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  • Nashville, Mississippi

    by Jack D. Elliott, Jr.
    Mississippi Department of Archives and History

    When we hear "Nashville" we usually think of the city in Tennessee. Few know that there was once a town of that name in Mississippi which existed on the eastern bank of the Tombigbee River in Lowndes County, a few miles south of Columbus, from about 1830 through the early 1850s. Claims have been made that the dead town once rivaled Columbus in size and influence for a few years-although that claim--like the size of Nashville--has been greatly exaggerated.

    Today we can travel along a county road running west from Highway 69 across the low level terraces of the Tombigbee to reach a boat landing still referred to as "Nashville Ferry," although the ferry ceased to operate there three decades ago. A person can still easily find broken pottery and glass and nails from the old town, buried in the dirt along with the artifacts left by Indians who inhabited the site centuries earlier as ready evidence that people once lived there.

    After the area on the east side of the Tombigbee was opened to white settlement as the result of a treaty with the Choctaws in 1816, the site soon became known as Young's Bluff. The name came from Daniel Young, a blacksmith, who acquired land there (fractional SE ¼ S17-T20-R17W) from the Federal government in 1824. By 1826 a road had been opened running from Luxapalilah Creek to Young's Bluff. Although there is no reference to a ferry being in operation there during the 1820s, it is quite probable that since a road led to the site, that there was some means of fording the river into the Choctaw Nation.

    By 1829, Samuel W. Spencer was operating a store at Young's Bluff, and in 1828 he received a patent for the W ½ NE ¼ S17-T20-R17W located there. In addition Spencer was licensed to retail liquor in October 1830. By 1831 there was a second merchant in business there, William W. Byars, who was also licensed that year to retail liquor. Newton N. Nash, more often known as Nimrod N. Nash, was also licensed to retail liquor at Young's Bluff in 1831. Much of the business in the days before Choctaw removal probably came from Indians who would cross the river at Young's Bluff to purchase various items and whiskey.

    On December 10, 1833, the Lowndes County Board of Police appointed a jury to layout a road to run west from Young's Bluff to intersect the Robinson Road (which ran from Columbus to near Jackson). At the same meeting the Board authorized Daniel Young to keep a ferry at his landing "at or near Youngs Bluff," marking the establishment of the first ferry there. Two days later the Board appointed a second jury to lay out a road running east from Young's Bluff to intersect "the Alabama Road." The opening of the new roads and ferry must have certainly improved the business prospects for the river landing.

    On March 29, 1834, Daniel Young sold his Young's Bluff property to Nimrod N. Nash who apparently founded and named the town of Nashville. Within only a few days of his purchase of the land from Young, Nash began to sell "lots in the town of Nashville" indicating that a town plat had been surveyed. The rather small town plat consisted of about 16 blocks with each block being only about one acre in size. The first known sale of lots was on April 4, 1834 to John J. Lewis with the deed including the first known usage of the term "town of Nashville." On April 9, a voting precinct was established at Nashville and not long after in 1837, a post office that had been established years before at place named Mt. Zion was moved to Nashville, and its name was changed to Nashville. In October 1835, Nimrod Nash was given permission to operate the Nashville ferry by the county board of police.

    Although W.A. Love implied that Nashville was named after Abner Nash, the father of Nimrod Nash, this is very doubtful. Abner died on November 23, 1834, only months after the founding of Nashville and was buried in Murrah Chapel Cemetery on present-day Highway 69.  Abner never owned land at Nashville nor had any documented connection with it. On the other hand, the importance of his son Nimrod in the development of Nashville is all too evident.

    Nashville was never much competition for the much older and larger town of Columbus. In fact Nashville was never a very large town by any standard. It was never incorporated, and there apparently were never more than two stores in simultaneous operation. Judging from the 1840 census, the population at the time was only about 55 whites and an undetermined number of black slaves. At the same time the population of Columbus was in the hundreds.

    However, Nashville had all of the basic functions characteristic of river towns. It served as a ferry crossing, while cotton could be stored there to await the arrival of steamboats with the late autumn-early winter rise in the river. Commodities shipped upriver from Mobile were unloaded there. Additionally stores at Nashville supplied small inland farmers with goods, probably extending credit to them on an annual basis.

    In December 1847, a great river flood devastated the low-lying town as it also did the Tombigbee river towns of West Port, Colbert, and the lower levels of Aberdeen. The following year Nimrod Nash sold all of his remaining property in town, and in 1850 Robert Hairston took charge of operating the ferry. Nash departed for Chickasaw County MS. By 1850 there was only one store left, operated by the Suddoth brothers, John and Alexander, one blacksmith Andrew H. Thomas, and one wagon maker, James C. Cheatman. Suddoth Brothers Store closed soon after in 1851. John Suddoth had served as the postmaster. With his departure, the blacksmith, Andrew Thomas, served as postmaster for another year before the post office was closed in 1852. Then the following year, the Nashville voting precinct was closed. With these closures, Nashville was effectively dead, although it did continue to serve as a ferry landing and a minor shipping port. As late as 1856, the river boat, "S.S. Prentiss," advertised Nashville as one of its regular ports of call.

    As the few remaining houses were abandoned, lots were consolidated into larger parcels of land. References in the deed books to lots in Nashville became very infrequent during the 1850s. one of the last deeds to mention Nashville lots was dated to 1866 and described a house occupied by three sisters.

    The ferry continued to operate at the old townsite for over a century afterwards. In 1967, newspaper reporter Broox Sledge visited the old site. In a published article he described the quiet rural area almost devoid of traffic. He observed that "the approaches to the old Nashville ferry…narrow to thin gravel trails…as one's car or wagon nears the cut down the river bank to board the flat ferry."

    Here "every day-all day-the old ferry pushes its creaky, weary way across the yellow-green Tombigbee River…where now only the wind and the activity of workers on the nearby Hanson plantation disturb the tranquility of the scene…. Sometimes Negro children from the south [that is, the west] side call in loud shrill voices across the river to the operator who comes across in a small boat and gets them. They go to Hanson's Store for candy or some needed family grocery supplies."

    By the time that I visited Nashville for the first time in 1976, even the ferry was gone. Sometime between 1967 and 1973 it had been discontinued and the ferry boat was moved down river to serve as the Pickensville (AL) ferry. Hanson's Store, located about a quarter mile back from the river still did a limited business, usually with fishermen. I was then engaged in an archaeological survey of the Tombigbee River with Jim Atkinson and Geoff Lehmann. Jim, as it turned out, was a descendant of the Nash family. We stopped by the small store for a Coke and candy bar, then went out to look at the old town site. We found it to be in cultivation; all that remained were the artifacts and the stories of long ago.

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