Edited excerpts from “Griffith! a Bicentennial Publication”, Rutherford County Historical Society, 1976, “The Last Stage from Jefferson, the Development of Rutherford County” by Homer Pittard
On August 10, 1803 some 256 householders, residents of Davidson and Williamson Counties, living in the Stewart’s Creek/Stone’s River area petitioned the Tennessee General Assembly to create a new county. The Rutherford County petition, therefore being favorably received by the General Assembly meeting in Knoxville (Knoxville served as the capital of Tennessee on two occasions, the first time from 1796 until 1812 and then a second time from 1817 to 1818), led to Rutherford’s establishment on October 25, 1803
, from portions of Davidson and Williamson Counties, and organized on January 3, 1804.
The southern boundary of Rutherford County originally extended to the Alabama line but was reset at its present location in 1807 when Bedford County was created. The eastern limits extended to a point two miles west of Woodbury but were moved westward to the present boundary in 1836 when Cannon County became a political entity. To the north, the lines, with only minor changes, adhered to the stipulations as outlined in the Act of 1803. After 1836, the only boundary alterations of any consequence occurred in 1867 and 1871 when acts of the Legislature permitted Eagleville to be annexed to Rutherford County. This legalized “secession” grew out of controversies between the village citizens and officials in Franklin and Shelbyville over efforts to construct a turnpike from either of the two towns to Eagleville.
Subsequently, interest turned toward Murfreesboro and a substantial turnpike connecting the Rutherford County seat and Eagleville was constructed. The designation of the new county, probably at the behest of cousin Robert Weakley who was a senator in the Legislature at the time, honored General Griffith Rutherford, a Revolutionary War hero who had made several military forays into the Western country during the postwar era and had finally moved his home to Sumner County. Ironically, his fame and fortune appeared to decline during his later years. It is recorded that he died in his sleep at his plantation home near Gallatin on August 10, 1805. His burial place is at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church in Sumner County, but the grave is unmarked and the exact site uncertain.
The county, now organized under the auspices of the Legislature, held its first court meeting early in 1804 at the Thomas Rucker home, near the present Veterans Hospital. Sessions were subsequently conducted at homes of other court members. During the summer of that year, a committee composed of John Hill, Frederick Barfield, Mark Mitchell, Alexander McKnight, and Peter Legrand was authorized to locate a permanent seat for the county.
At this point, probably the county’s first realtors emerged in the form of Robert Weakley and Thomas Bedford. These two enterprising land speculators, anticipating the establishment of the new county, had purchased a portion of a Revolutionary War grant from Reading Blount, an old soldier who had never bothered to physically claim his land in Tennessee. A part of the property lay on an eminence between the East and West Forks of Stone’s River. This river bore the name of Uriah Stone, an explorer who came as far as the two forks in 1767, giving his name to posterity, and promptly disappearing from history.
During the interim while the county court was holding its peripatetic meetings, Weakley and Bedford surveyed the area, laid out plans for a town, and made the necessary, if not persistent, contacts with court members and the county seat’s selection committee. In 1805, the small knoll resting between the two forks of the river was officially designated as the first permanent seat of justice and given the name Jefferson after the President of the United States at the time. Weakley and Bedford, after consigning space for the town commons and a fringe of lots around the public square to the county officials, promptly began advertising the sale of town lots.
Jefferson, with a commanding position in the river forks facing the main channel, grew and prospered. A brick courthouse with its nearby stocks and whipping post stood in the middle of the public square. On the south side was the county jail, a shoddy log structure that must have served as only a minor challenge to pioneer miscreants. To the northwest, Main Street, the only municipal thoroughfare that appeared to be named at the time, swept down an incline to the wharves and warehouses near the water’s edge. Fringing each side of the street were hurriedly constructed shacks housing for the most part traders and saloon keepers. This corridor of nondescript enterprises was the first to greet the rivermen as they pulled their flatboats against the current in the main channel of the river. Further to the northwest was the Cumberland and still farther, Nashville, where most of the farm and forest products from the new county were marketed. Jefferson, therefore, was the principal highway, if not the only one at the time, to the Capital City.
