Happy 205th birthday Rutherford County!

Michelle Willard, The Murfreesboro Post, October 19, 2008

Rutherford County celebrates its 205th birthday Saturday and the Heritage Partnership of Rutherford County will throw a birthday party from 4:30-7PM Friday night on the Public Square.

“Our history is our past and our future. …” said Denise Carlton, president of the Heritage Partnership.  “We want people to see what is unique in Rutherford County and that there is a value in looking back and seeing what we need to highlight for our youth.”

The Heritage Partnership will highlight county history with the Rutherford County Month Celebration Ceremony Friday night.  The evening will focus on things and people uniquely Rutherford.  The evening will highlight one particular period of Rutherford County and Murfreesboro history during the birthday celebration – the days when Murfreesboro was state capital.

From 1818-1826, Murfreesboro served as state capital before the General Assembly moved to Nashville, but it wasn’t until 1843 that Nashville officially became the capital of Tennessee.  Legislative sessions were held in an early courthouse building until a fire destroyed it, moving the General Assembly to the Presbyterian Church on Vine Street.

Murfreesboro could have become the permanent state capital in the 1840s, but local officials refused to pay $100 to transport the state’s official records from Nashville to Murfreesboro.

Rutherford County was formed Oct. 25, 1803 from sections of Davidson, Wilson, Williamson and Sumner counties, and was named in honor of Griffith Rutherford, a Scottish immigrant who was one of six brigadier generals under Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War.

In honor of the 205th anniversary of the county’s founding and Murfreesboro’s brief term as the state capital, the Rutherford County Month Celebration Ceremony will tie the historic atmosphere to the organization’s theme: “Individuals in History.”

“We have … things that are so unique, people just say ‘really.’ And that’s what we’re trying to do is produce those ‘really’ moments.  It’s what we’re trying to do with the mystery guests,” Carlton said.

Actors and “mystery guests” significant to Rutherford County history will roam the Square portraying members of the legislature during this period during the celebration, as well as other people important to county history.

Carlton said there will also be a surprise guest from Stones River National Battlefield at the celebration.  “Jim Lewis is sending one of the most over looked characters from the battlefield along with Union and Confederate soldiers,” she said.

Along with meeting historic characters, visitors can also walk the Square and visit the many unique businesses and restaurants in the historic buildings of the area.

“We’re not just focused on the history … we want to promote whatever is unique about the communities here,” Carlton said.

The Heritage Center, located on West Lytle Street, will be opened during the celebration for exhibit tours and maps for a self-guided walking tour or arrange for a guided tour with courthouse history.  There will also be a presentation on the Rutherford County Courthouse, which was originally built in 1858 and is one of six antebellum courthouses remaining in Tennessee.

One of Carlton’s favorite pieces of Rutherford County history is Jefferson, which Murfreesboro replaced as county seat in 1811.  Jefferson was dismantled by the Army Corp of Engineers and now lies under the waters of J. Percy Priest Lake.  “It didn’t go away until the 1970s,” Carlton said.  “From 1803 to the 1970s, Jefferson was a vibrant community.”  Jefferson’s distance from the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis (now CSX) railroad also contributed to its demise, Carlton said, adding the railroad is the main reason why Smyrna, La Vergne and Murfreesboro grew so much in the years before and after the Civil War.

Carlton said much of Rutherford County history is tied to the railroad.  Murfreesboro’s proximity to the tracks made it a valuable holding during the Civil War.  “And it’s why Nissan came here,” she added.

Carlton said it’s important to the county’s identity to know where it came from, so decisions can be made about where it’s going, which is why the Heritage Partnership of Rutherford County has a mission to educate, advocate and ensure the preservation of our local culture and history.  The Heritage Partnership started the annual celebration in October 2007 with the rededication of the Griffith Rutherford monument, a Revolutionary War general for which the county was named.

More information about Rutherford County Month and The Heritage Partnership of Rutherford County can be found at www.heritagepartnership.org. Michelle Willard can be contacted at 615-869-0816 or [email protected].

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