Created by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly on November 14, 1819, Perry County was named for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, a naval officer and hero of the War of 1812. The first quarterly sessions and circuit courts were held at the home of James Yates on Toms Creek. In 1821, the year following the county organization, the county seat was established at Perryville on the west bank of the Tennessee River, where it remained until 1846. At that time the county was divided, and the portion west of the Tennessee River became Decatur County. The new Perry County seat was located briefly at Harrisburg before moving to a permanent location in Linden in 1848. The Perry County Courthouse, a Colonial Revival design by Nashville architect C. K. Colley completed in 1928, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Some of the early communities developed as commercial centers. Farmers Valley, on the Buffalo River, included a post office, two stores, and a warehouse. Theodore, a hamlet on Hurricane Creek, presented a more industrial outlook with a wool-carding mill, a gristmill, and a sawmill. Beardstown, established in 1830 by George Beard, had a post office, two stores, a church, and a school. Britts Landing, established in 1839 on the east bank of the Tennessee River, developed as a thriving commercial center. The town’s importance in the shipping of cotton, and later peanuts, continued until the 1880s. The scenic community of Flatwoods, established ca. 1844 by families from Halifax, North Carolina, was originally known as Whitaker’s Bluff in honor of one of the founders. In 1871 the community was renamed Flatwoods. A center of commercial activity, the town contained several stores, a bank, a photography shop, a blacksmith shop, two doctors, and a school. Little remains of this once active community. Henry DeLobel, a French immigrant, established Lobelville in 1854. Today Lobelville (population of 915 in 2000) is comparable in size and population to Linden (population of 1,015 in 2000).
The topography of the county, with numerous ridges and lush valleys drained by tributaries of the Tennessee River, presents a unique beauty. Buffalo Ridge rises to a height of three hundred feet above the adjacent valleys. It traverses the entire length of the county, north to south. Eight subordinate ridges radiate westward for a distance of nine miles, ending just short of the Tennessee River. Between these various ridges, streams of pure, sparkling water flow in parallel lines and empty into the Tennessee River. Parallel spurs, and the troughs they form, convey the waters from the eastern slope of the ridge into the Buffalo River. The beauty of the Buffalo River attracts nature lovers and water enthusiasts, who enjoy canoe and float trips on this unspoiled “Wild River.”
In 1861, when Tennessee seceded from the Union, Perry County rallied to the Confederate cause, furnishing six hundred men to the Southern armies. Support for the Confederacy was by no means universal, and after an initial attempt to remain neutral, Unionists supplied approximately two hundred men for the Federal armies. Considering its population, Perry County probably sent as high of a percentage of its men to this war as any other county in the state.
In 1820 Ferney Stanley taught the first school in Perry County, located on Toms Creek. Edwin H. Eldridge taught the first school in Linden, which opened in 1848. Both of these schools were probably subscription schools, financed by the parents of children who attended. Such tuition schools were the only educational opportunities until 1827 when the State of Tennessee adopted a levy to fund “free” schools throughout the state. For many years, Perry County did not contribute any local support to the free school system, leaving the schools with insufficient resources based entirely on the revenues from the state levy. The earliest schools for African American children followed a similar pattern and were also subscription schools. Established soon after Reconstruction, they were supported entirely by the black community, which recognized education as the avenue to independence and advancement. In the beginning, these schools were taught in the community churches: Craig’s Chapel on North Lick Creek, Robert’s Chapel in Linden, Oak Grove in Flatwoods, and Howard’s Chapel in the Pope community on the Tennessee River. Financial resources and the demands of agriculture determined the length of the school year, though they were seldom in session for more than three months.
The population of Perry County has remained relatively constant through the years. The census of 1860 reported 5,356 inhabitants while the 2000 census lists 7,631. The timber industry provides employment for many residents. With its abundance of wild game and excellent fishing, Perry County is rapidly becoming a recreational center, especially at Mousetail Landing State Park.