yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


First and Second Reports of the Bureau of Agriculture for the State of Tennessee.


Assisted By

To whom local assistance was rendered by
C. W. CHARLTON, of East Tennessee
H. L. BENTLEY, of West Tennessee.

Prepared Under the Direction of the Bureau of Agriculture.

Nashville, Tenn.:
Tavel, Eastman & Howell,
Printers To The State



Decatur county is bounded on the north by Benton county, on the south by the Tennessee River and Hardin county, on the east by the counties of Henderson and Carroll, and on the west by the Tennessee River [sic.]. This county contains about 550 square miles. The number of acres returned for taxation, exclusive of town lots, is 322,690, valued at $3,214,148, or nearly ten dollars per acre.

Divisions. There are twelve civil districts and twelve school districts in the county, which comprise all the artificial divisions in the county. ‘The natural divisions are those which are created by the various creeks or rivers. It might also be mentioned that there is a ridge, known in the county as the "shore line," which traverses the county in a north and south direction, and forms two divisions known locally as the "sand district" and the "rocky district," the former being west of the ridge and the latter being east of it.

History. Decatur county was formerly a part of Perry county, but in November, 1845, the General Assembly of the State passed an act, which went into effect on the first Monday in April, 1846, dividing Perry into two counties, giving to that of the old county lying west of the Tennessee River the name of " Decatur county, in honor of and to perpetuate the memory of Commodore Decatur of the United States Navy, of whose services our nation should be proud and whose memory should be revered."

Health Statistics. The people of Decatur county claim to have one of the healthiest counties in West Tennessee, and with the exception of a few neighborhoods, this claim is not without foundation. In those sections of the county which are subject to be annually overflowed by the Tennessee River, and even in the immediate vicinity of these sections there is more than a usual amount of sickness growing out of the superabundance of miasmas which rise from the overflowed territory. But with these exceptions, the county is generally healthy, the prevailing diseases in summer being of the malarial type, and in the winter, affection of the lungs. The mortuary list of the county will compare very favorably with that of the other river counties in West Tennessee.

Physical Geography. A large portion of Decatur is included in what is known as the Plateau or Slope of West Tennessee, the remaining part being in the West Tennessee Valley. The character of the country west of the Tennessee River and until the river bluffs are reached is a rich dark alluvial soil, very porous, very deep and very productive. It is true some portions of this county are annually subject to overflow, but on the high grounds are some of the best farming hands in the State. The bluffs range with the meanderings of the river, as a general rule, the average distance from the river being about one and a fourth miles, though the valley in some places is as much as two miles wide, while in other places it is very narrow, the bluffs approaching very near to the river banks. West of the bluffs is a high, dry table land, which is not so rich and not nearly so productive as the valley or lowlands, and all over the table land is found a great deal of rock, which generally lies near the surface, frequently cropping out above ground. This indeed is the general character of this section of the county until what is known as the "old shore line" is reached, which extends from north to south through the county. Decaturville, the county seat is located upon this ridge. Going west from this ridge toward Henderson county, there is much sand and the districts in this part of the county are known locally as the "sand districts," not because there is nothing but sand, but to distinguish them from the rocky districts east of the "shore line." The soil in these "sand districts" is very mellow, productive and rather thirsty. At a distance below the surface of about eight inches, on an average, is a light colored, grayish yellow clay, which is more porous than clay usually is, and is therefore more thirsty. But on the whole this land produces very well, and this section may be regarded as a very fine farming country. As a general rule the lowlands are planted in corn, and the uplands in cotton, wheat and peanuts. The highlands are well adapted to the growth of clover, and where there is a preponderance of sand in the soil, herds-grass and peanuts thrive especially well. Wheat generally does better in those sections of the county where there is less sand, and where the soil is stiffer than in the very sandy sections. In various portions of the county, especially upon or near the ridge, are numerous glades or bare tracts of land, sometimes containing several acres, which will produce nothing in the way of vegetation, but an occasional bush or little patches of wiry grass. These glades result from the disintegration of gray and sometimes reddish marly limestones, which contain occasionally interstratified thin cherty layers. The surface is made up of the debris from these rocks, and consists of marly matter, mixed with angular calcareous and flinty gravel. Fossil shells, crinoids, corals and sponges from the limestones are found in comparative abundance, mixed with the debris, and have made this region of glades classic ground to paleontologists. These glades in fact, constitute a distinctive feature of Decatur county.

