Michelle Willard, The Daily News Journal, March, 13, 2017
La Vergne is a town that died twice only to be resurrected in 1972 as a brand new city.
“The common thread that connects La Vergne’s past to its present is that we never give up,” said Kathy Tyson, a 14-year resident of the city. “Our community was annihilated twice – by the Civil War and by a double-tornado in November of 1900, but we survived.”
La Vergne survived to be reincorporated on Feb. 29, 1972, after a close vote.
“I can remember them all standing outside waiting for the vote,” said La Vergne Mayor Dennis Waldron, who was 12 years old at the time.
He said La Vergne had seen many changes in the 10 years leading up to the vote: Interstate 24 was completed, Interchange City and the Bridgestone plant opened, J. Percy Priest Lake had been impounded, and people were moving in from Davidson County.
After two failed votes, a campaign led by then Postmaster A.C. Puckett convinced the townspeople that incorporation was best for the future of the town.
The first settlers came to the area in the late 1700s. It took until 1860 for La Vergne to first incorporate, but the town would only survive until 1862.
In fall 1862, as Union and Confederate troops prepared to clash in Murfreesboro, La Vergne was a small town with a railroad depot that the both sides wanted to control.
Up until then at least seven skirmishes were fought in and around the town, including one in September 1862 that left the town a smoldering pile of ash.
As Union soldiers retreated through the town, they burned the mill and houses, according to a diary excerpt by Mary Neal King in “Green Trees.”
Waldron said his great-aunt had a letter from a soldier who described the town as “rock chimneys and smoke.”
The town was so devastated that many moved away.
The remaining citizens petitioned the Tennessee General Assembly to rescind its incorporation in 1881, because “there being perhaps a dozen voters in town.” The state legislature agreed and the city of La Vergne was dissolved, Chaney wrote.
The people of La Vergne persevered, rebuilding and growing until November 1900 when it was hit by two tornadoes in 20 days.
The first tornado hit Nov. 1, 1900. Accounts are sketchy, but Chaney recorded “the women’s college” was destroyed in the storm.
The second hit Nov. 20, 1900, when an F3 first touched down five miles south of Franklin and cut into Rutherford and Davidson counties and eventually hitting La Vergne, according to records from the National Weather Service.
“What was a beautiful little town is now nothing but an immense pile of kindling,” was one first-hand account recorded by Chaney. All that was left were a handful of houses and one general store.
In its five-mile path across two counties, the tornado killed nine people, including three in La Vergne, and injured another 40 victims.
Overall, six tornadoes touched down in Middle Tennessee that day.
Though Mother Nature tried, that wasn’t the end of La Vergne.
The town tried to reincorporate a few times from 1925 to 1972, but the votes failed 2-1, said Puckett, who served as the La Vergne postmaster for 35 years.
In 1972, he led the campaign and the vote passed. Puckett, Vester Waldron, who was appointed mayor, and Almond Chaney were elected to the first Board of Aldermen and Mayor from the 19 candidates.
“It seemed like just about everybody ran,” Waldron said.
After the election, Puckett conducted a census that showed La Vergne’s population had grown to more than 5,000 and two more aldermen were added. Joe Montgomery and Jack Moore were elected.
Puckett served on the board until the late 1980s with a stint from 1980-1984 as mayor.
La Vergne has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 45 years.
“People said La Vergne would never be nothing but a wide spot in the road,” Waldron said.
But the city proved its detractors wrong.
Thanks to the efforts of Puckett, the Tennessee Department of Transportation built a road from exit 64 to Murfreesboro Road. Originally named Parthenon Boulevard, it was renamed Waldron Road.
“To me, not having an entrance to the interstate was impossible,” Puckett said.
That road made it possible for Amnon Schreibman to build Lake Forest Estates, a 3,386-house subdivision, in the early 2000s. By 2015, the population had grown to an estimated 34,794.
Tyson, who used to work for the city, said she has learned much about life from studying the history of La Vergne.
“We get up, brush ourselves off, and get back to work. Our work, whether out of necessity or out of compassion, helps define who we are,” she said.
In recent years, the people of La Vergne have worked together to build playgrounds, provide food for the needing and support a public library.
“Together our friends and neighbors have made our city a wonderful place to live and work,” Tyson said. “I am so proud to be a part of La Vergne.”
Why ‘La Vergne?’
According to “Green Trees: The Story of La Vergne” by Shurlie Runnels Chaney, the land that would become La Vergne was settled in the late 1700s by Samuel and John Buchanan, lending the town it’s original name, Buchanansville.
On Aug. 23, 1852, it was renamed La Vergne after early settler Francois Lenard Gregoire de Roulhac de LaVergne, commonly called Francis Roulhac, according to Chaney’s work.
Roulhac was instrumental to bringing a post office to the town and the U.S. Post Office Department honored him by naming the city.
Local legend has the city’s name from its green fields or cedar trees. But, La Vergne doesn’t actually translate to “the green.” Green in French is “la vert.”
The name actually comes from Roulhac’s surname, Chaney wrote.
Reach Michelle Willard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-278-5164 and on Twitter @michwillard.