Thousands of people come every year to Harpeth River State Park to canoe, hike, fish, and picnic. Most of them don't know much about the history of the place. But the Harpeth River State Park contains fascinating history. This is, after all, the site of a prehistoric Native American village referred to as Mound Bottom. The park is the home of an old man-made tunnel at a place called the Narrows of the Harpeth. And here you will find the remains of a grist mill called Newsom's Mill.
The Harpeth River
The Harpeth River State Park is not a single piece of land; it is scattered throughout ten locations in the southern part of Cheatham County and the southwestern part of Davidson County. Some of the places are scenic in nature, while some are historic in nature. The common link that they all have is that they are all located along the Harpeth River, a tributary of the Cumberland that winds through Williamson, Davidson, Cheatham and Dickson counties.
Now we'll focus on the three main historic sites, starting with the oldest.
The largest mound at Mound Bottom, in a picture taken from nearby Mace Bluff
1. Mound Bottom
Some Native American cultures that existed in Tennessee between 700 and three thousand years ago built mounds in which they often buried important people along with sacred or important pottery, tools and weapons. Mound Bottom, in the Harpeth River State Park, is one of the best preserved examples of this phenomena in Tennessee. As mound remains go, this is believed to be one of the newer ones; archaeologists tell us that it was inhabited between 700 and 1300 AD. So this falls into the Mississippian era (Pinson Mounds, on the other hand, is much older and falls into the Woodland time frame.)
At the present time, you cannot access the mounds except by a ranger-led tour (to arrange one, call the park at 615-952-2099). There is, however, a spectacular view of the mounds from a nearby bluff called Mace Bluff. Here are some interesting points about Mound Bottom:
* The Mound Bottom site is about 100 acres and surrounded on most sides by the Harpeth River.
* The flat-topped embankment, or platform mound, that dominates the view from Mace Bluff is the largest of at least 14 mounds that remain from this community. It was the focal point of the community.
For more about Mound Bottom, click here.
The overlook at the Narrows of the Harpeth
2. Narrows of the Harpeth
If you go about a quarter mile west along Cedar Hill Road you will come to the Narrows of the Harpeth, where the Harpeth River comes within a few hundred feet of where the river returns, seven miles downstream. In 1818, a businessman named Montgomery Bell bought this land and (with the help of slaves) dug a tunnel through the embankment that separates the two sides of the Narrows of the Harpeth. In doing so, he created enough moving water to power a forge, known as the Pattison Forge, that was used to turn large pieces of raw pig iron into smaller and more malleable pieces. Most of those were then sold to small manufacturers (such as blacksmiths).
After you get out of your car at the Narrows area, we suggest you see at least three things:
First, walk down to the river on the marked wooden trail and check out the tunnel from the upper side (shown here). You can see why, in its day, this tunnel was considered to be a great feat of engineering.
Then, take the short trail to the overlook. Yes, it's a steep climb but (believe us) well worth the effort. And it's one of the only trails you'll ever walk where you can see the same river on the right side of the path as you can on the left side of the path.
After you check out the overlook, come back the way you came and walk over to see the bottom side of the tunnel -- a beautiful waterfall and pool on the site of Montgomery Bell's old Pattison Forge.
3. Newsom's Mill
If you are heading back to Nashville, there is one last stop that you might enjoy. Newsom's Mill was built around 1850 here and for many years its milling operation was central to the agrarian economy of this area. Today its frame is still intact. And in some ways it is rather remarkable that it has survived. After all, this is certainly one of the only historic sites in the world located where a road, a river, a power line, a railroad, and an Interstate (40) all converge.
Finally, we should point out that the best way to see the Harpeth River State Park is by canoe. Near the park, where Highway 70 crosses Cedar Hill Road, are several places that rent canoes during warm months. If you want to experience the Harpeth River, we recommend you float down it. But make sure you wear your life jacket!
to be taken to the official web site of the Harpeth River State Park.