People come to Harpeth River State Park to canoe, hike, fish, and picnic. Most of them don’t know much about its history. However, important things have happened on the Harpeth River — especially at the Harpeth River State Park.
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. All of these parcels of land are all along the Harpeth River, a tributary of the Cumberland.
We’ll focus on the three main historic sites that are found there, starting with the oldest.
1. Mound Bottom
A long time ago, Native Americans who lived in Tennessee built mounds in which they often buried important people along with sacred or important pottery, tools and weapons. There is one of these mounds in the Harpeth River State Park, at Mound Bottom.
Archaeologists say Mound Bottom was built and used between 700 and 1300 AD, during the Mississippian era. (Pinson Mounds in West Tennessee, on the other hand, is much older and was built during the Woodland era.)
You cannot get to the mounds except by a ranger-led tour between October and March (to arrange one, call the park at 615-952-2099). There is, however, a great view of the mounds from a nearby overlook called Mace Bluff.
It is amazing to think that there was a town here, so long ago.
For much more about Mound Bottom, click here.
2. Narrows of the Harpeth
Near Mound Bottom you will find 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.
Pattison Forge was used to turn large pieces of raw pig iron into smaller pieces. Most of those were then sold to small manufacturers (such as blacksmiths).
There are several things to see here:
First, walk down to the river on the wooden stairs 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.
It’s a steep climb, but well worth the effort. If you look to the left, you see the Harpeth River flowing away from the Narrows of the Harpeth.
If you look to the right of the trail, you can see the Harpeth River flowing back toward the Narrows of the Harpeth!
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
There is one last stop you might enjoy.
Before the arrival of the steam engine, water power was used to operate mills of all sorts all over Tennessee. One of Middle Tennessee’s first mills was created along the Harpeth River by Francis Newsom. That first mill flooded in 1808, and he later moved it downstream. The foundation of the stone mill which was built in 1862 is still standing, and you can see it as yet another part of Harpeth River State Park.
Today its frame is still intact. And in some ways it is rather remarkable that it has survived. After all, this is one of the only historic sites in the world where a road, a river, a power line, a railroad, and an interstate highway all converge!
If you want to experience the Harpeth River, we recommend you float down it. But make sure you wear your life jacket!
Click here to be taken to the official web site of the Harpeth River State Park.