A Brief History of Mile Post 42 ... Smeedsville ... Dickson Station ... and Now Dickson
Taken from the Heritage Book of Dickson County 1803-2006
During the iron ore mining and smeltering boom of the early 1800s in Dickson County, several iron furnaces and forges were located within a few miles of what would later become the city of Dickson. To supply the furnaces with ore, large blocks of land were purchased by the owners of the furnaces. One of the furnaces located nearby was Piney Furnace, located on Piney River. The lands owned by the company were known as the Piney Furnace Lands. After the iron ore boom began to die out, the company sold the land. On December 3, 1860, William Crutcher purchased 533 acres of the Piney Furnace Lands for the sum of $2,169.41, on credit terms. He then built the first building in what is now Dickson, a log building measuring 16x16 feet, located near the site of the present Bank of Dickson on North Main Street.
The Nashville and Northwestern Railroad had already been chartered and the line surveyed from Nashville to Lucas Harbor (Lucas Harbor's name was later changed to Johnsonville) on the Tennessee River in Humphreys County. The line was marked off by mile posts, referring to its distance from Nashville. It was first known as Mile Post 42, with the post being located at the crossing of the road from Charlotte to Vernon.
In 1861, when the Civil War began, construction was halted on the railroad in the area of Kingston Springs and White Bluff, and the economy of the county, like other areas, began to decline. Crutcher began to have financial problems because of the poor business conditions in the county. In 1862, union soldiers took his log building, dismantled it, and moved it to Cox Spring. Cox Spring was located in the eastern section of the land owned by Crutcher, now on Mathis Drive at about the site where Mathis Drive crosses the drain between the rear of First Federal Bank and TriStar Bank. The building was reassembled and used for the office of the supervisors of the construction crew of Irish emigrants, slaves, and Union soldiers in the construction of the railroad through Dickson County to the Tennessee River. One of the men in charge of construction of the railroad was a civil engineer by the name of E. C. Smeed. In honor of him, the name of the railstop was changed from Mile Post 42 to Smeedsville.
E. C. Smeed was one of Brigadier General Herman Haupt's most trusted supervisors of the U. S. Military Railroad Construction Corps (USMRR) Construction Corps. General Haupt was the chief of construction and transportation for the military railroad system for the Union Army. Haupt together with Smeed invented a ruthlessly effective tool to render track unusable; it was the “Track Twister.” It was a 6 ½ pound portable tool in the shape of a large horseshoe with a hook on either end. The Track Twister could be placed on either end of the rail with a long timber placed in the loop and then twisted in opposite directions with the same man or horse power, rendering the track useless. On May 10, 1864, the railroad was finished and the first train passed through Dickson County headed west out of Nashville to Lucas Harbor on the Tennessee River. The train was carrying a load of Union troops and Andrew Johnson, Military Governor of Tennessee. He had been appointed by President Lincoln at the outbreak of the Civil War. He became the President of the United States after Lincoln was shot. Johnson went to the end of the new railroad, Lucas Harbor. The population at the time was about 1,000 people, with several general stores, hotels and other businesses. Andrew Johnson himself changed the name of Lucas Harbor to Johnsonville, Tennessee. Johnson was a tailor, a United States Senator, a Military Governor and President of the United States of America.
Crutcher eventually defaulted on payment of the Piney Furnace Lands and in September of 1867 the court ordered the land to be sold at public auction. On October 7, 1867, the records show that Conrad Berringer purchased the lands for $5,200.00 and at once began to establish a town. Within six years, the town had been established, platted, chartered, and the name changed from Smeedsville to Dickson. The plat for Smeedsville was drawn in 1867 and future growth was planned. Hermann Bokum's 1868 guide book, The Tennessee Handbook and Immigrants Guide, stated that “At Smeedsville, on the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad, which passes through the county, Mr. C. Berringer, of Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, is establishing a colony of framers and mechanics, like himself, immigrants of Pennsylvania. There is oil shipped from this county. The soil is both free and limestone. The lumber is abundant and good... Apply for further information to the Hon. M. J. J. Cagle, at Charlotte, the county seat.” By 1870, Smeedsville had a population of approximately 150.
After the Civil War, William Darby published a newspaper, the Emigrants Guide, in which he advertised Dickson County very highly, listing the natural resources of the county, plus the railroad, the rivers and creeks, plus the four towns all located on the railroad, Hutton, White Bluff, Smeedsville and Gillum Station, as good towns to settle in and establish a business. The name Dickson officially came into being on January 6, 1873, as a petition was filed with the Clerk of the Chancery Court in Charlotte to establish the town of Dickson. The plat of the town was filed on January 21, 1873. On June 10, 1873, an election was held by the citizens involved for the incorporation, and on December 2, 1873, the charter was granted for the town of Dickson, Tennessee. There is no record of why the name was changed, but one speculation is that there was a town in east Tennessee by the name of Sneedsville which caused some confusion with Smeedsville, thus causing the name to be changed to Dickson.
