History of Winchester

by Beatrice A. Collins

The area known as Winchester was designated by the first elected commissioners of Franklin County to be the county seat.  This action was in accordance with an act passed November 22, 1809, by the Tennessee General Assembly.  The same act specified that the town should be called Winchester.  General James Winchester of Sumner County had been involved in the politics and in the military action of this western territory of North Carolina before it became the state of Tennessee.  Governor William Blount had appointed him brigadier general of the Mero District Militia and he later became a brigadier general in the Army of the United States during the War of 1812.

According to legislative mandate the commissioners of the new county set aside two acres at the town's center to serve as a Public Square.  A small brick courthouse was erected in the Square by 1811, and a sale of surrounding public lots was initiated by the legislature to provide financing.  City government was carried on, from 1813 to 1821, by commissioners appointed by the General Assembly of the State of Tennessee.  This body, meeting in session on October 20, 1821, passed an act to incorporate the town of Winchester, and the inhabitants thereof, in the county of Franklin.

During the year 1813 a call was issued for the local militia to be mustered at Winchester.  The reason was the terrible Creek Indian massacre at Fort Mims in the Mississippi Territory.  David Crockett tells in his autobiography about the strong feelings that brought him to volunteer.  According to Crockett, a young local lawyer named Francis Jones made a fiery speech, then volunteered and was elected captain.  He later represented the district in Congress.

A new town tends to have a cluster of businesses at its center.  Residential neighborhoods, on the other hand, grow up beside the wider and more heavily traveled roads.  When stagecoach routes began to define the town's development, the only settlements in the county were Salem and Winchester.  Main Street, now First Avenue North, extended itself into the present Highway 64 West leading to Huntsville, Alabama, by way of Salem and Elora.  The Old Cowan Road led to Chattanooga by way of Jasper, which was at that time the next town.  Sharp's Springs Road led to McMinnville and points in the north and east.  North High Street led to Nashville by way of the old Estill Springs Road, before Estill Springs was there.  Highway 50 led to Shelbyville by way of Mann's Ford Road, and also to Fayetteville by way of Lynchburg.  The southern part of the town, where bordering farmland extended to Little Mountain and Keith Springs, did not develop residentially until the early part of the 20th century when a realtor named Tom Embrey created a subdivision involving several blocks of South High and South Vine Streets.

The most important natural resource of the early town has sadly been forgotten since it was engulfed by Tims Ford Lake.  This was the Boiling Fork of Elk River. This energetic little stream bubbled up in Hawkins Cove and flowed toward Winchester, gathering fullness from other streams and turning the water wheels at Martin's, Decherd's, Handly's and Oehmig's mills and racing beneath the bluff of its own creation.  As it flowed toward Little Red Mill and Winchester Springs, it furnished sites for bottling plants and bottle-making plants, and for the tanneries of Madison Porter and William Buchanan.  Sometimes in a very rainy season it would wash over the bridges that spanned it, threatening their very existence.

Three bridges successively crossed the Boiling Fork at the town's bluff.  The first was on Sharp's Springs Stage Road and the remains of the stone pilings are still visible.  The second, constructed of metal with a planked roadbed, crossed at the rear of the old jail near the railroad and was only one lane wide with a narrow walkway.  It was demolished during the Second World War and donated to the scrap metal drive.  The present concrete span changed the focus of the town by creating a thoroughfare where none had previously existed.

The first buildings on the Square were largely of frame construction.  An early inn stood where the Masonic building stands.  A large frame hotel that stood across the street served as a stage stop.  One of the early brick houses on the Square was occupied by a French immigrant, a merchant named Monsieur A. Jourdan.  Another was used by a silversmith named Edwin Martin and later by his nephew George R. Martin, also a silversmith.  Goodspeed's History of Tennessee, published in Nashville in 1886, says that an early merchant was Thomas D. Wiggins.  Another was Joseph Klepper, said to have been a trader with the Indians. His store was on the site of San Miguel Coffee Company.  Some of Winchester's early merchants had descendants living in the county in the 20th century.  Among them were Jonathan Spyker, Mark Hutchins, Tom Pryor, Alfred Henderson, Ralph Crabb, James Estill, Benjamin and Peter Decherd, and James Russey.  There were also William and J.H. Knox, F. A. Loughmiller, A.L. and J.W. Campbell, and H.A. Raines.  Thomas Logan and Porter & Company made carriages and wagons.

