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Early History of La Grange, Tennessee


La Grange is the oldest town in Fayette County, Tennessee, originally being a Chickasaw Indian village named "Itey Uch La", meaning "Cluster of Pines". For a number of years it was quite a trading post for the Indians, who would visit the town regularly to dispose of their game, hides, etc.

Learn about the first inhabitants of La Grange.

Situated on a high bluff overlooking north Mississippi, La Grange lies 50 miles east of Memphis, Tennessee along State Highway 57 and 3 miles north of the Mississippi state line.

La Grange was laid out on the southern end of land entry #712 which contained originally 274 acres and was surveyed in 1822 for the heirs of William Rains who were all non-residents of Tennessee. According to Court Minutes, in October 1827, the Rains' heirs petitioned for a division of this tract of land. Following the division, Samuel B. Harper acquired 167 acres on the southern part of the tract. La Grange was started on Harper's acreage and he has been credited with laying out the town and basing the layout on Philadelphia, PA.

There were initially seven owners and proprietors of La Grange, many of whom had Madison County, Alabama, interests just prior to their La Grange venture. These seven were: James Titus, Robert Fearn, Robert Cotton, Thomas Fearn, Samuel B. Harper, the heirs of William Lawrence and John J. Winston. By 1833, the Lawrence heirs were no longer in the group and Robert Cotton died in 1837, leaving the others as the surviving proprietors. Samuel B. Harper held the Power of Attorney from several of the non-resident proprietors and Harper himself had moved to Marshall County, Mississippi by 1840.

The Post Office was established in February 1828 with Amos David as Postmaster. Samuel Killen was the second Postmaster. The town was first chartered in 1829 with F. Titus, John H. Moss, A. S. Edmondson, B. Harper, William Harper, William B. Merryweather and Peachy Franklin being declared a "body politic" (Acts of TN Chapter XCVII). One of these was to be elected as mayor. (An incomplete list of early mayors includes Thomas Brown Firth in 1833, Thomas Haslen Kean in 1849, E. D. Jenkins in 1857, and George P. Shelton in 1860. There may have been others who served during these years.) There were at least two other incorporations in the early years: 1836 and 1851, and a later incorporation in 1901.

225 town lots were first laid off, all of them lying south of Fourth Street with the exception of lots 1 through 14 situated just north of Fourth Street. Main, Pine, Poplar, Chestnut and Walnut Streets ran north and south. Running east and west were Fourth, Third, Second, Commerce, Arch, and Vine Streets. Angled streets in the south part of town were Spruce, Pearl, Center (also called Orange), Spring, Union and Holly (also called Locust). Most of the original 225 lots were deeded between 1833 and 1839. Another group of lots were sold by Samuel Dickens north of town. North of Fourth Street, another 19 lots were laid off on both sides of the railroad by Thomas Gloster Anderson on a plat drawn by M. A. Kerr. Another group of lots (64 to begin with) were laid off by William L. Hix around the depot. John Clay laid off another group of lots north of Fourth Street bounded on the west by the Somerville Road (now Ewell Road).

View an 1862 topographical map of La Grange

The first store was opened in 1827 by George Gray and other early merchants from 1830 to 1840 were Jones & Harper, George Cossett, Irish & Bailey, Gray and Macbeth, Glaster & Hackney, Lynn & Davis, Robert Locke, George Shinporch and Nelson & Co. Between 1850 and 1860 the merchants were Wm. R. Baugh, J. S. Day, George P. Shelton, H. H. Falls, B. Houston, C. F. Chapman, Brown Bros., D. T. Fowler, George C. Cossett, A. D. Lewis, Lock and Hasley, John Thompson, and R. W. Smith & Co. Between 1860 and 1862, the merchants were J. T. Foote, George P. Shelton, O. S. Jordan, C. F. Chessman, Cossett, Davis & Bryan, Fowler & Louston, T. S. Parham, R. J. Bass & Co.,and John Goodwin. Business was suspended from 1862 until the close of the war, and from 1865 until 1870 the merchants were J. T. Bowers, Wm. Frank, King & Fairfield, S. W. Baird, Crenshaw & Denny, Arthur J. Quinn, Pollack & Co., Benj. Word, Adams & Toombs, Day & Proudfit and Curtis & Coolidge. Between 1870 and 1880 the merchants were C. T. Hodges, W. P. Lipscomb, Cowan & Cowan, Jones & Co., Lipscomb & Gibbons, Wright, McNance & Co., F. L. Adams, J. M. Crenshaw, J. E. Osborn & Son, T. G. Toombs, A. Michaels, Benj., Word, Adams & Moody and J. M. Guthrie. The merchants in 1887 were: Joseph Gibbons & Co., Cowan and Simms, Moody Bros., W. P. Lipscomb, M. Michael, Mrs. Fannie McNance and F. M. McNance, general stores; Jesse Stafford and W. R. Pankey, groceries; T. G. Toombs, drugs; Halton & Anderson, foundry, mill & cotton-gin combined.