Jefferson was a growing bustling river town and although the county court officials referred to escape the heat and mosquitoes during the summer months in a “meet-around” at the homes of magistrates, the courthouse became a legal mecca, though brief, for several distinguished Tennesseans including Thomas Benton, Felix Grundy, Isaac Shelby, Andrew Jackson, and others. Although the financial aspirations of Bedford and Weakley were never completely realized, initially there was a brisk business. Some of the earlier purchasers of lots included Peter Cook, Theophilus Cannon, Joseph Bennett, William Carlisle, Harrison Gilliam, John Bell, Samuel Bell, Daniel Ferguson, J. A. Lewis, George Douglas, William Howell, Thomas Stone, H.H. Harris, Norton Green, and Mark Mitchell. The latter was recorded as having operated the first ordinary at Jefferson.
But the new seat of justice came on hard times. Already two of the several springs feeding the west fork of Stone’s River had dried up. This caused the water level to drop in the main channel thereby eliminating river traffic during a few months each summer. Also, the population, once concentrated in the Jefferson area, began to move to the central portion of the county. To fuel this gradual exodus, a road had been hacked through the forests to Nashville and wagon trains followed this trail to the markets. So, the Rutherford pioneers began occupying the hunting lands left years before by the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees. Remains of old campsites could be found on many of the new farms and the Indian trace from Chattanooga to Nashville was still visible. In fact, it followed generally the new overland market road from the county to Nashville.
The decline in river traffic and the general relocation of the population generated demands for a county seat more centrally located. Consequently, in 1811, the Legislature appointed a committee to choose a new site. This committee composed of Charles Ready, Hugh Robinson, Hans Hamilton, James Armstrong, Owen Edwards, Jesse Brashear, and John Thompson, Sr., visited at least four locations that were eagerly proffered by the owners. In the spirit of the Jefferson realtors, the competition for the county seat was intense. Those seriously considered were the Rucker place, the Black Fox Camp Springs, the Captain William Lytle land, and the Ready place. At first it appeared that Thomas Rucker whose home served as the meeting place for the first court would receive the most favorable consideration. Then moving to Charles Ready’s home on the east fork of Stone’s River, the committee was delightfully belabored by a sumptuous banquet and a persuasive Charles Ready. At least sentimental consideration was given to Black Fox Camp Springs where a legendary Indian chief supposedly made his hurried exit by plunging into the “bottomless” springs there to escape a pioneer hunting party. Yet, it was left to Captain William Lytle to enhance his offer far beyond those made by his competitors. He, too, at his new home near the west fork of Stone’s, staged a mammoth reception and banquet presided over by his wife Nancy. This salutatory event, and perhaps for other reasons unknown but resting with him in his box tomb on Northwest Broad, caused the committee to accept his offer in a vote of four to three.
The runner-up in the competition was Thomas Rucker. It appears that Rucker was a gracious loser, but Ready was not. Ready left the committee in anger and resolved to build his home site, even then referred to as Readyville into a competitor of the new county seat. Furthermore, he declined, as a commissioner, to sign the deed conveying the Lytle property to the county. However, his lineal descendants relented somewhat. His son, Charles, later built an elegant townhouse near the Murfreesboro square.
The Lytle property of sixty acres lay on a slight elevation and appeared to be remarkably well adapted to meeting the criteria for a central location. Twenty-three years later, when peripheral territory had been carved from Rutherford to create other counties, the county seat was declared by the General Assembly as being situated in the exact geographical center of the State.
Captain William Lytle, who had already constructed a cotton gin, a grist mill, and a warehouse on property adjacent to and west of the sixty acres reserved for the town, specified that one lot be deeded to him on the public square and his additional acreage be surveyed along with the town property. Hugh Robinson performed this task. Lots were advertised in the Knoxville and Nashville newspapers resulting in considerable activity at Lytle’s improvised “sales office” at his plantation. Initially he was requested to suggest a name for the new county seat. When he declined, the General Assembly, on October, 27 1811 designated the town, still in the paper state, as “Cannonsburgh,” honoring Newton Cannon, an emerging young politician in Williamson County. Shortly thereafter Lytle supposedly changed his mind and suggested that it be renamed “Murfreesborough” in memory of his friend Colonel Hardy Murfree, who had recently died at his home in Williamson County. For this reason, or perhaps others enmeshed in Tennessee Whig-Democrat politics, the General Assembly reversed itself on November 29 and officially named the seat “Murfreesborough.”
