Giles County Memory, Legacy, and History
A broad heritage tour designed to highlight sights of significance to Giles County's history and development.
Named honor of J.T. Bridgeforth, a prominent Black educator in the early twentieth century, Bridgeforth School became the first African-American high school in Giles County. Built with funds from the Works Progress Administration, initial construction of the school grounds began in 1936 under the direction of nationally recognized African-American architects Mckissack and Mckissack, whose grandfather had been enslaved nearby and who, in 1922, became the first African-American architecture firm in the state. Weeks before the school officially opened, large scale flooding along the Upper Cumberland River forced fleeing citizens to take refuge in the school. In March of 1937, the first school sessions were held by sixty-eight students and three teachers. The school's curriculum focused on academic education largely over of vocational skills. In 1950, young veterans under the direction of H.H. Simms, the school's trade's teacher, gained work experience when they expanded to the school to include grades 1-6. By 1959, in an attempt to create more equal conditions between white and Black schools and delay integration sparked by the landmark Supreme Court decision, Brown vs. Board, Giles County built a new high school on adjacent property and moved the lower grades into the original Bridgeforth School. In 1965, Giles County became the first county in Tennessee to voluntarily desegregate schools.
In 1809, following the 1806 cession of Cherokee lands north of the Tennessee River to the United States government, the General Assembly appointed five commissioners to select a site for the seat of newly formed Giles County. The act required that the site be on Richland Creek and near the center of the county. The commissioners surveyed the land of what is now Pulaski and divided it for auction. By 1811, a log courthouse stood at the center of the town square. The current courthouse, completed in 1909, is the fifth to sit at this location. The surrounding commercial district is comprised of buildings dating from the 1860s to the 1930s, exhibiting a range of architectural styles. *need some noteworthy events. (Add a small handful of individual buildings to the tour separately?)
Regarded in local memory as the “Boy Hero of the Confederacy,” Sam Davis was 21 years old and a combat veteran when he was captured by Union secret service in 1863 and charged with espionage. After receiving wounds at the battles of Shiloh and Perryville, Davis had been assigned to “Coleman’s Scouts,” a company charged with moving behind enemy lines to collect information on Union activities. On a scouting mission at Minor Hill in Giles County, Davis and several other scouts were discovered and taken into custody by the 7th Kansas Cavalry, who found papers in his shoes disclosing information about Union fortifications and troops. The scouts were imprisoned in the Giles County Courthouse while Union troops questioned Sam Davis, attempting to get him to disclose the name of his source and commanding officer. Sam’s refusal to give them any information won him a beloved spot in local memory, especially after the popular publication Confederate Veteran immortalized his story three decades later. The Sam Davis Memorial Museum, located near the spot where Davis was hanged, was dedicated 87 years to the minute after his death.
The burial spot of ten former Pulaski mayors, the Old Graveyard Memorial Park was the site of Pulaski’s first designated burial ground. First in use by 1817, three years before Pulaski was chartered, this graveyard remained the primary burial ground for Pulaski citizens for several decades, before the creation of what would become Maplewood Cemetery, which opened in 1855. Burials continued at the old graveyard until 1883. Over the course of the 20th century, the graveyard fell into neglect. In 1968, concerned citizens joined together to revive the space, turning it into a park in honor of the deceased who found their final resting places here. Though the park does not follow modern best practices in cemetery preservation, it stands as a memorial to Pulaski’s earliest residents, with a marker listing the names of every known person interred here to preserve their memory in perpetuity, even as the original engravings fade.
The Original Church of God is noted as being the first African-American Original Church of God congregation in Tennessee. The congregation formed in 1900 by C.W. Gray, who held the first meeting on a front porch. As the congregation grew, the need for a permanent sanctuary became obvious. In 1907, the church purchased a lot in between Phillips and Gordon streets. Within weeks of the purchase, the Giles County Courthouse burned down. Using the salvaged bricks and front door from the courthouse, the Original Church of God erected their church, completed in 1909. The structure is recognized as the oldest Original Church of God sanctuary in Tennessee.
