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Old Town

Old Town

By Kelly McGuinness


The highly developed Indian society which flourished here between 900 and 1450 A.D. is now marked by several earth mounds in the field south of this marker.  The village was surrounded by a palisade wall.  Nearby are dry laid stone abutments of a bridge build over Brown’s Creek (formerly Donelson’s Creek) by the U.S. Government in 1801 to facilitate travel on the Natchez Trace.  The house 300 yards south, was built by Thomas Brown ca. 1854.  It and the bridge were placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, the Indian site in 1989.

Location:  Old Natchez Trace

On the banks of the Harpeth River and Brown’s Creek, a few yards off Old Natchez Trace, lie the remains of an ancient village known today as Old Town.  One of the last extant sites of its kind in Middle Tennessee, it was initially explored by Dr. Joseph Jones in 1868, who wrote about it in his book, “Aboriginal Remains of Tennessee,” published by the Smithsonian 8 years later.  Jones’ findings and more recent excavations have provided us with some basic information about this ancient civilization. However, as with similar sites from this period, there remain more questions than answers.

The range of artifacts recovered from Old Town date from as early as 900 AD to as late as 1450 AD, placing the village and its inhabitants in the Mississippian era, a.k.a. the Golden Age, of American history.  Old Town is comprised of 12 acres and it was once enclosed by steep earthworks, approximately 2470 feet in length.  A portion of these earthworks was topped by a wooden stockade, which would have provided the village with further protection during times of warfare. 

As was typical during this time, the residents of Old Town built large earthen mounds within the confines of their fortification, which they used for various purposes.  Old Town’s location on the Big Harpeth River is also typical, as it provided an endless supply of water to the village.  And while the Natchez Trace was not yet in existence, rest assured that it evolved out of the narrow trail, which passed along the edges of Old Town.

According to the book, Old Town, authored by Old Town’s former owner Henry Goodpasture, Dr. Joseph Jones describes Old Town as containing, “two pyramidal sacrificial mounds, a small circular burial mound, a large burial mound now occupied by the family mansion, and numerous stone graves ranging principally along the banks of the river.”

In this same book, Goodpasture also states that, “Included in the group of Indian mounds at Old Town, there are two in the front yard which are located on either side of the entrance walk, which are built in the form of a cross and were believed by Dr. Jones, to be the burial place of the tribal chiefs.”

At least 50 graves were opened by Dr. Jones during his explorations at Old Town and all were stone box burials (see Stone Box Indians).  These graves were mainly located along the Harpeth River side of the fortification as well as the side facing Brown’s Creek.

No one knows exactly what happened to the ancient Mississippians.  Theories include disease, warfare, and migration, but most likely their culture was simply replaced over time and ultimately forgotten.  And by the time the first European settlers moved to Middle Tennessee, the Native Americans inhabiting the area knew nothing of the old villages and mounds scattered across the countryside.

See Also:
The Natchez Trace
Stone Box Indians
The Fewkes Group (Boiling Springs Site)

Crutchfield, James A.  Harpeth River: A Biography.  Johnson City, TN.  Overmountain
            Press. 1994.

Crutchfield, James A.  The Natchez Trace: a pictorial history.  Nashville, TN, Rutledge
            Hill Press. 1985.

Goodpasture, Henry.  Old Town.  Nashville, TN. 1950.

Tennessee Division of Historic Preservation.  National Register Properties: Williamson
Tennessee.  Franklin, TN. Providence House Press.  1995.

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