Another early brick building was a one-story row of storefronts on the western side of North Jefferson in the center of the first block off the Square.  This was known as the Gueita Block.  Charles Gueita, a music teacher at Mary Sharp College, had a studio in one of the fronts and A.D. Ruth, a silversmith, did business in another.  There was often a saloon in some other part of the building.

Doctors J.C. Shapard, John Turner, Matthew Dixon and Wallace Estill were early physicians.  S.M. Houghton, an early pharmacist and dentist, also operated the Sewanee Nurseries in the 1860s in Winchester.

The Historical Society has microfilmed copies of the Home Journal that William J. Slatter published before and after the War Between the States.  Some issues also were called the Winchester Daily Bulletin while he traveled South, staying ahead of the advancing Union Army.  Others were printed by H.H. Dulin.

Perhaps the early development of a remarkable bar had something to do with the tenor of the town in the antebellum days.  Many lawyers of area-wide and even national importance began their careers in this county seat.  Captain Francis Jones, Judge Nathan Green, Judge John Williams, James Campbell, Osborn Herndon, Stephen Adams, John Goodwin, Micah Taul, Felix Grundy, Jacob Isaacs, Hopkins Turney, the Estills; and Governors Peter Turney, Albert S. Marks, Isham G. Harris and Henry Horton were among them.  Arthur S. Colyar, who practiced law here and later published the Nashville American newspaper in the state's capital, was instrumental in the founding of a four-year woman's college here.  Although he was an active Methodist layman, he rode on horseback to Murfreesboro in 1849 to attend a Baptist convention with the intention of trying to persuade the delegates to locate their proposed institution of learning in Winchester.  They did so and Mary Sharp College, starting life as the Tennessee Baptist Female Institute, was opened in 1851.  Another young lawyer, William Venable, taught in the school and was sent to Guatemala as a consular representative of the United States.  He died of cholera, which he contracted at sea.

The college, named for Mary Corn Sharp who gave a sizable donation in a time of great need, was one of four private schools that, along with the numerous small schools, created an educational climate that drew families to the town.  Many students who came to Winchester to attend Carrick Academy for boys, Winchester Female Academy, Winchester Normal College and Mary Sharp, stayed to establish families and were also responsible for the migration of relatives.

The 19th century saw eight religious denominations in the town with regular places of worship.  These were: Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist Episcopal, Primitive Baptist, Missionary Baptist, Presbyterian USA, Catholic, Episcopal and Church of Christ.  A German Reformed Church was built on one of the lots in the Embrey addition in the early 20th century, but the congregation became scattered and a church of the same denomination flourished in nearby Belvidere.

Although no major battles of the War Between the States were fought near Winchester, it was twice at the mercy of the Union Army.  Officers were quartered in some of the town's large homes.  Food, medicines, and public buildings were appropriated for military use.

After the war, the private schools attempted to revitalize, but the rural aristocracy that had supported them was impoverished and also public education slowly began to include secondary and graduate schooling.  The Normal College deeded its property to the public system, and by 1911 was transformed into Central High School.  Mary Sharp limped along as a subscription school in which parents paid the teachers and then it became a public elementary school.

While postwar recovery was painful, a new and very promising economic surge was brewing.  The surrounding area was becoming littered with summer resorts.  Winchester, situated at the confluence of the Nashville and Chattanooga and the Winchester and Alabama Railroads and several passable highways, and literally surrounded by mineral water springs, sailed into the gay 90s in style.

The Mont Miller, a large resort hotel, was erected in 1890 on the block now occupied by Regions Bank.  The Fuller Hotel and numerous boarding houses did a nice business.  Hacks ran regularly to the Decherd and Winchester railway stations.  Ellis Days opened an opera house, and in 1891 Arthur H. Marks, a son of the former governor, Albert Marks, built his sprawling castle around the very old farmhouse named Hundred Oaks, which had been the family home.  It was purchased in 1900 by the Roman Catholic order of Paulist priests and was, for 53 years, the House of St. Francis de Sales.  It was later commercialized and was destroyed by fire in 1990.