Formations. Beginning at a point about six and a half miles from the northern boundary line of the county, and immediately upon or very near the west bank of the Tennessee River, and extending through the county along its bank and out from the river to a distance varying from one-half to three miles, is found the formation known as the Niagara Limestone. The formation consists of thick-bedded crystalline and fine grained limestones, more or less argillaceous, and often weathering into shales. Most of the limestones are sparry and crinoidal. The series is divided into two nearly equal members, the sponge-hearing bed above and the variegated bed below, each about 100 feet in thickness. The lower bed is an alternation of gray, red and mottled layers, the crinoidal portions sometimes making a fair marble. Much of the mass tends to crumble into shale. The limestone of the upper beds are gray, and as in the lower beds, much of it weathers into shaly matter. On the hill-sides layers of this limestone frequently outcrop in two or three successive ledges, separated by intervals of shale. Thin layers of chert or flint often occur, interstratified with the limestone or embedded in it. In the report of Henry county it will be noticed that mention is made of a bed of this formation, which affords a very fair marble, some of which was used in laying the foundation of' the court-house in Paris. It belongs to the variety of Tennessee marble known as the reddish variegated fossiliferous marble, and sections of the same variety are found in Benton county, and also in Decatur county, though in Decatur no efforts have been made to develop the wealth of the beds. Resting on the Niagara limestone is a series of blue limestone, full of shells, and known as the Helderberg formation. These rocks are seen about Decaturville. They usually outcrop further west from the river than the Niagara. The western side of the county, from north to south, presents a far more recent formation than those of the limestones mentioned. It is a bed of sand with more or less of clayey leaves, and is known as the Coffee sand. Overlying all the formations mentioned, patches of the superficial group spoken of in the first part of this report as the Orange sand, are occasionally met with. The Orange sand consists of sand and gravel. The iron banks are in it. At a few points immediately on the Tennessee River a blue limestone crops out from below the Niagara rocks which yields a good hydraulic cement.

Rivers and Greeks. The Tennessee River forms the eastern boundary of Decatur county, dividing it from Perry county, and is of course worth much to the people of Decatur. There being no railroads in the county, all the exports go out by the way of the river, and all the imports are brought in the same way. Beech River, which rises in Henderson county, enters Decatur at a point about five miles a little north of west of Decaturville, and passing through the county from west to east, empties into the Tennessee River at a point about six miles a little north of east of Decaturville. It is the principal stream passing into or through the county. The only other streams in the county worthy of mention are Stewman's, Turnbull's, White's, Rushing's, Cub and Morgan's creeks, which pretty thoroughly water the county and afford ample milling facilities. These streams have each fine valley lands on both sides of them, some of the valleys being of considerable length and width. Of the Tennessee River valley enough has already been said, but it should be stated that the valley of Beech River is also a very superior one. The soil in this valley is perhaps, not so deep, nor so productive. The various creek bottoms on the creeks mentioned, also afford very superior farming facilities.

Timber. There is a bountiful supply of superior timber in Decatur county, the growth, being poplar and the different varieties of oak, gum, hickory, ash, cedar, pine, sugar-maple, wild cherry, walnut and some chestnut. As a very natural consequence, there are a number of saw-mills, which are engaged in sawing up the best timber into lumber, which is shipped by the way of the Tennessee River to various markets. The varieties which are shipped principally, are poplar, pine and walnut.

Land Statistics. According to the best information to be had on the subject in 1873, there were in the county 662 farms of all sizes, as follows:

Farms having 3 to 9 acres 9
Farms having 10 to 19 acres 62
Farms having 20 to 49 acres 245
Farms having 50 to 99 acres 225
Farms having 100 to 499 acres 119
Farms having 500-999 acres 1

Of the 41,203 acres of improved hands in the county, about two- thirds or 37,470 acres were worked in 1873 by the land-owners, while only about one-third or 13,735 acres were worked by renters. The general rule of renting is, for the land-owner to furnish everything but labor, when he gets of the crop one-third of the corn, oats and wheat, and three-fourths of the cotton. But in some instances the land-owner furnishes only the land, when he gets one-third of the corn, oats and wheat and one-fourth of the cotton. When land is rented for money, the usual charges are, for

Best improved bottom lands $5.00
Medium bottom lands 3.50
Best improved uplands 4.00
Medium uplands 3.00

