The Patterson Forge, the site of which is now preserved at the Narrows of the Harpeth State Historical Area, was constructed at the neck of an unusual bend of the Harpeth River where, after approximately four miles, the stream channel returns to within two hundred yards of itself. Around 1818 Montgomery Bell purchased the site, which at the time was in Davidson County. Soon after, African American slaves under Bell’s direction began excavating a tunnel through a one-hundred-yard-wide rock ridge that separated the river beds. Designed to convey water for power, the tunnel was completed by 1820. Following a failed effort to sell the site to the United States government for construction of an armory, Bell erected a forge for the production of wrought iron, using pig iron from regional blast furnaces. (The forge reflects the maiden name of Bell’s mother Mary Montgomery Patterson Bell, sometimes spelled “Pattison” in the historical record.)
Montgomery Bell owned and operated Patterson Forge from 1832 to 1854. After this, James L. Bell ran the operation until about 1862, when it was closed during the Civil War. The forge was not reopened after the Civil War because the iron industry in Tennessee, in general, remained depressed. In the 1880s a gristmill was established on the site to take advantage of the water power provided by the tunnel.
Today the Cheatham County site of Patterson Forge is part of the Narrows of the Harpeth State Historic Area maintained by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. The site and the nearby grave of Montgomery Bell are silent reminders of one of Tennessee’s important early industries.
Robert E. Dalton, “Montgomery Bell and the Narrows of the Harpeth,” Tennessee Historical Quarterly 35 (1976): 3-28