‘Local George Washington’ no longer ignored

Curt Anderson, The Daily News Journal, February 10, 1985

A group of local history buffs who say the contributions of “Rutherford County’s George Washington” have been largely forgotten want to name an area around the Courthouse for the surveyor who laid out Murfreesboro.

An examination into the work of hugh Robinson, who cane to the area now known as Rutherford County in 1804 from North Carolina, shows how the fledgling county was shaped by its founders.

Local historian Dick Shacklett, who owns a portrait studio on East Main Street, says Robinson’s important role in the county’s early days deserves special recognition.

“I really think he was the George Washington of Rutherford County,” Shacklett said. “He deserves to be remembered.”

Monday night, the County Commission will decide whether to name the inner loop of the Public Square – the parking area immediately surrounding the Courthouse – “Hugh Robinson Circle”.

A collection of papers and research in Shacklett’s possession paints a portrait of perhaps the first controversy that confronted Rutherford County’s shakers and movers.

Robinson came to Middle Tennessee in 1804 when Robinson was approximately 26, just a few years after the first Tennessee Constitution was adopted. John Sevier was governor and General Andrew Jackson’s Tennessee militia was enforcing the boundaries of the Louisiana Purchase.

Rutherford County had been organized a year earlier; it’s temporary seat of justice was the town of Jefferson – which now lies submerged beneath the waters of Percy Priest Lake.  (ed. note:  Old Jefferson is not underwater – the RCHS gives tours twice each year).

According to “The Story of Murfreesboro,” by C.C. Henderson, the farmer and surveyor was named in 1811 by the State legislature as one of the first seven Rutherford County Commissioners.

Their task? Find a centrally-located site near clean water for a permanent county seat and courthouse.

“Naturally there arose a bitter and determined struggle among several localities to secure the seat of justice,” Henderson writes. “It was realized what a distinctive benefit it would be to a successful community.”

County patriarchs like Thomas Rucker, William Lytle and Charles Ready wooed the seven commissioners with shooting trips, dinners and other galas in their effort to win votes for their communities.

At Readyville, for example, “Charles Ready served a sumptuous dinner,” Henderson writes. “Rev. Robert Henderson delivered an address, toasts were drunk and excitement reached the boiling point.”

Rucker followed up with a similar political feat. However, Henderson recalls, Ready and Rucker both failed to convince the commissioners would make the best county seats

It was Lytle who came up with the proposal finally accepted by Robinson and the other commissioners.

Lytle donated 60 acres of land north of “Murfree Spring Branch,” Henderson says, and “it is said that the entertainment given by Lytle and the inducements offered had the desired effect on the majority,” he writes.

The site – which had been known as Cannonsburgh but had recently been renamed Murfree’s Borough – won out over the Rucker community by a narrow 4-3 vote. Murfreesboro thus became the county seat in January, 1812.

But little existed in the community except a few log houses and other buildings. Armed with his early surveying instruments, Robinson set out to design the new town.

With the Courthouse Square as a hub, Robinson laid out five street running east to west – Main, Lytle, College, Vine and Seconds Streets. Six more avenues ran north to south – Academy, Spring, Church, Maple, Walnut and Front Streets.

Robinson then divided Murfreesboro into 70 150′ by 150′ lots and reserved one entire city block at Academy and Second Streets for use as a city cemetery.

With that work behind him, Robinson settled in Bradyville – which was then in Rutherford County – with his wife Hannah. Together they raised ten children to help work their large farm.

In 1836, according to Shacklett’s papers, Robinson was asked by the Legislature to establish a new county that would grow out of Rutherford County. So, Robinson surveyed and drew the line that now divides Rutherford and Cannon counties. placing his own town of Bradyville on the Cannon County side.

Shacklett and fellow history buff Bob Baskin says the Lytles, Ruckers and other have bridges, plaques and roads named for them yet Robinson is largely unknown.

“He was one of the most important early settlers of the County,” Baskin said.

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