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


The act of the Legislature creating this county was passed November 7, 1821, and the organization took place shortly afterwards. Henderson county embraces about 590 square miles, and contained a population in 1870 of 14,217, of which only 2,408 were colored. This shows a great sparseness of population, there being only twenty-four persons to each square mile in the county. The number of acres assessed for taxation in 1873 was 374,287, valued at $2,812,860, or about $7.50 per acre. The census returns give as the whole number of acres in the county 330,132, of which 92,250 were improved.

Health. The people of Henderson county enjoy a fair measure of health, the principal diseases during the summer and spring months being chills and fever and bilious fever, and during the fall and winter months typhoid fever and pneumonia. The mortuary list of the county is not unusually large, and indeed will compare very favorably with that of the adjoining counties.

Physical Geography and Geology. There is a great variety of surface in Henderson county, which renders it, in appearance, one of the most interesting counties in the State. There is also a great variety of soils, which enable farmers to raise many kinds of products. The country immediately around Lexington, the county seat, is very rough and hilly. For a distance of four or five miles east and west of Lexington this hill country extends, and going north or south it reaches to the extreme limits of the county. The Tennessee Ridge, of which frequent mention has been made, extends through this section of the county, and the high lands which constitute this ridge include probably the roughest and most picturesque country in West Tennessee. This ridge, the reader will remember, divides the waters of the Mississippi from those flowing into the Tennessee River, and proceeding to the east or west the surface of the country very perceptibly declines. In either direction the boldness and height of the hills decrease until the country becomes simply undulating before the county lines are reached. On the east side of the ridge the country breaks away more rapidly, and is much rougher than on the west. In fact, the west side is the upper part of the great. Slope which gradually declines to the bluffs facing the Mississippi bottoms. Doubtless the highest land in West Tennessee is in Henderson and the northern part of McNairy counties. Many different streams, flowing to all parts of the compass, take their rise in the portion of the ridge in this section. Notwithstanding the general roughness of the surface, Henderson has much superior farming land. The highland ridges are generally poor, and produce badly, but in all low places, and even upon the highlands where the ground is level, the soil is good and produces well. From the tops and sides of the spurs which run out from the ridge the soil has been washed away to a great extent, and having lodged in the lower and flat lands between them, have produced some of the best farming lands in the State. There are several river and creek bottoms in the county, but the valleys which are everywhere met with owe their existence principally to the main water-shed and its minor branches or spurs. These valleys generally are neither very long nor very wide, but they are sufficiently extensive to admit of good farms, which are more valued than any others in the county.

With the exception of the Orange Sand Drift, which spreads its rolled sand and gravel beds over portious of the county, the formations are nearly all Cretaceous. In the eastern part the belt of Green Sand extending northward from McNairy and Hardin, is met with. At some points wells are bored in this. Its outcrops are known by the large fossil oyster shells which it contains. Overlapping the Green Sand on the west, and running through the middle of the county, is the belt of Ripley Sands, which in turn is succeeded by the outcrop of the Flat-wood clays and sands. The north-western part of the county appears to show, resting upon the formations mentioned, a limited area of the LaGrange Group.

Rivers, Creeks, etc. Henderson county is as well watered as most of the adjoining counties. The principal stream is Beech River, which rises about ten miles west of Lexington, runs east, passing nearly through the center of the county, and also through Decatur county, and empties into the Tennessee River. Big Sandy River rises about ten miles north of Lexington, runs north, and passes out of the county into Carroll county at a point about fourteen miles from the extreme north-east c6rner of the county. North Forked Deer River also rises in Henderson county, about twelve miles north-west of Lexington, runs north-west, and passes into a corner of Carroll county at or very near the point where the extreme southern line of Carroll touches the western line of Henderson. North Branch of the South Forked Deer River also rises in the county about twelve miles south-west of Lexington, runs thence almost due west, and passes into Madison county at a point about half way between the north-west and south-west corners of the county. South Forked Deer River has also a beginning in Henderson county, rising about seventeen miles south-west of Lexington, ranging thence a little west of south until near the south line of the county, when it turns, thence ranging north-west and passing into Madison county at a point about five miles north of the south-west corner of Henderson county. Almost every neighborhood has good stock water, which lasts all the year. Unlike most of the streams of West Tennessee, they generally have a good fall, and run rapidly. They have sandy beds and clear, sweet water.

Land Statistics. From the census report of 1870 the following figures are taken, which will show the number of farms in Henderson county at that time, and the relative size of each:

Whole number of farms in the county 1,923
Farms having 3 to 10 141
Farms having 10 to 20 335
Farms having 20 to 50 755
Farms having 50 to 100 466
Farms having 100 to 500 acres 223
Farms having 500 to 1000 acres 33

Though these estimates were made for 1870, they will nevertheless give a pretty correct idea on the subject at present. Included in those 1,923 farms are 92,250 acres of improved land, of which, in 1873, about one-third were rented out, the remaining two-thirds having been worked by the land-owners or under their immediate supervision. The usual terms of rent are for one-third of the crops, the land-owner furnishing only the land; or two-thirds of the crop, he furnishing everything but the labor. When money rent is required, the following prices are usually paid:

Best land $4.00 per acre
Medium land $3.00 per care
Third-class land $2.00 per acre

