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Historic sites

1. Maury County Courthouse

4. The Athenaeum

7. McCain’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church

2. Zion Church

5. Greenwood Cemetery

8. The Columbia Arsenal

3. St. John’s Episcopal Church

6. Natchez Trace

1. Maury County Courthouse

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     The Tennessee State Legislature, meeting in Knoxville on 24 November 1807, voted to sever the part of Willamson County south of Harpeth Ridge and create a new county, to be named Maury Colony. Ten citizens were appointed to serve as Commissioners, and were directed to proceed with the organization of the county. These men held their first meeting on 21 December 1807 in the log cabin residence of Colonel Joseph Brown. The site of this cabin is about three miles south of Columbia on the Mooresville Pike. Today, a historical marker indicates the approximate location of the log cabin. This continued to be the place where the court proceedings took place for the first year. By that time, the State Legislature had directed that property be acquired for a county seat. The town, given the name “Columbia,” was laid off near the center of the new county. Within just a few months, property was purchased and the first lots laid off. These were sold to private purchasers and the funds received designated for the construction of a courthouse, a jail, and other necessary improvements. A contract was signed with builders for the construction of a brick building in September 1808. In December 1808, the justices moved their meetings to a log cabin in the new town. The new courthouse was finished and delivered to the County in December 1810. The first usage of the new building was held by the County Court in March 1811.

     By 1844 the old courthouse was declared inadequate for the county’s needs, and a new structure approved. The old building was demolished and the second courthouse was dedicated in late 1846.

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2. Zion Church

     Zion Presbyterian is the oldest church in Maury County. It has been functioning since 1807 when it was established by pioneers from South Carolina, some of whom arrived in neighboring Williamson County in the years before the treaty with the Cherokee Nation opened the territory south of the Harpeth Hills to settlement. Some 20 families joined together to purchase 5,120 acres from the descendants of General Nathaniel Greene, the Revolutionary War officer who had been granted 25,000 acres of choice land just south of Duck River by the government of North Carolina. The pioneer Zion families were from the Kingstree Presbyterian Church in Williamsburg District, S.C., and most of them arrived in Tennessee in August 1807 with their church already formally organized. Even Reverend James W. Stephenson, their pastor in South Carolina soon joined the immigrants. Within a week of their arrival, even before they started providing shelters for their own families, the men of the colony erected a simple log cabin which served as their House of Worship until 1813 when a more permanent brick structure was built. In 1847, that building was demolished and the present sanctuary was built. One feature of the sanctuary was the balcony that was provided so that the slaves of the community could participate in divine services.

     As was the custom of the epoch, the pews of Zion Church were assigned to individuals or families. Although the custom has changed through the years, some of the pews are still occupied by eighth or ninth generations of the same family. The church has grown through the years; new rooms were built for Sunday School classes; and a pipe organ, the first of its kind in the region, was added. From the very first, the Zion Church provided for its young and for its dead. Even while the colonists were clearing their land and planting their first crops, the need for a cemetery arose. One of the elders of the group, Mr. Robert Frierson, died in Williamson County. His last request was that he be laid to rest in the new land he had come to Tennessee to inhabit. Thus, in June 1808 his remains were transported to Zion and buried near the newly constructed church. This was to be the first of many hundreds of burials in the cemetery that almost surrounds Zion Church. Zion Presbyterian Cemetery is one of the most beautiful and interesting graveyards in Maury County. “Few cemeteries in the state, or even in the nation, have as large a percentage of Revolutionary War (7), War of 1812 (10) and Civil War (55) veterans. Since this congregation was largely made up of relatively prosperous Presbyterian land owners, few graves in Zion Cemetery have gone unmarked. This fact is unusual in an area inhabited, as this one was, by pioneers.” (Fred L. Hawkins, MAURY COUNTY TENNESSEE CEMETERIES, p. 652.)

     The Zion community soon felt the need for a school for their young people. By 1838, a school was started by James E. Stephenson, and a building erected near Zion Church. It was named for Dr. James W. Stephenson, first pastor of the Church. This school was to produce many of the professional and political leaders of Maury County and for Tennessee over the following generations. Although the old academy ceased to function several years ago, Zion Christian School has been reopened. It has grown to become one of the largest private, religious schools in the county. Within the past few years, the curriculum has been enlarged to include grades K through 12 as a result new facilities have been constructed.

