~ History of DeKalb County ~
The greater portion of Dekalb County lies on the Highland Rim, the remainder in the
central basin and the valleys. The Highlands occupy the eastern and northern parts of the
county, and the surface is gently undulating. The western part of the county lies in the
central basin, and embraces several valleys of considerable size and of great agricultural
value, separated from each other by ranges of hills. The valley of Caney Fork begins below
the falls between White and Warren Counties, near the southeast corner of Dekalb, is very
narrow at the upper end, but gradually widens to the average width of three-quarters of a
mile. Its length is about thirty miles. The valley of Smith Fork extends through the
western part of the county, from north to south, and has an average width of one mile and
is about fifteen miles in length. Each of the tributaries of Smith Fork have valleys of
their own. The lands of these valleys are rich, and produce large crops of wheat, corn,
oats, hay, potatoes and other cereals. The cap rock of the highlands is siliceous and
calcareous. Layers of flinty chert are found in many places, resting on beds of yellow
clay. The underlying strata are hard siliceous limestone, and the soils found here are not
fertile, the best highland lands being found on the hillsides and along the streams.
Underlying the valleys and extending about half-way up the hills is found the limestone
common to all parts of the central basin. On the east side of Caney Fork, near the White
County line, are found beds of rich iron ore, extending over a space of several miles. The
same ore exists on the west side of the stream, though not as extensive. Magnetic iron ore
is also supposed to exist in various parts of the county. The black shale underlies the
siliceous rocks of the highlands, cropping out on the sides of the hills facing Caney Fork
Valley and the basin, but is not valuable. In caves and rock houses are found copperas and
alum. The shale also yields mineral oils, in some instances amounting to forty gallons to
the ton. The black shale is the source of sulphur springs, of which there are several on
the table-land. Caney Fork, Smith Fork and Pine, Fall, Hurricane, Eagle, Holmes, Dry and
Mine Lick Creeks are the principal streams of the county, some of which afford splendid
water power. Caney Fork is navigable for small steamboats at certain seasons of the year.
Two miles below the county seat, on Fall Creek, is a fall of over ninety feet, which
presents a rare bit of natural scenery, a view of which may be found in the state
department of this work. The timber of the county is abundant, and embraces hickory,
walnut, poplar, oak, gum, maple, and other valuable species.
The settlement of Dekalb County dates back to the year 1779, at which time Adam Dale
settled on Smith Fork, in the immediate neighborhood of the present town of Liberty. Dale
was a Marylander in search of a home, and was attracted to Tennessee by the abundance of
cheap land, and to the above locality by the fertile land and healthy climate. Being
satisfied with the outlook he at once sent work back to his friends in the East, and two
years later a colony of forty families, composed of his relatives, friends and
acquaintances, left Maryland to join the pioneer in his frontier home. The colony came
down the Ohio River, up the Cumberland to Nashville, and from that point made their way
overland to the Dale settlement in wagons. There were no roads in those days and the
journey from Nashville required several weeks time, passages for the teams having to be
cut as they went along, the forests and canebrakes being impenetrable. Reaching Smith Fork
they settled in and around what is now Liberty, and being of a hardy, industrious nature,
were in an incredibly short time comfortably housed and domiciled. Among those who
composed the colony were William and John Dale, Thomas West, William and George Givens,
Thomas Whaley, Josiah Duncan, James and William Bratton, Henry Burton, The Walks, Fruits
and others. Between 1800 and 1820 many new comers settled in various parts of the county,
among whom were Jesse Allen, Allan Johnson, Martin Phillips, Britton Johnson, James
Lockhart, John Martin, James Davis, Giles Driver, I. H. Hayes, Tobe Martin, John Robinson,
George, Samuel H. and John Allen, John C. Kennedy, Milton Ward, John Wooldridge, John
Frazier, David Taylor, Nicholas Smith, D. League, John Maynor, Henry Cameron, P. G.
Magness, Zachariah Lafever, Jacob and Abraham Overall, Robin Forester, Ruben Evans,
Matthew Selleers, James Powell, James Tubb, Jack Reynolds, Reddick Driver, Thomas Given,
William Boyd, Thomas Duncan, Thomas Durham, Davidand William Adcock, William Floyd,
Hezekiah Bowers, James Powell, John Vantrees, Jonathan and Stewart Dorse, E. Turner, James
Goodner, Wm. Grandstaff, Thomas Simpson, William Wright, Benjamin Garrison, Anderson
Pickett, Isaac Jones, James Jones and Edmund Turner, Sr.