Immanuel Episcopal Church was organized in 1832 through the efforts of Mary Hayes Willis Gloster and Reverend Samuel G. Litton was the first Rector.

Learn more about the Immanuel Episcopal Church

The first newspaper in the entire county of Fayette also started in 1832 in La Grange called the "Western Whig and the La Grange Herald". Later, two other papers were published: "The La Grange Monitor" in the 1850's and "Spirit of the Age" in 1871. The first bank in the county was located in La Grange in 1833 -- a branch of the Planter's Bank of Tennessee (later to become known as Union of Planters Bank and still later as Union Planters bank.)

In 1834, because it was so far to Somerville and Bolivar for conducting county seat business, La Grange town fathers got citizens along the southern edge of the county, and some from Hardeman county, to join them in their attempt to form a new county out of a 12 to 15 mile deep strip across the southern boundaries of both Fayette and Hardeman Counties with La Grange as the county seat. This venture was not successful. (Still later, the attempt to form Bell County never materialized either.) Plans to make "Tiara" in La Grange the new county courthouse thus never came about either.

Learn about more historic homes in La Grange

In 1835, a petition from La Grange was read in a Somerville Lodge meeting for a charter for the Grand Lodge. Masonic officers of La Grange Lodge #81 in 1837 were Thomas N. Giles, master, A. C. Satterfield, senior warden; and Thomas H. Ormsby, junior warden. The lodge contracted in 1837 to build on part of lot # 96 a two-story building to house the Baptist Church on the first floor and the Masons in the upper story. H. P. Hayward was pastor of the Baptist Church in the 1839-40 time period as his name is recorded in marriage book A at the courthouse. In 1848, the Baptists acquired lot #173. The Methodist Church was deeded lot #69 in 1836. Marriage records at the courthouse show marriages performed in 1838 by Elder I(saac) L(emuel) G(illespie) Strickland. He was the Methodist preacher in La Grange at the time and is said to have preached there in 1836.

Learn more about the Methodist Church

An act was passed on December 14, 1835 to incorporate the La Grange & Memphis Rail Road Company. The financial panic of 1837 threw funds for this railroad into jeopardy and later the road was sold to the Memphis & Charleston Railroad Co., and was later a part of the Norfolk-Southern Railway system.

Learn more about the Railroad

The first documented school in La Grange (although there was probably instruction earlier) was a Female Private Seminary advertised in the October 10, 1834 issue of the Tipton County newspaper, Randolph Recorder; Spelling, reading, writing and French will be taught...Mrs. Johnson to instruct on the piano forte...Drawing and Painting will be superintended by Mrs. Anderson". Trustees for this school were Thomas Booth, George H. Wyatt, John Anderson, Haywood Johnson and Charles Michie. In 1837, Reverend Samuel G. Litton of the Episcopal Church, advertised a Female Boarding and Day School at La Grange in the October 14th Somerville Reporter. The first known school for males was the Synodical College in existence as early as 1839. Ninety-one citizens signed a petition to the Legislature in 1839 (Petition #152-1839-6) protesting the sale of liquor "within 3 miles of the La Grange Synodical College."

The La Grange Female College was holding exercises in December of 1846. The La Grange Female Institute was advertised in the Memphis Daily Eagle and Enquirer on March 22, 1853. Superintendent James Nicholson Cocke and his wife were in charge of this school. The La Grange Military Academy was in operation in the late 1850's and early 1860s. A. W. Lanier was principal of the La Grange Male Academy in 1872.

