Macon County, Tennessee
Historical Society

Local Area History

This page contains history about Lafayette, Red Boiling Springs, and Macon County, Tennessee.

Lafayette, Tennessee

Lafayette, the county seat of Macon County, is located on the Highland Rim.

The first settlers were John B. Johnston and his wife, Mary Gresham Johnston, who built a log house on a rise near a big spring called Town Spring.

Several citizens wanted the town to be named Johnstonville, but since there were other towns with similar names, it was decided to call the town LaFayette, so named for the Marquis de LaFayette, the famous French general of our Revolutionary War. In later years, the spelling was changed to Lafayette.

Johnston - spelled with a "T" - is a Swedish name, and descendants have since spelled the name Johnson.

Like many areas, land grants were given for war service, and early settlers farmed their land, and sold parts of it to other settlers. This was a rural area for many years after Macon County was established 26 May 1842 by a deed transfer of 20 acres from J.B. Johnston to the Commissioners of Macon County. This was land on which downtown Lafayette is now located. King Kerley was appointed the first sheriff for Macon County. The City of LaFayette was granted a charter by the Tennessee General Assembly on 26 March 1899.

During the War Between the States, the majority of men from the northern part of the county served in the 9th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (Union). The southern section of the county had the most slave owners, and supported the Confederacy.

On 25 April 1865, Colonel Blackburn of the Virginia Army gave orders to send four companies of soldiers to Lafayette to assist civil authorities with protection.

There have been three courthouse fires at Lafayette, the last being in 1934, destroying many historical documents, thus making research most difficult.

The Lafayette Academy, a three-room brick structure, was built during the mid 1800s, and Lafayette College was built in 1901 and burned in 1923 according to the late County Historian, Harold G. Blankenships book, History of Macon County, Tennessee.

It has been said that Macon County, which had no railroad system, remained mostly isolated until Highway 52 was cut through across the county making it more accessible to neighboring towns.

Today, Lafayette still has a few businesses around the square, but most of the growth of new businesses are expanding outward from downtown, i.e. the new Criminal Justice facility, North Central Telephone Company, Macon County Junior High School, Tri-County EMC.

In recent years, an addition has been built onto the Macon County Public Library which serves the Lafayette area, and a new library facility is now located in Red Boiling Springs.

The Macon County Fair is still held each year at the Lafayette fairgrounds located near the airport.

The local newspaper in Lafayette, The Macon County Times, was founded in 1919, and still continues to publish a weekly edition. There were other earlier publications, but they did not last long.

The Chamber of Commerce and Lafayette Post Office are located in Lafayette. Farming is still a big business. Burley tobacco is the main crop for the many county farmers who still prefer the good life on the farm.

In todays economy, small factories cannot compete, and Lafayette lost several of these businesses in recent years. However, many new businesses now are located here, as the population growth has increased with many citizens moving here from out-of-state.

From a population of only 126 in the 1850 census, Lafayette now has a population of 3,885 according to the last census.

It is a growing city with a hospital, library, radio station, many churches, police and fire protection, weekly newspaper, civic organizations, a Chamber of Commerce, and most of all, good, friendly people.

By Betty C. Meadows Scott
September 2002 

Red Boiling Springs, Tennessee

Indian and other peoples followed the animals trail to the salt lick located four miles northwest of town (downstream). Among them was Daniel Boone whose name and the date 1775 were said to have been carved on a beech tree in a nearby community. The Macon County Historical Society plans to mark the spot where this tree once stood.

In the mid 1780s, the first surveys for land grants in the vicinity were made, and the stream that flows through the town today was named Salt Lick Creek. In 1791, nearby Jennings Creek was named for Edmund Jennings.

Some of the early settlers in the area were Ferguson, Brandon, Patterson, Davis, Chitwood, Bean, York, Vaughn, Rush, Vincent, Morrow, White, Hall, Roddy, Crawford, DeWhitt, Jones, Hudson, and Whitley families.

The Salt Lick Creek post office was established in 1829 with Samuel DeWhitt as postmaster. In 1842 Samuel Jones, Sr. died. He had possessed 400 acres of land (more or less) leaving this land to his youngest son, Jesse Jones, and a life estate in the same land to his widow, Elizabeth Jones. On the land were several fresh water springs and at least one well-known red sulphur spring having reported medicinal properties. The Red Sulphur Spring or Red Boiling Spring, also called then Jones Spring, and about 20 acres of land including freestone springs were sold to Samuel E. Hare in 1844. A Mr. Shepherd [probably James Shepherd] was employed to build cabins at the site.

In 1847 the name of the post office was changed to Red Boiling Springs Post Office. Boiling referring to the movement of the water, not the temperature.

In 1848, Mr. Hare sold an interest in the Red Boiling Springs to Jesse G. Bledsoe. Mr. Bledsoe was the innkeeper in 1850. In the 1870s, Capt. James D. Jim Bennett, a Civil War veteran, ran the Red Springs Hotel. In the 1900s, word of the medicinal benefits of the mineral waters had spread, and many visitors came to the town for lengthy stays during the summer months. More hotels and other accommodations for entertainment were built. The town boasted a lake, dance hall, bowling alley, shooting gallery, bath houses for mineral baths, skating rink and swimming pool. It became famous for its water and hotels. The Dedman Hotel, built by Joseph M. and Bessie Dedman, burned around 1910, and the Palace Hotel was built in its place. In 1959, it was torn down and The Palace Nursing Home was built on the spot. The Cloyd Hotel, built around 1890 by Henry Cloyd, is still operating as The Thomas House Hotel. The Donoho Hotel built around 1900 by Squire Donoho is still operating with the same name.

