Long before the dawn of written history, humans inhabited the lands along the Cumberland and Red Rivers. In successive order Paleoindian, Archaic, Woodland, and Mississippian Indians left evidence of their occupancy in this area. In the eighteenth century John Donelson led a flotilla of flatboats on a historic journey on the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers through the area. An excerpt from Donelson's journal notes that on April 12, 1780, Moses Renfroe and company took leave of the main party, ascended the Red River and made a short-lived settlement upstream.
By the early 1780s three principal stations had been erected in the Cumberland-Red River area: Prince's Station, established in 1782, near Sulphur Fork and Red River; Neville's Station founded ca. 1784 between Prince's Station and Clarksville; and Clarksville, the only station to become a city, established near the confluence of the Cumberland and Red Rivers. In January 1784 John Montgomery and Martin Armstrong surveyed the present site of Clarksville and proceeded to sell lots. The town, established by North Carolina in 1785, was named for General George Rogers Clark, Indian fighter and Revolutionary War leader.
In 1796 when Tennessee became the sixteenth state, Tennessee County, of which Clarksville was a part, was divided into Montgomery and Robertson Counties, with Clarksville the county seat of Montgomery County. The name Montgomery honored John Montgomery, who was a founder of Clarksville as well as a Revolutionary War leader. By 1797 Clarksville contained thirty houses, a courthouse, and a jail. Cultivation of tobacco in Montgomery County antedates the county's name. Three years after its establishment, Clarksville was declared a tobacco inspection site.
The early years of the nineteenth century were progressive ones, chiefly devoted to the building of roads, railroads, and bridges and the establishment of churches and educational institutions. The Civil War forced the residents of Montgomery County to declare their loyalty to the Union or the Confederacy. On June 8, 1861, citizens of Montgomery County cast 2,631 votes for secession and only 33 votes against. Realizing that both the Tennessee and Cumberland Rivers provided easy access to the heart of the state, the Confederates established Fort Henry on the Tennessee River and Fort Donelson at Dover on the Cumberland River in preparation for the impending Union advance. Near Clarksville breastworks atop the hill overlooking the confluence of the Cumberland and Red Rivers bore the gallant name of Fort Defiance. After the fall of Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862, Confederate troops at Clarksville withdrew. When Federal gunboats arrived at Fort Defiance, they found it deserted and flying a white flag. They rebuilt the fort and named it Fort Bruce. Federal troops occupied Montgomery County, except for one brief skirmish, until 1865. During these years, local black residents established the Golden Hill Cemetery in 1863.
After the Civil War, traffic on the Cumberland River continued to be of great importance to the community, and Clarksville became well known for its production of dark fired tobacco, its primary money crop. From 1900 to 1940 Clarksville's trade and business progressed, with the growth of the town closely connected to agricultural production.
The importance of education to the people of the county was made apparent with the establishment of the Rural Academy in 1806. A long line of educational institutions followed at the same location, including Southwestern Presbyterian University in 1875. In 1925 the school was moved to Memphis, where it remains in operation as Rhodes College. Today's Montgomery County students can continue their education at the same site, now the home of Austin Peay State University, established in 1929 as Austin Peay Normal School, initially a two-year school designed to train teachers for classrooms in the state's rural public schools.
During World War II, the U.S. Army established Camp Campbell from land in Christian and Trigg Counties in Kentucky and Montgomery and Stewart Counties in Tennessee. In Montgomery County over forty-two thousand acres (almost two-thirds of the Tennessee total) were purchased, and in June 1942 relocation of the families was completed. The post was named Camp Campbell in honor of General William Bowen Campbell, a Federal officer who served in the Mexican War of 1846 as well as the Civil War. On April 15, 1950, the post became Fort Campbell when it became a permanent installation.
Montgomery County furnished two governors to the state, Willie Blount (1809-15) and Austin Peay (1924-27); United States Supreme Court Justice Horace H. Lurton; and U.S. Postmaster General Cave Johnson. Clarksville claims the oldest bank in the state, the Northern Bank now First American, established in 1854; the state's oldest newspaper, the Leaf-Chronicle, established in 1808; and the first and only bank established and operated entirely by women, the First Woman's Bank of Tennessee, which opened in 1919.
Several Montgomery Countians have influenced the fields of music, literature, and the dramatic and creative arts. Well-known musicians include Clarence Cameron White, Roland Hayes, and Ferdinand Lust. Important twentieth-century writers associated with the county are Caroline Gordon, Evelyn Scott, Allen Tate, and Robert Penn Warren. Local dramatic talent includes Dorothy Jordan, Frank Sutton, Charles Boillin Watts, and Helen Wood. The visual art of painting is represented by internationally known artist Robert Loftin Newman, who died in 1912.
Other notable Montgomery Countians have excelled in the arena of sports, including major league baseball player Horace Lisenbee, golfer Mason Rudolph, track Olympian Wilma Rudolph, and basketball coach Pat Head Summitt.
Individuals excelling in the fields of medicine and business include Dr. Robert Burt, well-known African American surgeon who founded Clarksville's first hospital and is buried in the family plot at Golden Hill Cemetery; Clarence Saunders, founder of the modern supermarket; and A. H. Patch, inventor of the famed corn sheller.
Since World War II advances in communication and technology have produced industrial growth in Montgomery County, attracting new residents and spurring an increase in population that has made Clarksville the fifth largest municipality in the state and one of the fastest growing cities in the South. No longer dependent upon an agricultural base, Montgomery County has become an important transport, industrial, retail, and professional center. Its 2000 population was 134,768.