Boatland, Fentress Co., TN

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This old photo, made about 1912 and furnished by Mrs. Wilma Reagan Pinckley, shows a group at the Porter Woods Store in Boatland. Those pictured include Jim Franklin, Tommy Madewell, George Smith, Johnny Hinds, Johnson Wood, Perry Hinds, John Allen Beaty and Porter Woods.

There are two versions of how the community of Boatland, one of the oldest in Fentress County, got its name. One is that flat boats came up the Obed River to pick up tar, turpentine, and other products of the area to take to Nashville and other markets on the river waterways. The other version is that the boats were constructed by the area workmen and then loaded and floated down the river when rains raised the river to a certain level called a "tide." Mrs. Oakley Clark, age 91, wife of the late Elbert J. Clark, remembers seeing one of the boats which got stranded as the water receded before it got loaded, and it had to stay until the rains came again. The first record of the name "Boatland" is found in Mark Turain's Obedstown and Knobs of Tennessee by A.R. Hogue. The reference is found in a transfer of property listed under "Early Settlers in Fentress County and Where They Lived from Records, Deeds, Entries, and Grants" and identified as John Sublett Entry 453 Boatland 466 Obeds River 1830 (p. 21).

The precise date for the establishing of postal service in Boatland cannot be determined. But, it is known that the Wood family operated the post office for seventy-five years. Beginning in 1880, Jerry Wood became postmaster. During his tenure, he also operated a large general store -- in the same building -- where almost all items needed by the community were kept in stock. The merchandise had to be hauled by wagon from Wilder and Davidson, across mountains and streams. Jerry's son Porter operated the store and served as postmaster from 1904 until 1914 when he was thrown from a horse and killed. After Porter's death, the post office was moved to his home where his widow, Hattie, served as postmaster from 1914 until 1942. Their daughter, Edna, then served until 1955 when the office was discontinued at Boatland. In the early years, the mail left Jamestown every day by horseback, and the carrier delivered the mail to the Boatland Post Office as he went to Manson, the next community west of Boatland. The carrier also delivered mail along the route on his way to Boatland.

Between 1914 and 1930, the store once operated by the Woods, Jerry and Porter, had several other owners and operators. Among them are Gilbert Boles and Elbert Clark; Davis, Hixon, and Green; Joe Mullinix and Henry Elliott Bobbins; Joe Mullinix; and Carson Beaty. A barber shop was located in a side room of the store during the Mullinix and Beaty ownerships. There have been no known store operations in this building since 1930. Nelson Wright also owned and operated a general store in the Boatland Community. Located on what is now the Fowler Bowden Place, Mr. Wright built his store of lumber from the Davis, Hixon, and Green depot building.

The first established church in Boatland was built around 1905 and was located about 1/4 mile from the post office and general store (Wood building). Prior to the building of the church, services were held in the school houses of the community. This church was constructed by Tommy Madewell, James N. Clark and son Elbert J. Clark. This Methodist Church continued until about 1974 when the Baptist Church bought the property and built a new church. Jacob Madewell was one of the first ministers. Jacob's father, Moses Madewell, was a Justice of the Peace, a cabinet maker, and miller, tending an oldtime water mill called the Bowden Mill. The Madewells came from Egypt, the great-grandfather having traveled here in 1795.

Boatland's first school of record is the Linder School, located on what is now the Fowler Bowden Place. A picture of 1905 shows 43 students of varying ages. Jacob Madewell was the teacher at the time. The next school house was built near the present Baptist Church. Later, a two-room school was built which continued until the consolidation of schools in Fentress County in 1959.

There are several interesting stories and historic people associated with the Boatland Community. According to Albert R. Hogue's book Mark Twain's Obedstown, Davy Crockett spent the winter of 1817 on the Harve Smith Place, now owned by Everett Evens. It is said Crockett had a hunting cabin there, and records of his possessions and improvements are in several old deeds. Another famous resident of the Boatland Community was David Beaty, known as "Tinker Dave." He was the son of George Beaty who came from North Carolina with his two brothers, John and David Beaty. They settled in this area of what is now known as the Harve Smith place. Tinker formed a company early in the Civil War known as "Beaty's Independent Scouts." He was later commissioned a captain in the U.S. Army. Since this area was a dividing line between Union and Confederate operations, Beaty's scouts were active in the protection of area residents and their properties. Other than Crockett and Beaty, there is the story of Old Man Stout. In 1835 he was accused of being a witch and of bewitching a neighbor girl. Stout was arrested by a large posse armed with guns loaded with silver bullets and taken to trial before Joshua Owens, a Justice of the Peace. Testimony presented caused him to be held for the grand jury. The judge, Abraham Caruthers, and the attorney general, Joseph B. McCormick, refused to indict him, and then Old Man Stout sued the officers and posse for damages. The judge stated the statute they were using was based on English law established during the reign of Henry VIII. The judge also stated that these laws were never in effect in Tennessee, based on an act in Tennessee in 1778.

The Boatland area was rich in virgin timber, having never been cut over until Davis, Hixon, and Green, a large lumber company, bought the timber from the settlers in 1913 or 1914. A Large saw mill was set up on what is now known as the Elbert Clark place. The logs from the neighboring farms were hauled by mules and wagons to the mill. This was a big operation for the early 1900's. The Davis, Hixon, and Green Company also built a railroad from Cooketown to Boatland to haul the lumber out of the mountainous area. There was a large depot for storing lumber built near where Stanley Wright now lives, formerly the Herbert Boles place. This lumber company also brought in a lot of families to do work necessary to carry out its operation, which was an exciting time in the mountains. There was a big July 4 celebration in 1916, and a train ride was provided for all who wanted to ride to Cooketown. Among those who remember this trip are Mrs. E.J. Clark -- who has a picture of the train and all the people on this trip -- and her daughter Ruth, Willie Mullinix Gernt, and Willie Reagan. The picture was made by J.N. Clark. The engineer for the train was John Choate, the father of Madge Tipton; the fireman was Lee Hamilton.

Names of the early settlers of Boatland, many of which are still found in the area, include Beatty, Beaty, Bowden, Owens, Mullinix, Wright, Sublett, Choate, Hogue, Hood, Gwynn, Alberta on, Boles, Clark, Smith, Wood, Skinner, Linder, and Chism, including Dr. J.N. Chism. Current place names identifying early settlers include Skinner Mountain and Gwynn Island. Boatland is now considered a residential and farming community.

by Ruth Clark and Willie M. Gernt
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Posted with permission from Curtis Media Corporation
This page was last updated on 10/04/98.