The History Of Warren County
By Mr. James A. Dillon - County Historian

Warren County was established November 26, 1807 by an act of the Tennessee General Assembly, becoming the 30th county created in Tennessee. It was organized as a county on February 1, 1808. On November 22, 1809, the General Assembly authorized the newly appointed County Court to appoint commissioners to purchase a site for a county seat, and lay off a town to be called McMinnville. These commissioners were appointed in March 1810, and on August 4, 1810, they obtained title to a 41 acre tract just north of the Barren Fork River. They laid off and sold lots in the newly platted town, reserving two acres in the center for a court house, jail and stocks.

Warren County was originally a part of White County created in 1806, and was that portion of White County lying south of the Caney Fork River along the Highland Rim with portions on the Cumberland Plateau on the east and in the Central Basin on the west. It extended to the Alabama border at creation, but was reduced in size by the creation of Franklin County just one week later.

Settlement had begun in the area as early as 1800, and consisted largely of Scots-Irish, English, and Hugenots from Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina. With temperate climate, adequate rainfall, and traversed by the Collins, Rocky and Barren Fork rivers, along with the Hickory, Charles and Mountain creeks, it was well watered and covered with numerous free flowing springs. Heavily forested in the eastern portion, large areas in the western section were treeless, earning for the area the title of "Barrens," which continues to this day.

Warren County was named for Revolutionary War hero Gen. Joseph Warren, the first general killed in the War of Independence. McMinnville was named for Joseph McMinn, who was speaker of the Tennessee Senate at the time the county was created, and later one of the outstanding Governors of our State. Settlement continued at a rapid pace, with the river valleys being occupied first and the less fertile and mountainous terrain later. By 1810 there were 5725 people in the county, in 1820 10,348 and in 1830 15,351. At the time of its creation, the county contained some 900 square miles, but this was reduced to 443 square miles by the formation of Cannon, Coffee, Dekalb, Van Buren and Grundy counties during the period from 1836 through 1844. All of these counties were formed from a portion of Warren County. Since formation of counties as provided by the constitution adopted in 1834 noted that no county boundary could be closer than 12 miles from the county seat of the county from which is was formed, each new county struck their boundary with Warren in a 12 mile arc. This resulted in Warren County becoming almost round in shape by 1844, thus earning it the nickname of "the round county."

From its earliest days, the population was dependent upon an agricultural economy. The terrain was not conducive to large plantations or large tillable fields. While some cotton was grown, it was never a dominant factor in our economy. The presence of many oak, chestnut, beech and other nut trees enhanced the raising of hogs, and the adept ability of the settlers to produce fine livestock and mules made the area a prime source of pork and horse stock for use on the great plantations further south. A thriving orchard industry, especially apples, blossomed before the Civil War and apple brandy became one of the major cash crops in the reconstruction years.

While slavery was present in the county's society, the diverse agriculture was not geared to slave labor. Statistics show that only 10 percent of our population was slave, with slave owners being less than 10 percent. Most slave owners rarely owned more than two slaves.

During its first 50 years of existence the greatest economic advancement was the building of the Manchester and McMinnville Railroad, which began in 1850 and became operational in 1856. This improved transportation facility allowed the area to progress rapidly. The location of the Cumberland Female College in 1850, coupled with development of the Central Cotton Factory in the Faulkner's Springs community three miles north of McMinnville gave added impetus to the county's growth.

With the coming of the War Between the States, Warren County's sympathies were decidedly for the Southern cause. Initially voting against secession, a strong sentiment against Abraham Lincoln changed feelings and Warren County contributed nearly 2,000 people to the Southern cause over the four-year conflict. The 16th Tennessee Regiment, the 35th Tennessee Regiment, the 22nd Infantry Battalion, the 84th Infantry Regiment, and two cavalry companies of the 11th Cavalry Regiment were all raised in Warren County.

With the railroad being a terminus to North Central Tennessee, Warren County became a prime target of both armies. As a result the county was constantly fought over and reinvaded between seven and 11 times. The area was in shambles by the war's end along with a major loss of manpower. The effects of reconstruction continued until the 1940s.

In the years following the Civil War, efforts were made to develop the mineral and timber resources in the area. Beginning with the organization of the Caney Fork Iron and Coal Company in 1885, and continuing through the days of the Rocky River Coal and Lumber Company, a flourishing lumber business emerged, and numerous lumber manufacturers, beginning with the T.F. Burroughs Lumber Company, provided work and income to many. In the early years of the 1900s, the flourishing George C. Brown Lumber Company made several citizens wealthy, earning for the town of McMinnville the title of the "Wealthiest little town in the South." The bankruptcy of the company during the great depression of the 1930s wiped out many of those fortunes. A growing nursery industry arising out of the thriving orchard and apple brandy business of the 1880s continues to expand to this day with over 400 nurseries shipping trees and plants throughout the world. Warren County is known as the "Nursery Center of the South."

Beginning after World War I, industry, chiefly textiles and lumber, became a dominant source of employment, but the Tennessee Woolen Mills, Read Hosiery Mill and Menzies Shoe Factory, had difficulties during the late 1920s and 1930s. Many moved north to work in the automobile plants. With the end of World War II, the formation of a Chamber of Commerce in 1950, coupled with the development of the Caney Fork Electric System to provide countywide electricity, and, in the 1960s, a countywide potable water distribution system, industry began moving to Warren County. General Shoe led the parade in 1946, with Oster in 1957, Century Electric (now Magnatek) in 1960, Dezurik in 1963, and Carrier in 1968. Oster's training of tool and die personnel aided the proliferation of a multitude of small tool and die industries which in turn interested other companies, leading to the location of Bridgestone, Calsonic, Gardener Mfg., and others since 1980.

A unified school system with modern facilities, branches of Motlow College and Tennessee Tech University and a well-staffed vocational school, give added incentives. Nearly all major religious beliefs have local congregations, and a spacious 18-hole golf course, a civic center for hosting large gatherings, and a four lane connector road through McMinnville from Manchester at I-24 to Cookeville at I-40 display the scenic beauty of our mountains and sparkling rivers. A temperate climate and adequate rainfall make the area increasingly attractive to retirees. Peopled with citizens who are cooperative, industrious, and family oriented, Warren County is a great place to live. With 434.67 square miles of area, the present population (2010) exceeds 39,000. Local banks show assets exceeding 600 million.