The inferior bottom hands, as well as the third class uplands, are not highly prized and are not in demand for rent, renters always preferring to work the best land they can get. Of all the lands in the county, it is estimated that at least one-half can be purchased at reasonable figures, the usual terms of sale being one-third cash, the balance in one and two years, with lien reserved upon hand to secure payment of unpaid purchase money. The usual prices asked and paid for land are as follows:

Best improved lands, per acre $40.00
2nd class improved lands, per acre 25.00
3rd class improved lands, per acre 15.00
Best unimproved lands, per acre 15.00
2nd class unimproved lands, per acre 10.00
3rd class unimproved lands, per acre 2.00

These lands include only the tillable lands of the county. There are very rich river bottom lands, which are subject to annual overflow, that can be purchased at from three to five dollars per acre, but they are worthless except for the timber which is upon them. The lands generally of Decatur county yield well, as will be seen by the following table:

Average yield per aces in corn 30 bushels
Average yield per aces in cotton (in seed) 700 pounds
Average yield per aces in wheat 17 bushels
Average yield per aces in peanuts 25 bushels

Some attention is paid to the growing of grasses and such roots as are usually grown in West Tennessee. Until recently tobacco was raised to a limited extent and it generally paid well, but since 1871 the rage has been for peanuts, which that year paid even better than cotton. The crop of 1872, however, did not pay so well, and in 1873 it appears that the peanut rage had very materially subsided. Efforts were made to get correct statements as to the yields in 1873 of the various crops in the county, with time view of embodying them in this report, but as they failed, the reader must, perforce, be satisfied with the estimates of 1870, as taken from the census report of that year, with this assurance, however, that the estimates of 1870 and 1873 would not differ materially, except in the item of cotton, time estimate for 1870 being too great for 1873 on account of the rage for peanuts, which caused less cotton to be planted in 1873 than was planted in 1870. It should also be observed that in the census report for 1870, there was no estimate made of the peanut crop, which was insignificant then, but considerable now. With the exception of these two items, therefore, the following estimate, though compiled for 1870, will nevertheless give the reader a very fair idea of the yield for 1873:

Tobacco 44,630 pounds
Cotton 1,159 bales
Wheat 19,239 bushels
Oats 20,549 bushels
Potatoes, sweet 15,913 bushels
Potatoes, Irish 8,709 bushels
Peas and beans 2,770 bushels
Butter 96,348 pounds

As a general rule, very few grass-seeds are sown for hay and grazing, and hay is not an article of export; in fact, not a sufficiency is raised in the county to supply the home demand, though the uplands generally are well adapted to the growing of the various grasses. Among the few who pay any attention to grasses, clover is the favorite and it is thought to do better than any other grass, especially on time limestone and clayey lands. On the sandy lands herds-grass grows luxuriantly. Clover is usually allowed to stand two years without being turned under, to the great advantage of the land. Though there is a number of extensive marl beds in the county, no fertilizers are used. The lands are indifferently cultivated, the farmers using none of the scientific implements so much appreciated by scientific agriculturists, and pay no attention to saving or improving their lands. A few of them are beginning to understand the system of rotating their crops to their advantage, but a large majority of the farmers continue to work and manage (or mis-manage) just as did their fathers and grand-fathers before them. As a natural result of these violations of the laws of nature, the lands are yearly becoming more and more worthless, and unless there is a wholesome and radical change, the future promises but little to the farming community of Decatur county.

Stock Items. The same want of enterprise amid judgment is as manifest in the mode of handling stock as in the mode of farming. No efforts have been made to introduce the improved breeds of stock into the county, and little or no attention is paid to the stock on hand, which is all of' common breeds. The object of the farmer seems to be merely to raise a sufficient number of mules and horses for his own purposes, amid so they are able to do his farm work, he seems entirely satisfied. Cattle and hogs are rarely fed, but are turned out to pick up a precarious living in the "commons," where wild grass is to be found, and few or many acorns, as the mast happens to be light or heavy. Sheep would do well running at large, if it was not for the fact that the dogs are very destructive to them. Notwithstanding this fact the farmers still allow them to "look out for themselves," and they seem satisfied to take as their share of the mutton what happens to be left by the dogs. It is earnestly hoped, however, that there is a better time coming for Decatur county, when the agriculturist will understand that farming is a science as well as an art. The following report of the live stock in the county is taken from census returns:

