Courtesy of Russell B. Bailey, Tipton County Historian
To read about the early days in Tipton County is to explore thrilling chapters of Tennessee’s history. First came the skilled hunters of the Chickasaw Indians, followed by traders and trappers. Then came the cotton planters and their slaves. Next came the river pilots and merchants. Rivers, artesian springs, and railroads shaped the destinies of these people. Boats of every description, flat, keel and steam plied the Big Hatchie River bringing settlers and supplies upriver and bales of cotton down. It is the story of these waters, the clanking of the spike and rail and the commerce that followed that proved to be the evolution of Tipton County as we know it today.
Tipton County was created by act of the Tennessee legislature on October 29, 1823. Governor William Carroll signed the act at Murfreesboro then the capital of Tennessee. Tipton’s land area was taken from Shelby County in the “(south) Western District of Tennessee,” and included what is now Lauderdale County. One third of Tipton’s land area, 635 square miles, was situated north of the Big Hatchie River. When the legislature created Lauderdale County on November 24, 1835, Tipton’s land areas was reduced to 440 square miles. Tipton’s new boundaries were: Big Hatchie River on the north, Haywood County on the east, Fayette County on the southeast, Shelby County on the south and the Mississippi River on the west. In 1873, the legislature again reduced Tipton County by cutting off Island No. 23 and adding it to Lauderdale. During the 1920’s, a small portion of land in south Tipton County was ceded to Shelby County so the residents could attend Shelby County schools at Rosemark.
The land in what is now Tipton County were originally land grants issued by the State of North Carolina. Some of the larger grants included those of Robert and Thomas Love, 15,000 acres; R. T. Munford, 8,200 acres; Andrew Greer, M. Hunt, and John Rice, 5,000 acres each; Anthony Bledsoe, 4,700 acres, and Hardy Murfree, 1,260 acres. An incident connected with the re-location of these old grants in 1819-20 was the death of one of the surveyors, Richard Hightower, father-in-law of the distinguished lawyer of Nashville, O. B. Hayes. This occurred at a fine spring a few miles south of the site of Covington, afterwards known as Hightower’s Spring.
Tipton County was named in honor of Jacob Tipton (1765 – 1791) a native of Cedar Creek, Shenandoah County, Virginia. Jacob was the son of Colonel John Tipton (1730 – 1813) “who gave political and military service in Virginia, North Carolina and Tennessee during her most trying times.” Colonel Tipton died in Washington County, Tennessee and was praised by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to one of Tipton’s sons. Colonel Tipton’s five eldest sons served in the American Revolution. Following the War, a sixth son, Jacob, raised a company for defense of the frontier and became a captain. Captain Jacob Tipton led his company from Elizabethton to the Ohio territory. On November 4, 1791, American forces led by General Arthur St. Clair fought with Indians at Fort Wayne near what is now Mercer County, Ohio. Captain Jacob Tipton was mortally wounded in the battle known as St. Clair’s Defeat. The Knoxville Gazette newspaper described the incident:
“(Captain Jacob Tipton) went instantly with the party under his command, and joined a party of Kentucky militia, who were first engaged. An officer asking him why he had joined himself to a party of militia when he belonged to the regulars – He replied “I came here to fight, and I will do it.” Not long afterwards, when the firing became very warm, he received a ball in his breast, which passed through him. In his condition he stood some time animating his men; but soon overpowered and weakened by the wound, and bleeding inwardly, he fell. Turning round and looking at his men, he said, “My brave fellows, I am a dead man…fight on, and bravely do all you can for your country,” and instantly expired.”
Captain Tipton left a widow, Mary Bradford, and two children, Lavenia and a son Jacob Jr.--Governor Carroll commissioned John T. Brown, Nathan Hartsfield, John C. McKean, George Robinson and Jacob Tipton the first justices of the peace for Tipton County. These men met December 1-2, 1823 in the home of Nathan Hartsfield. It has been written that the Hartsfield Home was situated on “Fisher’s Hill, near where the Jeff Davis Highway (U.S. Highway 51) and the old Liberty and Holly Grove road intersect, west of the Jeff Davis.” In 1889, J. West Green lived on this site.
