Tennessee Mountain Stories

Final Stop on The Tour of The Upper Cumberlands

We’ve spent twelve weeks touring the Upper Cumberlands through 1940’s spectacles and from the perspective of Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd in his promotional booklet The March of Progress in the Upper Cumberlands of Tennessee. Today I’d like to wrap up the tour with stops in three towns and three additional topics. 

McMinnville, TN

McMinnville, TN

If we drove this route today, it would be about fifty-seven miles up highway 56 and we would not pass any other towns on the tour.  But these three stops seem logical to group because The March booklet presented them in such a similar fashion.  Facts are presented about each location and they are certainly painted as appealing places to visit or even live.  And while the vast resources of the area are detailed, there doesn’t seem to be any real effort to recruit industry to these towns. 

Furthest north of this group is Carthage, Tennessee.  This is the first town in the booklet that wasn’t accompanied by a motto; it is simply presented as the county seat of Smith County.  Carthage does sit at the confluence of the Caney Fork and Cumberland Rivers.   It is the last point at which the Cumberland River makes a junction with a railroad since the Tennessee Central had a branch line into Carthage.

Farming of various stock and crops was the primary industry in Carthage with burley tobacco being the second highest means of cash in the county.  The highest ranking crop was not named.  The average size of farms was sixty-three acres.

No doubt due to the ease of transportation and the great supply of tobacco, five large warehouses were established by the Carthage Tobacco Board of Trade and bought tobacco from fifteen counties.

Just twenty-seven miles south you will find Smithville, “The City of Hospitality and Friendliness”.  The county seat for DeKalb County, Smithville was home to Consolidated Bus Lines, Seven Springs Health Resort and a “government owned and operated airport and [aviation] radio station.”

The Seven Springs Resort seemed to have all the same water that Red Boiling Springs had, as we discussed here a couple of weeks ago.  However, I found it very interesting that the resort was minimalized in the booklet’s article.  It made me wonder whether that resort was ever as large as Red Boiling Springs had been.  However, an internet search yielded no answers.  Neither The Smithville City Hall website nor Wikipedia makes any mention of the resort nor does it have a site of its own.  Perhaps one of you readers will know more about this; if so I sure hope you’ll leave a comment.

Our final stop is McMinnville, “The Southern Gateway to the Upper Cumberland.”  This county seat for Warren County lies on Highway 70-S which The March bills as “The Broadway of America”, the longest cross-country highway in America.  There were six other “important roadways” radiating to all points on the compass. 

The article lists advantages in locationand natural environment being service by the Sparta branch of the N.C. & St.L Railway.  Ten manufacturers and at least five nurseries were already located in Warren County. The nurseries had annual receipts exceeding one million dollars in 1940 – that’s more than $16 million in today’s money.

The booklet includes a map of areas served by Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation within the Carthage article, however, there is no text accompanying the map, nor is there any detail given within the article.  Prior to the establishment of TVA, private electric companies like this one could be established and serve a given area.  While it’s certainly possible there were other companies serving the region, the immense white space on this map is startling to my 21st century eyes.  There is another map for McMinnville Electric system  which shows coverage in DeKalb, Cannon, Warren, Van Buren and White counties.  This map has even more white space than the Upper Cumberland Electric.

TC Engine 1.jpg

The March booklet also gives a two-page mention to the Tennessee Central Railway Company, noting it is “The Road of Personal Service”.  Unfortunately, very little information is given about the railway itself which struggled with financial difficulties for decades and finally terminated passenger service to the Eastern division in 1955 and ran its last train in 1968.  Still, this railway was a lifeline for the plateau for over sixty years.

Several previous articles in this series have well established that the booklet’s author was certainly an equestrian enthusiast.  Therefore, it’s not surprising that he promotes the Tennessee Walking Horse for mountainous and hill country.  In this article, he gives great detail to the blood lines for pure breds and I was particularly interested that he points out the value of Walkers for pleasure as well as farm utility.  Remember that this book was written when there were still few tractors on farms in the Upper Cumberlands so horses and mules were harnessed every day.  He also gives mention to the W.J. Evins Stables both in the Smithville article as well in an article of its own.

I’ve really enjoyed working my way through this old document and sharing it with you.  It stretched my understanding of “The Upper Cumberlands” because a lot of the places we’ve discussed are what we would consider “under the mountain”.  Certainly some of the towns were more dynamic and interesting, and after reading this book I want to spend more time in some of them and want to learn even more about others.  I’d sure love to go stay in one of those historic hotels in Red Boiling Springs and I’m ever more fascinated by the history of Monterey.  I intend to finish reading Mark Twain’s The Gilded Age and see if Jamestown shines forth from the pages; and I certainly want to learn more about The Free Hill Community near Celina and Virginia Hill who freed slaves and left her children in our mountains.  I hope you enjoyed the series and that it’s given you a bit fresher perspective on some of our neighboring towns.