Wayne County is located on the extreme western side of the Highland Rim, with its northwest corner extending into the Tennessee River basin. It is made up of ridges and hollows and is on a plateau of about eight hundred feet in elevation in the southwest corner of the Middle Tennessee division. Heavily wooded, the county contains deposits of iron that were still being worked into the early twentieth century.
The general assembly created Wayne County in 1817, but the engrossing clerk failed to sign the act, and it had to be passed again when the legislature next met in 1819. The county was named to honor General “Mad” Anthony Wayne of the Revolutionary War. Created from parts of Hickman and Humphreys Counties, it encompasses 338,291 acres. The first settlers in Wayne County arrived from Middle Tennessee and North and South Carolina to claim military grants, occupants’ claims, and warrants.
The first county court met at the home of Benjamin Hardin on Factor’s Fork where the old Natchez Trace crosses Shoal Creek. The next meeting was held at William Barnett’s house on old Town Branch, where the court continued to meet until 1822. The first elected county officers were William Barnett, clerk; Benjamin Hardin, sheriff; J. M. Barnett, circuit court clerk; John McClure, registrar; John Meredith, trustee; John Hill, ranger; and William B. Payne, coroner.
In 1821 the general assembly appointed commissioners James Hollis, John Hill, Nathan Biffle, and Charles Burns to establish a county seat. The men purchased 40 acres from William Burns for the town of Waynesboro. They sold lots and used the proceeds to build a courthouse, jail, and stocks. A century later, Waynesboro had a population of 600, several schools and churches, a bank, and a number of businesses. In 2000 the town’s population reached 2,228 residents. More than a dozen manufacturing plants, including Lincoln Brass Works, provide employment to several hundred workers.
Clifton was founded in 1840 and named for the high cliffs upon which it stands. Located sixteen miles north of Waynesboro, Clifton was first known as Ninevah. Built on land purchased from Stephen Roach and located on the Tennessee River, the town emerged as the most important commercial location in the county. Local farmers and lumbermen shipped cotton, livestock, lumber, cross ties, and tan bark via the river from Clifton and received imported supplies which were distributed around the county by wagon. During the Civil War, on December 15, 1862, a Confederate force of eighteen hundred under the command of General Nathan Bedford Forrest crossed the Tennessee at Clifton to launch a two-hundred-mile raid on Union lines and supplies in order to delay the Union campaign against Vicksburg. In 1855 the Masonic Academy was built at Clifton, and Frank Hughes College was erected there in 1906. Growth slowed dramatically from the 1920s to the 1980s. Since 1990, Clifton’s growth has been revived with the establishment of Mousetail Landing State Park to the north, the construction of a new bridge spanning the Tennessee River, the institution of a branch campus of Columbia State Community College, and the erection of a large state prison facility. Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist T. S. Stribling maintained his home in Clifton.
Collinwood traces its origins to the survey for the Tennessee Western Railroad in 1912. Investors in the Collinwood Land Company surveyed the town site on the Bud Scott farm and began selling town lots in June 1913. Collinwood was named for W.W. Collins, manager of the railroad operations in Wayne County. The town was incorporated in 1915, and the first city election brought the following men to office: Charles J. Farris, mayor; Sam V. Coltrane, city recorder; and T. A. Adkisson, J. F. Turman, Leo Forsythe, Dr. W. W. Rippy, and A. O. Lindsey, aldermen. Robert L. Morrow served as marshal.
In 2000 the 16,842 citizens of Wayne County earn their livelihood from the lumber industry and several manufacturing concerns. Migration into the county has included retirees and families seeking a more rural setting.