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James County

Located in Ooltewah, the former James County Courthouse is listed on the National Register.

The first county in the United States to be consolidated with another, James County was a unique venture in government and the only such instance in Tennessee history. Organized in 1871, largely from Hamilton County and a fraction of Bradley County, its forty-eight-year history was plagued with political strife and ended in bankruptcy in 1919.

The Tennessee General Assembly passed the act creating a new county in January 1871, and Governor Dewitt Senter signed the law. The Honorable Elbert Abdiel James, a representative from Hamilton County, introduced the measure. The county was named in honor of his father, Reverend Jesse J. James. A Methodist minister and native of Sullivan County, Reverend James moved his family to Chattanooga around 1854, where they became prominently identified with the industrial and financial growth of the city.

Political motives played a role in the creation of the new 285-square-mile county. The citizens of James County were predominately Republican and rural, while Chattanooga residents were largely Democratic and urban. In the 1870 census the population of the area that encompassed James County was reported at five thousand people of Scots-Irish, English, German, and Huguenot ancestry, with some blacks, and a few mixed-blood Indians and Melungeons.

Thirteen towns or communities lay scattered across James County, including Ooltewah, Harrison, Apison, and Thatcher's Switch (Collegedale). Ferries along the Tennessee River played a vital role in the lives of James Countians and included Vann's Ferry, Field's Ferry, Teenor's Ferry, McCallie's Ferry, Daughtery's Ferry, and Blythe's Ferry. In 1920 James County turned over only twelve miles of poorly kept graveled roads to Hamilton County. Although the creators of the county expected the overflow from Chattanooga's flourishing economy to provide the tax base for building schools and roads for the rural area, the revenues never materialized. In 1919 James County made its quiet exit from politics and the American scene. Created out of political rivalry, plagued by chicanery throughout its history, insufficiently capitalized to provide proper services, deficient in natural resources, and unable to take advantage of nearby industrialization, the county had based its hopes on an agrarian economy dependent on the efforts of self-sufficient farmers, but as their labors provided an inadequate tax base, the result was substandard banking, communication, and transportation facilities.

Suggested Reading

Polly W. Donnelly, ed., James County, A Lost County of Tennessee (1983).

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