The Arlington or Central Hotel, built around 1908 by Sam Hance, burned in 1953. The Moss Hotel was built around 1921 by Jim Moss. The Red Boiling Springs or Lincoln Hotel was built in 1926 by Ellis Witcher. The Counts or Smiths Brick or Smiths Hotel was built before WWII by Henry Counts. This hotel is still in operation today as The Armour Hotel. The Colonial Hotel was the home of Charles B. McClellan and was made into a hotel around 1944. It burned in 1976. The Missouri House was operated by Mrs. Haywood Smith. The Hudson House was built in the early 1900s by Riley Cap Hudson and wife, Molly. Governor Whitley House was run by Jefferson Cannon and wife, Elizabeth (Slate) Whitley. The Joines House was operated by Tom Joines. The Walter Knight House or Trousdale House, The Farmer Hotel (built around 1913 and burned in 1955 had 17 rooms), the Davis House, the Jordan House and many other boarding houses were opened to the thousands of people who came to the town each year.

The health resort era ended in the 1940s after WWII due to new technology, transportation and recreational attractions that lured visitors elsewhere, and only three of the original hotels are still in business.

Downtown businesses were built by Glenn, Ray and Kenneth Witcher, Dr. Lillard Sloan, Scott and Georgia Wood. Norman & Rose (Donoho) York had a theater and beauty shop. Perry Drivers Feed Store is still operated by J. L. Deckard. Nearby Hillwood Shopping Center was built by Fred Holman, Don Carver, Bubbie Witcher, Bill Martin. The first bank was the Red Boiling Springs Bank organized in 1919 with the name later changed to Macon Bank and Trust. Lumber-producing operations and garment industries have provided jobs for several years.

The town was incorporated 27 April 1953. The first mayor was Dayton Chitwood. Councilmen were Glenn Witcher, C.H. Russell, B.W. Chitwood, C.P. Joines, Cordell Parkhurst and Charles McClellan.

Today the town has an efficient police force, ambulance service, a fire department, rural health clinic, a landfill, Red Boiling Springs Branch Library, a K-12 School, and Tri-County Vocational School which serves the counties of Macon, Clay and Jackson. It also has beautiful parks, one dedicated to the memory of Renah and Jennifer Bilbrey, two little girls who lost their lives when the town was flooded in 1969 by a sudden rainfall of 6.8 inches. The local newspaper, Macon County Chronicle, has been in business since 1993. The town provides city water for itself and neighboring communities including some in other counties. Water from the Bennett Springs is bottled and sold, being pure freestone water. It is bottled and sold as Nestlé water.

A new section of Highway 52 has recently opened bypassing downtown Red Boiling Springs. If you are traveling this way, be sure to visit this historical town of about 1,000 people.

By Mary Clark Pryor 

Macon County, Tennessee

When the first explorers and settlers came into what is now Macon County they found the territory composed of a wilderness inhabited by Indians and wild animals. Very little is known of the early history; however, remains of Native American villages and burial grounds have been found. It is believed the early Indian inhabitants were from the Chickasaw, Shawnee, Cherokee and Creek tribes.

The first county court met in the house of William Dunn and appointed Brittion Holland, William Dunn, Samuel Sullivan, Eason Howell and Jefferson Short as commissioners for the purpose of selecting a suitable site for the county seat. The place selected was on the land of John B. Johnson and was named LaFayette in honor of the legendary French general, Marquis de LaFayette, a famous Revolutionary War figure who assisted the American colonies in gaining their independence. The deed, dated 26 May 1842, described the property as lying and being on the dividing ridge between the waters of Cumberland and Big Barren River and on the waters of White Oak Creek. the land, containing 20 acres more or less, was laid out including the public square, the streets and 75 lots. The county was first subdivided into seven civil districts and by 1850 had increased to 12 districts.

In 1870 a portion of Macon County was cut off the southwestern corner to aid in forming Trousdale County. Macon County is bounded north by Allen and Monroe counties, Kentucky; East by Clay and Jackson Counties; South by Smith and Trousdale Counties and West by Sumner County, TN, containing approximately 300 square miles.

In the late 1800's, Red Boiling Springs was widely known for the medicinal properties of the water that flowed down Salt Lick Creek. Several hotels were built between 1890 and 1892 with numerous mineral springs and baths that made the resorts a 1920's tourist attraction. Information from the Macon County Times in 1935 lists the following hotels in Red Boiling Springs: Counts, Donoho, Arlington, Lincoln, Moss, Palace, Knight, Farmers, Cloyd, Jordan House, Hudson House and Russell House. Present day Red Boiling Springs hotels now existing are the Armour, Donoho and the Thomas House.

By Judy M. Cothron