Six Triple-Threat Town Sites

by Guy Alan Bockmon.

In his 1930 book Soil, Its Influence on the History of the United States, Archer Butler Hulbert noted that the locations of the early “ferries . . . mark the . . . points where the ancient trails descended from high ground to the fords. These were usually located on a river at the mouth of a loading tributary. The sediment of this tributary was deposited blow [sic] its mouth in the main river, making the water shallower at that point and therefore more easily forded. About such fords human habitations usually sprang up in the shape of trading cabins, villages, or forts.”

At six such sites there sprang up the first tiny villages on the Cumberland and Red Rivers in Middle Tennessee.

The village of Nashville grew up around the 1780 fort sited on a defensible bluff accessible from the river via Lick Branch. The Lick Branch shoal was augmented by that of Pond Branch, which flowed into the Cumberland from the opposite side.

A little more than a mile downstream from Nashville, and on the other side of the river, Heaton’s (or Eaton’s) Station was also established in 1780, at a location near where Well’s Mill Creek loaded into the Cumberland. The station had prospered sufficiently to be called Heatonsburg in the 1783 minutes of the Notables. Historian A. W. Putnam (1799-1869) believed the town of Waynesborough was laid out at Heaton’s Station about 1796. This new town, a rival to Nashville, was given its name in honor of General Anthony Wayne.

Clarksville, the second settlement in Middle Tennessee to survive as a town, was sited on the east bank of the Cumberland, just above the mouth of the Red River. Local historian W. P. Titus observed that Clarksville had the advantages of two rivers, good landings, and, what was then indispensable, a gushing spring of pure water.

A few miles downstream from Clarksville, Deason and Weaver Creeks had combined forces over geological time, carving a deep notch into the high limestone bluff. At that spot on the south shore, downstream from the mouth of the north shore’s Hog Branch, the village of Palmyra began to prosper in its role as the country’s international port nearest to the Gulf of Mexico. Jonathan Steele, Comptroller of the Treasury from 1796-1802, noted that the appointment of one Morgan Brown as Collector had been approved upon the information of Andrew Jackson, then a Senator from Tennessee.

About ten miles east of Clarksville, where Sulphur Fork Creek flows into the Red River, the village of Port Royal was laid out, as described by C. E. Brehm*, into 37 lots, four streets, a public square and a section of land reserved for a public warehouse.

Upstream from Nashville about six miles is the mouth of Spencer’s Spring Branch. It was later to be called, successively, Buchanan’s Spring Branch, Craighead’s Spring Branch, and Love’s Spring Branch. On its banks by 1799 was established the village of Haysborough.

Only a few fords and ferries are still in use, as are even fewer portages. The cities of Nashville and Clarksville still thrive. Palmyra still exists. The site of Port Royal is now a State Park. The historic villages of Haysborough and Waynesboro have disappeared from modern maps. The triple threat of fording place, portage, and harbor at these six sites and many others largely determined where future settlements, roads, ferries, bridges, and eventually railroads would be located. Thus did sedimentation influence settlement.

* Cloide Everett Brehm (1889-1971) was president of the University of Tennessee from 1946-1959.

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