Maplewood Cemetery has served Pulaski as a public burying ground since 1855. It expanded in 1878 to include a new African American section and again in 1907 to what is now "New Maplewood Cemetery." The older sections are designed to reflect a park-like atmosphere, which was popular in Victorian-era cemeteries. It holds the graves of many prominent Pulaski citizens.
The Wilkinson-Martin house is one of the oldest remaining structures in the area. It was built in the Federal style for cotton gin mechanic Francis Wilkinson, son of War of 1812 veteran Thomas Wilkinson. The Wilkinsons were some of the earliest white settlers in Giles County, arriving in 1809. Today it is privately own but available for use by community groups and organizations.
After fighting his way to the top of the candy industry, Franklin Clarence Mars, founder of Mars, Inc. and creator of the Milky Way candy bar, purchased 2,805 acres in the rolling hills of Giles County to raise Thoroughbred horses and Hereford cattle. His Tudor Revival home here was completed in 1933. The estate included 30 barns and 70 worker cottages. The enterprise employed as many as 900 laborers, including African American day laborers like Mack Reynolds who lived in nearby African Hollow and gained notoriety for negotiating a higher wage. In 1934, Frank Mars passed away leaving Milky Way Farm to be run by his wife, Ethel Veronica Healy Mars. While her brother, a longtime salesman for Mars, Inc., ran the candy manufacturing side of the business back in Chicago, Veronica Mars focused on the Milky Way Farms and made a name for herself in Thoroughbred racing. Under her leadership, in 1936 the Milky Way Farms stables became the most successful racing stables in the country, bringing in $206,450 in winnings. In 1940, her colt Gallahadion won the Kentucky Derby. She passed away in 1945 while visiting friends in La Jolla, California.
Bodenham Mill in rural Giles County is a flour and grist mill that is best known as a historic center for commerce and community in its neighborhood. Built circa 1930, this mill, on a limestone and mortar foundation, replaced the earlier mill that burned down between 1925 and 1930. Local highways improved and allowed local farmers to drive farther distances, which prompted the Bodenham Mill to serve smaller operations and offer more specialized services. The technology within the mill remained water-powered since the 1830s, but the success within the community let the mill keep up with new milling techniques and was able to introduce new technologies. The mill served the local community for twenty-five years until 1955. The building still stands and holds much of the original technology.
Bodenham School opened in 1937 and served as a school within the African American community until 1963. The school was built with community and county funds on land owned by the Bodenham First Missionary Baptist Church, which received a rental fee from the county for the use of their land. While functioning as a school, it provided academic courses in reading, writing, mathematics, and arithmetic, but also provided vocational courses in skills like woodworking, home economics, needlework, and agriculture. The Bodenham School was not constructed with Rosenwald funds, but its design reflects the plans often used in Rosenwald schools. As roads improved and the county provided busses for African American students, rural schools were often consolidated or even shut down. In 1963, Bodenham School consolidated with Bridgeforth Elementary school in Pulaski. At this time, the school building was converted into a community center and church fellowship hall. The building has been empty since 2001.
Lairdland is a small part of a 5,000 acre tract of land that belonged to John Laird. An Irish immigrant, Laird served in the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War and was gifted this tract of lack by the state of North Carolina. At the time of the gift, this property on Lynn Creek, and Tennessee itself, was still Indian Territory. In 1831, Thomas J. Lane built a house on a property in the Brick Church community an, in 1857, Robert H. Laird, John’s son and Thomas’s brother-in-law, purchased the property, which was then called the Lairdland Farm. The Lairdland Farm is closely associated with the Civil War narrative. During the Civil War, the Laird family took in and nursed Confederate soldiers, even burying one who passed on the land. Captain James Knox Polk Blackburn of Terry’s Texas Rangers (8th Texas Cavalry) recuperated at the farm after one battle and, after the war, returned to Lairdland to marry a daughter of the Laird family. The Lairdland property stayed in the Blackburn family until 2002 and today holds an extensive collection of Civil War artifacts.
Brick Church is a historic Presbyterian church, located in the community of Brick Church in the Northeast Giles County. It was organized in 1840 and built on land deeded to the church association in 1820 by settler Robert Gordon. Originally located in a brick building, the present frame structure was constructed after the Civil War. This site has served as both a well-known school and church, with the school being one of the best in the state. The cemetery associated with the church holds many unmarked graves and many of Giles County’s earliest residents. The congregation is still running.
