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History of the Crisp Springs Community in Warren County, Tennessee

Updated on April 17, 2016
Kim Bryan profile image

Tennessee-based freelance writer with a passion for true crime, a thirst for knowledge, and an obsession with lists.

Barren Fork River in Crisp Springs
Barren Fork River in Crisp Springs | Source

Some of the first records to have any real significance to the developing of and explain the naming of landmarks in the area denotes an Isaac and Sarah Anderson, formerly of Buncombe County, North Carolina, who came to Warren County around 1809. It was in February of this year that Isaac transfered ownership of his 147 acre Lytles Cove farm in North Carolina and just shy of two weeks later, Isaac transfers his nearby 170 Flat Creek farm to the buyer of the first property.

Isaac, Sarah, and their growing family set out for Tennessee. They next appear in the undeveloped area along the Barren Fork prong of the Collins River.

Upon their arrival, the Andersons initially lived along the river's eastern bank (McMinnville side) but later moved to the western bank (Morrison side) and settled in on what was known as Smoot's Bluff.

Soon thereafter, the Andersons were joined by Sarah's parents: Mr. John Curtis, Senior and wife Elizabeth. The Curtises also settled on the western banks of the Barren Fork River near his daughter and her family. The older couple had obviously retired from farming as their deed was for a much smaller tract than that of his son-in-law's bordering 200 acre farm.

Sarah's brother Edward Curtis also left North Carolina to move to Warren County and in 1810 purchased 320 acres on the banks of the Barren Fork. The deed says it is bounded by a schoolyard and the mouth of Looney's Springs. Today there are not any references to be found to Looney's Spring to help pinpoint its location but having viewed the grants and other documents, I've come to believe the land was in the area of Parish and Moore Lanes but have been unable to confirm my belief. The schoolyard it is referencing is unknown and since many one room schools operated in rural areas at the time, it's difficult to narrow it down to any possibility.

By 1820, Census records notes Isaac Anderson and wife Sarah living at the Smoot's Bluff farm along with their 14 children. However, when Isaac's will was probated in July 1847, only nine children were noted as being Isaac's biological children. Whether Sarah had a prior marriage that produced five children or they were rearing children of deceased or downtrodden relatives is unknown.

A markerCrisp Springs -
35 Crisp Springs Rd, McMinnville, TN 37110, USA
get directions

The year before, John Curtis, Junior, who too had left North Carolina and settled into the Crisp Springs community passed away and his land and possessions were willed to his wife Rachel and "unnamed children."

In 1829, John Curtis, Senior, died and willed his possessions to his wife Elizabeth, "my daughter Sarah's children," "son John Curtis' children," and my five Children (To Wit:); James, Edward, Polly, Nancy, and Charlotte."

When Isaac passed away in 1847, he had amassed more than 300 acres in the Crisp Springs community. By mid-nineteenth century, Isaac or one of his children owned most of the land along the river's north side.

Isaac's wife Sarah had passed years before him and he had remarried a woman known as Polly. Upon his passing and the probating of his will, Polly received a life estate of the home and land "whereon William Smoot [married Matlida Anderson, daughter of Isaac and executor of his will] formerly lived." Meanwhile, deceased son John's three children received one half of Isaac's homestead while Matilda received the other half, which included her parent's two-room cabin (which explains why the life estate for Polly was the former Smoot home). Daughter Nancy received the ten acre tract she was living on at the time of her father's passing. Daughter Susannah (who had married an Eoff man from neighboring Coffee County) was disinherited for unknown reasons. Daughters Elizabeth and Charlotta Anderson were granted the "Vandagrift" tract, which is believed to be next to son John Anderson's farm. Daughter Louisa received 215 acres on the North side of the Barren Fork next to Chesley Crisp's farm; daughter Luhanny would receive another good size tract described only as "whereon McGill lives now."

Isaac's will was heavily contested by the heirs of James Anderson, children of the deceased John Jr., who received only cash as their share of their grandfather's estate and the dispute remained in the Courts hands until Polly's death in 1866. Once she was gone, her life estate became a point of contention and the Court ordered the property sold. William Smoot, who by this time had purchased the other heirs' shares of land, sans Matilda's and James Anderson's, was the highest bidder and now had claim to most of his deceased father-in-law's land fortune.