Covington was established as Tipton’s seat of government on December 11, 1824. The village, located about four miles south of the Big Hatchie River, was the geographical center of the county at that time. The first courthouse dedicated for justice was completed July 4, 1825 and located on the northeast corner of the square. Work on a brick courthouse began in 1831 and was completed in June 1832.
Some of the early settlers were Jesse Benton, Jr., Henry Yarbro, George W. Frazier, Henry and Isaac Turnage, K. H. Douglass, Wm. and Robert Simonton, Robert Sanford and Andrew Greer.------Those serving in county government in 1836 were:
Circuit Court Clerk – R. W. Sanford
County Court Clerk – F. R. Smith
County Trustee – R. B. Clarkson
Register – N. Hartsfield
Sheriff – M. Calmes
1st District. J. G. Hall, R. J. Mitchell, P. P. Collier
2nd District W. Wiseman, T. P. Hall
3rd District S. Bates, R. Young
4th District D. Vaught, G. M. Penn
5th District Williamson Land, J. D. Thomas
6th District R. H. Rose, W. C. D. Jones.
7th District A. Matthews, M. Murchison
8th District J. W. Adams, B. W. Handron (Hendron ?)
9th District Joseph Soape, W. B. Roberson
10th District Cullen Curlee, W. C. Clark
1st District Sam Glass, W. Branch
2nd District D. M. Smith
3rd District A. D. Campbell
4th District A. Hunt
5th District J. Berden
6th District G. W. Jenkins
7th District T. McCrady
8th District J. Overall
9th District __________Cothran
10th District J. W. Wortham
Courtesy of David A. Gwinn, Tipton County Genealogist and Historian
Covington's Early History:
Soon after the founding of the County in 1823, Commissioners were appointed by the Tennessee State Legislature to locate a suitable site for a County Seat. In the year 1824, these Commissioners completed their task by choosing a site near the center of the County upon a commanding hill with a large spring flowing from its base located upon the lands of Tyree Rodes, John C. McLemore and James Vaulx.
The new town was named "Covington" in honor of General Leonard Wales Covington who was mortally wounded in the battle of Chrysler's Field on 11 November 1813 and died two days later.
In December 1824, the Tipton County Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions appointed Robert G. Green, Elias F. Pope, Marquis Calmes, John Eckford and Alexander Robinson to survey the site of the new town, lay out seven streets and 106 lots, and proceeded with a sale of said lots as soon as possible. The first sale of town lots occurred on the 12th of April 1825. The proceeds of that sale and subsequent sale of lots were used to construct the County Court House. The first Court House, a framed two story structure, 20 feet by 30 feet square, was completed in July 1825.
The Town of Covington was incorporated in 1826 by an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly. The names of the first officers of the town and their accomplishments have been lost to history.
Education must have been important to the early settlers of Covington for in 1826, the first school in the little town was established. Known as the Covington Male Academy, this incorporated institution provided education for the children of Covington and the surrounding area for over the next 60 years.
It took a few more years before organized religion took hold. The first denomination to organize a congregation in Covington was the Presbyterians in 1829. This short lived congregation merged with Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church in 1839. The Baptists were the second denomination to call Covington home. They organized their first church in Covington in 1839. Eight years later, this congregation also moved from town.
Covington prior to the War Between the States saw little growth. Randolph and later Portersville were the bustling commercial centers of the County in the antebellum period. Covington was largely a sleepy hamlet that only came alive during the times the courts were in session at the Court House.
In 1854 the Tipton Female Seminary was opened in Covington. This fine institution was under the able guidance of Rev. James Holmes, D.D. and his son, Prof. George D. Holmes, during a majority of its existence.
Civil War and Reconstruction:
On the eve of the War Between the States, Covington was finally showing evidence of progress. A new hotel had been built and numerous new businesses were opening their doors around the Square. Covington's first newspaper, The Covington Spy, began publication in 1860.
