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"Early Bartlett" by Jimmy Ogle, Shelby County Historian (2016)
From the pages of Bartlett INSIGHT, published by the Bartlett Chamber of Commerce in 2016
during the Celebration of the City of Bartlett's Sesquicentennial at age 150.


Early Paths, Roads & Railroads. Centuries ago animal trails, which became worn down by animals keeping their feet dry on a high ridge just above a swollen Wolf River, then became the walk paths used by nomadic Indians to cross the area from west to east. These trails in Southwest Tennessee eventually became paths and roads for European explorers and American settlers. In the 19th century, the Old Stage-Coach Road, now Stage Road (US Highway 64) was the way across southern Tennessee from all points east in Tennessee to Memphis and the Mississippi River for stage coaches, overland mail, other travelers – even the Bell Route of The Trail of Tears in the 1830s. As early as 1829, settlers were moving in to the area, the first settlement was called Jessamine and future Bartlett became the geographical center of Shelby County.

    Summer Avenue (US Highway 70, The Broadway of America), also known as TN Highway 1 (The Bristol Highway) connected Memphis to Nashville and further to the northeast corner of Tennessee in the 20th century. Right smack dab in the middle of all that is the place called “Four Way”, where these two great routes intersect, as well as the City of Bartlett. The Memphis & Ohio Railroad (later to become the Louisville & Nashville Railroad, then CSX) began laying tracks in 1852 and Union Depot (demolished in 1940) was an important stop, intersecting with Stage Road. Originally called Bond Station, Ellendale became the next railroad depot north of Bartlett Early Homes. Three of the oldest homes in Bartlett are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Manor House at Davies Manor Plantation (listed in 1975), the oldest residence in Shelby County, was begun in 1807 as a single-room log cabin, and added onto throughout the middle of the 19th century by Joel Royster, William Davies and later Logan Davies growing the plantation to almost 2,000 acres by the end of the century.


    Davies Manor survived Union occupation during the Civil War and is open today as an historic attraction portraying life in the 19th century. Cedar Hall (listed in 1994) on Broadway Road was built by local physician Samuel Bond and later occupied by Edmund Orgill until the early 1900s. Cedar Hall, listed as the John H. McFadden House on the National Register, is nearly 7,000 square feet of Colonial Revival elegance. Cedar Hall was a private residence until 2007 and in 2012 became a bed and breakfast. The Gotten House (listed in 2002) on Court Street was built in 1871 by German immigrant Nicholas Gotten, the town’s first constable and also a blacksmith and a ginner, who was an innovator in ginning equipment. Today it is the Bartlett Museum and maintained by the Bartlett Historical Society.


    19th Century. Agriculture ruled the community in the 19th century, as soybeans, cotton and flowers prevailed. Kate Bond, daughter of early settlers William and Hallie Bond, grew fields of flowers for sale at the Memphis Curb Market and provided flower arrangements to many local hospitals. Many families grew fruits and vegetables, including watermelons and strawberries for sale to markets, restaurants and hotels in Memphis. Nicholas Gotten opened a cotton gin that served over 10 square miles surrounding the Bartlett area. He received a U.S. patent in 1881 for an improvement to the cotton gin feeder.

    Early Settlers. At the close of the Revolutionary War, North Carolina’s boundaries reached to the Mississippi River (until 1796) and many veterans received land grants in this area. The three largest land grants in the area were later bought by George Doherty, William Polk and Richard Smith, who then subdivided their lands for sale to other settlers. The most recognized names in Bartlett today are from the early settlers and farmers. Cousins John Blackwell (Goodwood) and Gabriel Bartlett (Green Bottom) settled in the area in the 1840s, and became large land owners and cotton farmers. Dr. Nicholas Blackwell moved to Bartlett after the Civil War and became a leading citizen, land developer and physician in the area, and the town’s second Mayor. Other early prominent citizens were Joseph Cotton, John Lilly (carriage maker), Billy Maher, James Oglesby (carpenter), H. L. Priddy (general store), James Pruden, Harvey Williams (farmer), Joseph Ward, and W. B. Wright (postmaster).

    Early Schools, Churches & Cemeteries. The vacated Circuit Court building was used as a school (Bartlett Courthouse School) for 32 years. Bartlett High School was built in 1917 on land donated by Nicholas’ daughter, Willie Blackwell Miller, in memory of her father, Dr. Nicholas Blackwell. Miss Dora Gholson was the first principal for over one hundred students and seven faculty members. In 1866, Gabriel Bartlett donated land for the first Freedman school in the area, which was the first school for black students. The Shelby County Industrial& Training School (1905-1935) provided a school and work farm for boys from destitute families. Thomas Westendorf, who became the school’s superintendent in 1907. Horse-drawn wagonettes for students were introduced in 1908 and replaced by motorized buses in the 1920s. Bartlett Baptist Church was organized in 1849 and previously known as Prosperity Baptist Church. A Methodist congregation, Warren Chapel, was organized in 1837. Black First Baptist Church, formerly known as Bethlehem Baptist Church was formed in 1865. A Presbyterian church was built in 1866. Fullview Baptist Church was established in 1877. Pisgah Cemetery, now known as Bartlett-Ellendale Cemetery, is the final resting place for many early settlers of the area, with the earliest known burial being Sarah C. Bond in 1837. The Tollgate Cemetery was established in 1846, deriving its name from the tollgate on the Memphis-to-Somerville plank road.