The family cemetery where Isaac, Sarah, and other family members were buried was located on the Anderson's homestead (the place now known as Smoot's Bluff) to the right of the old barn. The old barn, of course, no longer stands and those in the know say the cemetery has long since been destroyed. (I cannot express how heartbreaking that last sentence is to me.)

Today, the beautiful log cabin shown in the photo below sits on the site of the Anderson homestead. It was built by Dr. Campbell Smoot in 1977 and was the home of a 200 acre farm tract. As of this writing, the home is for sale at a price tag of $349,000 and includes only a little more than five acres.

Isaac's will was heavily contested by the heirs of James Anderson, children of the deceased John Jr., who received only cash as their share of their grandfather's estate and the dispute remained in the Courts hands until Polly's death in 1866. Once she was gone, her life estate became a point of contention and the Court ordered the property sold. William Smoot, who by this time had purchased the other heirs' shares of land, sans Matilda's and James Anderson's, was the highest bidder and now had claim to most of his deceased father-in-law's land fortune.

The family cemetery where Isaac, Sarah, and other family members were buried was located on the Anderson's homestead (the place now known as Smoot's Bluff) to the right of the old barn. The old barn, of course, no longer stands and those in the know say the cemetery has long since been destroyed. (I cannot express how heartbreaking that last sentence is to me.)

Today, the beautiful log cabin shown in the photo below sits on the site of the Anderson homestead. It was built by Dr. Campbell Smoot in 1977 and was the home of a 200 acre farm tract. As of this writing, the home is for sale at a price tag of $349,000 and includes only a little more than five acres.

Present day home on Smoot's Bluff
Present day home on Smoot's Bluff | Source

Between the years 1808-1814, the Andersons and Curtises weren't the only families breaking ground in the community that still had yet to be given an official name.

In 1808, William Brown had a survey done of 300 acres for the purposes of making a stake claim for said property; however, there are no records indicating William ever filed his official claim. So it comes as no surprise that one Thomas Vaughn in 1814, using William Brown's 1808 survey, did make a claim and was awarded the grant. However, as William Brown maintained all of his acreage for some time, many suspect William and Thomas had an agreement of some sorts.

This farm was located southeast of what is now Crisp Springs Market on what most (older) locals refer to as "The Old Walker Farm" but it is now home to the Windhaven, Greystone, and Whispering Hills subdivisions.

William Brown died in 1864 and his children inherited his land. His son Isaac and his wife Sally are buried in overgrown graves on a western facing hillside in the Whispering Hills subdivision. (Ths is PRIVATE PROPERTY. Do not visit without owner's permission, please.)

Time marches on ...

After Isaac Anderson died and his estate finally settled, several of his children moved away from the area. There are still several bearing the Anderson and Curtis surnames in the area, just not as prominent as it once was.

One of the persons who would purchase parts of the former Isaac Anderson farm was Chesley Crisp, who first appears in the "Barren Fork area" in the 1840 census. Chesley and his wife Sarah, née Warren, hailed from Caswell County, North Carolina. The Crisps would have seven children. Their daughter Elizabeth would later marry Isaac Anderson's grandson Elijah. Chesley Crisp died in April 1864, Sara in September 1884. The couple is laid to rest in the private family cemetery in a small area of their old farm land which is adjacent to Crisp Springs Market on the opposite side of Crisp Springs Road. Until the last month, the cemetery had been so overgrown it was inaccessible but recently county workers have been clearing the cemetery.

Crisp Family Cemetery
Crisp Family Cemetery | Source

The community began to grow, albeit somewhat slowly but the area was indeed populating. Crisp Springs was a quiet community made up mostly of farmers with hard-working wives and a passel of children. But just as the 20th century appeared on the horizon Dr. J.M. Ransom of Murfreesboro, purchased land from S. B. Spurlock, who had purchased the land from the Crisp heirs. This property included the privately owned recreational area/horse pasture directly across from Crisp Springs Market on the opposite side of Shelbyville Road (as it is at the time of this writing). Sitting just a short distance from the river bank in what is now a low lying, often flooded during heavy rains area was Dr. Ransom’s sanatorium. (Author's notes: In the late 19th century, sanatoriums or sanitariums were considered luxurious resorts offering alternative medicines and holistic healing practices that were affordable usually only to the upper middle class and wealthy.)