Learn more about La Grange colleges

In the spring of 1855, La Belle Village (as the town was also known) was in the midst of preparations for building a new brick Synodical College under the sponsorship of the Memphis Presbyterian Synod. The building committee was made up of John Walker Jones, Robert Locke, J. L. Pulliam, Hugh H. Falls (who built Chantilly), and Charles S. Palmore. The architect was R. Fletcher. In the early fall, Rev. John H. Gray, D.D., pastor of the Beale St. Second Presbyterian Church in Memphis had been unanimously chosen as president. Citizens of the town had collected subscriptions of $40,000 by December and L. B. Gaston (of Mississippi) assisted in raising a subscription of $20,000. The college was taken over by Federal troops during the Civil War who used it as a hospital and partially tore it down to get material with which to build barracks (This war claim was not settled by the government until around the turn of the century).

The most successful educational facility ever built in the town, however, was the La Grange Female College, founded about 1854. Completed in 1856, containing about 25 rooms, it was built at a cost of $27,000 on a lot known as the Holcombe lots bought by John Hunt from Thomas Booth and deeded in 1858 to the college for $3,000 by Charles W. Hunt. Its first president was Professor David Bancroft Johnson who died shortly after the college opened. Professor John D. Meredith, who had earlier been in Macon, TN, had a connection with this college in the 1858-1867 time period. The college closed during the war, reopened and continued operating for a long time. Later, the building was used as a public school until it burned in 1921.

Hotels: Early known hotels in La Grange were the La Grange Hotel, the Central House and the Galt House and the Farmer's Inn. The La Grange Hotel was situated on Lots 196, 197, and 216 in the south part of town. It is not known when it first opened but it was operating in 1835. Thomas Gloster Anderson owned The La Grange Hotel in 1855 and it was operated by John Holden. F. W. Lee was the proprietor of the Galt House in 1839 which was a brick hotel built by William L. Hix and was situated north of the Memphis Charleston Railroad Depot. Edwin Dabbs sold the Farmer's Inn in 1856 to Charles McNamee at the southwest corner of Commerce and Orange Streets. The Eagle Hotel on Commerce St. was owned in 1841 by Thomas Brown Firth and John Parham. There was also the Central House tavern operated in 1842 by John W. Burton.

Infirmary: In 1855, Dr. James Nicholson Cocke, who had been practicing medicine for 30 years, the last 17 years in La Grange, opened his Greenhigh Infirmary where patients received water cure baths coupled with calisthenic exercises. Dr. Cocke died before this infirmary could get well established.

Leaders: With the possible exception of Samuel B. Harper, the early town leaders were never the owners and proprietors of the town. Instead, the leaders were the business and professional men. Among these were Arthur Brehon Gloster, Thomas Booth, Hugh H. Falls, Thomas Gloster Anderson, George Germain Cossitt, Beverly La Fayette Holcombe, Aldolphus Fenton Tucker, Edmund Winston, John J. Potts-attorney, Epps Moody, John Anderson, Thomas Brown Firth, Joseph Shinporch, Peachy Franklin, Frederick H. Cossitt, Fielding Hackney, George Anderson, George P. Shelton, Robert Locke, John W. Burton, Joel M. Sledge, Dr. James Nicholson Cocke, Harrison Locke, Charles Michie, John R. Roan, Joel Anderson, John Thompson, Dr. John Junius Pulliam (who built Hancock Hall), Charles S. Palmore, Robert T. Mahaffy, Dr. Henry Skipwith Taylor, and Daniel S. Parrish.

Thomas Gloster Anderson: Of those named above, however, it is clear from land deeds that Thomas Gloster Anderson (son of John Anderson above) was the predominant leader and prime mover in the town from the late 1840's to 1860. Although he was a young man at the time, he had extensive railroad, land and business interests. In 1853 he owned the drugstore operated by John McGuirk and a house nearly opposite the Methodist Church as well as about 30 residential lots and a two-story brick store occupied by Cossitt, Winston & Co.