     Zion Church and its small museum containing a number of interesting relics, artifacts and documents related to the church’s history are shown to the public on certain programmed occasions or by special arrangement with the church’s staff.

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3. St. John’s Church

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     Among Maury County’s most cherished sites is St. John’s Episcopal Church, located in the Ashwood Community on the Mt. Pleasant Pike south of Columbia. The church was built in 1839 in the Gothic Revival style, and it has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970. The church was founded by the Polk family as a more or less private sanctuary. Colonel William Polk, a resident of Mecklenburg County, Norht Carolina, was the owner of 5,000 acres of land in Maury County, Tennessee. He deeded this land to four of his sons: Leonidas, Rufus, Lucius and George. The Episcopalian Church was not widely established in Maury County, and the Polks, strong adherents to that faith, decided to provide their own place of worship. Leonidas, one of the brothers and also an Episcopalian minister, convinced his brothers to build a building at the point where their plantations joined. His own property, and Ashwood, his home, was located not far away. The brothers provided the funds and their slaves provided the manpower for the construction of the building. Following the custom of the day, the churchyard was dedicated for burial purposes. The first person buried in this hallowed spot was Rufus Polk, one of the brothers who passed away in 1843.

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 One of the interesting stories related to St. John’s Episcopal Church occurred in 1864 as the Army of Tennessee, commanded by General Bragg, was passing by the little church building on its way to face the Union troops in Franklin and Nashville. As a group of the officers rode by, General Patrick Cleburne, one of Bragg’s staff officers, commented, “This is the most beautiful and peaceful spot I ever beheld….It is almost worth dying to be buried in such a beautiful spot.” Just two or three days later Cleburne’s body, along with those of fellow Generals Granbury and Strahl, were carried from the Battle of Franklin and buried in St. John’s Episcopal Church cemetery. Some years later their remains were removed and interred in cemeteries nearer their homes in other states.

     Traditionally, this is the place where Episcopal bishops of Tennessee have been buried. Bishops Otey, Barth, Maxon and Vander Horst are all interred here. Burials in the cemetery are now limited to descendants of persons already interred there. Nearby Polk Memorial Gardens, a commercial enterprise, is one of the most used burial places in the county today. St. John’s Episcopal Church is now opened for religious services only one day each year, that being on Whitsunday. The Cemetery may be visited at any time, but the church building may be entered only on special occasions or on previously arranged visits.

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4. The Athenaeum

     The Athenaeum was founded in 1852 by the Reverend Frank Gillette Smith, who had left Virginia in about 1837 to head the Columbia Institute, a finishing school for young ladies sponsored by the Episcopal Church. The building that came to be known as “The Rectory” was built by Maury County’s noted architect, Nathan Vaught, for Samuel Polk Walker, nephew of James K. Polk. He never used it as a residence, however, because his uncle was elected President and asked him to move to Washington, D.C. to be his personal secretary. The house was acquired by Reverend Smith, and it was his home until his death in 1866. His wife and descendants continued to occupy it until 1973. The Smiths were all educators, and in 1852, they decided to establish a private finishing school for young women. They called it the Athenaeum, and it rapidly became known as one of the best schools for young ladies in the South. Students came from many states and even from foreign countries. A large and lovely campus was built on the hill back of the Rectory and covered much of the area that later was occupied by the old Columbia Central High School. In its hey day as many as 125 girls boarded at the school.

     By 1900 the public school system began to offer free schooling for young people. As the second generation of Smiths began to reach the end of their careers, it was felt best to merge with the public schools. Members of the family continued to reside in the Rectory until 1973, when Miss Carrie Smith, with the concurrence of other descendants, deeded the house to the Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities (APTA). It is now administered by the Maury County Chapter of the APTA which uses the home as its headquarters. The home is open for tours especially during the summer months when young ladies, wearing period apparel often serve as guides. See The Athenaeum for additional information about this historic site.

