Tennessee Records Repository

Decatur Co. TN

Antiquities, Natural Wonders and Trails

Chapter IV

From Lillye Younger, The History of Decatur County Past and Present (Southhaven, MS: Carter Printing Company, 1978).
Special thanks to Constance Collett for permission to make these web pages.

In Memory of Lillye Washburn Younger 1912-1998.

Thanks to www.tnyesterday.com for contributing this transcription.

Decatur County, unlike many West Tennessee Counties, is quite small and doesn't have as many antiquities. However one which is in the planning stage of becoming a tourist attraction, is known as The Old Coaling".

Beside a quiet, abandoned rural road and surrounded by the beauties of nature about 13 miles southeast of Decaturville stands the ruins of the Brownsport Furnace, located in an area known as "The Old Coaling".

The furnace was a prosperous industry between 1846 and 1878.

The Brownsport Iron Company owned 12,000 acres of land on which the furnace was built. Napoleon Hill was the first president of the company and his associates were G.M. Trigg and CR. Thornton.[1]

The furnace was used for melting iron ore, the most valuable mineral in Decatur and adjoining counties of Hardin, Wayne, and Henderson.

Ore was dug out of the ground with picks and shovels, by slave labor, and hauled by oxen-drawn wagons to the furnace where it was processed. Deposits were dumped into the top of the furnace and melted by the heat. A trough mold, about 1500 feet long, was built adjacent to the bottom of the furnace with smaller molds running horizontal. The vertical mold was called "The Sow" and the smaller horizontal mold was called "The Pigs" thus forming the term ‘‘Pig Iron''.

Liquid melted from the iron ore settled at the bottom of the furnace and ran out into the molds. While in the molten stage, as it began to cool, the liquid was cut from the main trough. Each smaller mold held around 200 pound blocks of pig iron. The area surrounding the furnace was an inferno as the slaves worked cutting the iron apart from the main stem.

The fire came from oak wood, split into 3-1 /2 foot-long sticks and placed lengthwise in a 50 foot circle. Leaves and brush were placed on the wood and it was then covered with dirt, forming a mound. The covering made it air-tight.

The fire was started at an opening at the bottom of the mound. There was one other draft hole to allow the fire to breathe. When the wood caught fire both air-holes were closed, allowing it to char rather than reduce to ashes.

After it charred, it was removed to the furnace for fuel. The heat from the charcoal was ten times more powerful than from a wood fire and lasted much longer, creating no smoke.

Out on the furnace yard were powerful air bellows which pumped air to the charcoal to keep it burning. They were operated by a steam boiler fired by wood. The blaze in the furnace was never allowed to go out. The land was known as "The Coaling" because of the use of the charcoal in the manufacture or iron ore.

According to legend, a slave, facing punishment from his master, ran down the tram to the top of the furnace and jumped in, rather than face the music.

The pig iron was hauled from the furnace over the country road to Brownsport Landing on the Tennessee River, where it was shipped by steamboats to foundries.

The furnace was built out of clay bricks. Rocks were placed on the outside for protection to hold it intact.

A commissary was built for the laborers. Workers lived in log cabins on the area.

The furnace was operated successfully for a period of 30 years and ore of fine quality and of great abundance was found, but an extensive lawsuit developed, causing the company to close in 1878.[2] It was never re-opened.

The commissary was converted into a dwelling house in later years. The late George Murphy of Parsons recalled living at the old commissary dwelling in 1938. He farmed the land which belonged to Tom Frank Hassell from Clifton at that time.

 The Tennessee Historical Commission has placed a marker on Highway 100 which leads to the furnace.

"Old Shannon Home"

Another landmark, located in Decatur County, is a two story colonial structure known as the ‘Old Shannon Place" in Bath Springs.

Bob Shannon came to West Tennessee from North Carolina and crossed the Tennessee River at what was then known as Carrolville and entered land here in the untamed country. Indians were living in the territory at the time. Old Timers have given the date of the house construction to be around 1795.

