If one stands on the banks of the Tennessee River, or in the middle of Mynatt Cemetery, a person is surrounded with history and the people who lived it. Washington, Tennessee in Rhea County is one of those places where one can actually “feel” the impact of events which happened more than two hundred years ago. To be exact, Washington was founded two hundred and eight years ago. “Old” Washington, as it is now called, celebrated its bicentennial during 2012, and everyone in Rhea County was invited to the birthday event. This took place on October 6 at the David Campbell Memorial Park in Old Washington, and not only gave Rhea County something to celebrate, but a learning experience. History of our ancestors was the primary goal of this event, with learning about significant homes and businesses, along with other inhabitants of the town.
In the beginning. . . At the Tennessee General Assembly meeting at Knoxville, Tennessee on November 11, 1811, an act was passed which was entitled “An Act to Appoint Commissioners for the Purpose of Establishing a Seat of Justice in the County of Rhea.” Those commissioners who were appointed were: James Campbell, David Murphree, Robert Patterson, Daniel Walker, John Locke and Jesse Roddy. These men met at the house of William Henry in February of 1812 and posted bond, took the oath of office and appointed James Campbell, Chairman and John Locke, Secretary of the Board.
Since there were no roads, the county seat needed to be located on or near the Tennessee River for convenient travel and commerce. Several tracts of land were considered, but not chosen due to fear of flooding. However, these commissioners did not have the power to obtain an eligible site on the river, and laid out the town at the head of Spring Creek. In 1812 an Act proclaimed that the Town of Washington would be permanently established where it was then located (on Spring Creek).
The land on which the town was located was owned by David Campbell; his three hundred acre claim was founded on an occupant claim made by James Berry who had transferred it to Campbell. David Campbell conveyed to Richard G. Waterhouse one hundred fifty-two of the three hundred acres on May 23, 1812. Then, Campbell deeded forty-eight acres to the Commissioners of the Town of Washington on June 27, 1812.
On May 21st and 22nd, 1812 lots were sold at auction for the town; however, the deeds were not registered until the second sale was held on April 23, 1813.
A short time after the Town of Washington was laid out, Richard G. Waterhouse established an addition known as the Southern Liberties. This addition contained ninety lots of different dimensions.
Washington was a busy, bustling town during its prime. It had many merchants, saloons, hotels, beautiful homes and much more. It has been said that when the State Capital was moved from Knoxville, Washington lacked one vote of being selected as the Capital. Unfortunately, no one has been able to find documentation of that fact.
Since two hundred and eight years is such a long time, we have to rely on historical documents to give us facts about the town and our ancestors who settled in “Old” Washington. However, if a person will stop at some of the historical sites in that community, I believe you will be able to “feel” the history come alive and pretend that you were there during the time in which history was made. Remember to study the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.
Pat Guffey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org