Lawrence County

On October 21, 1817, the Tennessee General Assembly created Lawrence County from territory acquired by treaty with the Chickasaw Indians. A section of Hickman County and a small portion of Giles County were included in its boundaries. Local government was established in 1818.

Both the county and the county seat were named in honor of Captain James Lawrence, U.S. Naval hero of the War of 1812. Lawrenceburg, the county seat, was sited near the center of the county, but an important consideration in determining its location was the presence of Jackson's Military Road on the eastern border of the town. As a major thoroughfare from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, the Military Road played a significant role in the economic development of the county; in April 1821 the road was relocated through the center of town.

Davy Crockett served as one of the first commissioners and justices of the peace in Lawrence County. In the four or five years he lived in the area, he operated a water-powered gristmill, a powder mill, and a distillery. Today David Crockett State Park is situated on the site of the frontiersman's land. The park attracts tourists from across the United States, especially during the annual David Crockett Days.

In addition to the county seat, a number of smaller towns and communities dot the landscape, including Summertown, Henryville, Ethridge, Leoma, Loretto, St. Joseph, West Point, and Iron City. The past vitality of these towns was associated with their proximity to Jackson's Military Road or the mining of iron ore.

A number of citizens of the county have achieved regional and national prominence. George Henry Nixon, Confederate officer and politician, was the person most responsible for bringing the railroad to Lawrence County. James Jackson Pennington, a well-known local inventor, patented a working model of an “Aerial Bird,” a flying machine similar to a zeppelin, in 1877. Thomas H. Paine, lawyer, politician, and educator, was appointed state superintendent of public instruction in the 1880s by Governor William B. Bate, and in 1899 he became Tennessee commissioner of agriculture.

Lawrence County has long been known for its gospel singers. One person in particular, James D. Vaughan, transformed Lawrenceburg into the undisputed capital of gospel music in America. The James D. Vaughan Music School attracted students from across the South. The James D. Vaughan Publishing Company printed gospel music books and operated branch offices in South Carolina, Mississippi, and Texas.

Throughout the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century successive migrations brought settlers to Lawrence County from other southern states and foreign nations. Initially Lawrence County was settled largely by people migrating from the

Carolinas. Wealthier farmers brought slaves, although Lawrence County never had a large percentage of slave-owning farmers. Farmers among the early immigrants planted cotton while entrepreneurs built sawmills, gristmills, and cotton mills or mined the iron ore. Mining expanded with the arrival of the railroad in 1883.

In the early 1870s a large number of German Catholics arrived in Lawrence County in search of better land. They included many skilled tradesmen and settled in such communities as Loretto and St. Joseph. A third migration between 1908 and 1915 brought families from Cullman, Winston, and Morgan Counties in Alabama to southern Middle Tennessee. Most of these twentieth century settlers were cotton growers or timbermen. Cotton continued to play a major economic role in Lawrence County until the late 1960s.

Certainly one of the more interesting migrations into Lawrence County was that of the Amish in 1944. Bringing with them their strong religious and cultural beliefs, these immigrants established their community in the area around Ethridge. Their rejection of war and worldly pleasure and their reluctance to incorporate the conveniences of industrial society have made them a source of interest to local residents and visitors to the area. Their skills as farmers and craftsmen receive widespread admiration.

In the mid-twentieth century the relocation of the Murray Ohio Manufacturing Company, one of the world's largest producers of bicycles and lawnmowers, to Lawrence County refocused the county's economy toward industrial production. In 2001 Murray had three thousand employees. Dozens of smaller factories, manufacturing a wide variety of items including automobile windshields, windshield wipers, kitchen countertops, fishing lures, clothing, printed packaging, church pews, and caskets followed Murray Ohio into the county.

The population of Lawrence County in the 2000 census was 39,926. Thirteen public schools and four private schools serve over seven thousand students. Columbia State Community College maintains a branch in Lawrenceburg. County government operates under the county executive and a board of eighteen commissioners. The city government of Lawrenceburg is made up of a mayor and four commissioners. The Lawrenceburg Town Square is a National Register-listed historic district while the Natchez Trace Parkway passes through the western portion of the county.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Lawrence County
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 17, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018