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From: "Steven Denney" <>
Subject: [TNSMITH] First Roads Of Smith County
Date: Fri, 6 Dec 2002 22:01:37 -0600
References: <>


I knew I was going to get dragged into this discussion!

I don't mean to be argumentative but throw your book away. The information
it has given you on the 1788 road built into Smith County is atrocious!
Most of my notes are packed up pending a move but let me run into a little
info on the early roads in Smith County.

The earliest settlers and explorers in Smith County generally came into the
Upper Cumberland by way of the Cumberland Gap into Kentucky and then from
the North coming down the Red River Valley out of Kentucky into the
Nashville Basin and Sumner County and then filtering back East about as far
as Castallian Springs. For many years it was simply too dangerous for
anyone to live further east of this. The other alternative was to raft down
the Tennessee River to the Ohio, and then pole up the Ohio and the
Cumberland to the Nashville area. With the exception of a few hardy
trappers and explorers, virtually no one entered the Upper Cumberland from
the east, either on land or down the Cumberland River until much later in
our state's history. Even official British and French exploring parties
came down the Ohio and then up the Cumberland to get to the area.

Based on many requests from the Cumberland settlers, North Carolina decided
in the 1780s to cut a road through the wilderness to connect the settlements
in the East and the ones in the Cumberland Valley. The road would run from
Fort Southwest Point (Kingston) to Nashville. It was was built between 1787
and 1788 and was a very primitive track that was not suitable for proper
wagon travel. For many years afterwards this road was still the second
choice to the trip through Kentucky. It was too rugged, too dangerous (one
could only safely travel in the company of the militia that sent regular
escorts for settlers through the route) and offered no inn's between
Kingston and Castallian Springs. The North Carolina Military Trace
(alternately known as Fort Blount Road and Avery Trace) that was completed
in 1788 passed through Smith County on the North side of the Cumberland

or North Carolina Military Trace ran through present day Cookeville
Tennessee, skirting the northern edge of the Tennessee Tech University
campus and along what is called 12th street out the Gainesboro Grade, but
followed Blackburn's Fork for a while and down to Flynn's Lick to Fort
Blount where it crossed the Cumberland well south of Gainesboro. The
markers for the Avery Trace are placed on major roadways across the length
of the Upper Cumberland and very rarely reflect the actual route (I wouldn't
have a problem with markers saying the roads had passed near here or a few
miles to the ----- but instead the markers inform the driver that they are
tavelling along the Avery Trace).

As far as the Smith County section of the Avery Trace, In 1930 Ms. Laura
Gaston Young provided an award winning essay to the Middle Tennessee DAR
which outlined the route of the old Fort Blount Road or Military Trace. I
will quote her on the route of the road through Smith County. She stated
that the Road crossed the Cumberland at Fort Blount (now in Jackson County
at a clearly established location where you can still see the ruts of the
old wagon path as it approaches the river. "The road crossed Salt lick
creek a short distance below the old Woodfork place; crossed Defeated Creek
at the site of the Cross Roads Church, at William's Cross Roads; dowen the
Sloan Branch where, in 1799 the "Widow Young" [widow of William Young and
soon to be married to Michael Murphy] [lived]....thence across Peyton's
Creek below old Herod's Cross Roads, at Pleasant Shade; up the Porter Branch
of Peyton's, across Tow Town Branch and to the top of Mace's Hill; down the
Mace's Hill Road, leaving the road near the house on the place sold by Sam
M. Young about 1920 to Jim Phillips...and passing through his lower field
...across Dixon's Creek about three hundred yards below the church [Dixon
Creek Baptist] and about one-half mile to the north of the northern boundary
of Tilman Dixon's tract [his house, built between 1787 and 1795 still
stands]; across Lick Creek just sough of the old Gillespie tract.......[and
on into Trousdale County]. If one drives past Dixona on Highwy 25
travelling West from Carthage to Hartsville you can see a road entering on
the right side bearing the name Fort Blount Road, from the name of the
military trace road. (I am indebted to the Smith County History Book from
86 for this excerpt of the Young Essay)