The house was built of yellow poplar logs and chinked with mud. It had two limestone chimneys which served as a heating system.

There are two huge front rooms downstairs and a dog trot that led to the dining room and kitchen out back, and one large room upstairs. Wooden shutters served as windows in pioneer days.

The Shannon family bought a slave woman thirty years of age who had a small daughter, for the price of $1 200, as shown on the records at Decatur County Courthouse. Some years later, while rendering lard in a caldron, her daughter caught fire and was burned to death.

The older folks tell of an incident that happened during the Civil War. The Yankees camped near the Shannon house at Tanyard hollow. Late one evening the Yankees looted the Shannon home of its silver, cooking utensils, meat and lard, and carried it to their camp. A friend of the family by the name of Mrs. Murphy pretended to be a Yankee woman and persuaded the Yankees to give her the silver and utensils since she was needy. She returned it to the Shannon family.[3]

Mrs. Bob Shannon also experienced a tragic death. While rendering out lard she caught fire and died from the results.

The home remained in the Shannon family until 1901. The last one to live here was John Shannon, the grandfather of Jess Robert Lancaster who lives at 111 East Ninth Street in Parsons. Lancaster's mother, Mrs. Flora Shannon was married at the old Shannon home in 1900 to Edd Lancaster.

John Shannon sold the old homeplace to Samp Russ in 1901. Russ was a big landowner and rented the place out. Those living there during the years have been Will Davidson, Bud Stafford, Henry Yarbro and R.C. McCutchen.

Alton Mays purchased the Shannon place around 1913 and remodeled it. It is now weatherboarded and has been in the Mays family since that date. According to the old settlers there have been only seven deaths in the Shannon house.

"Red House"

"Red House", an early stage coach stop, is located 15 miles south of Decaturville just off highway 69 near Bath Springs.

The house was built in 1805 of yellow poplar hand hewn logs with chimneys of limestone, one of which is intact. The two story structure has one big room, hallway, kitchen, dining room and back porch on the ell with smoke house adjoining. Upstairs has one big room with homemade beds nailed to the wall.

During the Civil War a skirmish between the Yankees and Rebels on Nebo Hill shooting over to Red House accidentally hit a man working in the field. He was carried to Red House and the blood stained the walls of the living room and stairway and remained there until 1915 when it was painted over. It was considered a haunted house and those who lived there reported that they could hear horses being ungeared in the yard and the gear thrown in the halls and voices outside.

It received the name "Red House" because it was painted red. One of the first families to live there were the Sparks, who presumedly built the house.

The land has been in the Martin family for around 85 years.[4] It is presently owned by L.D. Martin and R.M. Martin. A relative by the name of Wm. H. Martin III has a keen interest in the landmark and has inquired about having an historical marker placed here.

The Red House Cemetery, only a short ways from the house, was first called Akin Cemetery but the name was later changed to Red House Cemetery.[5] Here slaves are buried as well as many persons in pioneer days. The cemetery is still being used. An early grave is Samuel Sparks, born 1755, died 1811 [Note: In this case Ms Younger misread an eroding marker. Samuel Sparks died in Dec. 11, 1911, at age 56 years.] .The Hancock pioneer family are also buried here.

"Townsend House"

"Townsend House", an Ante-Bellum house in Parsons has an interesting history despite the fact it is still a home.

It is a picturesque colonial house, perched on a hill, overlooking a crest of fertile farm land and green pastures with cattle grazing lands, about one mile east of Parsons on the old Perryville road.

It was formerly a two-story log house, chinked with mud, which was built during the 1830's by Ural Rushing.[6] It was built with an open hall through the center of the house, which was called a "dog trot" back then. Saddles were hung along the walls. A washstand with bowl and pitcher on in the hallway was the bath accommodations in pioneer days.

