HISTORY OF CHARLOTTTE
In 1811, Jedidiah Morse devoted four pages of his book Geography Made Easy to the twelve year-old State of Tennessee. At that time Tennessee was divided into five districts and twenty-seven counties. The population in 1800 was 105,602; however, by 1810 the census number had risen to 261,727 inhabitants. Knoxville served as the state capital with a population of 518; Nashville in the Mero District had 345 residents.
The earliest records indicating settlement in the Mero District, later Tennessee County, occurred in 1780s when early settlers acquired land grants from North Carolina Revolutionary War soldiers. In the 1790s large land speculators such as William Blount, Territorial Governor of the Lands South of the Ohio River; Thomas Blount (William’s brother); James Robertson, John Dickson, surveyor; Charles Stewart and Christopher Dickson were but a few to purchase huge tracts of frontier lands in what was to become Dickson County. Early settlers were drawn to the region by rich soil, abundant natural resources, and the discovery of brown iron ore.
As settlers began moving up onto the Western Highland Rim from the Cumberland Basin and beyond, they established farms and a small frontier settlement close to an all weatherspring on gently sloping hillside north of a small waterway known today as Town Creek. It was here a small community grew which was to become Charlotte, Tennessee. The old Chickasaw Trace passed by these abundant water sources, attracting man and beast alike long before the first white man came to the area. Research of early maps and deed records indicate Charlotte was the first frontier settlement on the Highland Rim that was not located on a major waterway.
In 1795, a territorial government was organized for this westernmost part of North Carolina. The following year Tennessee became a state. Tennessee County was abolished and the counties of Robertson and Montgomery were created. On September 1, 1803, two hundred and fifty seven residents in the southernmost parts of these counties petitioned the Tennessee General Assembly requesting a new county be formed, citing the hardships and distances they were required to travel to their respective courthouses. On November 3, 1803, the General Assembly acting upon this petition created the new County of Dickson named for William Dickson, a Nashville physician who also served in the Tennessee House of Representatives and in the United States Congress.
The first organizational meeting of the Dickson County Quarterly Court was held on March 19, 1804, at the “dwelling place” of Robert Nesbitt. Montgomery Bell, William Doak, William Russell, Sterling Brewer, Gabriel Allen, Lemuel Harvey, Jesse Craft, Richard C. Napier and William Teas were present at the first meeting of this body.
Between September 1804 and September 1806, the Quarterly Court meetings were adjourned to the log home of John Nesbitt on Big Barton’s Creek. By September 1806, the Court adjourned to meet at the house of John Spencer in the Town of Charlotte in December of that year. A new log courthouse was then under construction and scheduled to be completed in early 1807.
On August 4, 1804, an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly created the Town of Charlotte to serve as “Seat of Dickson County Government” naming Robert Dunning, Sterling Brewer, John Davidson, Montgomery Bell and George Clark as the first town commissioners. They were charged with the tasks of locating and purchasing forty acres for a town site, setting aside two acres in the center for a public square, and erecting a courthouse, prison and stocks. In early 1807 a tax was levied to “aid the building of the District Court house and prison.” It was not until December 12, 1808, however that the fifty acres of land on which Charlotte is located was finally deeded to the Town by Charles Stewart, a Nashville land speculator “…for and in consideration of the sum of five Thousand Silver Dollars to him in hand…” In January 1814, the County Commissioners authorized $2.00 to be paid to John Humphries “for drawing a plan of the Town of Charlotte.” The original town plan consisted of 59 lots and 11 streets around a public square.
The first post office opened in 1806 with the completion of a mail road from Nashville. Today Nashville sections of this early pike are referred to as Charlotte Avenue or Charlotte Pike. Charlotte rapidly developed into an enterprising trade center with the completion of the main stagecoach routes between Nashville, Clarksville and Memphis. Prior to the Civil War all roads westward led through Charlotte. The iron industry and agriculture were the main contributions in the development this thriving market town.