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5. Greenwood Cemetery

     Greenwood Cemetery, although not the oldest cemetery in Maury County, is the original burial grounds in the city of Columbia. It was created on 14 November 1809 when the commissioners who were designated by the governor of Tennessee to lay out the county seat for Maury County. They designated a two-acre plot on the northern edge of the city, on the bluff overlooking Duck River, as the place of burial for the citizens of Columbia. It could be that this spot had been used for at least one burial prior to its official designation as a cemetery. It seems that an unknown man was kicked to death by a horse sometime prior to 1808, and had been interred in this spot. Nathan Vaught, a well-known Maury County constructor and historian, stated that the first person to be buried in Greenwood after its official recognition was his own foster mother, Mrs. Radford, who died in 1809. Unfortunately, the location of her grave is unknown as it was never marked.

     For half a century, Greenwood remained the only public cemetery in Columbia. Then Rose Hill Cemetery was opened on the southern edge of the city. Greenwood contains the mortal remains of many of Maury County’s pioneers. Among them are the graves of Major Samuel Polk and his wife, Jane Polk. These were the parents of James Knox Polk, 11th President of the United States. Also we find markers in Greenwood for at least three soldiers of the American Revolution, a dozen or so for soldiers of the War of 1812, one or two for the Mexican War, and several for the Civil War. Another interesting marker is the badly eroded slab from the box tomb of Widow Jane Brown, mother of James Brown, one of the founders of Maury County. Her remains were originally buried in the Brown (or Old City) Cemetery south of the city, but because of the importance of her family to the history of Maury County, they were in later years transferred to Greenwood. Beside the old slab is a marble replica of the inscription on the slab, placed there by the Daughters of the American Revolution. It states:

“Sacred to the memory of the widdow Jane Brown who departed this life the 4th day of June, 1831, aged near 91 years as she was born 22nd June, 1740. She was 71 years a member of the Presbyterian Church & died in the triumph of a living faith. Her husband, James Brown, Esqr. was murdered by the Cherokee Indians on the Tennessee River, the 9th of May, 1788 with two of his sons and 5 other young men, and his wife and five children were taken prisoner. Some of them got back to the white settlement in one year, other longer, and one was five years. O Reader, these….people lost their lives and liberty in obtaining this good land that you enjoy. O be ready to leave and go to the good world.”

     Not far from Greenwood Cemetery was a Methodist Church for black persons. A section of Greenwood was set aside for the use of black people, most of whom were servants of the white citizens of Columbia.

     The City of Columbia, in 1886, passed an ordinance that effectively closed the cemetery for further interments. The only exception was for near relatives of persons already buried there. Only a few burials have been made in Greenwood since 1900. The Parks Department of the City of Columbia now maintains the cemetery.

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6. Natchez Trace

Part Of The Natchez Trace Today

     Among the several early American roads (they were really simple footpaths) that existed in the early days of our nation, few were more important, or have been so well preserved, as the Natchez Trace. It started as a pathway that Native Americans used to traverse the wild forests in their annual trips to hunt animals for food, to conduct commerce with friendly tribes, or to carry out raids on their enemies. When the white man first appeared in Middle Tennessee, the only means of transporting his hides or other products to market was by flatboat or canoe down the Cumberland or Tennessee Rivers to the ports along the Gulf of Mexico. This was acceptable way downriver, but the trip back home was not so easy. Many sold their products–including the logs of their flatboats–and walked, or rode horseback over the Indian trail that extended from Natchez, in Mississippi, to Nashville, on the Cumberland, or to points in between. Since this road led through the wilderness, some unknown travellers, not wanting to get lost, took the time to blaze the trail by stripping the bark from trees along the way. Thus, it became known as a “trace,” or in this particular case, “Notchy Trace” as the pioneers mispronounced the name “Natchez.”

