The first county to be created after the Civil War, Trousdale County was named in honor of Governor William Trousdale. With just 110 square miles of area, it is also the smallest of Tennessee’s ninety-five counties. The general assembly established Trousdale County in 1870 when it carved the new jurisdiction from portions of Macon, Smith, Sumner, and Wilson Counties. Despite the county’s late creation, the present-day county seat of Hartsville is one of the Upper Cumberland region’s oldest communities.
Settlers traveling down the Cumberland River and over the Fort Blount Trail began arriving in present-day Trousdale County in the late 1700s. Originally known as Damascus, Hartsville traces its beginnings to 1795 when several families built their homes on the east side of Little Goose Creek. Two years later one of these families, the Donohos, built a grist mill. Another pioneer family, the Harts, built a ferry crossing on the Cumberland in 1798. By promoting settlement on the west side of Goose Creek, the Harts also helped to overshadow Damascus. With the establishment of a post office in 1807, inhabitants renamed the community Hartsville. Other antebellum communities in Trousdale County include Beech Grove, Dixon Creek, Halltown, Providence, Willard, and Willow Grove.
Early historical accounts of Trousdale County noted it for two developments: a quarry that produced high-quality grist stones for Middle Tennessee’s water-powered mills and a horse racetrack at Hartsville. Horse racing there was such a popular activity that Andrew Jackson often visited the town, and the Hartsville Jockey Club hosted races in 1836 featuring eighteen entries. As in much of the state, however, agriculture dominated the local economy. With four stores, by 1830 Hartsville was the central marketplace for neighboring cotton farmers. A landing south of the town was a regular stop for steamboats plying the Cumberland River. By decade’s end, Hartsville was the second largest town in what was then still part of Sumner County.
Aware of the town’s growing importance to the surrounding area, residents of Hartsville began to lobby for the establishment of their own county. In 1849 they convinced William B. Bate to introduce a resolution in the Tennessee House of Representatives that would amend the constitution and allow for the county’s creation, but the matter died in a house committee. A cholera epidemic which forced residents to desert Hartsville for a time occurred that same year.
The Civil War totally disrupted the economy of Hartsville and surrounding farms. Union forces occupied Hartsville for much of the war. In late 1862 Confederate cavalry under General John Hunt Morgan captured a Federal garrison at Hartsville. Yet Morgan’s raid was only a minor setback for the Northern war effort, and Union troops soon recaptured the town.
Following the war, cotton ceased to be the primary agricultural product when corn, oats, wheat, and tobacco became the leading crops. With the establishment of Trousdale County and its designation of Hartsville as the county seat, the town became more prosperous. The construction of a railroad line to Hartsville in the 1890s spurred town growth in the following decades.
Throughout the twentieth century, tobacco was such a profitable agricultural product in Trousdale County that Hartsville became the home of a thriving loose-leaf tobacco market. Besides the auction warehouses, two tobacco factories, which employed hundreds of workers, once operated in the county. Because of its identity as a leading burley producer, Hartsville once hosted the Tobacco Bowl, a high school football championship. Begun in 1954, the 1961 game drew 8,000 spectators to the community of 2,000. The tobacco factories have left Trousdale County, but in the 1990s Hartsville warehouses still marketed tobacco raised in neighboring counties and in southern Kentucky.
East of Hartsville near the Smith County line stand the mothballed structures of the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Hartsville Nuclear Plant. The agency proposed the plant in 1972 and began construction five years later. It canceled the project in 1984, but not before spending two billion dollars. Today, the idle 560-foot cooling tower looms above the rural landscape, symbolizing the rancorous debate over nuclear power.
In 2000 Trousdale County had a population of 7,259, a 22 percent increase since 1990. Notable people from the county include Montana Territory Supreme Court Chief Justice Newton W. McConnell, Edward T. Seay, a prominent Nashville attorney who briefly served as the dean of Vanderbilt University’s Law School, Indiana University Head Football Coach Phil Dickens, and Casey Wise, a member of the Milwaukee Braves baseball team that played in the 1958 World Series.
Tom O. Allen, Trousdale County Tennessee History (1991); Walter T. Durham, Old Sumner: A History of Sumner County, Tennessee From 1805 to 1861 (1972)