As the century turned in Winchester, merchants were J.D. Wilson and Sim Venable, J.L. Baugh, Robert Handly and the Embreys.  B.J. Miller ran a produce business, Carter Brothers and John F. Vaughan sold hardware.  Simmons & Rowell and Carmack & Hutchins were pharmacists.  W.A. Reeves and R. Kleinwachter made boots and shoes.  Several women had their own shops during this period.  They were Nancy E. Days, Emma Brazelton and Ida Beasley Elliott.  A black man, Jack Miller, was the proprietor of a wagon manufacturing concern.  Fred Wenger and Jacob Weidman were furniture dealers and undertakers.  A spoke and handle factory was run by Wenger, Girton and Woodward.  Johnny Schrom had a bakery on Main Street with cubicles on the second floor where travelers on horseback could spend the night.

The Home Bank came to town in 1889 and erected a two-story building, which now houses Lynch and Lynch Real Estate and other businesses.  The bank later built the sandstone building on the Square's northwestern corner.  Farmer's Bank and Trust Company opened for business in 1906 and soon occupied the town's first three-story commercial building.  It had been erected by contractor Tom Scott in 1899, on the corner of the Square and Depot Street, for the old Bank of Winchester.

M.L. McDowell (Old Man Mac) was the owner of a sawmill and lumber company.  In about the year 1897, he and his sons formed an electric service company in the town.  Towering poles were sunk into the dusty streets near the sidewalks and wires were strung and carried into some of the public buildings and the homes of a courageous few.  When everything was ready for the prearranged surge of this strange new power, a large crowd gathered in the streets.  Some people were curious and others were afraid that Mr. Edison's invention might blow up their houses.  According to a 1946 newspaper account, little Kate McDowell pushed the button and there was light.

The gay 90s faded into another war and local boys again answered their country's call.  The people at home bought war bonds and did without sugar, white flour, and meat.  They kept their spirits up with patriotic parades, band concerts and sandlot baseball.  Harry C. Schwartz came to town in 1917, just in time to photograph the ending of the horse and buggy era and the onset of the Great Depression.

It was a strangely mixed time of the old and the new.  Children rode horses and drove buggies to schools, tying their beasts in a line of trees.  The few automobiles churned the muddy roads and drowned their engines in the swollen streams.  School buildings were rotting.  The big hotels fell into disrepair and burned.  There were no sizable payrolls in Winchester and no real relief for the tramps who appeared on foot and the families who came through the town in broken-down cars headed for anywhere.

Farm families came into town on Saturday en masse.  They filled the old open wagons and braved the elements to spend the day socializing with relatives and friends from a distant cove.  The Square emitted a haze of dust and flies.  Ladies fanned themselves and the horses crowded around the big watering troughs in the courthouse yard.  Old men whittled and the sparse grass was colored tobacco.  The Chautauqua Company that spread a big tent in the schoolyard each summer was a heady treat for the drab times.  It brought live music and drama to the countryside.

A sulky-racing program from the 18th annual county fair of September 1923 contains some flavorful Winchester advertisements.  Sprague's Department Store carried something for everyone.  Fitzpatrick and Ray's Meat Market advertised prompt delivery.  A.B. Call claimed to "Klean Klothes Kleaner."  S.A. Shore opened a department store on Main Street.  When he and Mrs. Shore moved with daughters, Bessie and Fannie Rose, to Nashville, he sold out to Flimin and Sanders.  Abe Sanders continued the business for many years. James R. Norton's Jewelry Store advertised Edison Phonographs, Victrolas, and Kodaks.  Colsher's Garage was open day and night and the Collins Seed Company advertised garden seeds, tires, tubes and an "...up-to-date ladies' rest room...."  C.0. Prince, druggist, requested that customers call their orders to telephone number 9.  B.C. Shasteen's "288 Service Station" actually took its name from its telephone number.  Isidore Paplanus, Ed Little, and Jenkins and Darwin ran department stores.  The Franklin brothers made bread and the McDowell brothers made ice cream.  Golden Rod Butter was produced at the Franklin County Creamery and the Winchester Chronicle joined the Truth and Herald in trying to print all of the news.  Knox brothers carried Stetson hats and Walkover shoes.  Martin's Drugstore sold candies, school supplies, cigars, tobacco, and pipes.  Joe Davis ran a trucking company and Steed-Leonard Furniture Company offered "guaranteed prices."  "Happy Ed" Goddard had a feed store on the Square where children took their pennies to buy the candy he kept in his big glass case.  George Oldham ran the Rivoli Theater where they took their dimes every Saturday to see the Westerns.