Work began immediately on the courthouse, the jail, whipping post, and stocks. The county court, obviously with an early eye for economy and the public weal, exercised what must be regarded as extreme caution in construction of the house of justice. Probably a log structure, it was described by early writers as an “ordinary house.” Its poor structural quality caused the court in 1817 to authorize an extensive renovation. This may have been partially inspired by the town attaining incorporation status during this same year while the General Assembly was meeting in Knoxville.
In 1818, partially because of the political strength of several Rutherford County citizens, the General Assembly decided to conduct its business in Murfreesborough during the year 1818. However, sustained efforts by local leaders and the centrality of the town retained the Capital until 1826. In 1818, Murfreesborough’s population was estimated at 950. During the next few years, with petitioners, vendors of all types, families of legislators, and those followers who gravitate to areas for no other reason a than to be at the center of action, ballooned the population to over 3000. Business was at the boom town level. Some twenty saloons ringed the public square and the Four hotels and many private homes serving as mini-hostelries were at full capacity during the legislative sessions. The usual coterie of Tennessee “immortals” were in evidence during The heady six years. These were members of the Assembly or petitioners for some special interests. The intrepid Davy Crockett was a legislator. James Knox Polk, once a student at the local Bradley Academy and later to marry a Murfreesboro belle, was the Clerk of the Senate. During one of the legislative sessions, General Andrew Jackson rode horseback from the Hermitage to announce his candidacy for the United States Senate.
The Assembly left in 1826, never to return, but Murfreesborough’s aspiration for the permanent State Capital never subsided, at least not until 1843, when the ultimate decision was made to locate it, once and for all, in Nashville. Although the community’s political preeminence was somewhat subdued during the next several years there were several periods of resurgence. Many aspirants for governor and national officers still used the Murfreesborough platform to launch campaigns. In a belated attempt to honor Andrew Jackson, the Hero of New Orleans, and to enhance his political fortunes, a great reception and celebration were conducted for him on his visit to the town in 1828.
In 1837, the first great Asiatic cholera epidemic swept across the county and decimated many homes and also caused a massive exodus of the population to hill counties to the east of Rutherford.
During the next thirty years encompassing the post-Capital and continuing until the Civil War Rutherford County efforts were directed primarily to the development of its agricultural economy, its transportation system, and possibly to adapting to a more muted role in state affairs Near the threshold of this period in September of 1829, the county seat’s godfather, Captain William Lytle died Reports on the nature of his demise vary. However it is highly possible that death came from strangulation while the old soldier was eating a peach at Wendel’s market on the east side of the square. He was interred in the family cemetery some one hundred yards north of the Lytle plantation house. Later the burial site was surmounted by a box tomb that bore this inscription: “Sacred to the memory of Captain William Lytle, an Officer of the War of the Revolution. He was born in Pennsylvania the 17th of February A.D. 1735 and died on this farm September 1829. Unusually beloved for his honesty and firmness in all the relations of life.” It is obvious, of course, that the author of the inscription projected a more discreet version of the locale of Lytle’s death, and possibly even the cause.
The description of Murfreesborough that appeared in the Tennessee Gazette of 1834 records a sharp decline in population from the halcyon years of the Capital era but it does present an inferential picture of what could be happening in a small frontier county seat almost one hundred and fifty years ago.
“In 1830 it contained a population of 786 and in 1833 about 1000. It is well laid out and handsomely situated near the west branch of Stone’s River, surrounded by a body of rich farming land under a high state of cultivation. It has an academy and two schools, three churches, four clergymen, ten lawyers, four physicians, a printing office, two cotton factories, two cotton gins, one carding machine, one grist mill, four blacksmiths, four bricklayers, three hatters, one painter, three saddlers, five shoemakers, one silversmith, four tailors, one tinner, two taverns, and ten or twelve stores.”
