Gerry and I have been taking long country drives so he can practice up for his driver’s test. (He lived his whole life in a city with great public transportation—he’s never needed to drive before now.)
One morning we set out to find the location of a church in Eagleville, Tennessee, where we’ll be attending a wedding next month. And that is how we came to find Rover … driving down Highway 231 to Fosterville, turning right on the Midland-Fosterville Road, which cuts west over to Highway 41A (becoming Kingdom Road in the process). Where Kingdom Road meets 41A—that’s Rover. Turn right and Eagleville’s three or four miles up the road; turn left and Unionville (such as it is) is a couple miles down it in the other direction.
But there were lots of interesting things to see along the way, and I spent some time looking for histories of these communities. Any history of Middle Tennessee is closely tied to the history of Nashville, which, with its location on the Cumberland River, was an important trade post stockade built in 1779–80 by James Robertson and John Donelson. The town that was soon to be named Murfreesboro had been established as the Rutherford County seat in 1811, some forty years later. Shelbyville was laid out around the same time and incorporated—and got a United States post office—in 1819. These three points on the map form the backdrop for what little there is to be gleaned about Fosterville, Unionville, and Eagleville. Only the latter is still a real town, but the other names live on as … communities.
Fosterville, for example. Named after John Foster, listed in the 1820 census for this district and who established a home and trading post on what is now 231, halfway between Murfreesboro and Shelbyville. Highway 231 was actually the first turnpike (for stagecoaches) in Rutherford County—the Nashville / Murfreesboro / Shelbyville Pike; the road was completed and gates erected by 1842. But they were already working on the railroad—when it was completed in 1851 Fosterville was a stop on the Nashville-Chattanooga-St. Louis Railway and the community shifted east about 3,000 feet to the rail line.
In March 1890 a tornado blew through the heart of the village—stores, post office, train depot, church, mill—and it never fully recovered. A tiny post office is still across the street from the train tracks, but I’m not sure if it still operates. There’s a volunteer fire department, a few houses … a church and a few houses along 231. And then two miles on the other side of 231, along the Midland-Fosterville Road, this:
The Lebanon Campground Church of Fosterville, TN.
I can’t tell you much about the church. There are dozens of “campground churches” of various denominations* across the South, but this one boasts no affiliation. It has no web presence. It may not even have a congregation—it was Sunday morning when we took these photos. But it is an election polling place.
* I believe they sprang up from “camp meetings,” which were a phenomenon of American frontier Christianity, which had neither enough preachers nor enough church buildings. So campgrounds sprang up, to which people would travel on occasion to camp, listen to itinerant preachers, sing hymns, and otherwise fellowship. This was a component of the Second Great Awakening (1790–1860), an evangelical movement promoted primarily by the Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians.
And yet … the church has been decorated for Christmas.
The side yard of the Lebanon Campground Church—looking back along Midland-Fosterville Road.
Across the road from the Lebanon Campground Church is an old cemetery:
Wood & Tucker Cemetery. This sounds more like a pair of families; I doubt that it was ever associated with the church.
The only access to the cemetery was to walk up through the field—and the ground was very soggy, as it had been raining for days—or this private drive. We were not brave enough to drive up; you just never know what kind of greeting you’ll get.
Right where the road changes from Midland-Fosterville to Kingdom, there’s a beautiful, clean farm. I was fascinated by it because all of the buildings were grey.
I think of it as the silver farm.
There’s another unused church along this road …
The Kingdom Cumberland Presbyterian Church of Unionville, Tennessee.
The address of this church is Unionville, although it’s about three miles away (as the crow flies) from the current village of Unionville. I can find no online history for the church or the town, though one guesses it has something to do with the Civil War. Wouldn’t you think? The church to which we were headed was originally called Union Ridge Baptist Church (according to the history on its website). As the crow flies, again, Unionville is about twelve miles from Wartrace, where Union soldiers kept a large prisoner-of-war camp of Southern boys; perhaps the main Northern encampment was a little further away. In what came to be known as Unionville. Along this ridge. That’s the only connection I can draw.
But this church. There’s a sanctuary and beside it a larger building, probably for Sunday school classes and a kitchen and so on. The sign next to the sanctuary door reads, “Kingdom Church, established 1852. Cumberland Presbyterian Historical Heritage Site.” Next to the two buildings, a pavilion.
