Excerpt from Introduction to the Resources of Tennessee
Tennessee Bureau of Agriculture

By Joseph Buckner Killebrew



There are but few counties in the State more desirable as a place of residence than Sumner. The rich beauty of the green sward that clothes the rolling surface of more than half the county, the dark green foliage of the maple forests, the perennial streams that flash and sparkle through verdant meadows, the herds of fine stock that browse upon the rich herbage, the stylish dwellings and splendid roads and stone-arched bridges, and above all, the elegance and refinement of the citizens, make Sumner county one of the most delightful to be found anywhere. It is one of the oldest counties in the State, having been established in 1786. It then embraced the territory now included in Macon, Trousdale and portions of Jackson and Smith. In 1799, it was reduced to 625 square miles. Since then, the counties of Macon and Trousdale have been formed, each taking a portion of the territory of Sumner, so that it now has but little over 500 square miles. It was named in honor of Colonel Jethro Sumner, a brave pioneer. The county is bounded on the north by Kentucky, on the east by the counties of Macon and Trousdale, on the south by Cumberland River, which separates it from Wilson, on the south-west by Mansker's Creek,' which is the line between Sumner and Davidson counties, and on the west by Robertson county.

Topography and Geology. The northern half of Sumner lies upon the Highland Rim and the southern half within the Central Basin. This is a fundamental fact, and will explain the great contrast there is between the two portions. The northern half is a high plateau country, having an elevation of 800 to 900 feet above the sea, the most elevated portions reaching 1,000 feet. The southern half lies several hundred feet below this, and presents a most fertile region, one of the best in Tennessee, in a high state of cultivation, and greatly in contrast with the wooded flat lands of the other portion. The escarpment of the high lands runs pretty nearly east and west through the county. The highest portion of the Rim lands is at the summit of this 'escarpment, and is universally known as "the Ridge." From this the waters flow northward with very little slope into the Barren River in Kentucky, and into the head branches of Red River in Robertson county. South of " the Ridge" the creeks taking their rise at the base of the escarpment flow southerly with considerable fall into the Cumberland River, which bounds the county on the south. The valleys of these creeks are generally separated by ridges, which are finger projections from " the Ridge," or Highlands. Near their origin, these dividing ridges are high and rough, but as they approach the river, they break away into low hills and not infrequently into a nearly level country. The rocks of the plateau portion are Lower Carboniferous, and are siliceocal careous, often with much flint. Within the Basin and forming the fertile country, the blue Nashville limestone very generally abounds. Between the two and outcropping on the slopes of the Highlands are the Black Shale and thin limestones and shales of the Niagara formation, but the latter formations contribute very little to the agricultural area of the county. In the immediate valley of the Cumberland River the Lebanon limestones, lying below the Nashville, are reached and are presented in the bluffs and on the hill-sides facing the river.

Districts, Soils, Crop* and Timber. For a minute description of these, as well as for many other matters pertaining to the county, we can do no better than to insert at length the following letter from J. A. Nimmo, Esq., who is intimately acquainted with every farm in the county, and whose information may be relied upon as being entirely correct. Says Mr. Nimmo :

The county is divided into twenty-five civil districts (to go into effect as the periods for which the magistrates are elected under the old division expire.

District No. 1. The north-east corner of the county is traversed by Garrett's Creek and Little Trammel Creek, branches of Big Trammel, a tributary of Barren River, Kentucky. The valleys of these creeks are narrow and rocky, but generally productive. The rocks are flinty and contain many organic remains. A quality of coarse, hard limestone, good fire-rock, is found toward the Kentucky line. The north hill-sides are generally "poplar lands," and produce corn, wheat and tobacco. The south hill-sides are " white oak" lands, and are less productive. The tops of the hills, or Table Lands, are capped with a siliceous rock, and upon them grow much valuable chestnut and tan- bark (chestnut oak) timber. There are two steam saw-mills and one water-power saw-mill in this district; also, one good flouring-mill attached to one of the steam mills. The lumber is sold principally to the farmers on Bledsoe's Creek and in Gallatin. There are several good schools in the district, well attended. The religious denominations are represented by three churches, two Methodist and one "Union" church. There is also a Masonic Hall and Lodge, and one Good Templars' Lodge. The Scottsville Turnpike divides the district nearly equally, and the Cumberland and Ohio Railroad, in course of construction, runs near the pike through the district. Apples, peaches, pears, cherries and plums grow well, and produce abundantly where cultivated, and wild grapes of two varieties grow spontaneously in the woods everywhere. This district contains about twenty-one square miles, not over twenty per cent, in actual cultivation, and the remainder has an abundance of the most valuable white oak, black oak and poplar timber. The white oak is in greatest quantity, and when the railroad is completed, wagon timber and barrel timber can be shipped extensively. The farmers here are hard-working, economical citizens, and the ladies manufacture nearly all the goods used for everyday wear from the wool of sheep raised here. Sheep do well in the woods, and are less troubled with dogs than in the more thickly settled districts. In cultivating the new grounds the farmers use a "jumping coulter," and afterwards "bull-tongues" and "shovels." When the ground is clear of stumps, they use cast turning plows for breaking. Herds-grass, orchard-grass and clover grow almost anywhere here, herds-grass taking hold even on the chestnut ridges. Tobacco is the best paying crop raised in this district, as it grows of a finer quality than it does south of the ridge. Cotton is only raised by a few for domestic use. There is but little hired labor, except at saw-mills, where wages range from fifteen to twenty-five dollars per month, with board. Horses and oxen are generally used for plowing and draft purposes. A few mules, however, are raised and sold. There is but one family of negroes located in the district (railroad employees excepted), and they own land and are making an independent living. Lands sell here at from two to six dollars, unimproved, and from five to fifteen dollars for improved lands. Several farms could be bought, and much of the unimproved lands are in market. The greatest drawback to farming in this district is the labor necessary to clear the heavy timber from the soil, which will be obviated to some extent by the railroad, which will furnish a market for the, timber.