Campbellsville, a town located in Northwest Giles County, was named for early settler Hamilton Crockett Campbell, who donated the land for a public square. Campbellsville was established in 1808. During the Civil War, federal troops came through and burnt many of the buildings. In 1864, a battle was fought near Campbellsville where federal troops were pushed out of the city and continued on Minnow Branch. By the 1880s Campbellsville had a full business district with stores, Blacksmith shops, a church, a school, a cotton gin, a tavern, and a post office had been established. In 1896, an ax handle factory moved from Williamson County to Campbellsville and bolstered the economy even further. Education was important to the community of Campbellsville. In the later 1880s, the Johnson Brothers and J. T. Crossno ran a private school for girls. After the present Cumberland Presbyterian Church building was constructed, the old log building was used as a school. A new school building was constructed in 1872 and an addition was added in 1883 for the Masonic Lodge to use. The Masonic Lodge of Campbellsville later became a part of the Pulaski Lodge No. 101. Owen School at Liberty Hill was located at the current site of Liberty Hill Baptist Church. This church was built from materials from the old school. In 1978, Campbellsville High School closed when the county school system was consolidated.
The Happy Hill Missionary Baptist church was founded, built, and pastored by Reverend Henry Harrison Braden in 1908. Braden was born in Lynnville on December 11, 1856, and grew up in the community. He joined the old Round Hill Missionary Baptist church congregation in June 1882 and was licensed to preach in the same year. Reverend Braden was ordained in 1887 and later married Mary Marsh. The church founded in 1908 sat on a high hill southeast of Lynnville and across from Richland Creek.
First located down the road at what is now Waco, Lynnville is one of Giles County’s oldest settlements. Named for Lynn Creek, this town was put on the map by the Nashville and Decatur railway branch line. Even though the first settlers came in the early 1800s, the earliest buildings in Lynnville date back to 1860. Old Lynnville (now Waco) was settled near Lynn Creek in 1810, with the post office established in 1814. The name was changed to Lynnville in 1839. When the Civil War hit Tennessee, Federal Troops burned part of Old Lynnville. In addition to this and the construction of the Nashville and Decatur Railroad, the present Lynnville was established and then finally incorporated as a town on February 14, 1907.
Round Hill Missionary Baptist Church and Round Hill AME church have separate histories that share one common trait: both agreed to be at the same site. Round Hill MB was first built in 1866 and was the first church of the area to build its own building. Green Edmonson, a Blacksmith at a shop at Cross Road, contacted David Anderson of Nashville and organized the church. For those in the community, the church was the center of social life. David Anderson pastored 1872 and sent people out to proclaim the word. Well known pastors included HH Braden, William Braden, James Monroe Wells, Thomas J. Marsh, and Lott Edmonson. The nearby cemetery, also known as Braden Cemetery, holds remains of the church leaders and pastors, with the oldest known grave dating back to 1886. The church was rebuilt in 2011. Round Hill AME was founded in 1884 under the leadership of Jack Lowery. The congregation met in a schoolhouse for several years on the first and third Sundays of each month. At the time of founding, trustees of the church bought one acre of land near the Round Hill School for $30. Once the land was bought, the community constructed the building through collections of materials and money and through volunteer labor. The school was heated by a pot-bellied stove in the middle of the auditorium and oil lamps lit the rooms until electricity was brought in. The membership of the congregation was mostly farmers. Over the years, the church has updated their interiors with padded pews and a foyer with bathrooms, plus a new brick façade on the exterior.
To be created
Though little remains of the community today, African Hollow was once populated with dozens of formerly enslaved people from nearby plantations during and after the Reconstruction era. The first African American landowner here was Lilburn Reynolds, whose descendants remained here for several generations. Smith Reynolds, who administered the will of Lilburn Reynolds and may have been a brother or other close relation, served in the 111th United States Colored Infantry and also owned property in African Hollow. Smith’s son Mack, who is also credited with founding Lilburn Chapel, the only original structure still standing in African Hollow, worked at Milky Way Farm toward the end of his life.