     The Natchez Trace begins at Nashville and follows a southwesterly direction through Williamson, Maury, Hickman, Lewis, and Wayne counties before crossing into Alabama and Mississippi. It was a trek of more than 450 miles as it followed the crooks and turns of the hills and valleys across Middle Tennessee, through parts of Alabama, and then into Mississippi. In 1801, the Natchez Trace was recognized by the U. S. Government as an important road and ordered it cleared and improved. It served as the only roadway through this part of the continent for more than two decades. Along its stretch, a few hardy pioneers settled and opened “stands” or rustic inns where weary travellers could eat, sleep, and purchase necessary items for their trip. At places where the Trace crossed rivers, it was not long before hardy souls built crude rafts that, for a fee, served to ferry men, their animals and cargo to the other side. Grinder’s Switch, Sheboss, and Gordon’s Ferry, all within the territory that became Maury County in 1807, were three of these “improvements.” From 1813 to 1815, the Americans fought several battles with the Indians and with the British in the territory south of the Tennessee River. As the troops that fought the Battle of New Orleans under General Andrew Jackson returned to their homes in Tennessee and Kentucky, many of them used the Natchez Trace. This usage by troops demonstrated the need for better highways, and beginning in 1816, Congress appropriated funds to build a 40 foot-wide road from Nashville to Madisonville, Louisiana to be known as the Military Road. Andrew Jackson supervised this building project. The completion of this improved road made the Natchez Trace less important except for local usage.

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Part of Original Natchez Trace

     One of the most widely known events that occurred on the Natchez Trace was the death of Meriwether Lewis, the famed explorer who, along with Clark, led the expedition through the newly acquired Louisiana Purchase all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Lewis had been named as Governor of Louisiana and was on his way to assume his responsibilities when, misteriously, while making an overnight stopover at Grinders Switch, either committed suicide or was murdered. After an investigation, it was ruled that the wound was self-inflicted, but the controversy has never been completely resolved. Lewis’ body is buried near the old trace in what is now known as Merriwether Lewis State Park.

     The Federal Government began a project many years ago to build a new scenic parkway following roughly the old Trace. Natchez Trace Parkway was completed in the past few years, and is now open to the public. Many scenic and historic spots have been marked and improved along its extension, and several sections of the old trace have been preserved to show modern citizens “how it was back then.” It is worth anybody’s time to travel this parkway, at least over the 40 or so miles from Nashville to Gordon’s Ferry on Tennessee Highway 50. It is particularly beautiful in the Spring when the dogwoods are in bloom or in the Fall when everything is in full color. See you on the Trace.

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7. McCain’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church

     The McCain’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church continues to be a part of a very active rural community. McCain’s Community took up the name from local residents, Hugh and Sarah McCain. They moved into the area in approximately 1810 from Waxhaw, North Carolina and quickly became an integral part of the community.

     In years past, the McCain’s community consisted of a limited number of stores, a restaurant, a school and the McCain’s Cumberland Presbyterian Church. “High quality education was once the standard at McCain’s beginning with the establishment of McCain Academy in 1855. The school was officially chartered in 1858 and at its peak had from 100 to 112 boys enrolled.” (When the brick church was built the old one was taken for a schoolhouse and the “Burney” brothers taught there the first four terms. They then enlisted in the War Between The States. When the “Yankees” passed through in 1864, they attempted, with limited success, to burn the schoolhouse down.) “McCain Academy was reestablished in 1894 on a site within two hundred yards of the original school and opened with 53 pupils. This school was absorbed by the county system and later abandoned when Mynders School was built.” When the remaining school building was torn down, part of the logs were put into the barn at the manse which was in place in 1927. Located six miles south of Columbia on U. S. Highway 31 (Beeline Highway), McCain’s was a welcomed stop for weary travelers and local residences.

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8. The Columbia Arsenal

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 11.24.23 PM     It is said that General Jackson passing through Maury County over three quarters of a century ago, made the remark that Columbia would afford an admirable site for an arsenal.

     Finding himself in Congress years afterwards, General Whitthorne, Columbia’s distinguished son, ever ready to work for any object that tended to the up building of Columbia and Maury County, recalled the tradition and the result was the first appropriation of two hundred thousand dollars to be expended in the construction of what is now not only the pride of Columbia, but the State as well–the magnificent structure known as the Columbia Arsenal. The building site was selected in 1888 by General Flagier, Chief of Ordnance and in the summer of 1892 the buildings were dedicated with a ceremonious display that will be recalled by all Columbians.