By the time 1880 arrived, growth had come with its problems. Many years ago, Mrs. D. L. Swank stated, concerning the late 1870s and the early 1880s, “One thing, however, that impressed itself indelibly on my memory was the three licensed saloons open right in the middle of town. With the influx of drunken men added to the locals, Saturdays especially were a menace to decency and order. There was no Chamber of Commerce, Lions, Kiwanis or Women's Clubs to lend their influence. There was a group of men who believed in a better way of life, a decent chance for boys and girls, and for the women too, bowed with poverty and shame because of this evil that threatened to destroy their homes. These men 'went to bat' against the monster, with more or less success. Then the Legislature passed the Four-Mile Law and saloons had to go!” The Four-Mile Law was passed by the state legislature in 1877, enacting a law forbidding the sale of alcohol within four miles of chartered rural schools. With a state law on the statue books prohibiting the sale of intoxicating liquors in unincorporated towns, it is believed the town of Dickson, like many other small towns, used this law to close their saloons by abolishing their charters. With a population of nearly 800, the citizens of Dickson voted to abolish its charter, doing so on March 16, 1883. The act to abolish the charter was signed by Governor Ben McMillin on March 19, 1883. The town existed in an unincorporated manner until it was re-chartered on April 22, 1899, with a population of a little over 1,300 individuals.
The first organized baseball game to be played in Dickson was on September 7, 1882. It was between the Dickson Seed Ticks and the Nails Creek Nine. The game was called at the end of the fourth inning with the score being, Dickson 50 and Nails Creek 2. A county election was held on September 1, 1898, to determine if the county seat and courthouse would be moved from Charlotte to Dickson. The vote was 1495 for and 714 against the move. This was 67 votes more than the required 2/3 majority. A compromise was worked out in the state legislature to divide the county into seven equal districts and have a courthouse in both Dickson and Charlotte. Jones Creek was set as the dividing line with those arrested north of the creek being taken to Charlotte and those arrested south of the creek being taken to Dickson.
On December 10, 1925, the Courthouse in Dickson was condemned by an engineer hired by the State of Tennessee. The December term of the circuit court was held at the second floor of the Masonic Building (now Ragan's Friendly Neighbor Store) because officials feared the top floor of the courthouse might fall through with the large crowds expected to attend the hearings and trials. On April 26, 1926, the Dickson County Quarterly Court voted against the funding of the cost to build a new courthouse in Dickson by a vote of 29 to 6. The proposal was to cost $34,000.00 for the new courthouse. On July 9, 1928, work crews began demolishing the old courthouse in Dickson. On or about February 1, 1931, House Bill #308 was passed abolishing the circuit court of the town of Dickson, repealing Chapter #237 that in 1899 created the circuit court that was held in the old courthouse on the public square in Dickson.
On July 2, 1929, at a special called meeting of the mayor and board of alderman of the town of Dickson, a resolution was passed to deed the property where the old Dickson Courthouse stood over to the Memorial Building Commission. The Memorial Building Commission consisted of 9 members, 3 members appointed by the county, 3 members appointed by the town, and 3 members appointed by the American Legion Post of Dickson. The Quarterly Court of Dickson County, in a stormy session on July 1, 1929, passed a resolution allotting $15,000 on construction of the Memorial Building. The vote was 9 to 16. State Controller Edgar J. Graham refused to write the $15,000 check for the state's part of construction cost on the building. A suit was filed against the state of Tennessee on July 27, 1929, in the 3rd Circuit Court of Davidson County. The Honorable E. F. Lankford ordered the state to issue the check. The first official meeting of the town after re-charter was held on May 12, 1899, with Dr. C. M. Lovell named as the first Mayor.
The town of Dickson was almost completely destroyed by fire in its early years. On August 19, 1893, a fire starting in the store of Murrell and White on the comer of Murrell and North Main Street destroyed all but three buildings in the business section between the railroad and Murrell Street. On November 24, 1905, at 2:30 o'clock in the morning, a fire starting in the Berry-Seay Candy Kitchen on North Main Street destroyed 21 of the buildings on the block between the railroad and College Street.
With the coming of the railroad in the 1860s and the subsequent additions of the Bristol to Memphis Highway (originally known as State Route 1), a majority of which became known as U.S. Highway 70 (Broadway of America) in 1926, Highways 46, 47, and 48, Interstate 40 and more, Dickson has grown. The city may not be located on a major waterway, but it still has great transportation routes. The available transportation and a multi county trade area has helped Dickson to grow a diverse commercial and industrial base.