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Mike Watson: Columbia & Adair Co: Moments in Time

In this article: Untamed wilderson just 229 years ago. . . Tucker's Station . . . ideal location for county seat . . . three founders of town . . . a commercially vibrant community almost from the start . . . the paper mill . . . the first electricity . . . early roads, and much more. . . Steamboats to Bowling Green, on the green, steamboats from Creelsboro to Nashville on the Cumberland. . . first postmaster . . . when swearing on Sunday was a crime . . . and then, as now, community was a leader in education, and more . . .
Click on headline for concise omnibus of our moments in time

By Mike Watson, Adair County historian
Text of remarks delivered to the Columbia/Adair Chamber of Commerce, 10 Apr 2018

This was an untamed wilderness, by our standards, two hundred and twenty-nine years ago when the first settlements were made here in what is now Adair County. Stout, fearless woodsmen and women made their way her under the direction of Col. William Casey and carved out a new life in this Eden of the West.

One mile from this spot a stockade or station was erected and inhabited by a Methodist minister, Rev. John Tucker, and his family, along with a handful of others. Rev. and Mrs. Tucker met untimely deaths at the hands of those who did not wish them here. That didn't deter the settlers, it alarmed them for a time, but the flow was not stemmed.

Green County, our parent county, had been formed in 1792 soon after Kentucky statehood; it was a large, sprawling region destined to be cleaved multiple times to create new counties, Adair being one of these, in 1801.

Columbia might not have become the county seat, but it was an ideal location. Two game trails crossed on the nearby hill, where our historic courthouse now sits. Buffalo, the largest animals in this region, crisscrossed that hill as they roamed, and the ages-old trails were appropriated by the settlers and became our primitive highways.

There was good water, springs and streams, so settlement was inevitable. Three men obtained title to the tract of land--Daniel Trabue, Creed Haskins and William Caldwell--and founded the town, which was named Columbia. And we were off...

Business boomed in Columbia. There were shops of various types, a factory that made nails, an integral component for a growing community, nearby grist mills, and more. A post office was established by 1804, called Adair Court House, but soon changed to Columbia Court House, and eventually Columbia. John Field was the first postmaster, a merchant, and the first jailer, for from the beginning there was need for such an institution. Crimes of varying degrees will eventually emerge in any location where there are three or more people gathered. From petty theft to horse stealing, from swearing on the Sabbath to public brawls, from trespass to murder, we had them all. But generally the peace was kept.

A paper mill was located on Greasy Creek, then in Adair, now Russell County, which operated for many years, producing various grades of paper that was used locally and also shipped down river to Nashville and beyond. Tobacco, corn, whiskey, hides and various other products were shipped to New Orleans via the Green and Cumberland Rivers and with the coming of steamboats, trade goods were shipped back to Adair County, primarily through Creelsboro.

Nearly every large landowner practiced self-sufficiency, producing almost every item needed to operate a household and farm, that not used was sold to others. Many men operated a distillery for their personal use, and for sale to neighbors, some distilleries produced on a large scale. No stigma was attached to this venture in the pre-Civil War days.

Roads were rough and was travel slow, but a trip from the outreaches to the county seat could be made in a few hours by horseback, in a day by wagon. Once each month Court Day was held, a day for the court to meet and conduct business, and the town was full of men and boys, trading, etc. Horse racing was a common sport and the first race tract was located just over the Russell Creek in what is now White City. Men would bring racing stock from as far as Louisville, Lexington and Nashville to race here and big money was won, and lost. The horse industry flourished in this county from the earliest days and continues to do so today.

Education was important to our founders. The Adair Academy came to be known as Robertson's Academy, for the Rev. Samuel Best Robertson, long-time head of the school. The Academy was located on High Street. Students came to attend the school from all across the region, and boarded in town. Students included Samuel Bell Maxey, Preston H. Leslie, and others; many became practitioners of the law, medical doctors, and entrepreneurs. The Academy would morph into the Presbyterian College, conducted under the direction of the Transylvania Presbytery, then into Male & Female College, which eventually became the Columbia School System. In the early 1870s the Columbia Christian College was founded and grew stronger each year. Then came Lindsey Wilson Training School, supported by the Methodist Conference as well as the general population of this and surrounding counties.

During the Civil War Columbia was location of a Union Army camp, Camp Boyle, and during the war many thousands of men were stationed here, being in a direct line between the railroad at Lebanon and the Cumberland River. Attorney and judge, Thomas E. Bramlette, resident of Columbia, was made a Colonel in the Army and later elected Governor of Kentucky. There were numerous incidents here and a skirmish along Burkesville Street. The courthouse narrowly escaped being burned by John Hunt Morgan's forces. The Baptist and Presbyterian churches were used as hospitals for the sick soldiers as well as many other buildings and homes in and near town.

And all this came to pass here because buffalo trails crossed and early settlers saw the significance of the location, a cross-roads for new civilization.

Did you know?
- That within the bounds of Columbia there was erected a pillory and stocks?

- That there is a complex cave system that runs under the entire area?

- The first electricity produced for the town was at Feese's Mill?

- There was a 'wake-up call' every morning at 3 a.m. When tin bugle was blown?
- Mike Watson

This story was posted on 2018-04-13 11:03:40
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