Congressman and industrial entrepreneur George G. Dibrell was born and raised in Sparta and returned to White County after attending East Tennessee University (now University of Tennessee) in Knoxville. In 1842 he married Mary E. Leftwich, and they had eight children, one of whom went on to become a state senator. In 1848 Dibrell was elected county court clerk, a position he held until 1860. In October 1861 he became White County’s Democratic representative to the Thirty-fourth General Assembly but left after the opening session to join the Twenty-fifth Tennessee Infantry. He organized the White County “Partisan Rangers,” which eventually joined Nathan Bedford Forrest’s brigade. Dibrell became a brigade commander in 1863 and ultimately obtained the rank of brigadier general.
After the war Dibrell became a successful industrial entrepreneur. Owner of over fifteen thousand acres in White County, he established the Bon Air Coal & Coke Company, which became one of the county’s leading industries and largest employers. He was also a key figure in the development of the Southwestern Railroad, which connected Sparta with the Nashville and Chattanooga line.
Dibrell resumed his political career in 1870 as a delegate to the state constitutional convention. Beginning in 1875 he repeatedly won election to the U.S. House of Representatives and served from 1875 to 1885 in the Forty-fourth through the Forty-eighth Congress. In 1886 he was one of three candidates for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. A former Whig and secessionist, Dibrell was a conservative “redeemer” Democrat who opposed railroad regulation and favored the interests of businessmen. Divisions within the party, however, weakened support for Dibrell, and the nomination went to Robert L. Taylor, who went on to win the race for governor.