Adam Dale erected the first mill, which was a log, water-power corn-mill, on Smith Fork,
near Liberty, built in 1800. The patronage of the mill came from the immediate Dale
settlement, for the benefit of which it was established. Other early mills of the county
were those of Leonard Fite, at Big Springs, on Smith Fork; Jesse Allen, on Eagle Creek;
Thomas Durham and Abraham Farrington, on Pine Creek; James Lick, on Cane Creek, and
Nicholas Smith, on Smith Fork. In connection with Allens mill was a cotton-gin and
distillery, probably the first established in the county. The same gentleman also
established and operated for a number of years an iron forge on Pine Creek, the ore being
secured in the neighboring mountains. Between 1805 and 1815 the settlers would make
frequent trips to New Orleans in keelboats, taking to market furs, produce, etc., and
returning with salt, which would be sold in the settlements at as high a price as $10 per
bushel. The voyagers were embarked on Caney Fork, floating into the Cumberland River, then
the Ohio and into the Mississippi. From four to five months were required to make the trip
to New Orleans and return. The principal mills of the county at present are as follows:
Brown Bros. & Donnells steam flour mill, at Alexandria; J. H. Overalls steam
flour, meal and saw-mill, and Hale Bros. water-power grist-mill, at Liberty; Allen T.
wrights steam woolen-mill, at Dowelltown, and W. T. Robinsons steam grist-mill,
at Dowelltown, and T. H. W. Richardsons, Wash. Reynolds, James Oakleys,
W. G. Crowleys, John Bones and James Keltons grist-mills in various
parts of the county.
Dekalb County is bounded on the north by the counties of Smith and Putnam, east by Putnam
and white, south by Warren and Cannon, and west by Cannon and Wilson. The county was
established by act of the Legislature passed in 1837, the territory for the new county
being cut off from the counties of White, Warren, Cannon, Wilson and Jackson. The act
creating and naming the county is as follows: Be it enacted by the General Assembly that
a new county be and is hereby established of parts of White, Warren, Wilson, Cannon and
Jackson, to be called DeKalb, in honor of Baron De Kalb, the friend of American liberty,
who fell at the battle of Camden in the Revolutionary war. The act also provided for the
holding of the first sessions of the different courts at the house of Bernard Richardson,
on the bank of Fall Creek, one Quarter of a mile east from the present county seat, and
for the appointment of a committee to locate a permanent seat of justice, lay out a town
and sell the lots of the same, and with the money derived from the sale, erect the
necessary public buildings. The county was formally organized at Richardsons house in
March, 1838. A committee composed of Joseph Clark, Thomas Allen, Joseph Banks, Watson
Cantrell and Thomas Durham, was appointed to select a site for a permanent seat of justice
and erect a courthouse and jail. Of the commissioners, Joseph Clark is still living. A
site was selected on the land of Bernard Richardson, who donated fifty acres of the same
to the county, which was at once surveyed and laid off into lots and the same sold at
public sale, and the town named Smithville in honor of John S. Bryan, who was known as and
called Smith. A log courthouse and jail were at once erected, which stood and were used
until about 1840, when the buildings of the present were erected. The courthouse is a
square, brick building, two-story in height, and cost about $6,000. It is out of repair,
and a new house will soon be a necessity. The jail is also a brick building, and cost
The population of the county in 1840 was 5,868; in 1850 it was 8,016; in 1860 it was
10,573; in 1870 it was 11,425; in 1880 it was 14,000 and in 1886 about 15,000. In 1886 the
voting population was about 3,000, of which about 1,800 were Democrats and 1,2000
In 1870 there were 182,726 acres assessed for taxation in the county, valued at
$1,510,563, and the total valuation of assessed taxable property amounted to $1,960,031.
In 1886 the number of acres assessed was 192,704, valued at $1,192,315, while the total
valuation of assessed property amounted to $1,408,775; the tax agregate for 1886 shows
taxes assessed in the county as follows: State $4,226.32 1/2; county, $4,226.32 1/2;
school, #3,521.93 3/4 poor, $704.38 3/4; highway, $1,127.02; Poll, $1,450.