Depression era doctors were T.B. Anderton, W.E. Murrell, M.M. Huling, and John Grisard.  Dr. Jennie Houghton, an osteopath, wore long black dresses and drove to her patients' homes in her black, one-horse buggy.  Funeral directors were W.L. Steed and Jeff Moore.  During the two decades of the Depression, one Winchester boy became a Rhodes scholar and went on to a career in business and investing.  He was John Marks Templeton, founder of the Templeton Mutual Funds.  The Business and Professional Women's Club opened a library, which has endured under public auspices.

The Dixie Highway, traversing the countryside from north to south, was probably responsible for the advent of paved streets.  Between 1925 and 1927 it brought a macadamized surface into the town through Winchester Springs from Tullahoma. It traversed the Square and continued out the Old Cowan Road to Monteagle.  The Square was subsequently paved and little rubber stop signs were embedded at the corner intersections.  Fortunately, no one needed to read them and they were run over so many times that they eventually disposed of themselves.

The 1930s saw a shirt factory occupy the old silk mill building on the Belvidere Highway.  It was, at other times, a Buster Brown hosiery mill and a Knox and Stetson hat factory.  Gordon Limbaugh and W. Sam Hall opened a ladies' and men's clothing store.  Francis Frassrand was selling Dodges, Harry Chumley sold Fords, Johnson and McCollum sold Chevrolets, and Ed Wenger sold Oldsmobiles.  Rollins and Levan and Harry Ray were furniture merchants and William Grant operated a chain of food stores.  A.A. Syler and Mrs. Brown opened tourist homes.  O.S. Fuller built a miniature golf course and Dr. Parker Smith established a hospital.  The Crimson Clover Festival was initiated, and the aging courthouse was replaced with a beautiful art deco building.

The 1940s brought lasting changes to the town.  Camp Forrest, the result of WW II, was very near as were CCC camps.  Defense plants lured many workers, and women found themselves filling the vacant positions and doing well.  The downtown cafe once run by Julius and Mary White Schell, became the J.P. McKowns' City Cafe.  The second-floor dining room was a gathering place for clubs, social events, and hungry politicians.  The Tennessee Electric Power Company sold electricity and Rieben and Speck made it useful.  Mutt Brazelton dealt in Pontiacs and Cole and Yarbrough dealt in potatoes.  Dr. Reynolds Fite brought his family to Winchester and opened a clinic.

The 1950s are pleasant to remember because the town's center was still a retail district.  A few of the stores were Russell's and Hammer's Department Stores, Faris Hat Shop, Carolyne's Dress Shop, Siler's Shoe Store, Woodbine Store, Sportsman Center, Huber Paint Store, Farmers Hardware and Vaughan Hardware, Anderton Seed and Feed, Burkhalter Implement Company, Bell Building Supply, Taylor's Refrigeration Service, Luttrell's Radio and TV Company, Hall Furniture Company, Shook, Hall and Delzell Furniture Company, National Store, Scenic Restaurant, Blue Front and Bennett's Drug Stores, Billie's Flowers, Ma Ward's Cafe, Buchanan Motors, Bridgman's, Reba's and Joe Sisk's Cleaners, and Knox Men's Furnishings.  Knies Wagon and Carriage Shop, in business since 1902, was joined by Knies Hardware Company.

Changes in the county's school system brought changes to the town's school buildings.  The high schools at Decherd and Winchester were combined and a new Franklin County High School was located on the Boulevard in Winchester.  A new Mary Sharp School was created to serve the first two elementary grades and the old building was replaced.  Clark Memorial Elementary School was erected on the former Central High School site and the period of integration, that would eventually eliminate Townsend as an elementary and high school, was begun.

