The City by the Lake: A History of Hendersonville, Tennessee, 1780-1969

An Excerpt from the Foreword

by Timothy L. Takacs
Reprinted with permission.

In the 1780s the territory of North Carolina west of the Allegheny Mountains was gripped in what Thomas P. Abernethy has called "the great land grab"--the rush by well-heeled and self-interested men, both in government and out, to acquire North Carolina's military lands and register their titles in the newly-created counties of the region. The great object and desire of all of these men was for rich, fertile, well-watered and easily-worked land suitable for plantations, a temptation that Daniel Smith, James Sanders, William Henderson, Thomas Masten, and many others who haled from Virginia and eastern North Carolina Creek gave in to.

Smith and Sanders may be described as members of the landed gentry. Not everyone who settled at Hendersonville fits the description of this sort of man, however. Many were not landed gentry but merchants and shopkeepers; some eked out a living on the few acres of land that was allotted to them under the sharecropping arrangement that became common, especially after the Civil War, when the Thirteenth Amendment was the law of the land and savvy landowners like Harry Smith exploited the landless farmers in order to keep up their plantations. Many were slaves, who hardly counted, except as a measure of wealth for their owners and as "three-fifths of a person" under the sorry formula worked out in the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. For more than a hundred years farming was the most important economic endeavor at Hendersonville, and tenant farming was a significant aspect of it.

Sometime in the middle of the current century the percentage of persons living at Hendersonville who earned their livelihood from the soil slipped into the minority. By 1960 Hendersonville had lost the label of farming town; by 1970, other than the few farms that lingered on, their owners refusing to sell out, the town's agricultural heritage ceased to be a shaping force on its character. Taking the place of the stolid, stable farmers was a population of transient, indeed, restless, white- and blue-collar workers and their families, most of them immigrants. (By immigrants, I mean "being born in any place other than Hendersonville and Sumner County.") It was also around this time that Hendersonville ceased being a small Southern town, losing that indefinable something that is called "Southern-ness."

The recorded history of Hendersonville begins in 1783, when Daniel Smith and James Sanders visited the place to survey the area for the government of North Carolina, in furtherance of the great land grab. The modern history of Hendersonville begins after World War II, when the confluence of three factors--the town's proximity to Nashville, the improvements to Gallatin Road, the main road between Hendersonville and Nashville, and the impoundment of Old Hickory Lake--kicked off a second great land grab. A delightful life in the suburbs along the lake was just minutes away by automobile from Nashville, where the jobs were. It is almost impossible to imagine what Hendersonville would be like today if the lake had not been created.

Copyright 1992 by Timothy L. Takacs

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