Harber’s History Lesson: Fosterville once thrives with turnpike and railroad

Susan Harber, Daily News Journal, Sunday, May 31, 2015

Fosterville, also known as Jordan’s Valley, brims with 182 years of a long, deep history; yet we will glimpse into the earliest days of the community and explore the tragedy and triumph.

The community is in the southernmost section of Rutherford County and bordered by Bedford County with a short drive to Bell Buckle.

Before 1780, Indians were dominant in this region with the old trace leading from Nashville to Chattanooga.  With the first turnpike of 1812 in Rutherford County, the territory drastically changed for Native Americans.  The Nashville, Murfreesboro and Shelbyville Pike was now intact, and toll gates were every five miles for stage coach and mail.

Old Fosterville Village was named for Samuel Foster, rail agent and stagecoach station keeper.  He was born in 1783 to John Foster of Charlotte County, Virginia.  In 1820, John was the first to establish a home and trading post.  Samuel was married to Frances Foster of Virginia.

Fosterville was incorporated by 1832 and was on the Chattanooga/St. Louis Railway 20 years later.  Fosterville Road was half way from Murfreesboro and Shelbyville. The small historical village was at the foot of the high hills on the east.

The largest hill was ‘Old Soap Stone’ and named for its rock formation.  The beautiful view over the valley allowed residents to see trains curve through Christiana and move through Fosterville.

Aunt Mat’s Spring flows under the bluff on the side to the foot of the hill.   The spring is the namesake of a beloved settler, Mrs. Harb Gilmore, living nearby.  The water from the spring joins Bally’s Branch to form Dry Fork Creek that is headwaters of the west branch of Stones River.

One standout in the village was Thomas Edwards, a quiet and gentle man.  He was a Mason and helped build the first Presbyterian Church.  He was also an express agent and station master of the railroad.

The Edwards/Brothers house was built in 1831 by Thomas Ed-wards in ‗Old Fosterville‘ located just north of Dry Creek on US Hwy. 231 South.
The Edwards/Brothers house was built in 1831 by Thomas Edwards in ‘Old Fosterville‘ located just north of Dry Creek on US Hwy. 231 South. In 1850, Thomas Edwards moved the two-story home with oxen and rails so as to be closer to the new railroad. Also known as ‘Eastview Farm’.

While a merchant, he requested the government grant a post office at his store. Edwards was 1837 postmaster and operated a wagon train hauling meat and lard and returning with sugar and tin goods. In 1851, the Nashville Chattanooga and St Louis Railroad was completed and bordered Edward’s property.

The post office and store were moved from Old Fosterville to a new site near the railroad where the town stands today.  The first postmaster in office was David Anders in 1826 at a store called Melons Mill.  James Thomas was postmaster from 1903-1923.  He carried two locked pouches and traveled 160,000 miles in two decades.  He was eldest of 23 children in Fosterville all born to one mother and father.

Fosterville Depot was the largest shipping hub for sheep and cattle in Rutherford County and had two general stores, a large storehouse for wool, and section houses for railroad workmen.  The existence of this community was based on the steam locomotive.  Edwards built a new home of red cedar and owned a mill and plantation.  The home was later owned by another prominent citizen, Edd Brothers.

In 1861, the Civil War was emerging in an overwhelming manner for the Edwards family.  Thomas Edwards’ three sons enlisted in the Confederate Army.  His property was torn to pieces by the Union, which confiscated horses, tools, mules and wagons.  Gen. William Rosecrans and his wife forcibly took quarters in the Edwards house.

On October 6, 1863, Wheelers Cavalry skirmished at Garrisons’ Creek in Fosterville.

Jesse Brothers reluctantly enlisted in the Confederate Army, Company F, 18th Tennessee Infantry in LaVergne in 1862 at age 27.  He fought at Stones River with no injury and then moved onto Tullahoma.

He did not participate in the Battle of Chattanooga and willingly returned home June 1, 1863 to his wife Susan Powell.  He is buried in Powell Cemetery today.  His descendant, Elvira Brothers, was a teacher and historical caretaker of Fosterville history.

After the war, the Edwards farm had been stripped.  Thomas Edwards freed his slaves and gave them supplies to start a new life on their own.

Moses and Sylvia and Uncle Pannell refused to leave and considered Thomas a friend.  Moses and Sylvia maintained a house of their own on his property; and Uncle Pannell remained as Thomas’ gardener for the rest of his life.

After the war, Fosterville Church of Christ began meeting in 1867.  The white church near the railroad had a donation of land from Harb Gilmore in 1886.

Fosterville Church of Christ has been in existence since 1867, with the current building being built in 1889.
Fosterville Church of Christ has been in existence since 1867.

E.A. Elam, president of David Lipscomb College, preached the dedication in 1889.  This same church still stands as a strong beacon in the community today.

In 1890, a tornado blew into the village and flattened stores, post office, depot, Presbyterian Church and the mill.  A few days later Fosterville’s most visible activist, Thomas Edwards, died of an accidental fall.  Changes were evolving at the turn of the 20th century for this small but powerful community.

The first school in Fosterville was a one-room longhouse with puncheon floors called Seed Tick School, named for being in the woods.  Early teachers were Mrs. Ruck Harris, Betty Wade and Miss Molly Hale.  Teachers were paid 25 cents a month.  An exceptional resident of Fosterville was William Moore, who lived with his mother and stepfather John Watkins.  He attended local schools and was elected to the 47 th Congress as Republican (1881-1883).  He also served the House of Representatives from 1889-1891. Moore left a half million dollars to establish a college.  In 1939, William Moore School of Technology opened in Memphis and presently thrives.  Moore was a poet and identified Fosterville as the ‘village of rocks and cedars.’

The Fosterville Cemetery has 237 interments, with one grave dating to 1811.  Brothers Cemetery is intact today with the graves of Francis Brothers of Virginia (1779-1845) and his wife, Sarah.  Remarkably, Francis settled in Fosterville in 1815 as a pioneer.  The historical happenings in this community are unending and so fascinating to our heritage. Fosterville carries an enduring chapter in time for Rutherford County.

Please click here for the celebration held at Fosterville Church of Christ, July 14, 2013…

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