A ca. 1910 photograph of a small landing on the Alabama or Tombigbee River in Alabama. The river landing at the old Lowndes County town of Nashville would have resembled this scene during the unloading of a steamboat there in the mid 1800s. Photo by: Courtesy photo
May 31, 2014 10:50:17 PM
A question arose last week about Nashville. Not Nashville, Tennessee, but Nashville, Lowndes County, Mississippi. People often drive by a road sign not far southeast of Columbus that says Nashville Ferry Road but pay little attention to it or its story.
Nashville was an early 1800s "river town" located about 12 miles south of Columbus on the east bank of the Tombigbee River. Like the now extinct old towns of West Port and Colbert, it was destined for a sad ending as the town grew up on the Tombigbee's flood plain.
Nashville's story begins with the Choctaw Indian Cession signed at St. Stephens on the lower Tombigbee in 1816. That treaty opened the lands claimed by the Choctaws east of the Tombigbee and south of the Chickasaw line to settlement. During the summer and fall of 1817 Anglo-American settlers began drifting into what is now Lowndes County. By 1819 Columbus had become a town and there were scattered farms spreading out north, east and south of town.
In an 1872 account, W.E. Gibbs told of the first settlers moving into the countryside south east of present day Columbus. There was John Halbert and Alexander Copeland who settled on "Mulatto Ridge" between what became the Nashville and Pickensville roads. The ridge was named after the color of its soil. Abner Nash built his house just west of what is now Highway 69. Also in the area was Ezekiel Nash. In the pre 1821 confusion over the Alabama-Mississippi state line, Ezekiel's house served as a Pickens County, Alabama, election precinct. Gibbs also mentioned a McGowan settling on the Nashville Road and Enoch Seale settling in a swamp just north of what would become Nashville.
It was in 1824 that a blacksmith named Daniel Young settled on what he though was high ground along the river about 12 miles south of Columbus. The site was soon connected by road to Columbus and Young established a steamboat landing there which was known as Young's Bluff. The first steamboat to arrive in Columbus was the Cotton Plant in 1822. That opening of the river changed the complexion of commerce along the Tombigbee. Where steamboats landed could be stores, warehouses and opportunity.
By the late 1820s Young's Bluff was begriming to develop as a small commercial center. Its role expanded as roads were constructed in the early 1830s. In addition to Young, Samuel Spencer had a store for which he obtained a tavern license in 1829. Stores operated by William Byars and Newton "Nimrod" Nash obtained liquor licenses in 1831.
A major event was Young's establishing a Tombigbee River ferry there in 1833. That further increased the commercial value of Young's Bluff. However, Young may have seen the writing on the wall, for the community was damaged by a flood in 1833. Then in early 1834 Young sold his landing and ferry to Nimrod Nash.
Nash had plans for Young's Bluff. He soon began promoting it as the Town of Nashville. Lots in the town were being sold by April 1834. Shortly after those sales began a voting precinct was established and in 1837 the nearby Mt. Zion post office was renamed Nashville and moved to the new town. But the town never thrived. There appear to have been only three stores and a few other businesses such as a blacksmith. Research by Jack Elliott shows an 1840 population of only about 55 free persons.
Though Nashville had a steamboat landing, it was seldom advertised as a regular stop for boats. Pickensville, Alabama, which was 11 river miles below Nashville, and Union Bluff, one river mile above, were, however, regularly advertised landings. One of the few boats to advertise that it landed at Nashville was the S.S. Prentiss which in the mid-1850s was called the "Columbus & Waverly" Packet boat.
After the flood of 1833, the site of Nashville was not again threatened by the river until 1847. In that year the flood that destroyed the town of West Port across from Columbus also all but destroyed Nashville. The final end of Nashville as a town then occurred after another devastating flood in 1851.
Though the ferry continued to operate until the late 1960s and a few steamboats continued to stop, the town was all but gone. To go to the town site today one would never think it had once been a town.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.