Around about the same time as all this was going on, an enterprising young
Revolutionary army officer named William Walton saw an opportunity and made
the most of it. After the end of the Revolution, Walton had taken his land
warrants for service in the Revolutionary war and travelled to the
Cumberland settlements to stake his claim. He was definitely a member of
Hardy Murfee's long hunter party (I believe all you Cowan's had an ancestor
with them as well) in I think 1785. It is not known if they visited what is
now known as Smith County at that time. Legend has it that in 1786 or 1787,
Walton and Tilman Dixon travelled by canoe up the Cumberland to lay claim to
the tracts that eventually became their plantations. Dixon chose the area
now known as Dixon Creek. Walton claimed the land at the confluence of the
Cumberland and Caney Fork Rivers. Dixon and Walton and other pioneers were
unable to establish permanent residences on their plantations for several
years (due to the danger of Indian attack) but did manage to at least build
cabins and make some improvements on their land.

After the treaty of the Holston was signed in 1795, new settlement became
possible in the western parts of the Upper Cumberland. This newly opened
territory contained most of what is today Smith, Jackson, Dekalb, Macon,
Clay, and Warren Counties, as well as much of western Putnam. The treaty
provided that additional roadways could be cut into the land that was left
as Indian reservation to the East. Walton eagerly pumped his connections to
get a liscense to open a ferry that connected the northern bank of the
Cumberland River with both banks of the Caney Fork. He also applied to
Governor Blount for the right to build a new road from a point on the
Military trace to connect to his ferry. By the end of the year, Walton had
completed a new route which followed an old game trail eastward up tot he
crest of Chestnut Mound and then followed the crests of the several ridges
to White Plain and then followed approximately up Buck Mountain Road to
Brotherton where it rejoined the North Carolina Military Trace. Walton also
cut a road that ran up the Upper Ferry Road through present day Carthage
and up Hall's HIll through Beulah Land over to Tanglewood and thence down
through Riddleton to Dixon Springs where it again joined the Military or
Avery's Trace or Fort Blount Road or whatever you want to call it.
Although at first the new route was called the Southern or Caney Fork Route,
by 1797 it was already being called the Walton Road.

Calling either the Avery Trace or Walton's Road a "road" would be a stretch
of the imagination by anyone. In reality both were miserably thin
meandering little tracks that had deep ruts and little or no upkeep. Stumps
for trees that had been cut in the marking of these roads were not even
cleared out of the way. The roads were so bad that in 1799 the Moravian
missionaries Abraham Steiner and Frederick C. de Schweinitz remarked in
their journal that no matter which road a traveller took into the Cumberland
Country, he always tried the other on the way out. These roads were
virtually useless to four wheeled wagon traffic.

After Tennessee became a state and the population began to increase, the
need for better transportation between the Eastern and Western (Middle
Tennessee) sections of the state became apparent, and the legislature took
action (the Senate journal in 1798 claimed that the roads in Tennessee were
so bad because the were formed by "one traveller first picking out a way for
himself, a second followed his track, and others pursuing their footseps,
formed the present roads). Pretty bad, huh?

Walton wrangled a position for himself on the committee appointed to lay out
the new route (along with William Martin and Robert Kyle) and naturally
arranged for the new road called for by the legislature to generally follow
his southern route and direct all those settlers to the areas around his
investments at present day Carthage. The road received federal patronage
and President Adams appointed the same commissioners to oversee the road as
the first federal turnpike in the US. Walton was appointed by Adams as the
official collector of tolls which greatly increased his prestige in the

Now this was a road the likes of which had never been seen on the frontier.
Fifteen feet wide, and completely cleared of stumps, and leveled on the
sides of hills to accomadate wagon traffic (rather than the steep grades
that had previously been the norm) and even with notches cut into trees
every three miles along the route. It was such an improvement over the old
road, that by 1802 French naturalist Andre Michaux commented that the new
road "was as broad and commodious as those in the environs of Philadelphia"
and better than the one that led from thence to Pittsburg.

Most of the other roads in the county were generally started in the manner
mentioned by the Senate journal, either following animal or Indian traces or
just some settlers hacking out a meager track to their own plot of land or
their neighbor. Later the various county courts would establish committees
to improve the roads into more usable paths and establish rules for their
upkeep, particularly assigning the men of the area to work as road
improvement gangs (all able bodied males were expected to pitch in and work
on the roads or pay a substitute)

The road established in 1788 by the North Carolina Legislature does not in
any way correspond to I-40 and was actually virtually deserted as a major
traffic route by 1810. The Walton Road does not correspond with the route
of I-40 although there are certain sections of Highway 70 that follow the
old road closely (most notably the ascent up Chestnut Mound to about Gentry
in Putnam County). There are many spots where the old road can still be
seen near and crossing and recrossing the current route of 70 which was
built in the 1920s.