Before fire engines, it is known that fires were fought with bucket brigades.  Mr. Tom Waldman was considered to be the fire alarm during his lifetime.  It is said that he could smell a house fire even before it was noticeable.  When his piercing cry of FIE- YER split the night, people ran about grabbing their buckets and looking for the blaze.  In 1905 the town bought and occupied a very small office in the Old Home Bank building on the Square.  Jim Taylor, who served as city recorder for many years, presided over the one desk and the fire engine, which was pulled by people power.  The city sold this space in 1944 and purchased the lovely yellow brick Presbyterian USA church building in the next block.  They used this office until 1954 when they occupied the administrative building, fire hall and city jail, which they had built on the corner of North Vine and Second Avenue, Northwest.  The next change in location came in 1970 when the city occupied the former Post Office Building, which they had purchased on South High Street.  It had been constructed in 1914 and was replaced by the new Federal Building on South Jefferson Street.  The construction of an attached fire hall and the purchase of two adjacent store buildings added 18,000 square feet of space to the city property.  Thoughtful renovation and careful landscaping of this area has improved the appearance of the town's center.

The voters of Winchester asked the State Legislature to withdraw their charter in 1883 because of a state law that forbade the selling of liquor within four miles of a state-chartered school located within an unincorporated town.  There were three chartered schools in Winchester in 1883 so the town became dry.  The charter was renewed in 1907 when the Legislature was asked to amend the act of repeal.  During the period of unincorporation, business was carried on by the Winchester Taxing District.  The last person to act as the District's top official was N.W. Panter.  The first mayor under the 1907 charter was attorney Jesse M. Littleton.  Mayors from that year to 2009 have been: 1907-Jesse M. Littleton, 1911-J.A. Anderton, 1913-George E. Banks Jr., 1915-James R. Norton (serving as mayor pro tem due to the resignation of Mr. Banks who became county judge), 1915-E.W. Chattin, 1921-R.J. Shasteen, 1925-E.C. Mowry, 1935-James R. Norton, 1941-Joe Davis, 1944-Fred M. Anderton, 1945-Roy J. Wilson, 1947-Robert L. Sims, 1948-Murrell Travis (elected by the council because of the resignation of Robert L. Sims), 1957-E. Watson Moore, 1959-Murrell Travis, 1961-Clinton Swafford, 1967-Herman Hinshaw, 1975-Howard Hall, 1991-David Bean, 1999-Richard Stewart.  Stewart served until he was elected to the office of County Mayor in 2006.  Terry Harrell, then Vice-Mayor, was elected by the Council to serve the remainder of Stewart's term.  In 2007 Harrell was elected mayor.

The last four decades of the town's history have brought change and growth.  The creation of Tims Ford Dam changed the typography of Winchester.  The corporate limits of the town have been invaded by the lake's waters to the extent that peninsulas have resulted and waterfront residential areas are numerous.  The Winchester-Decherd Boulevard became a central thoroughfare within the extended growth, and in 1989 the City Council honored Winchester native and singing star Dinah Shore by giving the street her name.

The City is serving an extended population of 7837.  Access roads are bringing the interstate highway system closer and there are several indications of a new municipal growth pattern.  One is the Gamble Sports Complex and David R. Bean Swimplex for outdoor and indoor recreation in the City Park, and the other is the relocation of the Franklin County High School and sports arena to a larger and more accessible campus.

The new school building's 310,000 square feet of space is the second largest area of any public high school in the state of Tennessee.  The school sits on grounds that total about ninety-six acres and will allow for much future growth.  The first class was graduated from this facility in 2005 and the total enrollment including grades nine through twelve is just over 1500 students.  The practice and playing fields for all sports except baseball are on the new site.  There are also two gymnasiums that are utilized for sports and for Physical Education.  This larger gym area has allowed the school to host District and Regional Tournaments.

On December 4, 2007, Governor Phil Bredesen came to Winchester to present the city an enhancement grant of $418,403.00 to assist with the Downtown Revitalization Project, also known as the Winchester Community Walk Way Project.  Work on the first phase, to improve the four sides of the Square, began November 17, 2008.  Local merchants and professional businessmen and women anticipate it will provide the added appeal necessary for attracting more businesses and customers to the downtown area.  When completed, this very exciting plan will invest the Square with some of the charm of yesteryear and provide, at the same time, some much needed replacement of aging public facilities.

Note:  This history was first published by the Franklin County Historical Society in 1996 in the book Family Histories Franklin County, Tennessee 1807-1996 on pages 102-104 and was updated January 2, 2010.