
They are sealed in their hearts, their minds and their wills.

And, there surely is, somewhere, an Evening Lake,
With Permanent Camps under cloudless blue skies;
Where old friends meet and new plans make
For the Day that never ends and a Love that never dies.

Fred Russell included the poem in his column in the Nashville Banner some time after John's death

Back Next