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Posted 07/08/2022 in Historical

Tullahoma, TN: A Tapestry of History and Progress


Tullahoma, TN: A Tapestry of History and Progress

Tullahoma, TN: 
A Tapestry of History and Progress


Nestled in the heart of Tennessee, Tullahoma is a city that embodies the spirit of the American South.


Tullahoma TN's history is a rich tapestry woven with threads of innovation, resilience, and transformation. From its founding in the mid-19th century to its significant role in World War II and its evolution into a modern city, Tullahoma's story is as unique as it is compelling.



Before the arrival of European settlers, the area that is now Tennessee was inhabited by several Native American tribes. The primary tribes in this region were the Cherokee and the Chickasaw.

The Cherokee were one of the largest tribes in the Southeastern United States, and their territory extended into parts of what is now Tennessee. The Cherokee were known for their agricultural practices and their sophisticated political system, which included a written constitution and a two-house legislature.


This all changed with the Dearborn Treaty signed in 1806.  With this treaty, the Cherokees ceded to the United States an extensive tract, lying in Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee.  This enabled non-native Americans to begin to populate these lands.  See our article about the Trail of Tears in Winchester TN


Tullahoma TN Founding and Early Years


In 1836, Coffee County was partitioned off from Franklin County TN

Tullahoma, TN was founded in 1852 as a railroad camp along the new Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad. The city's unique name, derived from the Choctaw language, means "red rock." This name was chosen to honor the area's natural beauty, characterized by its lush forests and the Duck River, a vital water source that has been a lifeline for the community since its inception.


Tullahoma Railroad Station - 1930sTullahoma Railroad Station - 1930s



Interestingly though, the Choctaw people are primarily associated with the southeastern United States, particularly Mississippi, Louisiana, and Alabama. While there are individuals of Choctaw descent living in Tennessee today, historical records do not indicate a significant Choctaw presence in the area that is now Tullahoma, Tennessee. 


The name "Tullahoma" is indeed believed to be derived from the Choctaw language, but it's important to note that place names often travel and can be used by different groups over time. 


Tullahoma TN was a small but thriving community whose growth was enabled by the railroad.  The completion of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad in 1854 connected Nashville with several cities along the railway line, including Tullahoma, all the way to Chattanooga. From Chattanooga, the Western and Atlantic Railroad extended the connection further to Atlanta and eventually to Charleston


The railroad brought a steady stream of settlers, drawn by the promise of opportunity and the allure of the city's natural beauty. These early settlers laid the foundation for the city that Tullahoma would become, building the first homes, businesses, and community institutions.



Tullahoma Lincoln Street - Dirt RoadsTullahoma Lincoln Street - Note Dirt Roads


The local mineral springs in the Tullahoma TN area drove the development of small resorts (including the Beard House below), bringing in visitors from outside the area looking for the health remedies that mineral springs could bring.


Estill Springs Resort - Beard HouseBeard House Resort in Estill Springs



The Park Hotel by Pylant Springs - renamed to Cascade Springs by Tullahoma TNThe Park Hotel by Pylant Springs - renamed to Cascade Springs


Civil War Era of Tullahoma TN

The Civil War left an indelible mark on Tullahoma TN. The city's strategic location along the railroad made it a critical point of interest for the Confederate Army. The Tullahoma Campaign, a series of military actions that took place in June and July 1863, marked a turning point in the Western Theater of the Civil War. Despite the city's strategic importance, the campaign is often overshadowed by the simultaneous events at Gettysburg and Vicksburg.  


Between June 23 to July 3, 1863, the Tullahoma Campaign which was a significant military operation, involved tens of thousands of troops and resulting in strategic gains for the Union Army. The campaign's success helped to shift the balance of power in the Western Theater, setting the stage for the Union's eventual victory.

The Union's General Rosecrans deployed what was considered one of the best maneuvers of the civil war in the Tullahoma Campaign, to drive General Bragg's confederate soldiers out of the area.


Tullahoma Campaign - Generals Rosecrans and BraggGenerals Rosecrans (left)  and Bragg (right)



Civil War Tullahoma Campaign Civil War Tullahoma Campaign 
photo: Edward Alexander, emergingcivilwar.com


You can see the full map at this link.


One other interesting person from the Tullahoma TN area, Dr James Benjamin Cowan who was the chief surgeon of cavalry and assigned to the staff of General Nathan Bedford Forrest during he Civil War.  He remained with Forrest until the surrender of his command in May 1865.  He moved to Tullahoma in 1873.  The city of Cowan, TN was named after his relatives who lived in the area.


Tullahoma TN's Post-Civil War Development


In the aftermath of the Civil War, Tullahoma TN began to rebuild and grow. The city's first public school building was erected in 1886, reflecting the community's commitment to education. This building, now part of the South Jackson Civic Center, still stands today as a testament to the city's history and growth.


