A Brief History of Dickson County, Tennessee
The Tennessee General Assembly passed a bill on October 25, 1803, creating Dickson County. Dickson County was formed from portions of Montgomery and Robertson counties. The county was named for William Dickson, a Nashville physician and statesman who served in Congress at the time. Although Dickson never lived in the county named for him, his relatives played roles in its early development. Dickson County was organized as the 25th of Tennessee’s 95 counties.
The fertile soils and abundance of natural resources drew settlers to this area of the Western Highland Rim in the early 1790s. North Carolina, Revolutionary War and Tennessee land grants assured large tracts of land at little or no cost to these pioneers. The discovery of iron ore provided the foundation for the area’s first industrial development. In 1793, James Robertson, the “Father of Middle Tennessee,” purchased land on Barton’s Creek.
It was on this tract of land that Robertson built the first iron works on Tennessee’s frontier. In 1804, Robertson sold his furnace to Montgomery Bell, who became one of the state’s wealthiest capitalists and industrialists. On August 4, 1804, an act of the Tennessee General Assembly created the Town of Charlotte to serve as “The Seat of Dickson County Government.” The county seat is named for Robertson’s wife, Charlotte. The Town of Charlotte was the center of commerce, industry and government until the advent of the Civil War. With the completion of the railroad from Nashville to the Tennessee River at the end of the War, the focus shifted to the southern end of the county.
The development of the iron industry in Dickson County did much to shape the county in its early years. However, the building of the railroad in the 1860s, the building of the “Broadway of America,” now known as Highway 70, and the construction of Interstate 40, all of which pass through the southern portion of the county, have done much to shape the county over the last 150 years. Throughout its 200 year history, Dickson County has produced many notable citizens who have significantly contributed to the development and a quality of life on regional and state levels including a three-term governor, congressmen, state legislators, a Tennessee Supreme Court justice, a noted Tennessee historian, iron masters, as well as industrial, business leaders, and local residents.
As taken from the Ragan Family’s “Skits and Bits,” the following list includes some of the most significant dates in the county’s history.
June 21, 1793 — James Robertson, the “Father of Middle Tennessee,” purchased 640 acres on Barton’s Creek from a private in the Revolutionary War. It was on this tract of land that Robertson built an iron plantation village – the first iron works on Tennessee’s frontier. The village, now known as Cumberland Furnace, is the oldest community in the county.
October 25, 1803 — The General Assembly passed an act creating Dickson County. The county was named in honor of Dr. William Dickson, a member of the United Sates Congress, elected in 1801 from Davidson County, at which time included Dickson County territory.
May 10, 1864 — The railroad was finished and the first train passed through Dickson County headed to Lucas Harbor on the Tennessee River with a load of Union troops. The military governor of Tennessee, Andrew Johnson, was a passenger on the train. The completion of the railroad through the southern part of the county brought about the development and growth of towns like White Bluff, Burns and Dickson.
July 23, 1917 — A mass meeting was held in the Alamo Theatre in Dickson to raise $760 to pay for the surveying of the Bristol to Memphis Highway through Dickson County. The money was raised in less than 15 minutes by donations from those present at the meeting. State highway surveyors began surveying the route on Aug. 14, 1917. The building of this highway put the county along the route from New York to San Francisco known as the “Broadway of America,” now Highway 70.
December 14, 1923 — Under an effort led by the Dickson County Chamber of Commerce, announcement was made that the citizens of Dickson had raised enough money to construct a building for the American Cigar Company (later known as the old Red Kap Building). Local citizens formed the Dickson Development Company to recruit industry and they signed their names on the line, as individuals, to pay for the construction of buildings on city land for industries to lease. At that time, municipalities in Tennessee did not have the power to lend their credit for the construction of buildings for industry.
November 4, 1952 — Frank G. Clement of Dickson was elected Governor of Tennessee for the first time. He served as governor from 1953-1959 and again from 1963-1967. His service performed years ago continues to benefit the citizens of Dickson County and the state of Tennessee to this day.
September 24, 1966 — Governor Frank G. Clement cut the ribbon at the Tennessee River Bridge on the opening of the new superhighway I-40, linking East and West Tennessee. The superhighway was started on September 18, 1958. Time of construction east to west was eight years and one week.
May 9, 1959 — The first Old Timers Day as we now know it was held in Dickson on a vacant lot on Church Street across from Ragan & Hamilton, General Contractors. The day was organized by several people, including Warren G. Medley, Vernon “Red” Hamilton, Henry V. Ragan. It was sponsored by Ragan & Hamilton. The oldest man attending was Joe Ferguson. He was 110 years old. The celebration has continued, uninterrupted, throughout the years and is held on the first Saturday in May.
June 2, 1965 — Hampton High School’s final graduation exercises were held at eight o’clock in the evening. This event brought an end to segregation in the county’s schools. The board of education adopted plans for desegregation on May 6, 1965.
December 9, 1968 — Announcement was made by Dickson County school officials that 80 acres of land had been purchased to build the new Dickson County Senior High School, bringing about the consolidation of Dickson, White Bluff and Charlotte high schools in 1972.
December 30, 1998 — The contract was let for work on the Dickson County portion of the southwestern leg of State Route 840. It included 8.6 miles of interstate connecting to I-40 around the 177-mile marker in Dickson County. The contract was for $47.6 million, the largest ever awarded by the Department of Transportation as of that date.
December 19, 2003 — After more than a decade of planning, the Water Authority of Dickson County (WADC) opened the state’s most technologically advanced water treatment plant. It opened on the Cumberland River in northern Dickson County. The $29 million plant had the capacity to treat more than 20 million gallons of water per day.
Written/compiled by H. Alan Ragan, Dickson County Historian
Photo Caption: Dickson County Courthouse 1916-1920, Charlotte, Tennessee