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New Johnsonville, TN

Making a City From a River




          Along the East bank of the Tennessee River, five miles north of New Johnsonville, Tennessee, south and adjoining the mouth of Trace Creek, and twelve miles west of Waverly was a town called Johnsonville; at one time it was called Brevard’s Creek. This location was first called Knott’s Landing and later Lucas Landing.

          Alexander Brevard had lived north of Trace Creek at Reynoldsburg, owning approximately 4000 acres of land granted to him by the State of North Carolina for services as a captain in the Continental Army. He also operated a ferry on the Tennessee River. Thomas K. Wyly purchased the land and deeded much of it to his son in law, John G. Lucas. The area became known for a number of years.

          In late 1863 the twelfth and thirteenth United States Infantry completed the railroad from Dickson to the river, with a turn table in the tract for turning the engine around for its journey back east. This turntable was a section of the tract mounted on big wheels or disk much like a wagon wheel, only much larger and stronger, with long, stout poles.

           When the track was finished and the first passenger train came from Nashville to the end of the line, off stepped Andrew Johnson—Military Governor of Tennessee—onto a pile of cross-ties making a flowery dedicatory speech about the new town. Then breaking a bottle of wine on the railroad track, named the place “Johnsonville,” a day filled with pomp and ceremony that made history.

          Two years later Andrew Johnson became the seventeenth president of the United States. One of the earlier families of considerable wealth was Barfield as they sent their son off to school. It was said of him that he was the only educated young man of Humphreys County at the time. He later made speeches recruiting and enlisting men in the army when the war broke out.

          The flood of 1874 struck hard when many homes in the low area were washed from their foundation. Then a greater flood in 1897, reaching 48’, 18 ft. above flood stage. However no homes were destroyed at this time as the people avoided building in the lower land nearer the river.

          The railroad was extended across the river and into west Tennessee in 1868, with a draw bridge across the river channel to allow the passage of steamers and tugboats of the river, but all was not successful for the tracks, bridge and train. At one time a violent storm took out two spans of the track, the oddity was that one span was lifted, one left and the next lifted.

          In 1915 a steam shovel was being moved from Johnsonville to Camden by train. The “A” frame of the shovel failed to clear the overhead bridge beams on the draw span, uncoupling or in some way dividing the rails in such a way that part of the train went into the river. Within one of the cars that went down there was a baby on a mattress that floated out a window. The mattress floated long enough for the baby to be rescued.

          Business of the area was varied: Major Junius Palmer operated a steam saw mill dealt big in timber and lumber, even buying a riverboat to advance the business; Johnson and Gould with a large tan yard near Johnsonville, two blacksmith shops: Barnhart Mercantile Company of St. Louis operated a big peanut recleaning plant, employing a large number of women; San Gravel Company employed the men; Commercial fishing and musseling was of significant importance, being a year round employment. For income and food, a number of stores, a hotel, café and a saloon, barber shop, post office and other businesses that made up a balance in township. School was an early part of the town with the first being a subscription school that lasted three months. As late as 1883 there were no churches, but by the close of the town in 1944 there were churches for both colored and white.

          The strongholds for the success of the town was the rich fertile land of the creek and river bottoms, transportation to other parts of the United States by both water and rail. Each time the town bowed low it came back strong and prosperous until the “waters of progress” rolled in. In 1944 TVA built the dam at Gilbertsville, Ky., some eighty miles down stream, thus raising the river water to a permanent flood stage for the lower lying areas. The rest of the town was raised; the citizens moving in many directions, many left the only place they had ever known as home.

          The years passed – the people would return to feel and see the quietness, the nothingness of their beloved town and home. A garden spot that could not die, it was never to be forgotten. Then in 1970, the people, TVA, County, State and Nation allowed the area to live again through the Nathan Bedford Forrest State Park. The park was first opened in 1971. It has continued to grow until now there is a well kept park with nine miles of hiking trails, twenty five picnic tables, two children’s playgrounds, two picnic shelters. Dedication and opening of the museum was in 1977. Expansion plans included ten additional picnic tables, a tour boat, and a chapel in the woods overlooking the river. As the years went on, more settlers came into the region and more land was cleared for cultivation. Corn, peanuts and livestock became the principal products and were shipped by water to markets to the north.

          The New Johnsonville Region has been settled by the white man for more than one hundred fifty years, dating back, as stated above, to about 1800. Until 1805, the area was Indian Territory, but at that time it was opened for white settlement. A crude agriculture was carried on by the Indians before 1800. The level, fertile bottom lands and the abundance of water, timber and game attracted the white settlers, who eventually forced the Indians across the Tennessee River. Pioneer agriculture was the chief pursuit of the early settlers.

          When Kentucky reservoir was impounded in 1944, as stated above, the original town of Johnsonville was flooded out and many residences moved and resettled at the present site which is about 3 miles upstream from the original town, which is where New Johnsonville is.

          In 1949, the City of New Johnsonville was incorporated. This was at the time TVA Johnsonville Steam Plant construction began. The first City Board of Mayor and Aldermen met Monday, May 2, 1949 and the first City Board consisted of: A. W. Lucas, Jr., Mayor; P. A. Carman, William Carman, Nathan Flexer, R. T. Reeder, B. T. Townsend, Sr. and T. A. Tucker as Aldermen. Ted Pappas was City Attorney and Blanche Carman was the City Recorder.

          This meeting was held at San Gravel Company in New Johnsonville. The meeting place for the City Board of Mayor and Aldermen moved from San Gravel to the meeting room at the Citizens Bank in New Johnsonville and later moved to its present location of the New Johnsonville City Hall. All City records were moved also several times from San Gravel to the Arthur Schneider residence to the New Johnsonville City Hall where they are presently located.

          The first water supply for the City was from two deep wells. The deep wells were shut off and the water supply was taken from Kentucky Lake in 1957 when the present water treatment plant was built and in 1961 extensions and improvements to the plant were made. Until 1957, when the sewer system and sewer lagoon were built, the city was on septic tanks. The fire department is a volunteer one and very active. The fire department was organized with the first purchase of a second hand fire truck on February 20, 1963 and later a new fire truck was purchased. The first Fire Chief was the late Charles Marion Webb, Sr.

          Law and order was controlled by the citizens of the City with the help of Humphreys County Sheriff’s Department until 1972 when, with a Federal Grant, the City of New Johnsonville purchased a patrol car and hired a full time policeman, James Baker. Today the Police Department consists of a Police Chief, a Captain, and three patrolmen, with a Central police department located in City Hall.

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