Iron manufacturing was a big part of Perry County’s economy in the 1800s. Although the iron industry here is long gone, you can still see a beautiful remnant of it at the Cedar Grove Furnace, in the southwestern part of the county.
Here, at Perry County’s Cedar Grove Furnace, bars of pig iron were produced and shipped to foundries all over the country, where it was made into tools, machinery and other products. Although hundreds of people (many of them African-American slaves) would have worked here at one time, these places are almost all abandoned today.
As you can see from this 1838 newspaper article (on the left) the Cedar Grove Iron Works were once at the center of a huge business. At that time, the furnace was part of an industrial operation that consisted of 8,800 acres, mills, and houses for hundreds of workers. However, since 1862, this amazing monument has sat idle.
Also of interest: Perry County once included land on the east and west sides of the Tennessee River (as you can see on this 1832 map, on the right). It’s county seat was Perryville, a community on the west bank of the river.
In 1845, the part of Perry County west of the river was broken off into a separate county called Decatur County. Since Perry County no longer included Perryville, it moved its county seat to a new town called Linden. Decatur County put its county seat at a new community called Decaturville.
Through this series of events, Perryville–which had been the county seat of the combined counties–ended up as the county seat of neither! Once a thriving commercial stop on the Tennessee River, Perryville was later permanently flooded when the Tennessee Valley Authority created Kentucky Lake. Today, there isn’t much left of Perryville other than an industrial business along the river and a sign (on the right) that reminds the rare visitor that it was once the county seat.
Here’s another story about Perry County that illustrates what a big deal the Civil War was. In 1860 there were about 5,400 people living in Perry County, about half of them male. Obviously, a lot of them were either too old or too young to fight. Nevertheless, 800 of them went to fight the Civil War – about 600 for the South and about 200 for the North. Many of them didn’t come home.
Today — nearly a century and a half after the Civil War — less than 7,000 people live there. So Perry County also has the distinction of being one of the slowest growing counties in Tennessee.
In spite of the low population of Perry County, a lot of boys have fond memories of the place. Perry County is the home of a boy scout canoe base called Grimes — located on the oft-canoed Buffalo River.