     Since the first appropriation others have been made at intervals. Eighteen thousand dollars has been set aside for the iron fence which surrounds the grounds. Fifteen hundred dollars has been expended in the improvement of the grounds. Twenty four hundred dollars paid for the steam pump. A second twenty five hundred for the mammoth cistern having a capacity of a hundred and twenty thousand gallons of water. Fourteen hundred feet of hose, at the cost of a dollar a foot, are on the grounds, in case of fire. In addition to this, the direct appropriation, there is a yearly fund, common to all arsenals, of $1,200 for general repairs; another of $4,000 for current expenses.

     Scattered throughout the United States, there are seventeen arsenals, some of which are the seats of the government manufactory, employing daily a thousand hands; others, as the Columbia Arsenal, are memely store-houses for the deposit of government munitions and supplies, and for the repair of arms, etc.

     Stored in the large stone building (see above 1981 illustration of Polk Hall at Columbia Academy, post Columbia Military Academy post Columbia Arsenal) near the gate opening upon the Hampshire Pike are thirty six thousand new Springfield rifles, made at a cost of something like six hundred thousand dollars (approximately $17 per rifle). Also three Gattling guns, each of which can be fired about 1,200 times in a minute. Exposed to view on the post are two twelve-pounder Napoleon guns, and two three-inch wrought-iron Rodmon rifles. Two Cochorn mortars are in front of the office, and a like number are mounted on the commanding officer’s stone steps.

     In addition to the arms and ammunition stored at the post, there are also vast stores of saddles, blankets, bridles, artillery and infantry equipment; making the post one of the most important and valuable of Uncle SamÕs store houses. Major Greer is at present the commanding officer. His predecessors were Major Arnold and Major Comley.

     Quite an interesting feature of the post are the soldiers quartered there. They are twenty in number–the Major, two Sergeants, three Corporals and fourteen privates.

     The officers, with the exception of one corporal, are with their families in the resident houses of the post. The privates are quartered together in the building on the right and nearest to the morning and evening gun. From basement to dormitories these quarters present an appearance of spotless and immaculate neatness that would do the greatest credit to the soul of a perfect and painstaking housewife.

     In the basement is the dining room hall, or mess hall, with its paved floor, its clean tables, and its cupboard of white dishes; the kitchen with its great range, over which presides as cook one of the private soldiers; the store-rooms and the brick oven, where another soldier, turning at times from the art of warfare, exhibits his skill as baker, and furnishes the port with loaves of wholesome looking bread. The sleeping quarters are on the third floor. The rooms are large and comfortable, accommodating four men apiece. There each soldier has his iron bedstead, with pillows, sheets and blankets; his share in the lockers built in the wall for his clothes, and his place around the table. They work eight hours each day, building grand fences, working in the garden, in the shops, in the kitchen, or about the grounds. In return for this, the government furnishes them with uniform, shoes, shirts, underwear, board and thirteen dollars a month.

     Having the advantage of a garden, their fare is better than that of the line stationed at frontier posts; their work is also less onerous since they are not required to go through the routine of drill, dress parade, etc. The quarters are inspected once a month by the commanding officer, and twice a week by one of the sergeants.

     Two men are detailed each night to patrol the grounds and guard the buildings. This they do armed with a revolver. One man is detailed each day to assist in the culinary department, wait on the tables, and keep the rooms in order.

     From five until eleven each night one half of the force is given passes, which permit absence from the post and the liberty of the town. This they are permitted to take in citizens’ clothes; very few of them ever going out in uniform.

     We have always been led to believe the life of a private soldier a very hard one, and his pay, thirteen dollars a month, very meager; but when we consider that his every necessity is supplied, he is very well off, and if he does not drink or gamble can easily save money. Neither is their life without diversion. They play ball or any other game in which they care to indulge, at noon or from five in the afternoon; and on Saturday there is half-holiday for all.

     Three of the privates ride wheels, and all of them smoke good tobacco. Evidently a man could do far worse than enter the service of Uncle Sam, who provides for his servants with a generous hand.

     All visitors are welcomed at the post and the men, from officers to privates, are especially courteous in conducting them over the grounds, through the shops, offices, quarters and other places of interest.

H. E. W.