District No. 2 is traversed by " East Fork" and " Middle Fork" of Drake's Creek, and is in general features similar to No. 1. It has free schools, three churches, and one water-power grist-mill.

District No. 3 has more level land and is more thickly inhabited. The limestone rock crops out toward the Kentucky line, and the price of land, improved, varies from ten to thirty dollars. Corn, tobacco and wheat are the principal productions, and blue-grass grows well in some spots. There are three churches and three or four schools, with good attendance.

District No. 4 is bounded west by Robertson county, and is traversed by Drake's Creek (there are two Drake's creeks in the county), which rises at the south tunnel on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, and rims northward to the Kentucky line. It is a tributary of Barren River. The creek bottoms of this district are rich alluvial lands, and productive, the uplands generally lying well. East of the creek black oak is the predominating timber, with limestone cropping out. This land produces fine wheat, corn and tobacco. West of the creek are black-jack lands, much of which have good red clay subsoil, and are fine wheat and tobacco lands. Mitchellville Station and Richland Station, on the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, which runs through the district, are flourishing villages, the former being the largest tobacco market in the county, shipping for the year ending June 30, 1873, 331 hogsheads. There are several good schools and churches, the latter being Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist and Christian. Several families of negroes live in this district, and have a school and church of their own. Many of them own lands. The lands of this district rate at from ten to forty dollars per acre, according to improvement, locality, etc.

District No. 5, south of No. 4, and joining Robertson county, is similar in many respects to No. 4, but is watered by the head branches of Red River, a tributary of the Cumberland. Much fine wheat and tobacco are raised, though in both Districts Nos. 4 and 5 there are several tracts of land considered exhausted, which can be recuperated by skillful farming, as is being demonstrated by several families of Pennsylvanians and some of our native farmers, who are making fine crops from land considered worn out.

District No. 6 contains Fountain Head Station, a village with several business houses, and a considerable shipping point for tobacco. Much railroad timber, cross-ties and heavy bridge timber, etc., are shipped from this point. The general features are similar to the last mentioned district, and the waters of both Red River and Drake's Creek run through portions of it. Lands range from five to thirty-five dollars per acre. It is comparatively thickly settled. In this district arc a Masonic Lodge, an Odd Fellows' Lodge, and Methodist and Baptist churches.

District No. 1, east of No. 6, is a small district, has two churches and two school-houses. The lands are a little more elevated, finely watered, and timbered with white oak, but are cheaper. For fruits the lands are excellent.

District No. 8 is similar to No. 7; has the waters of " Caney Fork" of Drake's Creek running through it. There is a good sulphur spring in this district, and some of the finest orchards in the county. Fruit trees are raised to some extent, and are sold principally in this and adjoining counties. There are good schools, with large attendance, and several churches, the Baptists predominating. The chestnut lands here are better than the average chestnut lands, and produce, under the careful cultivation given them, fine wheat, corn and tobacco. Herds grass grows abundantly. Several good farms are situated on the chestnut lands. Lands unimproved are valued from two to six dollars, and improved from five to twenty.

District No. 9 embraces lands on both sides of the Ridge, and is rather broken. The northern portion, however, lies better, and has ___ (?) valuable white oak timber and chestnut. Coatstown is in this district, and the Scottsville pike and Fort Blount road give good out J. S. for produce. The " Rock House," an old tavern stand, is on the side of the district. Some good schools and churches are on ___(?) sides of the Ridge. Bledsoe's Creek heads in this district. There s v two tan-yards in it, where some good leather is manufactured. ___(?) is a quality of marble found near the Rock House, which is ___(?) of fine polish, and will, when the Cumberland and Ohio Railroad is completed, be easy of access for transportation, and will probably be in demand for building purposes. A cave occurs near the j___(?) House of considerable extent, containing some of the usual formations, and is said to have furnished material for making __(?) for the pioneers of the country. The hill-sides south of the ___(?) are generally covered with briers and undergrowth. Blue-grass grow on any of these hills with proper attention.

