Remembering Rutherford: Harsh country with rugged folk!?

Greg Tucker, The Daily News Journal, November 8, 2009

“A man living back in the cedars (in Rutherford County) … has got to scratch and sweat mightily if he wants to starve decent,” according to “Tennessee: A Guide to the State”, a 1939 publication of the Federal Writers’ Project.

As a part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) efforts to make work for unemployed artists, writers and photographers, the Federal Writer’s Project ambitiously launched a dozen major literary projects in Tennessee. When funding was discontinued in 1941, however, only two publications had been completed, the Guide and a collection of folk tales (see Remembering Rutherford, by Greg Tucker (The History Press, 2010)).

The preface to the original WPA Guide explains that the writers “aimed not only to supply visitors from outside the State with information that may increase their interest, but also to give Tennesseans a ready source through which their understanding of their native territory may be deepened and enriched.”

Regarding Rutherford County, the writers were obviously convinced that the “native territory” was harsh and the native folk a rugged breed. Those living in the southern half of the county were said to “live in weathered shacks beside skimpy truck patches.”

Acknowledging the rolling and generally fertile terrain in the northwest corner of the county and the “rather prosperous farming country immediately south of Murfreesboro,” the rest of the county was described as “a country of mournful cedar thickets alternating with wasteland, rocky and gouged by gullies … Outcrops of bedrock rising in many places above the shallow topsoil make this poor farming country.”

The Project writers were obviously impressed by what they characterized as “the largest cedar forest in the State” extending “back from the highway on both sides.” The Project’s tour route through the county followed the old Federal Highway 41-now the Old Nashville Highway to Murfreesboro, and the Manchester Highway “following a former Indian trail” (the “Wartrace”) to Beech Grove.

The Barrens on the southern border was also a point of interest. “Known since the early days of the explorers as the Barrens because of the scarcity of timber and other growth … Fires have often swept the area during the
last forty years … after which the grass, briars, and bushes grow profusely, furnishing excellent pasturage for cattle, goats and hogs. For this reason (the local farmers) have long been accused of setting these

As for sites and poin

As for sites and points of interest along the way, the Guide first notes “a
dangerous curve at the NC&St.L Railway underpass.” Next is a paved road left to Smyrna, “a village in a rich farming section” and home to Sam Davis, boy hero of “the so-called Confederate States.” Also noted is Jefferson Springs, “a summer resort with a modern hotel” and rental cottages “on the shady banks of Stone’s River.”

The Project writers offered their own take on the fate of the original county
seat, “Old Jefferson” (pop. 87). “In the days of river transportation the future of Jefferson seemed bright, for it was in a fertile region on a navigable stream … a steamboat carried passengers between Jefferson and Nashville. When water transportation was outmoded by railroads and good pikes, the navigability of Stone’s River did not matter, and the importance of Jefferson dwindled.”

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