The house was sold to Burl Rushing in 1844, brother of the former owner. Some years later he married Sarah Houston and they lived here During the civil war days. "Aunt Sarah" as she was called, sat on the front porch all day during the battle of Shiloh and could hear the roar of the cannons from the battles, a distance of 50 miles. Many years later she entertained her grandchildren with accounts of this incident.

During the war the guerrillas entered the couple's home in search of gold and strung up her husband in an effort to get him to tell where the gold was hidden. Each time they tightened the rope, he refused. During the episode the Confederate soldiers came by and the guerrillas fled. Mrs. Rushing released her husband who was strung up over the spot where the gold was buried.[7]

Under the living room floor of the house was a hideout, which could reached by a secret trap door to the floor.

 The house has belonged to many persons, including Rennie Rains, Leslie R. Rains, B.H. Maxwell, Joe Jordan and EM. Townsend. Later Wilburn Townsend purchased the house and farm. It is presently owned by Mr. and Mrs. David Yarbro. Mrs. Yarbro is the daughter of the late Wilburn Townsend and Mrs. Townsend. The house has been in the Townsend family since 1918.

"J. T. Smith House"

Another landmark is the former home of Mr. and Mrs. J. T. Smith located ten miles east of Decaturville near Brownsport Furnace.

The stately two story colonial structure is perched high on a hill overlooking the panaroma as well as the Tennessee river. Constructed in 1897 the house has ten rooms, two halls, four porches and five fireplaces.

Lumber for the construction was shipped by boat on the Tennessee River and only the best grade lumber was used. It was a true showplace its heyday. The verandas had banisters of intricate design which shone miles around on the white weatherboard house. The house's water supply came from two cisterns, one at the edge of the front porch and the other the back porch edge. Water was caught from the roof of the house and down a V trough into the big dug cistern in the ground.

In 1915 it became the home of Mr. and Mrs. Coy E. White. Of their eight children, four were born here; namely, Kate, George William, Joseph Herndon and Martha Ann Pettigrew.

 Presently the once stately mansion stands alone, weatherbeaten, unoccupied and falling down. It is owned by George William White.[8]

"Dr. B. M. Brooks Home"

Another Decatur County landmark is the Dr. B. M. Brooks home, located in the heart of Bath Springs.

It was built when Dr. Brooks moved from Turnbow Creek in 1900 and began his practice in Bath Springs.

Located 300 yards due west of Hancock's famous summer resort, the structure has seven (7) rooms and two halls. Also two porches, one on the front and one on the back. It was the first two story house to be built in the Bath Springs community.

This landmark has been in the original family since its construction. Dr. and Mrs. Brooks were the parents of three sons: Martin; Walter Kendrick; and Erskine, who died as a youth. There were also three daughters; Blanche Turner, Flavius Alexander and Mae Homer. Presently it is occupied by Blanche Turner and Martin Brooks.[9]

Among the natural wonders of Decatur County are the rock formations. The white rock phosphates of Decatur County are found in what is known as the Beech River, Rushing Creek and Whites Creek. Beech River tract extends from a point immediately southeast of Parsons in a general southeastern direction, as far as Decaturville.

Rushing creek tract is situated about six and one half miles distant by wagon road, southeast from Parsons, and is separated from the Beech River tract by a broad ridge.

White's Creek tract is located about 12 miles southeast of Parsons and about three miles from Bob's Landing, on the Tennessee River.

The phosphate deposits are found in and at the top of the Decatur limestone of the Silurian age.

White phosphate rock, occurs in Perry and Decatur Counties in the western valley of the Tennessee River. The deposits of phosphate of this area are the result of chemical replacement or secondary deposition by waters bearing phosphate derived from overlying slightly phosphatic formations.