The Thomas Anderson home

He also owned the La Grange Hotel and his holdings were not confined to La Grange. He owned 2,000 acres near Moscow with a mill site and a large number of lots in Moscow adjoining the depot and owned 400 acres known as Cromwell (Railroad) Station 5 miles west of La Grange as well as land in Obion county. Disheartened due to some business reverses in the late 1850's on account of the Memphis & Charleston Railroad, he moved briefly to Memphis, then New Orleans and by 1875 was a citizen of the town of Jefferson in Marion County, Texas. Before he left La Grange, he sold his 200 acre residence tract in 1861 to James W. Rogers. His residence tract adjoined La Grange on the east and was bounded on the north and east by Charles Michie's property, on the south by the Winchester old state line and on the west by the tract claimed in 1853/4 by Edmund Winston at a chancery sale. Included and excluded in the sale of this 200 acre tract were at least 5 lots previously sold by Anderson individually to Whitson A. Harris, J. R. Blake, Mrs. Lucy G. Cocke, J. B. Nebhut, and James L. Meigs.


The town of La Grange played an important role during the American Civil War, such that it merits its own separate section. Learn about the rich Civil War history of La Grange, and about Grierson's Famous Raid.

 

Post-War: The Civil War brought great hardships to La Grange. Federal troops were quartered there due to the town's strategic location and also because of the railroad. Much damage was done and many of the fine old homes were destroyed. Struggling back, the whole west side of Main St. was destroyed in a fire in 1873, with the exception of Leach's Tin Shop. The Yellow Fever Epidemic dealt the town another hard blow in 1878. It is reputed that during the fever Epidemic, more La Grange homes were deliberately burned in order to prevent the germ from spreading. The list of the La Grange Yellow Fever Victims is as follows:

  • Aston, Lucy
  • Beck, Nellie
  • Clay, John H.
  • Dement/Dement, C.
  • Fields, Mrs. E. A.
  • Freeman, Miss. Carrie
  • Green, Mrs. Viola S.
  • Hammond, Mrs. L.B.
  • Hatton, A. J.
  • Humphries, Parson
  • McAssey, Robert
  • McNamee, Earnest
  • Mars, Sigmund
  • Maxwell, Louisa
  • Maxwell, W.
  • Michaels, Myer
  • Pulliam, Mark P. (Pres. of the Howard Association of La Grange)
  • Reeves, Ben
  • Robertson/Robinson, Jas. P.
  • Rosser, James
  • Rossine, Henry W.
  • Shelton, Leon M.
  • Shelton, T.J. Jr.
  • Smith, Nancy
  • Spillman, Jerry
  • Todd, J. R.
  • Todd, Mrs. Anna
  • Waddell, Samuel
  • Ward, Miss Malinda
  • Ward, Ben
  • Ward, John H.
  • Ward, Miss Victory
  • Webb, Mrs. T. H.
  • White, Todd
  • White, Miss Mattie
  • Wiggs, child of Mrs. W. B. of Memphis
  • Wiggs, Jessie Page of Memphis
  • Wiggs, Miss Josie, children of W. B. and Laura Rebecca (Taylor) Wiggs
  • Williams, Louis
  • Yancey, Arthur

    Note: Census taken October 4, 1878

    Population: 145 Whites, 175 Blacks, 320 total population (Source: Memphis Daily Appeal, papers 9, 13, 22 Oct. and 6 Nov. 1878.)

    On November 23, 1900, a great tornado, or "cyclone" as it was reported in The Commercial Appeal newspaper of Memphis, struck La Grange and destroyed much of the business district, the Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist churches, and many homes.La Grange has withstood financial panics, war damage, epidemics, storms and fires. While a few might feel that fate certainly has not been kind to her, many others hold the opinion that La Grange is blessed. She still has her land, her heritage, many fine old homes and structures, her honor and charm-many of the things that really matter.

    Sources:

    • The Goodspeed Histories of Fayette & Hardemen Counties of Tennessee, originally published in 1887.
    • The History of Fayette County, Tennessee; 1986, by the Fayette County Historical Society.
    • John W. Hunt's History of La Grange, Tennessee
    • Alethea D. Sayers, historian.

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