‘Remembering Rutherford’ by Greg Tucker, Rutherford County Historian
Sand Spring, once a place of natural beauty and later an urban ‘mud hole’ is now part of a protected wetland and educational resource. where water was once drawn, water is now discharged.
When the Tennessee General Assembly appointed seven town commissions in October, 1811 “to fix on a place” for the county seat in Rutherford County, the legislators specified that the location should be “as near the center of said County as a suitable situation can be procured, having due respect to good water.” A year later, when the commissioners settled on the site offered by Captain William Lytle – sixty acres of is own land – the abundance of streams and springs was duly noted and Murfreesboro was located.
With respect to ‘good water’ for this new town, Sand Spring was particularly impressive, located no more than 900 yards south of the Courthouse. Sixty years later, in 1879, John C. Spence documented the character of this source, based on firsthand recollections of early town inhabitants:
“Sand Spring (when the town was first settled) was one of the finest in the country having a large broad basin, moderately deep, clear water. In the center, through a hole in a rock, white sand came boiling up with the water in a bold manner, which gave the name ‘Sand Springs’. This was a never failing spring, the water cool and refreshing at all times. The water passing off in a bold manner through the undergrowth to the neighboring stream, the Murfree Spring branch.”
City dwellers used the spring and its surroundings for leisure as well as a water source, hauling the water in horse-drawn ‘water drays and negros in pots on their head.’
The Spence description, supplemented by deed descriptions, places the Sand Spring about 350 feet east of South Church Street, behind the current R.J. Young office (725 South Church Street). The confluence of the Sand Spring and Murfree Spring branches would have been about 100 feet east of South Church Street, behind what is now the KFC site.
The Spence description continues:
“The surrounding large overcup acorn trees, red oak, sweet gum and other trees, these all thickly standing over the ground, casting a deep share over the spring during the days, keeping the water at a cool temperature. Near by the spring, large moss covered rocks, lying piled intermixed with heavy growing timber… Just as the base, a large long projecting rock [with] two … caves angling back some sixty feet, where they join, three by four feet, running along the solid rock, same size, all the way without a break in the walls… Little boys visiting the Sand Spring were sure to make a visit to these caves.”
But by 1825, the town aldermen were considering the need to ‘have the Sand Spring put in good order’. In the 1830’s a scheme to pipe the water directly from Sand Spring to the center of town failed. By the time Spence wrote his history in 1870, earlier efforts to enlarge the spring had destroyed and removed all the rocks, timber and caves. Much of the rock was blasted and hauled away for foundations and roadway in the growing community. “Time and improvement have swept them all away, blasted, gone” concluded Spence. “Still affording a good supply of water, but not so cooling as in time past.”
Soon after the Civil War the ‘Sand Spring lot’ was acquired by Camillus B. Huggins, a land dealer and speculator who bought and sold literally hundreds of land parcels in and around the growing county seat during the last half of the nineteenth century. Huggins leased the spring and the surrounding property to the Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railroad (NC&St.L) as a water supply for use by the railroad. Overflow water spread across the lot and formed the mud hole.
The railroad lease ended with Huggin’s death. In 1910, his widow sold the Sand Spring lot to yet another land speculator and businessman, E.B. James, whose holdings included a very successful stable and carriage house on the west side of South Church filling the block between West Castle and Hilliard Streets, as many as one hundred tenant houses spread across the southern third of the town and several turnpike projects. Except for the portion of the property fronting on South Church Street, the mud hole remained idle and undeveloped for the next fifty years, as title passed down through the James family. In time, trees and undergrowth filled in the area around the mud hole and emerging marsh joined with the widening marsh below Murfree Spring, the ice house and city waterworks. Higher ground around the spring provided pasture for James’ livestock.
In 1946, the local radio station WGNS leased part of the pasture for placement of a radio broadcast tower. The tower became a permanent fixture in 2001 when Guy James, Jr. sold the tower plot to station owner Bart Walker. The tower remains today as the only privately owned property in the midst of what is now officially designated as protected wetlands. Since 1950, several City drainage projects have diverted runoff from residential areas onto the Sand Spring lot, reversing the early water consumption activity and soaking even the higher ground.
The Sand Spring lot and adjacent properties were acquired by a state agency in 2000 and transferred to the City of Murfreesboro in connection with the development of the Discovery Center at Murfree Springs. The projected wetlands environment is now under the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ jurisdiction and is jointly maintained by the Murfreesboro Parks and Recreation Department, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Discovery Center. Although vastly different from its original state, the legacy of Sand Spring is today a valued and ejoyed ecological learning center with an expanding wildlife population.