Covington and Tipton County was pro-Union up to the firing on Fort Sumter by Federal troops in April 1861. Overnight the town espoused the ideas of the Secession movement. Immediately thereafter in May of 1861, the young men of Covington and the surrounding area formed "the Tipton Rifles". This was the first military unit to be formed in the County and to be sent off to fight for the Confederacy. Later in February 1862, former County Sheriff, Henry J. Maley, raised Company C of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery in Covington. Both of these units saw action in some of the worst battles of the war.
Life in Covington during the War was largely quiet. Covingtonians suffered from the deprivations caused by the War as did the rest of the South but fortunately did not suffer greatly from the loss of property. Following the fall of this area to the Union horde in 1862, Covington was only occupied by Federal forces for short periods of time.
After the end of the War, Covington's economy quickly recovered. Prior to the War, plans were being made to construct a railroad through Covington, but the War dashed those dreams. In the late 1860's, the plans for that railroad were revived. The anticipation caused by the coming of the "iron horse" provided the boost local citizens needed to invest in the future of Covington especially during this unstable period in Southern history.
1870-1890: In 1873, the first section of the Memphis and Paducah Railroad between Memphis and Covington was completed. This was a tremendous boom to the town's economy. Soon the railroad would not only bring expanded trade and new retail establishments to the Town of Covington but it would also bring numerous families from varied background whose fresh ideas would help reshape the town. Covington supplanted Mason as the commercial municipality of the county. To this day, Covington remains the largest center in the county as well as the leader in both the retailing and manufacturing.
1890's: During this decade tremendous changes were being made in the infrastructure Town of Covington that would become the basis of the municipality we know today. Examples of these improvements are as follows: construction of the present Tipton County Court House in 1889-90, the establishment of the Covington City School System in 1894, the development of the first electrical system and water system by private investors and the establishment of a municipal volunteer fire department. Also during these years, the population of the town was growing by leaps and bounds. Throughout Covington, new homes were being constructed and around the square, new business houses were being erected. Many of these structures are still standing today, reflecting this period of unprecedented growth and prosperity at the turn of the century.
Atoka was founded in 1872 along the newly constructed tracks of the Memphis and Paducah Railroad upon the lands of Hugh Thompson. The founders of the new town selected the Indian word "Atoka" meaning ball ground as the name of their village.
Located half-way between the towns of Mt. Zion and Portersville on the new railroad, Atoka soon became the shipping point for lumber and cotton from the surrounding area. As the retail establishments in the town multiplied, the population grew accordingly. By the late 1870's the population of the little town had grown to around 500 inhabitants.
In 1895, the first Rural Free Delivery Routes were set-up by the United States Post Office and Atoka was selected as one of the first three American towns to participate in the program.--The town was first incorporated in the nineteenth century but the town leaders allowed the charter to lapse. Atoka was reincorporated in 1911 and the town continues to operate under that charter.
In 1928, tragedy struck. A tornado leveled the business district and much of the residential district. Many were injured and one resident was killed.
Today, Atoka is a growing bedroom community for Memphis and Shelby County. The town is Tipton County's third largest municipality, having a population in 2000 of 3,235.
Brighton was established in the year 1873 along the newly completed tracts of the Memphis and Paducah Railroad upon the lands of A. W. Smith, Sr. who gave the initial five acres for the Depot grounds. The new town was named for Mr. Bright, the first conductor on the Memphis Division of the said road.
The new town grew quickly. By the late 1870's, Brighton had two dry goods stores, three grocery stores, two saloons, two blacksmith shops, two wagon shops, one brick yard, one steam saw and grist mill, one steam cotton gin, a Baptist church, two physicians, and a population around 100.
In 1883, the veterans of the 7th Tennessee Cavalry, Confederate States of America made Brighton the permanent site of their annual reunion. At Brighton the veterans reunion took on new dimensions and it grew into a reunion of all Confederate veterans of Tipton County and the surrounding region. Over the years, attendance of this annual August event grew peeking at 15,000 in 1897. The Tipton County Confederate Veterans Reunion, as it became to be known, continued to be held at Brighton until 1940.
Brighton was incorporated by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1913 and the town today continues to operate under the same charter.