For the early settlers in Rutherford County, prospects for farming were not too optimistic in contrast to later developments that were glowingly recorded in the Gazette. A writer, viewing the farmland lying between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville stated that “The county is flat and grown sparsely with cedars. Outcrops of bedrock rising in many places above the shallow topsoil make this poor farming territory.” Then he added this bucolic postscript: “A man living back in the cedars has to scratch and sweat mightily if he wants to starve decent.” This observation was not necessarily a blanket assessment of the county’s agricultural potential. Land in the Stewart’s Creek – Stone’s River area was most productive, particularly in the lush bottomland in and around the forks of Stone’s River. As early as 1789, Samuel Wilson planted a corn crop in the forks and this was followed by other tillers of the soil on adjacent tracts.
Whatever deficiencies that existed to discourage early farmers were gradually eliminated. Large areas of cedarbrakes and surface rock were cleared. The meandering segments of stone fences remaining today that still cordon off tracts of land, serve as monuments of industry and “scratching and sweating” of the determined farmers of that period.
Early crops were concentrated in cotton, corn, and tobacco. Col. Frank Nash, one of these farmers, in a letter to his father in North Carolina, reported that “I will be able to plant about 5,000 tobacco hills, and as much cotton and ground enough, if a tolerable year to make about 500 or 600 barrels of corn . . . Old Captain Black, here on Stone’s River planted the last year 80,000 hills, and from it has passed 38,000 pounds of tobacco, and besides this killed 33,000 pounds of pork, working 13 or 14 hands.”
By 1840 Rutherford County was one of the premier corn producing counties in the nation. That year over three million bushels of Indian corn were produced. In 1850 over 15,000 bales of cotton, 170,000 pounds of tobacco, and 490 pounds of rice, came from the previously substandard soil. Census reports of 1850 estimate the cash value of county farms at four and a half million dollars.
Rutherford County, resting astride the exact center of the state, first gave serious attention to establishing a system of roads in 1831. During this year the charter for the first turnpike Nashville- Murfreesboro-Shelbyville was granted. The financing and maintaining of the road were provided through the use of tollgates. Other turnpikes followed including the Cumberland and Stone’s River 1836; Murfreesboro and Manchester 1836; Woodbury Pike 1851; Manson, and then Wilkerson’s Crossroads 1858. Later constructed in this order were Murfreesboro and Salem, Eagleville and Salem, Lascassas, Bradyville, Lascassas-Jefferson, and Hall’s Hill, However, the apogee of transportation for the period was reached on July 4, 1851 when the first passenger railroad car rolled into Murfreesborough. The Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad had completed the line to this point. Fortuitous or not, the appearance of the first train on the occasion of the Nation’s seventy-fifth birthday generated one of the town’s greatest celebrations.
The high tide for citizen interest in education was probably reached in the 1850’s. Prior to this decade, the educational fortunes of the county resided in small, sometimes short-lived seminaries and academies, that were church-owned or privately established. The real landmark in education was Bradley Academy, opened in Murfreesboro in 1810 and supported primarily through tuition and lotteries. This was followed by several sporadic and uncoordinated attempts to provide educational opportunities in other sections of the county. In 1853, a reporter for a religious newspaper, visited Murfreesboro and was moved to observe that the county seat was most certainly “The Athens of Tennessee.” Institutions in full flower at the time were Union University East Main Street, Soule College Lebanon, now Maple Street, the Baptist Female Institute, later Eaton College on East Bell Street, and several academies.
