History: Growth hampered by tolls

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Part II

Cannon County Historian

In many ways, especially by the turn of the century, tollgates hampered the growth of commerce in rural counties such as Cannon. Farmers complained about public and even 'second class roads' crossing their farms.

By 1880 court petitions mounted from farmers asking permission to place gates across these roads. The court sometimes granted these requests emphasizing the gates must allow easy access.

The first major turnpike through Cannon County - an offshoot of the old Stagecoach Road - ran almost a direct course through the center of the county, called the Murfreesboro-to-McMinnville Turnpike. It was the only turnpike to completely transverse the county. Entering the county at Readyville this turnpike went through places called Culpepper, Braxton, Edgefield, Woodbury, passing Wood's 'Hill Top' before entering Hill Creek road; from there the road coursed its way to Bluewing near a community later called Leoni. The turnpike ran near Clearmont Mill (called Trousdale) in Warren county.

This turnpike provided commercial links that enabled early towns of Readyville, Braxton and even the county seat at Woodbury to grow during the post Civil War years. Banking institutions, popular at the turn of the century opened at Woodbury - later on, banks were added at Braxton and Readyville. This first bank at Woodbury, established 1888, may have anticipated a railroad line running through the town. State chartered Banks also opened at Auburntown, Gassaway and Bradyville.

Murfreesboro was for many years the hub for numerous turnpikes radiated out in all directions like spokes from a wagon wheel - especially so by the year 1860. One major turnpike along with a railroad line linked Murfreesboro with Nashville. These earliest roads that turned into turnpikes had long been routes for migrant families as well as peddlers, stage coaches and hack wagons - even circuit riding preachers ventured forth into the hill country of an isolated East Fork Stones where they delivered sermons of an 'unfamiliar tone' in meetinghouses and on campgrounds.

This accelerated growth in turnpikes was largely due to new railroad tracks being constructed throughout the state. A railroad line running south during the mid-1850s from Louisville Kentucky ran through towns and cities such as Nashville, Murfreesboro, Tullahoma, Chattanooga, Stevenson and Atlanta Georgia. This particular line became a center of intense activity during America's greatest internal conflict - the Civil War.

Murfreesboro also became a center for early overland commerce for many outlying villages and communities that connected to it by a network of public roads and turnpikes. The building of this first turnpike through Cannon County allowed Woodbury an accessible link to both railroad terminals at Murfreesboro and McMinnville. The railroad line at McMinnville intersected this Nashville-Murfreesboro-Chattanooga line at Tullahoma. The railroad terminal at Tullahoma was where Confederate General Braxton Bragg gathered his army after that Battle of Stones River early January 1863.

The Union army's invasion of Middle Tennessee after the capture of Nashville in February of 1862 had already tagged major turnpikes and railroad lines as vital to the cause of holding and controlling Middle Tennessee.

These railroad lines and turnpikes also became the focus for Confederate cavalry raiders such as John Hunt Morgan and Nathan Bedford Forrest. Their main objectives were to disrupt supply lines for an advancing Union army moving into the south's heartlands.

The post village at Readyville and county seat at Woodbury both lay along this early turnpike between Murfreesboro and McMinnville. A high knoll known as Pilot's Knob at Readyville was a strategic point prized by both the federals and confederates. Woodbury witnessed many intrusions by the Union army out of Murfreesboro as the federals focused on holding the railroad at McMinnville.

Early in the war, Woodbury gained a reputation among the federals as a town full of spies and rebel sympathizers. When Murfreesboro was occupied after the fall of Nashville Union soldiers moved out this turnpike about the middle of July 1862 to Woodbury.

It is now believed this raid on Woodbury was in response to the ambushing of some Union scouts patrolling 'extremities' of the Lascassas Turnpike earlier on. Arriving at Woodbury the federals scurried the town taking prisoners. They carted them back to Murfreesboro convinced all were spies and needed to be hanged.

A sizable force of Confederate cavalry under the command of Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest had apparently gotten wind of this looting. Forrest was already on his way to Murfreesboro with a mindset to retake the town. Ordered to Murfreesboro by General Braxton Bragg he arrived at McMinnville on about the eleventh of July. He found no Union army blocking his path there. Using the McMinnville to Woodbury Turnpike his cavalry force arrived at Woodbury where he rested his horses and men at 'Hill Top.'

Forrest surprised a disorganized Union detachment at Murfreesboro during the early morning hours taking many Union prisoners along with the newly arrived commander General Crittenden. Forrest freed the Cannon county men he promised the Woodbury townspeople.

Confederate General Braxton Bragg was so elated about Forrest's exploits around Murfreesboro reported it to Confederate President Jefferson Davis at Richmond Virginia. In response to this victory President Davis promoted Forrest to Brigadier General. Certainly the retaking of Nashville was now within sight. Forrest continued his patrols south of Nashville reporting to-Bragg about conditions around the city until late August. Meanwhile the Union General George H. Thomas with several brigades was ordered to McMinnville.

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