The live stock of the county in 1870 amounted to 3,390 head of horses and mules, 3,885
head of cattle, 11,473 head of sheep, and 20,999 head of hogs. In 1886 the estimated live
stock amounted to 5,000 head of horses and mules, 11,000 head of cattle, 7,100 head of
sheep, and 2,800 head of hogs. In 1870 the cereal products of the county amounted to
81,412 bushel of wheat, 486,823 bushels of corn, 32,250 bushels of oats, and 1,492 bushels
of rye. In 1886 the estimated products were 76,000 bushels of wheat, 863,200 bushels of
corn, 21,200 bushels of oats, and 4,000 bushels of rye.
Dekalb County is without railroads, the nearest one being the Lebanon branch of the
Nashville, Chattannooga & St. Louis Railway,but has the next best thing, i.e., a splendid
turnpike, leading from Lebanon, Wilson County, to Smithville, the county seat, upon which
the towns and villages of the county are situated, and over which a daily mail and
passenger stage is run, affording good transportation, express and nail facilities; at
intervals of five miles toll-gates are situated, the income of which is ample to keep the
pike and bridges in excellent repair. While the other highways of the county are poor in
comparison with the pike, they afford good travel during the spring, summer and fall
months. There are no bridges in the county of importance off the pike, there being no
necessity for them, as the streams are fordable at almost any season of the year.
On Monday, March 5, 1838, James Goodner, Jonathan C. Doss, Lemuel Moore, Reuben Evans,
Joseph Turney, Thomas Simpson, John Martin, Watson Cantrell, David Fisher, William Scott,
Samuel Strong, Henry Burton, Martin Phillips, John Frazier, Joel Cheatham, Jonathan
Fuston, Peter Reynolds and James Batey, all holding commissions as justices for Dekalb
County, met at the house of Bernard Richardson, on Fall Creek, and organized the county
court by electing Lemuel Moore, chairman. The several county officers produced their
certificates of election, qualified and entered upon the discharge of their respective
duties, and the wheels of the Government were set in motion. The court continued to meet
at Richardsons house until the completion of the log courthouse. The circuit court of
Dekalb County was also organized at Richardsons, the first session being held on the
second Monday in August, 1838, over which Judge A. J. Marchbanks presided. The chancery
court was organized at the courthouse in Smithville in March, 1844, by Chancellor B. L.
Among the first lawyers of Dekalb County were Jonathan L. Farrar, M. M. Brien, W. W. Wade,
Sr., J. J. Ford, John H. Savage and Monroe Savage. The lawyers who have practiced since
the war, and are at present members of the bar of the county are as follows, in about the
order given, some of whom are not at present residents of the County: John H. Savage, M.
M. Brien, Robert Cantrell, James A. Nesmith, Robt. C. Nesmith, W. W. Wade, Jr. , T. M.
Wade, J. S. Gibble, W. B. Stokes, B. M. Webb, B. G. Adcock, J. T, Holis, B. M. Cantrell,
John B. Robinson, A. Arant, R. M. Magness, P. T. Showers, Joseph Clark, Will T. Hale, D.
O. Williams, J. J. Ford and J. W. Batts.
The following is a list of the county officers who have served from the organization of
County Court clerks: Pleasant M. Wade, William Lawrence, Washington Isbell, M. T. Martin,
G. W. Eastham, P. G. Magness, E. J. Evans, Z. P. Lee and H. K. Allen, present incumbent.
Circuit court clerks: David Fite, William J. Given, J. B. Gibbs, J. T. Holis, W. T.
Haskins, T. M. Christian and T. W. Shields, present incumbent.
Clerk and masters: Thomas Whaley, Washington Isbell, J. T. Hallin, John P. Robertson, W.
W. Wade and M. A. Crowley, present incumbent.
Sheriffs: Pleasant A. Thomason, James McGuire, E. W. Taylor, John W. Dearman, J. Y.
Stewart, John Hallum, W. L. Hathaway, C. Hill, J. H. Blackburn, M. F. Doss, C. S. Frazier,
B. M. Merritt, H. S. Gill and S. P. Maxwell, present incumbent.
Registers: Daniel Coggin, W. I. Isbell, David Fite, J. H. Haynes, John K. Bain, M. H.
McHarner, Judson Dale, J. C. Kennedy, J. B. Attwell, John Harrison, B. M. Cantrell, E. W.
Taylor and John G. Evans, present incumbent.
