Friday, March 23, 2012

Narrows of the Harpeth

This afternoon, after a morning of chores, we went for a little leg stretcher to Narrows of the Harpeth State Park.  We don’t go there often.  In fact, it’s probably been 10 years since we were there last.  All together there is about a mile of hiking trail over there, but it always has some of the nicest displays of wildflowers anywhere around.  I’ll include a few of the many photos I took today, but Narrows of the Harpeth didn’t get to be included in the State Park system because of the wildflowers.  The narrows have played an important part in local history.

Perfoliate Bellwort

We got home later than planned and I was busy fixing dinner so I asked Gene to write up the history of the Narrows.  Here’s his take on the whole thing.
View from the bluff overlook high above the Harpeth River

Prof Curp here to tell you of the history of the narrows of the Harpeth River.

The river isn’t narrow.  But the land at the neck of a loop in the river is very narrow.  Let me guess 30 yards.
My favorite for today--shooting star.

Montgomery Bell, originally of Pennsylvania apprenticed to a tanner as a boy.  As a teenager he apprenticed to a hat maker and liked that pretty well.  He moved to Lexington Kentucky and took to hat making something fierce.  And, he was also making money something fierce.  Remember, this was about 1800 AD and men in these parts all wore hats whenever they were awake.  Montgomery thought middle Tennessee had lots of potential due to the many rivers available for power.  (Energy sources have always been important.)

Montgomery saved up $16,000 which is astounding for that time. Especially for a hat maker, in my opinion.   He bought the Cumberland Furnace village and iron works in middle TN near the Harpeth River (currently Dickson County) about 1810 for that princely sum. [ I say about cause I don’t remember what the sign said.]  See, in 1793 James Robertson (a founder of Nashville and a Methodist who lost his “ticket” to meetings due to persistent backsliding as a drinker) and a partner established the iron works (hematite was the ore available).

Montgomery went on to be the biggest iron producer in the South prior to the War of Northern Aggression.  Bell had a reputation of never paying a debt without being sued.
That didn’t stop him from buying slaves to run the furnaces, dig the ore pits and do other backbreaking work for nothing.  He owned at several points in his life up to 400 slaves.  It’s easier to make money when you pay the workers nothing.  His reputation also included forcing his intentions on some of his female slaves (I am not making this up).
But his biggest reputation was as the Iron Master of Tennessee.  He even made cannon shot for Gen. Andrew Jackson to use at New Orleans in the War of 1812.  In fact, it was the profits of that gouge of the Government of the USA that provided the capital to allow him to become Iron Master of Tennessee and a Big Time Industrialist.  (Reading between the lines here).
I always think of this as the entrance to the tunnel.

The river comes in here
Remember the Narrows.  Bell, being all into water power, and flush with war money and having a bunch of slaves, had them dig a tunnel through the limestone bluff 15 to 20 feet wide and 8 feet tall between 1818 and 1820.  Hand tools.  Wow. The power harnessed from the river ran the iron forge.
And flows out here

With that little history lesson, we’re gonna call it a day.  More pictures of the wildflowers to come in later posts.  Thanks for tagging along.


  1. yes, thanks for the lesson!..what a great Professor you are!

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    Thanks and have a great day!