Whatever growth was accomplished in agriculture, transportation, politics, education, and the other ingredients of an advancing community was curtailed for a lengthy period with the coming of the Civil War. From 1861 until 1865 and then through some six years of Reconstruction and its aftermath, the county suffered from military occupation and the attending trauma of a conquered people. During the four years of war, the community was occupied continually and alternately by Confederate and Union forces. The first dramatic military event occurred on July 13, 1862 when Col. Nathan Bedford Forrest raided the Union garrison at the county seat. Five months later December 31, 1862 -January 1,2, 1863, the Confederate Army of Tennessee and the Union Army of the Cumberland fought the sanguinary battle of Stone’s River three miles east of Murfreesborough. Casualties during the three day struggle spiraled to over 23,000, including killed, wounded, and missing. As a result of the Confederate army retiring from the field after the conflict, the county was occupied by federal troops for the remainder of the war. Several niches in the pantheon of Civil War heroes were filled by Rutherford County citizens. The one most highly memorialized was Smyrna’s Sam Davis, a Confederate scout who was hanged in 11 Pulaski on November 27, 1863 under specifications on being a spy. Also, Dewitt Smith Jobe, a resident of Mechanicsville near Rocky Fork and likewise a in Confederate scout, was captured, tortured, and killed less than a mile from his home. A few companies and regiments, all of which contained Rutherford Countians, were organized in the community. These included, among a others, the Second Tennessee, 18th Regiment raised by General Joseph B. Palmer, and Company I of the First 1st Tennessee Regiment. This company, commanded by Captain William Ledbetter, fought under the familiar in designation of “Rutherford Rifles.” Although the county provided no Union general officer, it was more than generous with the Confederacy. Confederate general officers claiming Rutherford County as their birthplace included Joseph B. Palmer, William Barksdale, Ben McCulloch, James Eustace McCulloch, and Winfield Scott Featherston.
After the disconcerting years of Reconstruction, the county began its tedious ascent to recovery. Many farm buildings and most of the livestock had been devastated, a national financial panic loomed on the horizon, and the dread cholera again made its appearance. It was not until 1900 that Rutherford County regained a semblance of the momentum enjoyed during the pre-war years. There were, however, a few luminous milestones evident during the thirty-year period. In 1874, E. C. Cox, who was to become the first bonafide superintendent, deplored the educational conditions but, nevertheless, was hopeful for the future. In 1876, Prof. A. J. Brandon, Jr., reported that “The schools are better than the previous year.” Superintendent G.H. Baskette added in 1880 “that the public school system has a strong and lasting hold upon the public mind.” And, in 1890, James D. Nelson was of the opinion that ‘We have some of the best schools of the state in our county.”
Then, in 1890, Rutherford County provided its first and only Tennessee governor, John Price Buchanan, a Democrat who, with the support of the Farmers’ Alliance, was elected by a vote of 126,348 to 30,081 over his Republican opponent. His two-year administration was plagued by major problems of a type which greatly eroded his support. In 1892, the Democrats failed to nominate him and he decided to enter the race as an independent candidate. He received only 29,918 votes with Rutherford County going overwhelmingly Democratic.
An indication that the community may have at last reached a fair level of recovery was the establishment of the Murfreesboro Street Railway in 1892. Although this picturesque business venture, with its eight cars, twenty-four mules, terminal barns, and some three miles of trackage was of brief duration, it was prophetic of the revival of enterprise and an indication that some of the citizens had once again accumulated enough capital to invest and risk, if necessary, the hazard of failing. Joining Pleasant P. Mason, the promoter of the idea for the transportation system, in the trail to closure and liquidation were Mayor T. B. Fowler and attorney B. L. Ridley.
Heraldry for the new century, probably an appropriate harbinger of things to come, was in the form of an automobile, the first or supposedly the first in the county. Owned either by George Darrow or James Reed, this one-seated, lever-guided phenomenon first made its appearance in the summer of 1900 on the public square. On March 28, 1902 the county was practically inundated by one of the most devastating floods in its history. Although it was not torrential, it was general, prevailing all over the watershed southeast of Murfreesboro as well as all other sections of the county and adjacent counties. Buildings and fences were whirled off, livestock was drowned, and many other casualties reported. All bridges were swept away and telegraph and telephone lines were destroyed. The damage of the flood was estimated at several hundred thousand dollars and several months were required to restore buildings and replace fences.