One-half of the land in the county can be purchased at reasonable prices and on reasonable terms. The usual terms of sale are for one-third or one-fourth cash, the balance in one and two or one, two and three years, with lien reserved upon the land. The following will show the prices asked and paid for land in the county:

First-class improved lands, per acre $30.00
Second-class improved lands, per acre 20.00
Third class improved lands, per acre 10.00
First class unimproved lands, per acre 20.00
Second-class unimproved lands, per acre 10.00
Third-class unimproved lands, per acre 5.00

The following table will show the productiveness of the soils:

Average yield per acre in corn 30 bushels
Average yield per acre in wheat 10 bushels
Average yield per acre in oats 15 bushels
Average yield per acre in cotton (in seed) 700 pounds
Average yield per acre in tobacco 800 pounds
Average yield per acre in hay 3,000 pounds

In spite of the hills, Henderson county farms produce well, and the land commands good prices, either from renters or buyers. With careful culture, the same lands that now produce as much as thirty bushels of corn per acre can be made to produce one-third as much more, and so with other products. But the farmers pay little attention to fertilizers. With millions of pounds of fertilizers (Green Sand) almost at their very doors, they are allowing their land oftentimes to fall below remunerative yields of the staple crops.

Stock and Stock-raising. Henderson is naturally a very good stock county, but the advantages which nature has given to the farmer in this respect, are not improved. Every farmer raises annually acme stock, and many of them raise some to sell, but no attention is paid to pure breeds. Indeed, there has been made, so far, but little effort even to introduce blooded males, with the view of improving the native breeds. The following from the census report of 1870, will show what the people were doing then in the way of stock-raising, and will give, also, a very fair idea of what they are now doing:

Value of all livestock in county 732,519
Value of animals slaughtered or raised for slaughter 232,186
Horses 2,816
Mules and asses 1,679
Milch cows 3,649
Working oven 1,308
Other cattle 5,308
Sheep 10,168
Swine 32,559
Pounds of wool saved 15,923
Pounds of butter made 142,847

These figures speak for themselves, and show that taking as the basis of the estimates, quantity or numbers and not quality, Henderson ranks as one of the leading stock counties in West Tennessee.

Labor. The same complaint is heard in this county as in the other counties of West Tennessee, of the scarcity of reliable laborers. A majority of the laborers, at present, are white. They are preferred by the farmers, and while they will be glad to welcome good laborers of any color, they will prefer whites. The following prices are paid: Farm hands, per year, from $150 to $200; Per month, $15 to $20; per day, $1 to $1.50; cooks, per month, $6 to 10; house servants, $5 to $8.

Markets. There being no railroads in Henderson, the people are compelled, in a great measure, to depend upon river navigation. At least those in the eastern districts depend upon the Tennessee River, which is reached through Decatur county. Those persons living in the northern and north-western districts are convenient to the Louisville and Memphis Railroad, while those in the south-western and southern districts are nearer to the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. The markets of Henderson county are therefore Cincinnati, Evansville, Paducah and St. Louis by water, and Louisville, Memphis and Nashville by rail.

The People. The people of Henderson county are honest, intelligent, and social, but not very enterprising, thrifty, or educated. The farming community especially is wanting in enterprise. Most of the farmers are pursuing the same routine upon their farms followed by their ancestors before them. They are satisfied with a comfortable subsistence, and being away from the highways of commerce, they are not stimulated to any extraordinary exertions. They have but little regard for conveniences, and so far as labor-saving implements are concerned, they are but little known, or at any rate, but seldom seen.

County Roads. The same facts are true of the roads here as of those of the adjoining counties. Little or no attention is paid to keeping them in good repair, and as a natural result, at certain seasons of the year they are almost impassable, when a very reasonable amount of labor and money properly expended would keep them in excellent condition. There is no railroad running into or through the county, and but little prospect of one.

Towns. Lexington, the county seat, is the principal town. It is located very near the center of the county, in a hilly and picturesque country, has about 250 inhabitants, and controls the principal business of the county. The country around it is very healthy, and is a fair farming area. Booth's Point, Center Point, Crucifer, Jack's Creek Juno, Mifflin, Scott's Hill, Shady Hill, and Wildersville are all small, villages, with from three to ten business houses each. Mifflin, in the western part of the county is the largest, having a population of 150.

Mills and Manufactories. Henderson is not a manufacturing county, though a good deal of cloth is made in families. According to the census report of 1870, the value of its home manufactures was $132,767. It. is well supplied with mills, and the average milling distance throughout the county will not exceed four miles. There are also a few woolen factories.

School Interests. Schools are scarce. No tax has been levied for the support of' common schools. The county has been divided into twenty school districts, they being co-extensive with the civil districts, and the superintendent expects, before the close of the year 1874, to succeed in completing the necessary arrangements for accommodating all, who, under the law, are eligible, and desire to share in the benefits of the common school system. The following facts will show what has been done: Scholastic population between 6 and 18: white male, 2,218; female, 2,088; total white, 4,306; colored male, 412; female, 418; total colored, 830; total, 5,136. Number white schools organized, 8 ; colored, —; total, 8. Number white pupils between 6 and 18 enrolled, 245; colored, —; total, 245.

Churches. The people of Henderson county are a church-going people, and almost, if not quite every neighborhood, has one or two, or more churches convenient to it. The leading denominations represented in the county arc the Methodist, Baptist, Cumberland Presbyterian, and Christian.

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