South Jackson Civic Center - TullahomaSouth Jackson Civic Center - Tullahoma today


Tullahoma first school buildingThe original school building and years of additions


The late 19th and early 20th centuries were a time of significant development for Tullahoma. The city's population grew, and new businesses and industries began to take root. Despite the challenges of reconstruction and the economic uncertainty of the era, Tullahoma emerged as a vibrant and prosperous community.


Tennessee Vocational School For Girls in Tullahoma TN


A vocational and training school for girls was developed on what is now the correctional training facility in Tullahoma.  The school for girls was built in the early 1920's and remained for almost 50 years.  Girls would be placed there if they were under 21 yet committed a crime that would give them a felony if they were 21 or older.  The school provided education and vocational training up to 9th grade.  2,253 girls attended the school during its time in existance.


The school closed in the 1983 and became the Tennessee Correction Academy.


World War II and Camp Forrest in Tullahoma TN

World War II brought profound changes to Tullahoma with the establishment of Camp Forrest named after Nathan Bedford Forrest. One of the largest U.S. Army training bases during the war covering 78,000 acres (approximately 122 square miles), Camp Forrest served as a training facility for numerous military units and housed German prisoners of war. The camp also employed thousands of civilians in various support roles, significantly impacting the local economy and population. There was an induction center there for the war, which processed 250,000 young men.



Camp Forrest Tullahoma -- Entrance Camp Forrest Tullahoma TN -- Entrance 


Camp Forrest was initially established as a training facility for draftees in 1940. The camp expanded over time, eventually covering 78,000 acres and including over 1,300 buildings. It served as a training area for infantry, artillery, engineer, signal organizations, and cooks, and also functioned as a hospital center and temporary encampment area for troops during maneuvers.



Camp Forest Tullahoma Barracks1941 - Camp Forest Tullahoma Barracks



Camp Forest Tullahoma Bread MakingCamp Forest Making approx 70,000 lbs of bread a day



General George S Patton was stationed there with the 2nd Armored Division and was promoted to Major General.  In June 1941. Patton conducted maneuvers with the 2nd Armored Division where he optimized his strategy before taking it to Europe.



General George Patton General George Patton 


General George Patton's TankGeneral George Patton's Tank


Fast forward to the 2010's  -- AEDC led a search for unexploded WW2 ordinance that was used train the soldiers on the property in Tullahoma TN.  As you are driving through the base on one of the handful of public roads you may have seen a sign that says something like "Warning, unexploded ordinance" -- they litter the sides of the streets going into the woods.  The below photo is an example of what they have found which is a practice Anti Tank Round.



Camp Forrest Tullahoma -- WW2 Practice Anti Tank RoundCamp Forrest Tullahoma -- WW2 Practice Anti Tank Round



In addition to the camp's military functions, Camp Forrest also held a darker role as a civilian internment camp. In 1942, it became a prisoner-of-war camp, housing Italian and German POWs, as well as Japanese, German, and Italian-American civilians arrested at the outbreak of the war under a program called "Alien Enemy Control."


Internment CampsWW2 Internment Camps in Tullahoma TN


Tennessee WW2 Internment CampsTennessee WW2 Internment Camps



Alien Internment Sites - TullahomaExample letter for Japanese Americans to report to internment sites. This is the top portion of the letter.



Post-War Era and Modern Tullahoma TN

After the war, Camp Forrest in Tullahoma TN was declared surplus property, and its buildings were sold off. However, the area was soon selected for the site of the Air Force's new Air Engineering Development Center, which was dedicated by President Truman in 1951 and renamed the Arnold Engineering Development Center in honor of General of the Air Force Henry H. "Hap" Arnold.  Woods reservoir, a 3,600 acre lake was built to aid in cooling for the equipment for Arnold Air Force Base.


Today, Tullahoma TN is a thriving city known for its commitment to education, technology, and the arts. The South Jackson Civic Center, which includes the city's first public school building, now serves as a regional performing arts center and a museum of local history. The legacy of Camp Forrest lives on in the Arnold Engineering Development Center, a testament to Tullahoma's enduring connection to the nation's military history.


Today there are amazing Tullahoma restaurants, many things to do in Tullahoma, many successful businesses from the great people in the area.




From its early days as a railroad camp to its pivotal role in the Civil War and World War II, Tullahoma, TN, has a rich history that mirrors the broader narrative of the American South. Today, the city continues to honor its past while looking forward to a future of growth and innovation. 


As we look back on Tullahoma's history, we are reminded of the resilience and spirit that have defined this city and its people. As we look forward, we see a city poised for continued growth and success, a city that continues to weave its unique tapestry of history and progress.


Other Interesting Historical Articles:


  1. Hundred Oaks Castle -- a Winchester piece of history

  2. Jack Daniels Distillery: The Legacy of An American Icon

  3. The Sunken History of Awalt: A Town Beneath Tims Ford Lake


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