Flashback Frank: Jefferson Pike

Apr 21, 2022 at 07:30 am by Producer

This is Flashback Frank of the Rutherford County Historical Society.

Today, we will travel back to the original seat of government for Rutherford County – the old town of Jefferson.


Ever wonder where the name ‘Jefferson Pike’ originated? Well, there was once a town, a thriving town, located at the confluence of the east and west forks of the Stones River. The town was named ‘Jefferson’.

When Jefferson was laid out in 1802 and 1803, it contained a public square and 102 town lots.

Why Jefferson? Why THIS location for the county seat of a brand new county?

Believe it or not, there was portage in Jefferson. Flat boats and keel boats could navigate all the way up to Jefferson from Nashville thus giving the farmers a port for their hogs, cattle, wheat, sorghum, tobacco, etc.

October, 1803 saw the creation of Rutherford County by the Tennessee General Assembly. Jefferson was the natural county seat – remember – there was no Murfreesboro in 1803…

Jefferson, as the seat of justice for the newly created Rutherford County, had a two-story courthouse built of brick and stone, Jefferson had a sheriff, a jail, six town commissioners. There was even a position of ‘overseer of streets’.

Jefferson was a bustling, prosperous town with docks and warehouses, stables, blacksmith shops, restaurants, hotels, stockades and taverns. Throughout the county court minutes for 1806, there are numerous cases of assault and battery, trespassing and other offenses associated with a frontier town.

The 1810 Census shows 107 inhabitants. Quite a large citizenry for a frontier town.

The Tennessee General Assembly created a permanent seat of justice for Rutherford County in 1811, in the newly created town of ‘Murfreesborough’. The choice of the new county seat was a culmination of a growing dissatisfaction with Jefferson as the county seat since Jefferson was nowhere NEAR the center of the County. You see, when Rutherford County was created in 1803, the county line stretched all the way to Alabama.

Another setback hit the town of Jefferson, for tradition holds that the waters of the Stones River began to diminish thus boats coming up the river, bringing trade and commerce to Jefferson, could no longer navigate the river year round.

Authorized by the Flood Control Act of 1938, construction of the Percy Priest Dam was begun in 1963. The impounded waters were expected to cover most of the site of the town, perhaps only leaving a small island. Thus beginning in 1966, all the buildings and homes in Jefferson were moved or razed.

But the waters of Percy Priest Reservoir never fully covered the town; it is still possible to visit the site of ‘Old Jefferson’. In fact, the volunteers of the Rutherford County Historical Society give special tours of Old Jefferson from late fall till early spring.

Want to see some very cool pics of the old town of Jefferson? Visit www.rutherfordtnhistory.org and follow the link located at the top of the site.

Enjoy this story and 2,000 other stories concerning Rutherford County history by visiting www.rutherfordtnhistory.org. And please give us a like on Facebook!

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