Site of the former Crisp Springs Hotel
Site of the former Crisp Springs Hotel | Source

Crisp Springs Hotel was named for the small spring that feeds the Barren Fork from a barely visible spot less than a mile downstream from the market and less than a quarter mile west of the Owen Branch mouth. The springs, of course, had garnered their name from Chesley Crisp. (Author's notes: At the time of Chesley's residence, it was referred to as Crisp's Springs but over time evolved into Crisp Springs.)

I believe this paragraph written by Lynne Appling Candless for her article Springs of Summer best captures the spirit of the Crisp Springs Hotel.

Crisp Springs - later known as the Nicholson Springs Resort - was called by some "the most prestigious" spa in Tennessee and the South. It was on the banks of the Barren Fork River in Warren County about five or six miles west of McMinnville, and its" accommodations, services, hospitality, food and the merit of its healthful waters " were declared "unexcelled." Only Beersheba and Red Boiling Springs were considered comparable. The resort had been developed by Dr. J. M. Ransom of Murfreesboro, who bought the land and springs from S.B. Spurlock, merchant and trader. Ransom, who practiced medicine for more than 30 years, believed strongly in the curative powers of natural mineral waters, and was the resident physician during the summer months. His stepson W.L. Lillard, was full-time manager of the resort which eventually accommodated more than 200 guests in its three hotels and 20 cottages. Besides bathing in the healing waters of the three springs located there, guests could hike, hunt, fish, swim, and go boating.

Crisp Springs Hotel
Crisp Springs Hotel | Source

It's difficult to imagine such a lively tourist attraction in this little community but it was indeed.

Since the closing of the Crisp/Nichsolson Springs Hotel, this little community has grown in population but retained its peaceful atmosphere. Violent crime is practically non-existent here and when it does occur, the effects are felt long after the headlines have disappeared. Week day mornings can find the men congregating on the front porch of Crisp Springs Market, some of them farmers and already several hours into their work day. The subdivisions that now sit on what was once virgin farm land are home to hundreds of families.

Crisp Spings Market
Crisp Spings Market | Source

Summers are once again becoming a busy time for Crisp Springs. The recent economic depression Americans experienced left people searching for inexpensive yet fun things to do - especially during the summer months. The close proximity of the river and its numerous access points, both private and public, made kayaking a fast local favorite pastime. It isn't unusual to see trucks with out-of-town license plates parked at the market, the attached trailers stacked with colorful kayaks and canoes a clear sign they've come for the river. The market's small restaurant is often standing room only as folks clad in swim suits and flip flops wait for (the best around, in my opinion) a hand-patted hamburger fresh off the grill to take with them on their float.

Most of those who visit or live here will never know the rich history of the area. As they splash and play in the chilly Barren Fork waters, it's unlikely they are aware that nearing 200 years ago people came from all around to do just as they are doing; the only difference being, yesterday's visitors were hoping for the therapeutic benefits the promotional booklets had promised.

I can't help but to wonder what Isaac Anderson and the others would say about the community they played a key role in founding if they were here today. Or what future generations may say about those of us living here now. Personally, I think they would be proud and they will be proud, respectively, and I hope it always stays that way.

Crisp Springs Points of Interest

show route and directions
A markerCrisp Springs Market -
35 Crisp Springs Rd, McMinnville, TN 37110, USA
get directions

B markerCrisp Family Cemetery -
20 Crisp Springs Rd, McMinnville, TN 37110, USA
get directions

C markerGrange Hall Church and Cemetery -
Grange Hall Cemetery, McMinnville, TN 37110, USA
get directions

D markerGraves of Isaac and Sally Brown -
Fox Ridge, McMinnville, TN 37110, USA
get directions

E markerSmoot's Bluff -
6456 Shelbyville Rd, Morrison, TN 37357, USA
get directions

© 2016 Kim Bryan

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    • Joseph K Bratcher profile image

      Joseph K Bratcher 6 weeks ago

      There is also the French Cemetery in Jacksboro (35° 40' 12"N, 85° 55' 36"W). This is on the same side of the river as the Smoot place. I have often wondered if that cemetery is related to Lucy Virginia French, the acclaimed poet who called McMinnville her home.