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Tipton County

The area forming West Tennessee was part of the Chickasaw Nation until 1818, when the territory was opened for settlement under the terms of the Jackson Purchase. An 1819 act by the general assembly divided the new territory into five districts. The first county in the Western District was Shelby, which was organized at the village of Chickasaw Bluff in 1819. Tipton County was formed from Shelby County in 1823 and named for Captain Jacob Tipton who was killed leading his men in a battle near Fort Wayne in 1791. Tipton's son, Armistead Blevins, who supervised the organization of Shelby County, was present when Tipton County was formed. Covington, situated near the center of the county, was established as the county seat in 1826. Its name honored Leonard Wales Covington, a Maryland native who was killed in the battle of Chrysler's Field in 1813.

In 1833 the Tennessee Gazetteer described Covington as a post town and seat of justice thirty-eight miles from Memphis. Covington was originally divided into 106 lots on seven streets. Most construction was of frame and log, with the exception of a brick jail. In addition to the courthouse and jail, Covington had seven stores, two taverns, a surveyor's office, three or four physicians' offices, a similar number of lawyers' offices, and thirty or forty houses. Located on a tributary of the Hatchie River, Covington remained isolated from the steamboat trade of the nineteenth century and did not achieve commercial significance until the arrival of the Newport News and Mississippi Valley Railroad in 1873. Between 1873 and 1880, over 6,000 new residents arrived in Covington to take advantage of the commercial and industrial opportunities created by the arrival of the railroad. Economic expansion rose even faster after the takeover of the railroad by the Illinois Central in the 1890s. The town received its first telephone service and electric street lights in 1894. By 1920 Covington had a population of over 3,400 and boasted a weekly newspaper; three banks; an electric light plant; a water works; and a cotton mill, a cottonseed oil mill, and other manufacturing enterprises. Today, the downtown historic district contains an array of architecturally significant commercial and residential buildings.

Mason, thirteen miles south of Covington, was founded in 1858 and named for James Mason. In 1855 Mason became the first town in Tipton County to acquire rail services when the Memphis and Ohio Railroad established Sharon Depot, later known as Mason Depot. By 1859 the town contained four businesses, and the following year Mason hosted a campaign speech by Stephen Douglas. The town received a visit from Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States, who attended services at the Trinity Episcopal Church. Mason was also the site where a regiment of West Tennessee African American soldiers were mustered into the Union army. By 1887 Mason, with 400 inhabitants, was the second largest town in the county.

Randolph was founded in 1823 and named for John Randolph of Virginia. Randolph undoubtedly occupied the best potential site available for water-borne commerce and provided an excellent harbor for steam and flatboats at all stages of the river. Until 1840 Randolph shipped more cotton than Memphis, as many as thirty-five to forty thousand bales annually, and became the great steamboat depot of West Tennessee. By 1834 it had its first newspaper and a population of 1,000. It had four hotels, several schools, nearly fifty businesses, and a dozen saloons.

Many factors led to the demise of Randolph. Five years after its founding, the land title was discovered to be faulty. Mrs. Ann Grambelling of New York filed suit to claim the whole town on the grounds that she had acquired a military land grant warrant that included the tract. Her case stood up in court and is of unusual interest because the warrant belonged to an African American soldier who served in the Revolutionary War. Randolph's citizens negotiated a compromise settlement and bought their town for eight thousand dollars. More important problems that affected the town's future were Randolph's failure to secure a railroad; financial depression; an unfavorable mail route; the continuation of the county seat at Covington despite an 1852 effort to have it moved to Randolph; and the failure to secure a proposed canal connecting the Tennessee and Hatchie rivers. The final blows came in 1862 and 1865 when federal troops twice burned the town.

In 2000 the population of Tipton County stood at 51,271, an increase of more than a third in just a decade. The county supports a one-hundred-bed hospital and city and county school systems. The Covington Airport has five thousand feet of runway. Although agriculture continues to account for a significant portion of the Tipton County economy, many county residents work at one of several industrial enterprises. World Color, which prints catalogs and magazines, employs 875 workers; Charms Company has 300 employees, the same number of workers employed by Mueller Fittings; the 250 employees of Delfield Company make food service equipment; and the diet foods company Slim Fast employs 250 workers as well. In addition to these large employers, several smaller manufacturers produce everything from wiring harness to business forms.

Suggested Reading

Gaylon N. Beasley, True Tales of Tipton (1981).

Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010