District No*. 10 and 11, embracing a portion of the Bledsoe's Creek, including Bethpage, have some of the best lands in the county.. heavy yields of corn, hay, etc., and the hill lands for the rare blue-grass lands. The valley lands are all in cultivated and prices of best lands would probably run up to forty and fifty dollars. The hills are cheaper, but much of the hill lands are owned by the farmers in the valley, and are valued for the timber. Rogue's Fork and Brushy Fork of Bledsoe's Creek empty into the main stream in the tenth district. There are good schools and competent teachers, and there are churches of various denominations.

Districts No*. 12 and 13 embrace land on both sides of the Ridge, and are similar in contour to No. 8. The Louisville and Nashville Railroad runs through No. 12, passing through a tunnel cut through the Ridge. Timber is the chief article of trade on the line of the railroad, though there are several energetic farmers around the tunnel on the north side. The valleys on the south side are narrow, but there are some very good farms in these districts, and prices range from twenty to forty dollars for some of them; others sell cheaper. The timber south of the Ridge in these districts is being hauled to Gallatin for fuel, and used for rails, boards, etc. Churches and schools are convenient.

District No. 14 adjoins Robertson county, and is wholly north of the Ridge. There is some good poplar land in it, and the farmers raise the usual products in the ordinary quantity and quality. Lands range from three to twelve dollars per acre. The general character of the people in all the districts named is similar. The men do their own work, and the women attend to their household duties generally without help, many of them making their coarser cloths at home by hand, and in some cases there are strong prejudices existing between this class of people and other classes who dress better and work less.

The remaining eleven districts lie south of the Ridge, the spurs from which project into some of them. The valley lands were originally of the very best alluvial soils, and are still very productive. The lands south of the Ridge may be classed in three qualities: bottom lands, creek and river; second bottoms or higher lands, generally with chocolate-colored sub-soil, and mulatto lands, the latter generally having limestone rock cropping out, and are seriously affected by drought. Corn, cotton, wheat and hay are the general products, the cotton being principally raised in the south-western portion of the county. Broom-corn is cultivated successfully by several men, who claim that it is a paying crop. Irish and sweet potatoes are raised in abundance for home consumption, and many men raise them for exportation. The prices of lands vary from twenty to sixty dollars per acre, according to locality, improvements, etc. The condition of forms at present contrasts badly with what they were before the war, especially in point of good fences and improvements, many of the best farms having been entirely stripped of fences during the war. There is probably fifteen per cent, of waste land south of the Ridge (lands that have been cleared and exhausted), much of which can be recuperated by judicious management. Its exhaustion is owing generally to bad cultivation, gullies being allowed to wash, the result of shallow plowing. The want of rotation of crops is another cause of this exhaustion. Farms range in size from one hundred to five or six hundred acres. Raising stock is more profitable south of the Ridge, but north of the Ridge, tobacco is the best paying crop, after raising family supplies.

Timothy is regarded as the best grass for hay, and blue-grass for grazing. Orchard-grass and herds-grass both grow well, and some farmers think that orchard-grass on the chocolate-colored or mulatto soils will stand more grazing than either of the others. Hungarian grass and German millet are both raised for hay, and there are different opinions as to which is the better. Both are good. Clover is universally acknowledged to be the best renovator, but many act injudiciously in grazing too closely to get its full benefits as a fertilizer. Turning plows, steel and cast, are used for breaking up, one-horse turning plows and double shovels and riding plows are all used south of the Ridge for cultivating.

Labor is not abundant that is, reliable labor. There are many negroes who lounge around for job work at extra prices, who will not undertake to make regular crop hands. Hands hired by the year generally get from $10 to $12 per month and board, equivalent to from $15 to $17 per month. Renters pay one-third of the crop sometimes, but more generally give about ten bushels of sound corn per acre. When the land-holder furnishes teams and tools he gets two-thirds.

The produce of the county goes to Louisville and Nashville over the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, or is shipped to Nashville by the Cumberland River. When the Cumberland and Ohio Railroad is completed, the Cincinnati market will be open to the farmer.

Blood horses are numerous. Short-horn, Devon and Jersey cattle, and Berkshire hogs are raised extensively in the southern part of the county. There are some other varieties of hogs, but none better than the Berkshire. There are also Merino, Southdown and Cotswold sheep, and many of the farmers are doing well by raising improved breeds of different animals. Sheep are much annoyed by dogs, and at least fifteen per cent, of them are killed every year in that way.

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