A pavilion with picnic tables. It’s the Pastor Milton & Mrs. Bobbie Statum Pavilion, the sign says, and it was dedicated at Easter 2000.
It’s kept up, but was deserted in the late Sunday morning when we stopped to take photographs. So in fifteen years, this congregation died out. (Perhaps literally.)
Belied by the sign outside.
Look closer, though.
So we drove another mile, headed toward the future wedding church (with a Unionville address), which is just off Highway 41A. And that’s when we rode smack-dab into Rover. This is pretty much all that’s left:
Carlton’s General Store—“We Sell Most Anything”—of Rover, Tennessee.
Behind the shuttered store, an old house, still occupied, and a barn and outbuildings.
It is well-kept, and has a simple beauty, I think.
There are a few houses close by—neighbors. No doubt they know each other well. There’s been a published history of Rover, interestingly, but that was more than ten years ago and no trace of it exists online. Apparently there were two schools in Rover at one time; I’ve gleaned that much.
One of them was right across the street:
A self-proclaimed historic site.
It would have been a small-ish school, but is now a very neatly kept home.
But we were headed to the future wedding church (whose address is Unionville, interestingly, but simply because there is no post office in Rover anymore). We could see it from where we stood at the old general store.
Rover Baptist Church in the distance.
As previously noted, had we turned right, we’d have ended up in Eagleville. It’s still a thriving community. Originally called Manchester when it was founded in 1832, the name was changed when they applied for a post office and discovered there was another Manchester twenty or so miles south. When the post office opened in 1836, the community became known as Eagleville. Local lore has it that the name was inspired by an unusually large eagle killed in the vicinity. Niiiice.
But … we were on a quest, and we turned left, away from Eagleville, heading south on 41A. Rover Baptist Church is on—conveniently—Baptist Church Road, about a thousand feet from the abandoned Rover General Store. I’d looked all this up on Google Maps, and noticed something just beyond the church, something … green.
It’s a cemetery, y’all. And you know how I feel about those. We could see it as soon as we turned onto Baptist Church Road.
See there on the right, up on the hill? A cemetery.
We did drive into the parking lot and had a look at the church. But … meh. We didn’t tarry. I wanted to get to that cemetery.
It’s the Simpson Cemetery. It’s beautiful.
There’s a chair near the entrance, under a tree, near the posted rules and regulations, for contemplation.
Gerry, contemplative, sort of.
So I walked up the hill with my camera. There are lots of the same names here, family groups.
It was a beautiful day.
How different this is from an Irish cemetery, where the graves are cheek by jowl.
The sign says the cemetery was established in 1868, but there are a few older graves here.
These pillars drew my eye because they are an older style.
Mostly I was just interested in the art and the words …
This woman, a Simpson by marriage, didn’t even get her name on her grave stone—just her initials, although her husband in mentioned by name. But she must have been pious.
Here’s her husband. He was a Mason, apparently. His wife, M. W., lived 20 years without him.
This woman, also a Simpson by marriage, was born in 1786. That may have been the oldest birth year I found.
Isn’t this wording interesting? “Thomas H., consort of Lettetia Spence” … And what kind of tree is that?
This one says “Come Ye Blessed” and those must be the pearly gates … but it looks more like a picket fence to me.
There was some humor here.
Big John. I must go back to find out if he was a Simpson.
It’s the children’s graves that break my heart, though.
Willie Hammond, who lived for 6 years, 7 months, and 2 days. As a mother myself, I can understand this need to precisely count the loss.
I can’t even imagine this. I wonder how John and Mattie picked themselves up. Did they try again? Was it something genetic that fated their babies to this? The tests for such things didn’t exist back then, so they might never have known.
“Our boys,” they said. They were 15 and 17 when they died 6 weeks apart, perhaps of some illness. The photograph is just heart-stopping. (Don’t forget you can zoom in on these photos.)
“Are you ready?” Gerry asked me. Yes. There are so many stories—not just in this cemetery but on the road between it and our house. We also saw a goat farm, several walking horse stables and farms, and one farm that advertised spotted ponies for sale. We were quiet on the drive home, listening to the radio—to Ottorino Respighi’s The Birds.