Dekalb County has furnished her full quota of soldiers for all wars since organization,
sending a full company, under command of Capt. John F. Goodner, to the war between the
United States and Mexico, under the second call for volunteers, the company being mustered
into service in 1847 in the Third Tennessee Regiment of Tennessee Volunteer Infantry, and
during the civil war between the North and South furnished a number of companies to both
the Northern and Southern Armies.
The Confederate companies was as follows: Capt. John F. Goodners company of the
Twenty-fourth Tennessee Regiment of Infantry, raised at Alexandria in April, 1861; Capt.
R. D. Allisons company of the Sixteenth Tennessee Regiment of Infantry (of which
regiment Capt. Allison was elected Colonel, and Boob Savage, of his company, elected major),
organized at Alexandria in 1861; Capts. J. S. Reeces and R. V. Wrights companies
of Allisons Battalion of cavalry, raised at Alexandria by Col. Allison in 1862; Capt.
Robert Cantrells company of the Twenty-third Tennessee Regiment of Infantry, raised at
Smithville in 1861; Capt. John Pecks company of the Forty-fourth Regiment of Tennessee
Infantry, and Capt. Perry Adcocks company of the same regiment, both raised at
Smithville in 1862. The Federal companies were as follows: Three companies of the Fifth
Regiment of Tennessee Cavalry, organized at Nashville in 1862, of which W. B. Stokes, of
Liberty, was elected Colonel, they being Company A, captain, J. H. Blackburn; Company B,
captain, S. Waters, and Company K, captain, E. W. Bass . Six companies of the Fourth Regiment
of Tennessee Mounted Infantry were organized at Liberty in 1864, of which J. H. Blackburn was
elected colonel, they being Company D, captain, Martin E. Quinn; Company E, captain,
McAdoo Vanatta; company F, captain, William L. Hathaway; Company G, captain, James P.
Paty; Company H, captain, John T. Thomas, and Company I, captain, John Simpson. Of the
First Regiment of Tennessee Mounted Infantry, organized at Carthage in 1864, one company,
commanded by Andrew J. Garrison. It is estimated that from 150 to 200 soldiers went from
Dekalb County into other regiments, they going in squads, of which there was no record
For history of above regiments and companies see Confederate and Federal military chapters
in state department of this volume.
Smithville, the county seat, is situated on the Lebanon and Smithville pike, eighteen
miles from Alexandria, and has a population of about 800. The town was founded in 1838 by
the commissioners appointed by the county court to locate a permanent seat of justice. W.
W. Wade, Sr., Samuel Chandler and P. M. Wade were the first merchants. Following, in the
order given, the merchants were P. G. Magness, John L. Dearman, George Beckwith, J. Y.
Stewart, S. B. Whaley and Elijah Whaley. Dr. G. W. Eastham was the first hotel-keeper, and
he was succeeded in turn by James Ervin and Bernard Richardson. In 1846 a stock company
erected a frame hotel building, which is now conducted by Joseph Bozarth. The other hotel
is conducted by Mrs. N. G. Tyra. The present business of Smithville is as follows: R. B.
West, G. R. Smith& Son, Smith Bros., Black & Bond, T. B. Potter, S. D. Blankenship, all
general Merchandise; W. B. Foster, C. Parker, Groceries; Hooper & Bros., Hardware; D. S.
Harrison, F. Z. Webb, drugs; A. L. Foster, saddles and harness; R. B. West and E. J.
Evans, Livery stables.
Among the early physicians of Smithville were Drs. G. W. Eastman; Charles Schurer, J. C.
Buckley, -- Barnes, J. C. Cox, and E. Tubb. Those of the present are Drs. J. Z. Webb, P.
W. Eaton, M. L. Wilson and James Womack.
The early schools of Smithville were of little consequence, and of them there is no
record. In 1842 a brick building was erected and Fulton Academy established. This school
was a very good one, and continued intil 1883, when it was succeeded by Pure Fountain
College, for which a large three-story brick building was erected, at a cost of $12,000.
Prof. T. B. Kelley has charge of the college at present, and is meeting with success.
The first church erected was a brick, put up in 1848 by the Methodists. A frame building
was erected in its place in 1856, and is in use at present. The next church was the
Baptist, erected in 1858, the next the Christian, erected in 1873, and the next the
Cumberland Presbyterian, erected in 1886. Before the Methodist Church was built log houses
were used for churches.
Alexandria, is the largest town of the county, with a population of about 900, is on the
Lebanon and Smithville pike, half way between the two places (eighteen miles from each),
and was founded about 1815, by ---- Alexanderia who named the town after his native town
in Virginia. A charter of incorporation was secured in 1846, and the town was incorporated
until 1879, when the charter was surrendered and the four mile temperance
law given authority and force, in order to close out saloons.
