Established by the Tennessee General Assembly in 1836, Marshall County was formed from parts of Giles, Bedford, Lincoln, and Maury Counties. Its name honors former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall of Virginia. The members of the first county court, with William McClure as chairman and David McGahey as secretary, met at the home of Abner Houston, who had donated land for a county seat. James Osborne, William Williams, Joel Yowell, Aaron Boyd, and James C. Record then served as a committee to build a courthouse and jail, lay out the new town’s streets, and sell lots. The county seat was named Lewisburg in honor of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition, who died in adjacent Lewis County. Lewisburg today is an attractive rural town of 10,413. The town square is dominated by the Marshall County Courthouse (1929), a Colonial Revival-style building designed by the Nashville architectural firm of Hart Freeland Roberts and later modernized by the same firm in the mid-1970s. Other Lewisburg landmarks include the National Register-listed Adams House, a Queen Anne-style dwelling built by local civic capitalist and town mayor Joe C. Adams circa 1900; the Art Deco-style Dixie Theater; a Colonial Revival-style post office constructed by the Works Progress Administration in 1935; and the Ladies Rest Room (1924), the first known independent building constructed in Tennessee for the sole purpose of providing a place for country women to relax, rest, and eat when they visited the town square in the early twentieth century. The National Register-listed Ladies Rest Room remained in service for visitors to the end of the century.
Cornersville, the county’s second largest town with 962 residents, is at the south end of Marshall County. It grew by almost 41 percent between 1990 and 2000. Several outstanding antebellum homes are nearby and the Cornersville United Methodist Church (1852), a Greek Revival-style brick building, is listed on the National Register. Chapel Hill, the county’s third largest town with 943 residents, is at the north end of Marshall County. Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest was born at a nearby farm; the Forrest homeplace is currently under restoration by the Sons of Confederate Veterans. Other villages in Marshall County include Belfast, Farmington, Verona, and Berlin, famous as a location for political stump speeches during the antebellum era.
Little research has been undertaken about the county’s black history. During the 1920s the Rosenwald Fund’s school building program constructed new black schools at Farmington, Chapel Hill, and Lewisburg. This positive development, however, occurred within a context of four verified lynchings in the county from 1900-1931, one of the highest numbers in a Tennessee county for these years.
Agriculture has dominated the county’s economic history, and specialized stock breeding has made a distinctive contribution to the modern history of Tennessee agriculture. In the late 1920s the U.S. Department of Agriculture, at the urging of several local government leaders and businessmen including future Governor Jim Nance McCord, established the U.S. Dairy Experiment Station on the highway between Lewisburg and Cornersville. The experiment station, now part of the University of Tennessee Extension Service, was extremely significant in assisting the county’s rise to national prominence in production of Jersey cattle. By the late 1930s, for example, Marshall County was the nation’s largest Jersey producer, and several dairy products companies established local factories. The WPA Guide for Tennessee noted: “one of the condenseries here has an annual capacity of 25 million gallons, and a cooperative creamery produces approximately 2 million pounds of cheese and 2 million pounds of butter each year.” (1) The success of the Dairy Experiment Station further encouraged McCord and other local residents to establish the first official register for Tennessee Walking Horses in Lewisburg in the mid-1930s. That registry is still maintained at the Lewisburg headquarters of the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders and Exhibitors Association.
Henry Horton State Park, named in honor of a former Tennessee governor from Marshall County, was constructed in the 1960s along the Duck River near Chapel Hill. The park contains the first golf course specifically constructed for a Tennessee state park.
Besides former Governors Horton and McCord and General Nathan Bedford Forrest, other Marshall Countians of note include Governor Buford Ellington, who moved in 1941 to Verona, where he operated a farm, ran a general store, and began his political career, and Isaac Rainey (1763-1826), a Revolutionary War veteran from North Carolina who moved to the area in 1823 and died at his Duck River farm near Chapel Hill in 1826. Another Revolutionary War veteran was John Medearis, who lived near Belfast. John William Burgess (1844-1931) was a native of Cornersville who later, in 1890, became a dean at Columbia University, where he gained fame for his expertise in international law.
The county’s population in 2000 was 26,767.