Burlison is a relatively new town, having been incorporated in 1965 although the community is at least one hundred years older. It all began with the Symrna Baptist Church. The church and adjoining graveyard became the focal point of the area and a community grew-up around it. By 1881 the community had grown to such an extent that a post office was opened in the M. Hathcock store that same year. It is believed that it was at this time that the community was given the name of "Burlison" in honor of W.L. Burlison, a prominent landowner of the village.
Garland was established sometime in the early 1870's. In 1872 a post office was opened in the Archer Store there and it was named "Garland" in honor of Dr. John C. Garland, a noted physician in the village. On February 14, 1913, Garland was incorporated by an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly. Ed Peeler was the first mayor of the town.
The Town of Munford can trace its origins to the early 1850’s when the Mt. Zion Methodist Episcopal Church moved to the current site of the Munford Presbyterian Church in downtown Munford. Soon afterward, a small unplanned village grew-up around the growing Methodist church that would officially be named "Mt. Zion" after the Post Office opened there in 1856.
The Methodist church was not Mt. Zion's only claim to distinction. The young town was the home to the Tipton Lodge, Free and Accepted Masons founded in 1853 which is the second oldest Masonic Lodge in Tipton County. For many years, Mt. Zion was the home of the Memphis District High School (also once known as the Dyersburg District High School) that was operated by the Memphis Conference of the Methodist Church. This fine educational institution was later leased and then purchased by the Tipton County Board of Education. This school is the forerunner of the present Munford Elementary, Junior High and High Schools.
In 1874 Mt. Zion's Post Office was closed. When Mt. Zion re-applied to the United States Post Office Department in 1886 to have their old Post Office re-opened, the Post Office Department approved the application with one exception. The town would have to come-up with another name for their Post Office. The reason behind the government agency's request was simple. They claimed that if the name of Mt. Zion was re-instated, it would cause confusion among postal employees when sorting mail between Mt. Zion, Tennessee and Mt. Zion, Pennsylvania. It may be noted here that at that time, the common abbreviation for Tennessee was "Tenn." and the common abbreviation for Pennsylvania was "Penn." In print and especially in script, the names of these two towns would look very similar to postal employees attempting to sort the mail. In the days before zip codes existed, mail could have easily been routed to the wrong place because of the similarities in the town names causing serious delays in delivery. The newly appointed Postmaster, G.B. Sale, asked his daughter, Lola, to help him come up with a suitable name for the Post Office. She chose the name of "Munford" in memory of the late Col. R.H. Munford of Covington, a long time public servant who had served over the years as the Tipton County Court Clerk, County Register of Deeds and Clerk and Master of the Chancery Court as well as serving as Mayor of Covington at one time.
Although the Post Office after 1886 was known as Munford, parts of the town would continue to be known as Mt. Zion. That all would come to an end in 1905 when Munford was incorporated by an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly. S.H. Bass was elected as the first Mayor.
Today Munford is one of Tennessee's fastest growing towns and is Tipton County's second largest incorporated area, having a population of 4708 in 2000.
The Town of Mason has its beginnings in 1855 with the completion of the Memphis & Ohio Railroad through the southeastern corner of Tipton County. The town was named for James E. Mason, a local planter who donated the land for the depot grounds and sidetracks. The town was initially known as Mason’s Depot but earned the nickname of "Mason's Pigpen" so noted because Mr. Mason had previously used the site of the depot grounds as a hog pen. To this day, Washington Avenue in downtown Mason is known by locals as "Pig Alley".
Following the War Between the States, Mason grew quickly and soon became the commercial center of this County as well as being a strong social and economical influence on the citizens of neighboring Haywood and Fayette Counties. The town was incorporated in 1869.
Because of years of neglect and several devastating fires, little evidence remains of the wealth and prominence this town once possessed. Trinity Episcopal Church built in 1870 is the exception. This brick gothic structure is on the National Register of Historic Places as is its predecessor, Old Trinity Episcopal Church located about three miles north of town. This structure is the oldest structure building in the County having been built by the Taylor slaves in 1847.