Things to Know & See
Every day of the 2017 BRAT explores a portion of this wide puzzle of rolling woodlands of the Tennessee’s Western Highland Rim and the Tennessee River Valley. As much as the woods and waters, the limestones, sandstones, shales, iron ores, and cherts you’ll see these next days have determined much of this region’s human history.
Montgomery Bell State Park lies with rumpled hills and rich woods just west of the Nashville Basin. When you get unpacked, check out a few of the great features near the campgrounds: the Iron Ore Trail and the McAdow Cabin. Here’s why:
Montgomery Bell and Pioneer Iron Works
Montgomery Bell, born in 1769 in Pennsylvania, moved to still-wild Tennessee in 1804 with enough money from his hatter’s shop to purchase an iron furnace. The seller was James Robertson, one Tennessee’s most famous explorers, and a founder of Nashville. Bell improved and expanded these works to eventually include a cluster of 14 furnaces and forges on the Western Highland Rim, with 50,000 acres of timberland to create the vast amounts of charcoal required to smelt the native brown ore. During the War of 1812, the products of Bell’s slaves supplied the U.S. Navy in Florida with canister shot and General Andrew Jackson’s command in New Orleans with cannonballs. Bell named his final project, Worley Furnace, after his most valuable associate throughout his whole career, a slave named James Worley. Late in life, he planned the manumission of his 250 enslaved workers through the American Colonization Society. Their records document his funding the relocation of 88 people to Liberia, and plan to similarly free the remainder of his slave force. Bell died before these final actions were taken.
The grounds at Montgomery Bell State Park include the ruins of the Laurel Furnace, established in 1815 by one of Bell’s competitors.
Revival of 1800
The grounds of Montgomery Bell State include a shrine established in 1956 at the historic site of the Reverend Samuel McAdow cabin. McAdow, born 1760, was a schooled and ordained Presbyterian minister, living and preaching in Logan County, Kentucky by 1800. In that year, his Red River meeting house whirled into American history as the site of “America’s First Camp Meeting,” with uncommon outward expressions of religious passion and ecstasy among cries for salvation from hundreds of frontier converts. Known as the “Revival of 1800” and “The Second Great Awakening,” several new Christian denominations were established through the freedom and isolation of the frontier, with revelations and interpretations that differed from orthodox, well-established Protestant doctrines.
After a night in prayer with two fellow ministers at his Tennessee cabin in 1810, McAdow was convinced of his calling to express a new form of Presbyterian theology, and established the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. It became the first American church body to ordain and recognize female ministers. The largest base of the denomination has always been in Tennessee and Kentucky, it but has established congregations in 23 states and several foreign countries. Notable church members included David Crockett, William Jennings Bryan, and Sir John Templeton (the renowned pioneer of mutual fund investment.)
New Deal Experiments:
Throughout Montgomery Bell State Park you’ll see the handwork of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The park included three CCC camps, segregated by race, and cooperation with two other New Deal programs and the National Park Service. The dam and spillways for Lake Acorn and Lake Woodhaven are two of the most enduring and obvious features.
Along the Ride
Natchez Trace National Historic Trail: Before the days of steam power, flatboat travelers to great port city of New Orleans had to walk back home, if they couldn’t buy a horse. In either case, a better road was a great need, and President Thomas Jefferson pushed Federal assistance to open up the Old Southwest. The US Army began stabilizing the rough woods trail in 1801 and had it ready for wagons, from Nashville to Natchez by 1809, and for some of the U.S. troops returning from the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. The next year, Congress appropriated funds for “Jackson’s Military Road,” a new route from Nashville to New Orleans, which may have led to the establishment of Mount Pleasant in 1824.
Commerce was the driving factor throughout the early period of the Trace. The vineyards and cornfields along the Natchez Trace National Historic Trail have a long history as products to promote hell raising and highway robbery. The market for whiskey and wine never slowed in the river towns, but getting home without being waylaid was a concern for every traveler. The infamy of the murderous Sam Mason and the Harp Brothers gang was a national story for a decade. Spanish authorities arrested Mason in 1803, holding $7,000 and 20 human scalps. The 2017 BRAT offers just a few miles on Day 1, but it’s all good, and one of Tennessee’s best-known cycling route.
The forested hills of the Western Highland Rim create a healthy drainage filter for the great Duck River watershed. There are two main crossings of the main trunk of the Duck River and a couple dozen crossings of tributaries. Day 1 visits the Upper Duck River watershed.
Flat, shale bottomed streams and seeps send their waters over some nice waterfalls just out of sight from the route, but worth your time, when you travel back this way. Stillhouse Hollow Falls tumbles 75 ft. just off of US Hwy 43, recently designated as a State Natural Area. Again, it is not on the route, but such falls characterize this region.
Mount Pleasant Phosphate: Brown phosphate rock has been one Tennessee’s most valuable minerals since the late 19th-Century, found in a small region close by the Day 1 BRAT Route. It’s the “P” of the N-P-K fertilizer label (10-10-10, for instance) on every bag, giving the percent of phosphate in every cup of fertilizer. The Mount Pleasant-Maury Phosphate Museum is located on 108 Public Square, just a few feet off the route in downtown Mount Pleasant. They tell the story of the rise and fall of Tennessee phosphate, along with other area history.
Mount Pleasant: After the capture of Atlanta, Confederate General John Bell Hood carried forth a campaign in November 1864 to recapture Nashville from the Federal forces, then possibly fight to Virginia to unite with Lee’s Army. Mt. Pleasant was the meeting point for over 30,000 Confederate soldiers, including 10,000 cavalrymen under Nathan B. Forrest’s command. They feigned an assault on Columbia, Tennessee, 19 miles northeast of Mt. Pleasant, were stalled at the Spring Hill crossroads, and then defeated at the Battle of Franklin, 22 miles south of Nashville.
Summertown, the Farm
With a convoy of 60 hippie buses and vans, in 1971, the 300 founders of The Farm created an internationally-recognized, successful, impactful alternative community just northeast of Summertown. Led by former Marine and creative writing professor, Steve Gaskin, they partnered with TVA on development of solar power and energy conservation technologies, advanced midwifery services, permaculture, soy products and recipes to support planetary food sustainability, and incorporated Plenty International - a non-profit international relief program that has constructed 1200 houses, supplied schools and hospitals, developed ambulance services an at d more in Central America, the Caribbean, Nepal, the Philippines, South Dakota, the Bronx, and the US Gulf Coast. Check out their webcast/broadcast at WUTZ 88.3 FM, or through their online links
Amish Country Neighbors and Manners
Day 1 of the 2017 BRAT ride travels through the heart of the largest Amish community in the South. From initial land purchases by 3 church members in 1944, a community of 1500 Amish have taken up farming, dairy, and home sales of foods, produce, crafts, and furniture. Expect to share the road between Summertown, Etheridge, and Lawrenceburg with buggies and wagons. Don’t expect to see powerlines running to every house. Stop to shop and talk, but please do NOT take photographs of our Amish neighbors. Please respect their wish for privacy and modesty.