by Amelia Whitsitt Edwards.
One of the most popular features of the Donelson area is a paved greenway trail system along the banks of Stone’s River from the Percy Priest Dam to the Cumberland River. The trail winds through the Clover Bottoms, an area of prime importance to the early settlers in the Nashville area.
The pioneer story began in 1766 with the exploration of the Long Hunters. The river was named in honor of one of their group, Uriah Stone. These adventurers carried the story of this bountiful, uninhabited land with them when they returned to Virginia and North Carolina. It was fourteen years, however, before the first settlers arrived.
In the spring of 1780, John Donelson, having led the flotilla of settlers to Nashborough, recognized the need to plant a corn crop immediately. He again boarded the good ship Adventure with his family, poled up the Cumberland around the great bend until he found the mouth of Stone’s River. He was looking for alluvial fields that were as fertile as the Valley of the Nile and which needed no clearing in order to plant.
A short distance from the confluence of the two rivers he found what he was looking for on the west bank of Stone’s River*, an area forever after known as the Clover Bottoms. Here he docked his boat and built half-faced shelters to house his family on the opposite bluff. This was fifteen-year-old Rachel Donelson’s first home in Tennessee.
That July heavy rains inundated the corn crop. This unhappy event, plus constant harassment from the native Indians, forced the family to move to Mansker’s Fort for protection.
By fall, word reached the settlers at Mansker’s that the flood waters had subsided and that the corn had eared. John Donelson sent a request to the men at Fort Nashborough to meet him at the Clover Bottoms to help harvest the corn. Approximately ten men from each fort built wooden sleds to drag the corn from the field to the boats moored in Stone’s River. Several days were required to load the boats.
As they left the shore, the boat from Fort Nashborough was attacked by Indians; only three settlers escaped with their lives. The Donelson party was on the north bank, harvesting the cotton planted there. They abandoned their boat loaded with corn and managed to get away on foot through the woods. Donelson’s heroic slave, Somerset, swam the Cumberland River and brought help from Mansker’s Fort to the stranded group.
Meanwhile, the boat from Fort Nashborough floated downstream, eventually reaching the bluffs with its tragic cargo of corn and slain men. The settlers there rescued the corn and buried their dead.
Some years later Andrew Jackson, who had married Rachel Donelson, operated several businesses along the Stone’s River corridor. He first opened a general store near the Clover Bottoms. In order to stock his store, he went to Philadelphia and traded land preemptions for flour, sugar, piece goods, and pocket knives. The store was a two-story building near today’s Downeymead Drive. C. Lawrence Winn, a descendant of Jackson’s adopted son, built a house on the property in 1960.
In 1805 Jackson, with two partners, formed the Clover Bottom Jockey Club. A race track and tavern were built by the river. The story of Jackson’s duel with Charles Dickinson is well known. The unfortunate quarrel that sparked the duel started at this race track.
A story that is not so well known is that of Jackson’s boat yard on Stone’s River, near its mouth. Here he constructed five flat boats and one keel boat for former Vice President Aaron Burr who was leading a group of colonists to lands he had acquired in Louisiana. In 1812 Andrew Jackson became a military officer and began his lengthy pursuit of both a military and a political career. Thereafter his business interests on Stone’s River faded away.
The large tract of land known as Clover Bottom Plantation came to be owned by Dr. James Hoggatt, who built the ante-bellum mansion on the property. The property was sold to Mr. Andrew Price in the late 19th century, and then to A.F. and R.D. Stanford in the early 20th century. After World War II it was sold to the State of Tennessee.
Although the last several years have brought considerable business development to the Clover Bottoms, much of the river bank remains untouched by man. The Greenway Project is a promise to maintain the natural beauty of this historic site and preserve it for our future generations. (2000)
* Historians surmise that John Donelson’s cornfield was located just west of the Stone’s River bridge, in the general area of today’s Jackson Downs (Target) shopping center, which was named, incidentally, for the racetrack Andrew Jackson later built slightly northeast of that location.