Among the early merchants were Joshua Coffee, ---- Alexandria, Samuel Young, Church
Anderson, Jacob Fite, James Goodner, William Floyd, J. D. Wheeler, Bone & Bros., Thomas
Crompton, Reece & Ford, Turner Bros., Wheeler & Jones, John F. Moore, S. W. Pearce,
Lawrence & Ray, William Geltford, L. D. Fite, J. D. Beard, and Beard & Goodner, all of
whom were in business prior to the war. During the latter part of the war the only firm in
business was that of Dexter Buck, J. M. Beard, Stokes & Wood, Edward Turner & Bros.,
Dinges & Lincoln, Hurd & Co., Bridges & Smith, George Evans, and M. F. Doss. Between 1870
and 1880: Dinges & Co., Rutland & Goodner, S. W. McClelland, Ray & Zergin, John Jost, John
Garrison, Edwards & Rutland, and L. Tubb. The merchants of the present are as follows:
Dinges & Co., Rutland & Goodner, S. W. McClelland, general merchandise; J. W. King,
Edwards & Rutland, and Gould & Newman, drugs; Tubb & Schure, hardware and groceries; John
Jost, confectionery; John Garrison, fancy groceries; L. Tubb, dry goods; Batts & Garrison
and H. C. Flippin, Undertakers; D. W. Dingess, livery stable, and B. F. Bell, hotel.
The early physicians of Alexandria down to the war were as follows in the order given:
Drs. John Overall, George Gray, ---- Dougherty, William Sales, Cornelius Sales, William
and Richard Blyth, T. J. Sneed, T. F. Evart, and T. J. Sneed, Jr. Since the war: C. L.
Barton, O. D. Williams, T. A. Gould and Thomas Davis. Present: O. D. Williams, T. A.
Gould, and Thomas Davis. The first school was taught by John Collins in a frame house. The
first building erected expressly for a school was a frame, about 1840. The Masonic Academy
was next, in 1856, and in 1858 T. M. Lawrence college was erected, the latter two being in
operation at present.
In about 1820 the Methodists erected a log church, and in 1835 the same denomination
erected a frame church, and in 1885 put up their present handsome frame church. In 1835
the Christians erected a frame church, and the present frame church of that denomination
was built in 1851. In 1881 the Cumberland Presbyterians erected a frame building, which
they use at present. There is a Baptist organization but no building.
The Alexandria Patriot, a weekly paper, was established in 1860 by W. H. Mott , which was
published until 1861, when it suspended. In 1882 the Alexandria Enterprise was established
by J. W. Newman, and published for about two years.
Liberty, situated on the pike, seven miles from Alexandria, has a population of about 500,
and was founded in about 1800 by Adam Dale, and names in honor of the founders home in
Maryland. The first house was built by William Givens. ---- Walk was the first merchant,
and was followed by Fite & Duncan, ---- Young, Moore & price, Benjamin Bloyds, Joshua
Bratton, and Leonard Moore, all of whom were in business before the late war. Since the
war, Eli Vick, Fate Hale, Overall & Hale, Columbus Vick, and Elija Bratton were the
merchants, and at present the business is conducted by the following firms: Hale & Son,
William Vick & Son, and James Pritchett, General merchandise; D. D. Overall, drugs, etc.;
James Pritchett, hotel.
The Liberty Herald, the only newspaper published in Dekalb County, was established April
1, 1886, by Will A. Vick. The Herald is a neat and newsy weekly, well edited and
extensively patronized. A power press for the Herald is among the probabilities of the
One of the first, if not the first, school taught in Liberty was that taught by --- Gay,
at a very early date, in a log house. Other schools were taught afterward, but all were of
an inferior class, and it was not until about 1870 that a good school was established. At
that time a substantial two-story brick house was erected and the Masonic Normal School
founded, which is in successful operation at the present.
Salem Baptist Church was erected in 1810, being the first church built at Liberty. This
denomination erected a new frame house in 1849, and a third frame house in 1880. The other
church of Liberty is the Methodist, the original house being erected in 1825 and the
present one in 1869.
Dowelltown, two miles from Liberty, on the pike, has a population of about 300, with a
good frame Methodist Church, built in 1880, and a frame schoolhouse erected in 1885.