Beginning with the establishment of the county in 1803, the village saloon was a feature in the business and social activities of the community, as much so as the blacksmith shop, the hostelry, or the tailor shop. For the next one hundred years, the tavern or ordinary or saloon, depending upon the euphemistic application the owner decided to use, flourished. The number of establishments fluctuated with the demands or “needs”. Little Jefferson supported at least six during its county seat and riverboat days. During the Capital days in Murfreesboro, there were twenty, possibly more. In 1827, one year after the flight of the Capital, the Temperance Society, the first of its kind in the United States, was formed at the First Presbyterian Church on East Vine Street. So far as is known, the establishment of this organization was no precursor of a change in the habits of the local citizens or a shift in mores of the community. As late as 1898 the local purveyors of legal spirits were still publicly promoting the sales of their wares. In the Rutherford County Fair Association Catalog of that year, along with “Smith and Cason – Dry Goods and Shoes” and “Adam Bock – Fine Carriages and vehicles of all kind,” Dick’s Saloon and Restaurant North Side West Main Street, advertised “Choice Wines, Liquors, and Cigars” and added: “Meals at All Hours, Day or Night – Game, Fish and Oysters in season, and served in most approved style.” Proprietor Dick Hill was in good company for a business of its kind during that period and earlier in combining the sale of food and spirits. In fact, this was an early version of the supper club and liquor by the drink. Rutherford County, in 1903, terminated, after one hundred years, its free flow of statutory spirits by exercising the provisions of a local option act passed by the Legislature in 1899. However, the sale of beer remained legal until 1945 when the Murfreesboro City Council banned its sale within the city’s corporate limits. During the same year a petition generated a referendum and beer vending, under highly restrictive regulations, was reinstituted. Following this, stores for the sale of liquor were permitted in 1972 after a third referendum was successful. The spirit of Guggenheim, A. Carmachel, and other dispensers of highly socialized products of the past had returned, at least partially.
In 1909, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted into law the so-called General Education Bill. Its most significant and far-reaching provisions specified that a system of teacher training institutions be established in the state. One of these, Middle Tennessee State Normal School, the representative of the central Grand Division, was located in Murfreesboro in 1910 and opened in 1911. Already a collegiate institution, Tennessee College for Women, had been established in Murfreesboro. Tennessee College, opened in 1907, was supported by the Baptist of the State and advertised itself as the only four-year educational institution for women in Tennessee.
In contemplating the existence of these two colleges in the midst, the community was soon referring to itself as a “college town.” The emergence of this academic atmosphere also brought a general antipathy toward industry and petitions to locate manufacturing plants in the area. One memorable statement by a local citizen possibly summarizes the attitude of community leadership: “Plant workers and collegians just don’t mix.” At that time, there was apparently no real basis for concern since the only factory of any dimension was the Tennessee Red Cedar Woodenware Company and it was located at a discreet distance from the two campuses. Echoing the theme of the “college town” attitude were the substantial landowners in the county. The influx of industry would bring the landowners into sharp competition for farm labor with the factories. With the persistence of “academic purity” as a way of life, Murfreesboro and Rutherford County were largely dependent, on its agricultural economy for the next forty years. This resulted, as it is true in most communities that are primarily oriented to agriculture, in “peaks” and “valleys” in the economy, with months of plenty and others where laborers in the market place were faced with unemployment and a significant absence of consumer activity. One deviation from this austere community concept came in 1927 with the establishment of a Carnation Milk processing plant in Murfreesboro. This generated a turn to dairy farming and, to a degree, aided in invigorating the agricultural economy and providing some employment for local citizens.
At 2:00 a.m., in the morning of March 21, 1913, parts of the community were again devastated by a natural phenomena on the rampage. This time it was a cyclone blowing in from the southwest of the county. Its path from the southwest to the northeast was marked by wrecked buildings, forests totally destroyed, deaths, and general destruction. Reaching Murfreesboro, it passed through the very heart of the business district, twisting down and wrenching from their foundations many of the most substantial buildings. The courthouse roof was one of the victims. Strangely, only one person was injured in Murfreesboro. Hall Jones, a horse trainer, suffered a broken leg when a livery stable on Walnut Street was demolished.
