Old Jefferson was a Stones River port

Dan Whittle, The Murfreesboro Post, July 10, 2011

Jefferson Springs flourished 100 years later

Cabins lined Stones River at Jefferson Springs, a health resort in the early 1900s.Multiple trading posts had served as economic hubs of commerce on the river 100 years earlier at what is now called Old Jefferson.

Contrary to some published reports, Old Jefferson and Jefferson Springs were two different communities. By way of the winding river, one mile separated Old Jefferson (of 1804) and Jefferson Springs, the health spa community that came about in the early 1900s.Old Jefferson, the river port town”

If you traveled via water, Old Jefferson, also called ‘Lost City,’ was about one-mile distance from what later became the resort Jefferson Springs,” confirmed historian Toby Francis, retired educator who resides in Smyrna. “Old Jefferson was Rutherford County’s oldest established settlement, a river port of the earliest 1800s.”

“Old Jefferson, as described by (Murfreesboro) author/historian Mable Pittard, was a ‘center of water-borne commerce and trades,’ complete with ‘flatboats, barges, keelboats, rafts’ being ‘common sights on the river to Nashville,'” Francis shared. “Mrs. Pittard noted that the 1840-era opened up ‘rafting of cedar logs down the river…used for posts, buckets, churns as well as decorative features for homes far from Jefferson…an industry that lasted well into the 1880s.”

Jefferson became the seat of Rutherford County government in 1804, approximately one year after the “Read Inn” became a hub of activity for trappers, tradesmen and hunters in the river settlement. The late Ed Bell, a Murfreesboro newspaper man, wrote thusly about Old Jefferson in the 1960s: “For going on 200 years, Old Jefferson has been there in the forks, where the river’s east and west prongs unite and flow north into the Cumberland. Stones River was the stream that caused Old Jefferson to flourish. “And the river helped end Old Jefferson as a thriving river port settlement.

“It was the river that gave life to Old Jefferson,” Francis explained. “Conversely, it was the river’s unpredictable flooding that often imprisoned the residents of Old Jefferson,” Francis added. “Plus, modern roads and transportation by-passed the river port era of Old Jefferson.”

“There is speculation to this day,” Francis added “that flooding was the primary reason the county seat was moved from Old Jefferson to Murfreesboro that sits up on higher elevation.”County seat city Woodbury’s development was also triggered by the river, and troubled by the stream.Cannon County author/ historian (the late) Robert L. Mason, in his book – “History of Cannon County” – states the county jail in Woodbury, for example, “was washed away in the flood of 1850.””The river and timber helped establish Woodbury, and the river triggered the settlement of Readyville before Woodbury,” confirms Woodbury Mayor Harold Patrick. “But yes, floods have caused major problems down through the centuries for communities located near the river.”Jefferson SpringsAfter 1900, plentiful hotel rooms, two bowling alleys, multiple cabins and stores anchored the health resort community of Jefferson Springs that attracted thousands throughout the first half of the 1900s.Two modern-day area residents recall Jefferson Springs of the 1900s.Lifelong Smyrna resident Johnny Barnett, age 82, recalls “a dance hall” being “on the right” as “we drove over the high old bridge that spanned the Fork of Stones River” during the 1930s as part of the Jefferson Springs resort.84-year-old Marlou (Margaret Louise) Coleman Patterson not only remembers the dance hall, but “danced” to the music there. Her family had a cabin at the summer health resort that attracted people from as far as Chattanooga, Tullahoma, McMinnville, Woodbury, Smithville, Watertown and Norene.”Most came out of Nashville,” she confirmed.”My older brother, Earl, often took me to Jefferson Springs, because that was the place to be, especially during the summer. I learned to dance at Jefferson Springs,” Mrs. Patterson recalled. “During the summer months, it was the recreational place to be.”And there was a nice swimming area and place on a large rock for diving,” she added.In 1967, Smyrna Gil’s Super Market employee Marvin Barrett made a remarkable discovery in an old house being razed at Jefferson Springs.Found in a fruit jar was a letter written in 1935 by J.J. Anderson, owner of the entire Jefferson Spring property in that era.Other fruit jar items included a rabbit’s foot, a Bible and some history.”Jefferson Springs was purchased by J.J. Anderson in 1912 for the purpose of making a summer retreat and health resort,” the fruit jar’s contents revealed.The fruit jar and contents had been placed as a “cornerstone” in a new cabin during the 1930-period.”First, we wish to say that Mrs. T.J. Ward is quite an asset to Jefferson Springs with her high-type of character and never ceasing energy, and far above the average intellect,” Anderson recorded.”Jefferson Springs was purchased by J.J. Anderson in 1912 for the purpose of making a summer and health resort, because of the wonderful stomach water and for building up (body) systems.”Like original Old Jefferson, it the “water” that spawned Jefferson Springs.”At this time, there are 43 cottages, one hotel, one large dance hall, and a large amusement hall which contains a general store, sandwich shop, pool room and bowling alleys, also another store owned by W.G. Denny with a bowling alley attached,” the fruit jar contents’ revealed.The Dennys, Earl Coleman and twins Sam and Knox Ridley (destined as future mayors of Smyrna) were among those who owned cabins that were described thusly: “The cottages are of a better class than most summer resorts have and the one to be built of this cornerstone is equal to the best of any camps here at this time.”In 2000, former Smyrna mayor/Rutherford County Judge Knox Ridley described Jefferson Springs in an edition of the old Rutherford Courier newspaper.”Our best friends, the Coleman family, were also there and it was quite popular as a summer retreat spot, where people visited and stayed in and around the cool waters before air conditioning,” Ridley reported. “People, particularly rich folks from Nashville, came to Jefferson Springs in horse and buggies, trucks and automobiles.Ridley referenced the spring water’s alleged “curative powers.””Was the water a cure-all?” Ridley asked himself. “Naw, but if something makes you think you feel better, you feel better? But, the alleged healing waters helped bring the people to Jefferson Springs….”Knox shared a “personal story” of one particularly memorable journey from hometown Smyrna out to Jefferson Springs.”We had Daddy’s Model T Ford, but due to me and my twin Sam being so short, I had to lay on the floor to work the pedals as Sam drove the car,” Knox recalled.”One trip, as we were cruising out along Jefferson Pike on the edge of Smyrna, we came up behind a slow moving flat-bed truck loaded with watermelons,” Knox noted. “Sam told me to get up out of the floor of the car, and go out over the car’s hood as he edged up closer to the truck.””Well, I generally did what Sam suggested, so I crawled out over the car hood, got up in the truck and ‘borrowed’ a watermelon, which we thoroughly enjoyed later that hot summer day we spent out at Jefferson Springs,” Knox concluded.Both settlements, Old Jefferson and Jefferson Springs, have faded in Stones River’s mist of passing time…Writer’s Note: There will be a future column about Readyville, and why and how that small river settlement had electricity before Murfreesboro.

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