Horses 1,238
Mules and asses 628
Milch cows 1,436
Working oxen 754
Other cattle 2,115
Sheep 5,649
Swine 13,508
The value of stock was estimated to be $311,117

Labor. Decatur, like her sister counties, complains of a very great scarcity of labor. A large majority of the laborers in the county are white men, who are regarded as being generally more reliable than the negro laborers, but not even the whites cannot be said to be reliable. During certain months of the year they work well, but when the weather gets very hot or very cold they spend too much of the time which they have sold to their employers, either in the shade or by the fire. The following prices are asked by them and readily paid: Farm hands, per year, $180; per month, $20; per day, $1.50; cooks per month, $8; house servants, per month, $8.

Markets. The markets at which the people of Decatur buy and sell are reached by water, the immediate outlet from the county, being the Tennessee River. Louisville, Cincinnati, Evansville and St. Louis are the principal ones.

Iron Ore. The amount of iron ore in this county is considerable. The ore (limonite) is singularly free from flint, sand, sulphur and phosphorus. Near Brownsport Furnace is a bank from twelve to twenty feet in thickness, and resting upon a limestone bed. This bank is capped with a cherty mass, and there is an unusually small proportion of dead matter. Brownsport Furnace is the only one in operation in the county. It is three miles from the Tennessee River. This furnace has been in operation forty years, and has now a capacity of 6,000 tons of pig metal per annum, or from eighteen to twenty tons per day. The stack is forty feet high and twelve feet between bosh. It blows with three tuyers, is hot blast and has all the modern improvements. It has a vertical engine, with twenty-four inch cylinder, and a blowing cylinder sixty inches in diameter. Sand rock for hearths is convenient, and the ore is dug within one hundred yards of the trundle head. For making a ton of iron 120 bushels of charcoal are used (2,688 cubic inches to the bushel). Coal costs seven and a half cents per bushel delivered. Ore delivered costs $2.00 per ton. About two and a quarter tons of ore make a ton of iron. The hauling of the pig iron to the river costs $1.25 per ton. Limestone is delivered at $1.00 per ton. The iron made is only suitable for castings, most of it being consumed for light castings, such as require strength and toughness. About 200 hands are kept employed.

The People. The population of the county mm 1870 was 7,722, of which 1,066 were colored. It may be said that the people are sober, reasonably industrious and law-abiding, but as a whole, they are neither educated, enterprising nor thrifty. It has been stated above that the farmers, as a class, are not enterprising, and the same with; equal propriety may be said of the representatives of the other callings of life. Exceptional cases there are men who are thoroughly alive, well advanced and up to the times, and who are thrifty and large property holders.

Roads. The new road law has never been enforced in Decatur county, and under the misworkings of the old law, the county roads have not, and are not now, kept in good repair. In the sandy districts they are better than elsewhere, because they are more easily worked, and are not so liable to get in bad condition, but even there they could be put in better condition to the great comfort of the traveler who is compelled to pass over them, good or bad.

Towns and Villages. The only town (or village) worthy of mention is Decaturville, the county seat, which is located near the center of the county, about six miles west of the Tennessee River. It has a population of almost 200 inhabitants, and does a very fair business, most of the people of the county doing their trading there.

Mills and Manufactories. Every neighborhood in the county has convenient to it a good grist-mill, the average milling distances throughout the county being about four miles. Iron is about the only article which is manufactured in the county.

School Statistics. The people of Decatur county have been, for many years past, very indifferent on the subject of education, so much so indeed that it has been almost impossible to keep up a single really good school in the county. In March, 1872, the County Court levied a tax of twenty cents on every hundred dollars worth of property for the purpose of establishing a system of free schools in the county; but for some cause the matter stopped there, or at any rate the public schools were not established. The scholastic population is 2,357. Twenty- six free schools were in operation in the fall of 1873, three being for colored children. The total number enrolled being 964, between six and eighteen, and 127 between eighteen and twenty-one years of age.

Churches. There are in the county about twenty church buildings owned by various Christian denominations, of which the leading are the Methodist, Presbyterian and Baptist. The people are constant attendants upon divine services, and are very liberal in their support of the ministry.

top · home · yesterday's · families · schools · links · what's new · memorial · about

This site was created by David Donahue and Brenda Kirk Fiddler.
This site is currently maintained by Jerry L. Butler
Copyright © 2004 - 2010, All rights reserved