Recognition of white phosphate in Tennessee was made first along Tom's Creek in Perry County in 1896 by prospectors familiar with similar hard rock phosphate of Florida. In 1901 an extension of this white rock field westward across the Tennessee River was discovered in Decatur County.[10]

Baugus Cave

Other wonders of Decatur County include its caves. One such Cave is known as Baugus Cave and is located on Highway 69 six miles north of Parsons. The cave is topped with layer after layer of limestone rock formation and has a wide opening at the mouth. There is a walkable ceiling but after passing three rooms it becomes necessary to crawl. Water drips into the cave at various points.

There are six rooms reaching a quarter of a mile in distance. It became highly publicized in 1928 when two men from Waverly, Tennessee attempted to explore the cave. One of them, while crawling in the rooms, got hung in a crevice of the cave. Excitement went on a rampage. An S.O.S. reached the town of Parsons late in the afternoon and a large crowd gathered at the mouth of the cave. Volunteers worked until near midnight before rescuing the victim, safe and sound except from shock.[11]

Elzar Burton Cave

Another cave in the county was first known as the Elazar Burton Cave, however it is now known as "Featherfoot Cave". Located north of the Alvin C. York Bridge near Perryville it was named from Sam Burton's grandfather who came to this country from Virginia in 1825.[12] Mr. Burton returned to Virginia and moved to what was then called Perry County, on the west side of the Tennessee river. He bought 5,000 acres of land which extended to the river.

This cave has had many names. Mr. Burton sold it to a Mr. Anders and the name was changed to Anders Cave. In 1885 Mr. Anders sold it to Captain Alley and he named it Alley's Cave. Before Mr. Alley died, Mr. Sam Burton purchased it in 1926 as well as around 1200 acres of land.

Few people have inhabited the cave. Two men, a Mr. Thomas from Bridgeport, Ala. lived there for eighteen (18) months and later Bill Ripley and his wife and children lived there for two years. He was nicknamed "Featherfoot" and the cave later became known as Featherfoot Cave, and that continues today.

Despite the fact only two families have lived in the cave, many who came down the river stayed there overnight. Some were fugitives and others unknown. The cave was also used as a l)ide-out during the Civil War for deserters, it can be reached only by water amid the rock wall of the Tennessee river.

This cave has one big room 20 by 25 feet. Behind the cave one can reach another cave; however it has never been opened. The deep crevices have streams running through them to the Old Sam Burton place. It took two hours to go to the back of this cave. In the back one can hear roosters crowing and traffic on the highway. Kerosene torches were used to light the way. Fossels were hanging down as long as three feet with jagged edges. The rooms have narrow openings and one must crawl to get through. Crevices 15 feet deep and five feet wide hold water. Other caves in the county are the Salt Petre cave and the Wade Cave located 14 miles southwest of Decaturville.

Sulphur water has played an integral part in Decatur County. Two such springs sprang up and were very beneficial for the medical qualities of their waters.

A young doctor from North Carolina was traveling in this section and decided to stop over for the night. He stopped about two miles from Red House Stage Coach Inn and spent the night with a pioneer family.[13]

Having just received his sheepskin, he was traveling west to seek his fortune. That night he inquired about the settlement and learned that only four or five hundred yards from where he was lodging was a number of sulphur springs. The springs created a keen interest for him from his first glimpse. Coming from a wealthy family, the young doctor decided to settle at the exact spot where he spent the night.

With the increase in population, business began to thrive and Dr. William Hancock built a 14 room, two-story log house with a rock cellar. He opened it as a summer resort and offered mineral baths to his guests, which he prescribed highly. Bath Houses were built near the five mineral springs.

The sulphur water was good for the complexion since it didn't have the lime ingredient to clog up the pores. It was also a good tonic and recommended as a blood builder by the doctor.

People came from miles around to be healed and entertained at the highly publicized resort.

Today there is no evidence of the famous resort; however, the sulphur springs are located on the Martin Landing road off highway 114 which leads to the Clifton Ferry.

The other sulphur spring is located in the opposite end of Decatur County near Bible Hill Community.