When President Woodrow Wilson issued the proclamation of war on the evening of April 2, 1917, Rutherford established its first Selective Service Board composed of Dr. B.N. White, Chairman; J.T. Wrather, Secretary, and E.E. Loughry. By enlistment and induction the county sent some 1177 men – 83 sailors, 22 marines, and 1,072 army men to the World War I battlefields. Records show that forty-four were killed or died while in service and thirty-nine were wounded in action. At least one Rutherford Countian was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, Lt. James A. Ridley, for gallantry at the Battle of Verdun.
The war over, Rutherford County entered the Twenties – with no significant overriding problems other than that of adjusting to the prosperous postwar years. The passage of the 18th Amendment on the heels of the war almost went unnoticed in the county. Locally, the problem of liquor, at s a least the legalized variety, had been settled by the adoption of local option some years before. From 1920 until 1930, Rutherford County, similar to other American communities, was caught up in the frenzy of the “Roarin’ Twenties.” This included the standard trappings of the era, not the least of which were the “flapper,” bathtub gin, home brew, and a happy residue of patriotic fervor, the heritage of the late war. Probably the most exciting, yet jar tragic event during the Mid-Twenties was the visit of the “Human Fly,’ a daredevil steeplejack, purportedly from the New York City and fresh from a successful scaling of the in Woolworth Building. His Murfreesboro objective was a nocturnal ascent of the courthouse from the ground, using the two of the columns for leverage, and then climaxing the demonstration atop the cupola. He was successful and could be seen waving to the crowd below in the glare of the fire engine beacon. But, after a few steps in his descent, he slipped and fell to his death on the roof of the building.
During the early months of 1930, the county began to feel the pinch of the economic depression which had already enveloped the nation. Although, the economy lay practically dormant during the next five years, there was no widespread suffering of the degree that faced the larger communities. Absent locally were the breadlines and soup lines, a standard operation in some other areas. One highly visible reminder that there was some abnormality in the times was the Civilian Conservation Corps camp at the western city limits of Murfreesboro.
Hardly beyond the depression years, the county braced itself for World War II. The first local registration for the military was on October 16, 1940. Joe Frank Herrod was recorded as the first registrant to enter training. The Headquarters Battery of the 115th Field Artillery, which had been organized in Murfreesboro, left for Camp Jackson on September 16, 1940. In 1942, Smyrna Air Force Base, a troop carrier facility, was established. Its designation was changed in 1942 to Sewart Air Force in honor of Captain Harold Sewart, who lost his life in the European Theatre. It retained this name until its closure in 1970.
As was true in other wars, Rutherford County was most generous in its military contribution providing over 4,000 soldiers during the conflict. Of this number, ninety-six lost their lives.
Beyond the war years, the county took its first substantial step toward changing the direction of its economy. Local businessmen in 1950 formed an Industrial Committee for the express purpose of seeking industry. The quest must be regarded as most successful. Swartzbaugh, manufacturers of hospital food service equipment, in coming to Murfreesboro in 1951, opened the floodgates to high caliber industrial firms that eventually found homes and friendly operational bases in the community. By 1976, the county’s population had skyrocketed to over 60,000 and the county seat had reached 28,000, possibly more, based on which community group was polled at a given time. By this time, the country’s two industrial mainstays, the bucket factory 1953 and the Carnation Milk Plant 1974 had closed, but the county, after over one hundred and seventy years, had brought stability to its economy.
The decade, beginning in 1950, was significant for the community’s gigantic effort to remove its slums. In 1951, Murfreesboro, in collaboration with the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Department, began the removal of hundreds of substandard, slum-level dwellings in the lower part of the city. Designated appropriately as “the bottoms,” this collection of hovels and filth was the last reminder of company houses serving a bygone tannery and a pencil – slat mill. Replacing the slum area was the Broad Street Development Project. Further refurbishment came in 1970 with the launching of a similar project in Westvue lying in the southern part of the city.
Rutherford County was established twenty-seven years after the Declaration of Independence. This fact does not diminish the appropriateness of the community’s urge to celebrate. A perusal of its one hundred and seventy-three years seems to bring full justification.