The political, social, religious and economic life of the county centered on this small community. The Quarterly Court and Circuit Court meetings provided the busiest times for local tradesman, innkeepers and merchants. The county commissioners dealt with numerous local issues such as granting permission to build toll roads, licenses for ordinaries, dams for streams to harness power for grist mills, saw mills and the growing number of iron works. The appointment of guardians for orphans, hearings on legal issues, setting the rates for ferries crossing major rivers and the levying of taxes also demanded the court’s attention. Contrary to local tradition there are no records in existence in the Hermitage Archives, Home of Andrew Jackson, or in the Tennessee State Library and Archives to support the claim that Andrew Jackson physically presided over the court of law and equity in Charlotte.
Agriculture was a major reason many chose to settle in the fertile hills and hollows of Dickson County. It has remained a major economic mainstay throughout the county’s 203-year history. Local agriculture was also critical to the development of the iron industry in the area. James Robertson is credited with the discovery of the rich brown iron ore veins in the present day community of Cumberland Furnace. In December 1792 he recorded his first deed for a 640-acre North Carolina land grant on the upper fork of Barton’s Creek. In 1793 he purchased two more adjoining land grants. By 1796 the first iron furnace and village was operating in Middle Tennessee. Robertson sold his Cumberland Iron Works to ironmaster Montgomery Bell in 1804. Bell expanded this iron works and established numerous others. William G. Harding made occasional trips to Charlotte to purchase iron from Bell for his blacksmith shop at Belle Meade Plantation.
In the 1820s Charlotte flourished and continued to do so during the 1830s and 1840s. During the early 1840s, John Eubank served in the Tennessee House of Representatives. The General Assembly, meeting in Murfreesboro was seeking to establish a permanent site for the state capitol. In October 1843 Eubank introduced a bill for consideration to locate the state capitol in Charlotte. Seventy-four members of the House were present when the vote was cast. Charlotte received 17 votes in favor of locating the state capitol in Dickson County but failed to win a majority.
The peace and prosperity of Charlotte in the early 19th century was significantly impacted by two events which altered the course of this community. On May 30, 1830, a tornado swept through this small town. The destruction in the community was devastating. On June 5th a special edition to the Nashville Republican and Gazette reported in an “Extract from a letter to the editor, dated Charlotte, Ten. June 1, 1830, ‘About half past ten o’clock last night, our village was visited with a Tornado, the violence and destructive effects by those who were witnesses to the awful and terrific scene. Our little town in now literally a heap of rubble…’” Many residents were injured, some seriously, but there was no loss of life when the above account was written. Most of the buildings were damaged or blown away including the courthouse, jail and post office. “The only building to escape injury was that occupied as a store by James Steel & Co,…”
Charlotte recovered from this disaster and continued to prosper until the outbreak of the
Civil War. In November 1863 two Federal regiments had moved into town utilizing the courthouse as their headquarters. The partially completed Cumberland Presbyterian Church became a field hospital. No major battles occurred here, but skirmishes and guerrilla warfare were common place. Town residences were confiscated to house Federal officers, troops camped around the Square and area farms were raided for supplies. By the end of the war, the antebellum era of prosperity had declined in this community.
The second event came with the advent of the expansion of the railroad at the end of the Civil War. The construction of the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad from Nashville to Kingston Springs was halted at the outbreak of the war. However, in 1864 while laying plans for a final drive against the Confederacy, the Union command determined that the rail line should be completed to Johnsonville so troops and supplies could be easily moved west to the Tennessee River. The post-Civil War communities of White Bluff, Burns and Dickson rapidly grew along the east to west railroad capturing businesses, new industry and economic development leaving the Town of Charlotte comparatively unchanged. County government, agriculture, timbering, tobacco, as well as beef and dairy production, have remained as the primary economic mainstays on the north end of the county over the past one hundred and forty years.
Today Charlotte retains much of its 19th century and 20th century charm. Over the last twenty-five years business and residences have been restored or maintained on three sides of the Public Square. The commercial and residential architectural styles and periods span approximately 175 years. During a normal work week “court days” still bring life and activity to the community. However, when the courthouse closes in the Afternoon, the town reflects the quiet, charming atmosphere of an earlier era. The Dickson County Courthouse in Charlotte remains the oldest courthouse “still in use” in Tennessee. In 1977 the Charlotte Courthouse Square Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places by the Tennessee Historical Commission.
Courtesy of the Heritage Book of Dickson County 1803-2006