    The Civil War & Yellow Fever. Major land battles of the Civil War missed the Bartlett area, with the closest skirmish coming in 1862 at Morning Sun, east of the area, south of the Old Stagecoach Road. Union General Lew Wallace’s headquarters were in Union Depot (future Bartlett) to protect the railroad tracks. Nicholas Gotten served under Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest as a cavalryman and blacksmith. Members of the Blackwell family served in the New Albany Grays of the Confederacy, as did Col. Clark Barteau. As the Yellow Fever epidemic spread through the county in the 1870s, the Courthouse was used as a hospital.

    Incorporation. Previous known as Union Depot (an unpopular name after the Civil War) and/or Green Bottom, the town of Bartlett was incorporated in 1866 with less than one hundred citizens and named for Major Gabriel M. Bartlett, a leading area resident. On April 14, 1866, the Daily Memphis Argus wrote: “Bartlett is pleasantly and beautifully situated on the rise of the Memphis and Ohio Railroad”. Gabriel Bartlett was also elected the first Mayor of Bartlett in 1867. From 1870-1885, Circuit Courts met in Bartlett. When the courts closed in 1885, Bartlett citizens also voted to dissolve the city charter to reduce the saloons and alcohol consumption, as an unincorporated city was forbidden from selling alcohol. With the loss of the Circuit Courts, there was a loss of population and it was not until 1905 that Bartlett was able to regain its charter! For its first 100 years, Bartlett’s population did not rise above 600 residents! The first newspaper, the Bartlett News, was published in 1875.

    20th Century – The First 50 Years. During the first fifty years of the 20th century, the business district suffered three disastrous fires, the last being in 1924. Bartlett continued as a cotton center until the boll weevil became a determined enemy along with some over farming of the land. So, after World War I, Bartlett became a dairy town and had as many as twenty dairies – Albright, Cedar Hill, Clifton, Crenshaw, Haefker, Klinke, Norwood, Reid and Tate were names of some of the dairy operations. Elva Talbot Bledsoe, longtime “unofficial” Bartlett Historian , was the founder of the Bartlett Historical Society in 1982 and negotiated with the City of Bartlett to preserve the Gotten House, now the site of the Bartlett Museum. Civic organizations such as the Future Farmers of America, Bartlett Garden Club and the Lions Club thrived in the middle of the 20th century. Ellen Davies-Rodgers became Shelby County’s first official Historian and she also designed the flag for Shelby County. Some leading citizens who contributed to Bartlett in this era were Robert Dye (photography), W. J. Freeman (alderman), John George (high school principal), Clarence Gowen (mayor and historian) and Oliver Albright (gin owner).

    Did You Know? Union General Lew Wallace, whose Civil War headquarters were in Bartlett, later wrote the epic Ben-Hur. Illinois central railroad engineer Bartlett resident Avery G. “Rabbit” Warner brought his train (and Engine # 382) into Front Street Station in Memphis on April 29, 1900 about two hours late. The famous railroad engineer Casey Jones replaced Warner on what became the most famous train wreck in the nation’s history on April 30 in Vaughn, Mississippi, when Jones was killed in a wreck trying to make up for the lost time. School Superintendent, Thomas Westendorf had previously gained fame by writing the song “I’ll Take You Home Again, Kathleen”, which was recorded by the likes of Bing Crosby, Merv Griffin, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Clarence Saunders, founder of the first self-service grocery store in America in 1916 (Piggly Wiggly, Memphis) and builder of what eventually became the Pink Palace Museum, died in his Bartlett home in 1953. The residential area to the north of the business section of Bartlett Station has recently been named a Historic District. And, for some reason, it seems as though no one in Union Depot or Green Bottom (or Bartlett) every liked Davy Crockett!


For current information about Bartlett, please visit the official website: https://www.cityofbartlett.org

Or, at Bartlett Area Chamber of Commerce:

Or, at the Bartlett Historical Society:
In 1982, the Bartlett Historical Society was chartered. The Society obtained permission from the
City to refurbish the Gotten House as the home of the Society and a museum, and it was leased
to the Society for fifty years. On October 17, 1990, the museum was formally dedicated to the city.

Bartlett History Interactive Map
https://cityofbartlett.org/55/history  and /or on Facebook:

Bartlett by Robert W. Dye, Images Of America Series

For limited information about the Green Bottom and Union Depot, visit their listings
in the Community Histories section.




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