(Archive - Week of July 4, 2004)

A bit of history about Lawrence County, Tennessee - My place of birth:

Lawrence County , Tennessee was created on Oct. 21, 1817 by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly from mostly Indian Territory as a result of the Treaty of 1816 with the Chickasaw Indians.

Captain James Scott Lawrence

The county seat, Lawrenceburg, was chosen in 1819 because of its proximity to the center of the county and the fact that Jackson 's Military Road ran on the eastern edge of the town. In April, 1821, the road was changed to go through the center of the town. This road was a major thoroughfare from Nashville to states south, and it played a significant role in the development of the county. The county and county seat were both named in honor of Captain James Scott Lawrence (1781-1813), U.S. Navy hero of the War of 1812.

Captain Lawrence was born in Burlington, N.J. on Oct. 1, 1781. He entered the Navy as a midshipman in 1798 and saw extensive action against the Barbary pirates. During the War of 1812, he was promoted to Captain of the frigate Chesapeake . On June 1, 1813 , the Chesapeake accepted H.M.S. Shannon's challenge to a sea fight off Boston . The Chesapeake was decisively defeated in less than an hour, and Lawrence was mortally wounded. His dying words were, “Don't give up the ship.” Unfortunately, Capt. James Lawrence was never in Lawrence County .

Meriwether Lewis

Under mysterious circumstances, the death of Meriwether Lewis (American explorer who led overland expedition with William Clark to the Pacific Ocean) occurred on Sept. 4, 1809 on the dangerous Natchez Trace in Lewis County only a few miles north of Lawrence County.

An ancient trail, referred to as Natchez Trace, which ran between Nashville and Natchez , Mississippi , was established in the 1700s. The trail went about 15 miles west of Lawrenceburg before Lawrenceburg was founded. Natchez Trace is now a parkway of 444 miles that connects southern portions of the Mississippi River to salt licks in today's central Tennessee . The Natchez Trace experienced its heaviest use from 1785 to 1820 by the “Kaintuck” boatmen that floated the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to markets in Natchez and New Orleans . They sold their cargo and boats and began the trek back north on foot to Nashville and points beyond.

David Crockett

One of the first commissioners and Justices of the Peace from Lawrence County was David Crockett. He ran a water-powered grist mill, powder mill and distillery in the area of the county that is now known as David Crockett State Park . Although he was only in Lawrence County for four or five years, David Crockett had a tremendous impact on the county and is a main attraction for tourists.

In addition to the county seat of Lawrenceburg, other primary communities are presently Summertown, Henryville, Ethridge, Leoma, Loretto, St. Joe, West Point and Iron City . Most of these were once major towns and their existence came about either because of Jackson 's Military Road or due to iron ore mining. Lawrence County once had a town called Crestview, which had a train depot, a hotel, a post office, and several stores. But about 50 years ago some fool(s) made it part of Summertown, which was only a wide place in the road at the time.

Lawrenceburg Square circ. 1957

My first memory of Lawrenceburg was in the ‘30s before I was a teenager. I was not able to visit this beautiful town often from our log house home in the community of Barnesville, northwest Lawrence County , but when I did go there, I couldn't get enough of it. Even though it was during the Great Depression, Lawrenceburg was in full bloom with farmers, especially on Saturday. It was like a town meeting and a social event around the old courthouse. The farmers could be found whittling on small pieces of cedar and chewing tobacco while sitting on the benches on the north side of the courthouse under beautiful hundred-year-old shade trees as the cars/trucks slowly circled them while driving around the square. Every store on the square had maximum business, the pool rooms were crowded and a 10-cent bottle of beer could be purchased in all eating places while enjoying a big hamburger for a nickel. The barber shops had waiting customers for a shave and haircut for 25 cents. If we could come up with a dime, a cowboy/cowgirl Indian movie could be enjoyed at the Princess theater which was located on the southwest corner of the Lawrenceburg square. Those were the good-old-days in Lawrenceburg.

While most young men went to war in the early ‘40s, many changes were made while we were away. The citizens voted not to allow beer to be sold in Lawrence County . At a later time, the lunatics who had the power ordered the old courthouse to be destroyed because it was not large enough to handle the business. I suppose none of the people with authority ever thought that a new and larger courthouse could be constructed by building upward about 10 floors and using the same ground space below or they could have left the old courthouse there and made it into a museum.

In my lifetime the politicians did not keep up with the Jones'. They have not provided good leadership to make Lawrence County grow and be prosperous. It appears to me that their own personal priority was for themselves first, not the people they were to represent. I was forced to leave Lawrence County for better employment, as did my brothers before me. Lawrence County has lost many of the most talented and brightest young men and women. And it's still happening today.

It doesn't make good sense for the citizens of Lawrence County to be forced to drive to adjacent counties to purchase liquor. The adjacent counties (Giles and Maury) are spending the hard earned money of Lawrence County citizens for the sales and tax on liquor where the revenues are in the hundreds of thousands annually. It would seem to me that the county of Lawrence could find a place to spend the money they are now losing. The people of Lawrence County are going to buy and consume liquor, so why not enjoy the money of the sales and tax on this legal product? I highly recommend that the people of Lawrence County vote “wet” for the sale of alcohol, and do it now.

“What is the answer?” she asked, and when no answer came she laughed and said: “Then, what is the question?”

––– GERTRUDE STEIN, last words. Her Life of Work. (1957)


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