James K. Pettigrew, born in Decatur County June 13, 1844 [14] returned from the Civil War and resumed his mercantile business at Oak Grove. A year later he opened a branch store at Sulphur Springs.

The thriving community had a big two story hotel which was the place to go to be healed of diverse diseases at the sulphur spring which bubbled up in the center of the business places. People came from many places to be healed from the qualities in the sulphur water. The spring was encased with wood and had a shingle roof. When the water bubbled out of the ground in the sunlight it formed varied hues of colors. The hotel was named Sulphur Springs Health Resort and was primarily a summer resort.

The Pettigrews lived in a two story house which was built north of the store. Dr. William G. Rains began his practice in medicine at Sulphur Springs.

"Colwick Building"

One of the original landmarks in Decatur County, located in Parsons is the Colwick building, last occupied by Glennie Colwick. It was built by Mr. John P. Rains, father of Mrs. Stella Jennings. The two story brick building housed a hotel, and general mercantile store in the early days. One side was used for dry goods and the other for groceries. The rear of the store and upstairs was used for a hotel. Constructed of brick, made at a brick kiln on the ground, it was completed in 1898. It was a nightly attraction for persons to drop by and watch the process of brick making at the kiln.[15]

When the building was completed a big ball was held which lasted all night.

When Mr. Rains moved to Memphis in 1919 he sold the building and business to Mr. J.T. Colwick and later it was sold to W.D. Colwick and Son. After the death of W.D. Colwick in 1938 his son, Glennie, operated the business until his death in 1973.

The Colwicks operated the hotel until 1934. Among the other operators were Mrs. Ethel Duck and later Mrs. Reba Duck. At one time Mr. Sid Bawcum operated a grocery store in one side of the building.

After the death of Mr. Glennie Colwick the building was sold to Farmers Bank into whose possession it is in now.[16] Vernon R. Hill & Son Tile Company is presently located in the landmark.

"George Washington Baugus House"

The white weatherboard home of the late George Washington Baugus was considered a mansion at the turn of the century in Decatur County.

Located on an 800 acre farm near Jeanette, the two story twelve room structure could be seen for miles around.

It was in 1890 that the house was constructed by Ike and Ollie Buckner from the 500 acre tract of timber on the land, for the Baugus Family.

George Washington Baugus and wife, Emily Lucendy Grey Baugus moved there with their family when the house was completed.

The home had a Corinthian portico, mahogany double front door and 12 carved rock mantels.

The Bauguses reared six boys and six girls at the Ante-Bellum home. One daughter, Maggie Baugus Powers celebrated her 100th birthday in 1966; however, she had left the home earlier.

As time passed on changes came. Grandfather Baugus died in Sept. 1902 and Mrs. Baugus followed in April 1934. The children all moved away leaving "Aunt Maggie" alone. Her sister, Mrs. Lena Jordan of Parsons moved back to the old home place to be with her. They lived there three years and later moved to Parsons where "Aunt Maggie" passed away in 1966.

The once spacious mansion deteriorated fast when the family left. It was rented for a while but stood unoccupied prior to its death by fire in 1964.[17]

  1. Goodspeed History
  2. Ibid
  3. W.K. Brooks
  4. Eula Martin
  5. Martin Brooks
  6. Raymond Townsend
  7. Mrs. Bonnie Keeton, Granddaughter
  8. Josephine Herndon
  9. Martin Brooks
  10. T.P. Maynard, Tenn. Geol. Survey Resources of Tenn. Vol. 3 .PP 161-169 1913
  11. George Jordan
  12. Edd Lee
  13. Jackson Sun Newspaper article 1967
  14. Goodspeed's Biographical sketches of Decatur Countians
  15. Mrs. Stella Jennings
  16. Mrs. Nellie Tolley, daughter of W.D. Colwick
  17. Mrs. Fannie D. Rains, granddaughter