If you’ve been visiting TennesseeMountainStories.com for very long, you know I’m fascinated by old architecture. Back in 2015 I shared a whole series are articles about historic homes here. Well you can imagine how my ears perked up when some friends mentioned a new house they’ve bought in Dayton, Tennessee. It was built in 1900. As I looked at the pictures and tried not to covet them actually living IN an antique, I commented this must have been an old farmhouse. “Does it still have any acreage with it?” I asked. When they answered no I said, “Well it would have originally.” I was wrong.
It’s part of a subdivision of other homes built at the turn of the 20th century. Now subdivision is a word I associate with the move to the suburbs that began in the 1950’s, encouraged by growing industrialization, improving roadways and the addition of the family car to most homes.
However, I did remember in my genealogical research that I’d seen census records even in the 1800’s noting subdivisions. Could these be the same creatures that are eating up vast farmlands across the country, even across the Plateau? Well, not exactly…
By definition a subdivision is the act of dividing property into smaller tracts. Even now you can find property subdivided into property measured by the feet on up to hundred acre lots. In fact, you might think of the Cumberland Homesteads that we’ve talked about here before, as a subdivision. In that case the government bought over 20,000 acres, allocated several acres in the center for the creation of a town then divided out small farms.
Today subdivisions will be developed by a single company who may establish infrastructure as well as residential rules for the community. Well the subdivision in 1900 would have looked very different I imagine. Remember that TVA didn’t stretch power lines across Tennessee until the 1930’s so no developers were laying in underground power grids. Paved roadways were unheard of small-town-America (the first mile of pavement was laid in Michigan in 1909). And as for those deed covenants that prohibit animals, most folks kept at least a horse in 1900 – remember that Henry Ford didn’t introduce his Model T until 1908.
So, contrary to this country girl’s assumptions, neighborhoods were being planned and built all those years ago. Now many of these homes still stand as testimony to their quality construction and a new generation moves in to create memories and stories to be told to generations to come.