A. The Creation of Maury County
If one should draw a line diagonally across a map of Tennessee from Bristol to Memphis and then another from Coppertown to Union City, those lines would cross somewhere in Maury County. Because the county was situated in the geographical center of the state, Maury Countians fought for years, unsuccessfully, trying to convince the Legislature to make Columbia the Capitol of Tennessee. Maury County was first opened to settlement after the Federal government signed a treaty with the Cherokee Indians in 1805. Almost immediately the area was invaded by hundreds of pioneers, most of them having waited for years to enter the rich lands through which Duck River meandered on its east to west course. Some of these prospective settlers had been soldiers of the American Revolution and had been granted lands in the area by the almost bankrupt government of North Carolina as a bonus for their wartime services; others were heirs of those soldiers; others had purchased land from speculators, hoping that the treaty with the Indians would be signed and the area be opened for settlement at some future date. Within a year after the territory was opened up, smoke ascended from hundreds of log cabins hastily constructed from the cedar and poplar logs that grew profusely throughout the area. At first, the new lands were a part of Williamson County but, so rapid was the increase in population, that by November, 1807 the General Assembly voted to create a new county. It was named “Maury County” after Abram Maury, a prominent surveyor/politician of the region. By 1810, the county already boasted of 7,000 inhabitants, a number greater than the population of most of the older counties of Tennessee.
B. The Early Days
Throughout the first century of its existence, Maury County was among the leading agricultural regions of Tennessee. Although several large tracts of land had been acquired by individuals, these were generally subdivided into smaller segments for division among heirs or sold to other parties. After about 1820 there were only a few large plantations of the type generally thought of in such places as Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi. The one-family farm was more common and with the exception of a few dozen farms, the number of slaves owned by the farmers was small. Within a few years older settlers began to pass away and the properties were divided among their heirs. After the second or third generation died, the amount of land received by an heir was insufficient to provide a living for a family. Thus, when new territories in the West and South were opened, many of Maury County’s citizens, young and old alike, decided to seek their fortunes in those places. The sign “Gone to Texas” was left tacked to many a cabin door during the middle years of the nineteenth century. After all, wasn’t that what their fathers and grandfathers had done when they pulled up stakes in North Carolina or Virginia to head for the Far West across the Allegheny Mountains?
C. Mapury County and the Civil War
When the problem of Secession came up in the South, many Maury Countians were reluctant to take up arms against the central government. After all, hadn’t their revered Andy Jackson, and hadn’t their own son, James Knox Polk, been Presidents of the Union? They were strong States Righters, though, and believed that they should be allowed to handle their own problems. About the question of slavery, this was not a problem for most of the citizens of the county because they did not own slaves anyway. Many of the side issues were foreign to them as well. So they voted to remain in the Union…that is, until, the first shots were fired at Fort Sumpter. Then their Southern heritage won out and Maury County contributed much, both in men and material, in the defense of the Confederacy. After Nashville fell to Federal troops, Columbia, which occupied a strategic position on the roads to the south, was alternately occupied by the Federal forces and then by the Confederates. Due largely to the high regard the Union officers and men had for native Maury Countian, James K. Polk, the county was spared most of the terrible destruction experienced by other areas of the South. Thus, we still have the dozens of antebellum homes that dot our landscape and which we so proudly show to our visitors.
D. Maury County’s Second Century
After almost a century of high productivity, much of the farmland of Maury County had been depleated of its natural fertility. By the 1890’s, production was dropping drastically. It was then that phosphate ore was discovered and the county entered a new era of prosperity and growth. Dozens of mineral processing companies opened offices or mines around Columbia and Mt. Pleasant. Before long, Mt. Pleasant was being touted as “The Phosphate Capital of the World”. It was found that much of the area was underlain with a layer of the ore. At first it was mined by the crude pick, shovel and wheelbarrow method. Later, machines were introduced to strip off all of the topsoil and extract the ore. Often the mined-over land was abandoned, not fit for any further use. Then, laws were passed which forced companies to reclaim the land after the mineral extraction operation was finished. For almost a century the phosphate industry employed more workers and provided more income than any other sector of the county’s economy. Scarcity of raw materials, changes in the laws governing the use of phosphates and other factors caused most of the companies to close their plants by the 1980’s. Today only one plant is processing elemental phosphate in Maury County.
E. Maury County Today
About the time when the phosphate industry was playing out, Maury County attracted another major industry. MapGeneral Motors was planning to build a new type of automobile–a smaller model– that would be able to compete with the imported cars from Japan and other countries. After a nationwide search, the company chose Maury County as the site of its new venture and announced that it was purchasing 1000 acres of land near Spring Hill upon which to build its new production facility. This was the property upon which Haynes Haven and Rippavilla, two of the county’s well-known mansions were located. The new industry would be called the Saturn Corporation and would produce vehicles of the same name. It would be a completely new facility, using revolutionary manufacturing and personnel methods, and with an announced goal of producing 1,000 cars per day in five years. Saturn has proved to be a good neighbor and has met or surpassed its goals. Today the plant is visited by engineers and executives from all over the world and is considered to be a model facility. It now employs about 6,000 persons and has brought thousands of other families to the area to work in collateral or service positions. Maury County’s population has grown by more than one fourth during the past decade and now numbers at least 90,000. This growth has greatly taxed the county’s infra-structure, i. e. schools, roads, police and fire services, water and sewer lines, etc. These have had to be expanded in order to keep up with the new growth and will, without a doubt, continue to do so during the years ahead.