Tullahoma History

Project background

Project created in the 1990s through joint support of the Tennessee Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Tullahoma Fine Arts Center.

Tullahoma, A Pictorial History

Illustrations: Jim House

Narration: Paul Pyle

This section called Tullahoma was formerly a hunting ground for various Tribes of Indians that settled along the Duck River, about seven miles north, and the Elk River about the same distance south. At each river there is evidence of large, former Indian encampments. There is, also, evidence of a few former temporary Indian residents near Big Springs (in Frazier McEwen Park), along Rock Creek.

Prior to 1850, the Tullahoma area was divided into large framing sections, ranging from 100 to 600 acres, which were owned by various families of Hogan, Grizzard, Holt, Ferrell, Hazlehurt, Harris, and so forth. Corn, small grains, fruits, and vegetables were grown, even though teh soil was not as productive as it was in the surrounding areas.

The farming plots greatest assets were the hardwood timbers, even though the land owners were greatly handicapped with lack of roads and modern shipping methods.

The Tullahoma property was joined on the west by Bedford County, and was about equally divided between Frankling and Coffee Counties.

The coming of the railroad (Nashville and Chattanooga) changed the entire course of the area’s history. Being the highest point (1,070 feet above sea level), and the nearest center between Nashville and Chattanooga, it was a likely spot for developers William S. Moore, Dr. T.A. Anderson, Pierce B. Anderson, Benjamin Decherd, and Volney S. Steverson to organize a town company around 1850, and to found the town which was incorporated in 1852. The name of “Tullahoma” is of Choctaw Indian vintage, possibly meaning “red dirt.” It should be noted, though, that the Choctaw Indians were mostly in Mississippi, at this time.

Tullahoma soon became a major railroad shipping point in middle Tennessee. A large brick passenger and freight depot was built here, and the town became widely known.

Then during the Cival War, the young town was occupied at various intervals by both the Southern and Northern armies. It was even a “battleground” during the summer of 1863.

Following the war, many former soldiers of the Union army, returned to make Tullahoma their home. Tullahoma was fast becoming known as a “health center,” with a bounty of various health-giving mineral springs. Many men with “capital” and “business know-how” were attracted to the area. Various enterprises using natural resources were established here. At one time, there were four brick yards utilizing the deposits of solid “clay.” However, the use of wood products was the leading industry.

The town, from it’s early history, became known for its educational facilities.

In the early 1890’s, a collection was taken from among the business and professional people to construct a “college” in Tullahoma. This preparatory school was built of “Sewanee Stone” and operated under various names until it burned in 1922, when it was called “Fitzgerald and Clark College.”

The first free school was established in 1886, inside the thirteen acre tract, where the South Jackson Civic Center is now located. This resulted in a new town charter and the establishment of the first school board.

East of Tullahoma, an area known as the “Barrens,” was found unsuitable for farming, since it wsa settled by white man. This unused property became a “boon” for Tullahoma, when some 1.040 acres were acquired by the State of Tennessee, to form a National Guard Encampment, called “Camp Peay,” in 1926.

Then, prior to World War II, an additional 85,000 acres were added to form an army base, named “Camp Forrest.” Here, thousands of soldiers prepared for World War II. At the same time, north of the city limits, 1,300 acres were acquired by the United States Government to build an army airfield, called “William Northern Field.”

Following World War II, the Camp Forrest area was cleared of all army barracks and became the site for the construction of a “Wind Tunnel.” It was to be known as the Arnold Engineering Development Center. This facility continues to enlarge, contributing to the development of the “Space Age,” since its dedication by President Harry S. Truman in 1951.

Today, additional institutions of higher learning consist of a junior college, Motlow State Community College, and the University of Tennessee Space Institute for graduate studies, located on the Wood Reservoir at the A.E.D.C. site.

Felix Baliette, his wife, and four children moved to Tullahoma immediately following the civil war. They purchased the lot and log building at 401 South Jackson Street, and immediately began construction on a new home for the family. Bricks for the home were made in a brick yard, only blocks from the residence. The Bailette ladies operated a milliner shop. Miss Jennie was an artist. She had studied previously with a group known as The Hudson River School and was the first artist known in the area.

In 1967, a group of local artists and other interested citizens purchased the old Bailette residence for an arts center for the area. This facility was named The Tullahoma Fine Arts Center. Today, the historic residence serves as a regional art facility, offering creative experiences for youth and adults of all ages.

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Copyright © 2001 – 2006, Tullahoma Fine Arts Center, 401 South Jackson Street, Tullahoma, TN 37388 Phone: 931.455.1234.