Not to be contrary, but the roads mentioned in the information below
generally don't relate to Smith County. I agree that much of the early
travel in Tennessee and in much of the South centered on the rivers (hence
the importance of such towns as Carthage, Rome, Granville, Gainesboro, and
Celina) The road mentioned in that information as being created in 1788 is
incorrect. There was no cross-country road in Smith County South of the
Cumberland River before 1795. In fact, Joseph Bishop built the first house
South of the Cumberland in Smith County in 1795 on the bank of the River.
The tract you list below seems to be an amalgamation of roads created at a
later time. The road that ran from Gordon's to Carthage Junction and the
Smith Fork and by Bowlin's Branch and up Lancaster Hill was cut around
1800-1801, following a smaller track that had been blazed about 1796. The
road which comes from the Walton's Ferry and ran generally along Helm's bend
then to Stonewall and on down through Congo Bottom and Club Springs was
built to link Carthage to Sparta (or the early White County settlements) and
was not cut until about 1806. The road which linked Gordonsville to
Middleton (New Middleton) was a turnpike that cut off from the Walton Road
at Chestnut Mound and ran down Pea Ridge, crossing the Sparta Road at
Stonewall (Black Bottoms), crossed Trousdale's Ferry on the Caney Fork, ran
to Gordonsville and on to what is now called New Middleton, then ran up
Denney's Branch to Slaughter Hollow, on across to Grant and then generally
follows the current route through Tucker's crossroads and ends at Lebanon.
In the 1830's this was an incorporated Turnpike and only then did it begin
to rival the northern option for traffic to Nashville. Before that most
travellers would instead choose to go through Carthage and then follow the
southern route from Carthage through Rome to Lebanon or the northern route
through Dixon Springs and Gallatin.

That is if they did not choose to float down the river on a flatboat or ride
a steamboat. Even as late as the 1870s, roads in the area were not so good,
and the river system was the main transportation aretery that linked Smith
County to the world. When the railroad came through in the 1880s, this
would change too.

Well, I didn't mean to go on so long on this subject, but let me encourage
whoever tackles the road project to refer to the following resources

The most valuable would be Vernon Roddy's History of the Lost Town of
Bledsoesborough which I wish I could have found tonight (it is simply too
deeply packed away). His history of the early settlements of the Upper
Cumberland is drawn from the early county court records of several counties
and is an invaluable source of reference on this subject. Others would of
course be The Homecoming 86 History of Smith County that is being sold again
today, John W. Bowen's History of Smith County from the 1880s, Samuel Cole
Williams Early Travels in the Tennessee Country, Joseph Bishop's
Autobiography, and the County Court Records of Smith County which detail
much road building activity.

----- Original Message -----
From: <>
To: <>
Sent: Friday, December 06, 2002 2:28 PM
Subject: [TNSMITH] First Roads Of Smith County

> According to the book "Map Guide to American Migration Routes, 1735-1815,"
> written by Mr. William Dollarhide, as early as 1735 there was the King's
> Highway, a postal trail between the colonies. By 1750 it was considered a
> wagon road, but not an easy one to follow.
> In 1744 when a treaty with the Indians gave the whites total control of
> area, the "Great Warrior Path" evolved into the "Great Valley Road".
> Migrations on the Great Valley Road resulted in western settlements of
> Charleston, WV and Roanoke, VA and was then extended so travelers could
> southwest into eastern Tennessee. (1750s) The general route today is I-81.
> In 1788, before Tennessee was a state, the Nashville Road was completed
> linking the Great Valley Road to Knoxville and then to Nashville, (I-40)
> going east to west through Smith County from near Caney Fork, to
> Kongo Bottom, Carthage Jct., Gordonville, Middleton.
> Earlier travelers used the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers as their main
> highways.
> Alice Gillihan
> ==== TNSMITH Mailing List ====
> Add Your Surnames to Our Smith County Surnames Page at:

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