Formation of Bolivar
Commissioners for the town were John Y. Cockeram, Thomas J. Hardeman, Nathaniel Steele, West Harris, and John H. Bills. The sale of lots was held 22 April 1825 and produced $6,000 which was used for building a courthouse and jail. There is a map existent showing the purchasers of the lots.
In 1827 citizens complained about business buildings located on court square saying that they detracted from the beauty of the court house lawn. A Commission was formed of C.C. Collier, Pitser Miller, Austin Miller, West Harris, J.Pitchford and Nathaniel Steele to raise subscriptions to buy the property. There were a few businesses still on the square when the courthouse was rebuilt in 1868.
The poor were taken care of in the town until provisions were made by the court to establish poor houses in 1843.
The common burying ground was located at Hatchie Town until it was established on the eastern side of Bolivar in July 1826. It has been called Riverside and Bolivar Cemetery. Union Cemetery was purchased in 1860 and became the town cemetery. In 1924 Mary Ingram Williams was responsible for chartering a committee to maintain this site with perpetual care. The most noted family plot is Polk Cemetery in the southwestern part of town.
From 1825 until the close of the 1880’s Bolivar was the center of river trade with the port at the old site. Keelboats, flatboats, packet boats and steamships made regular trips to and from the markets. The first steamship arrived in 1828. "The Native", was built in 1835 by William Henry Wood of Bolivar. After 1843 commerce on the river was so good that fourteen steamboats were making regular calls. The depth of the river was a hazard, dipping to three feet at low tide. When other means of transportation became available the Hatchie was expendable.
Early ferries serving the town on the waterway were Fowlers, Statlers and Butlers. Stage routes opened by way of Somerville to Memphis; and Savannah, Waynesboro and Lawrenceburg to Nashville. The first stage stop was "Greenleaf House" built by William Greenleaf and situated on West Market Street before 1837. In 1830 the stage stop was located in The Mansion House on the corner of Main and Market. Before this Duguid Mims commissary had hotel accommodations and every necessary need for the traveler, and he was the ticket agent for the stage line.
Business houses were erected on the West Side of the square first. They were long, low log buildings built in 1825 by Joe and John McCain, David W. Wood and William Reynolds. Most of the stores were general merchandise, selling everything the farmer, planter, trapper or timber man needed. Select shops soon appeared with the proverbial saloon and billiard halls. Henry Kahn established his business in 1844. It is the oldest existing house on the square today.
Excellent service from the mills for the town were; Polk’s Mill on Pleasant Run Creek built in 1823, Colonel John Murray’s Mill built on Mud Creek by John Golden, and David Jernigan’s Mill.
Residences were log cabins in 1826 and situated near the eastern section of present Bolivar. In the town there was one frame and one brick building. The brick was the courthouse. The frame was "Hazlegrove House" built by John Houston Bills. By 1828 there were ten stores, five doctors, five lawyers, one commission house, one printing office, three taverns, one grocery and mechanics of all description.
In 1830 Henrietta Sarah Fitzhugh described Bolivar as, "a pretty, flourishing town, far superior to Jackson in appearance, although care had to be exercised to avoid stumps in the streets. Bolivar has very pretty buildings".
Residents and travelers were supplied with water from the public spring located in the southwest corner of the original town and the road leading to it has been named Water Street. The Red Tavern was built above the spring on the brow of the hill and was the sojourning spot. Cisterns and dug wells were the traditional sources on the residential lots.
Churches were established with the town and their buildings erected in the first decade: The Methodist Church 1830, St. James Episcopal Church 1834, Bolivar Baptist 1835. The courthouse was the central place for religious services before buildings were constructed. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church was erected in 1868, Bolivar Presbyterian Church in 1858, but had worshiped as a body before this date. The Union Church for Methodist and Baptist was built first. These denominations divided after 1878 into Greater Sprintfield Baptist Church was erected and St. Paul’s Methodist Church, with St. Michael’s Episcopal Church completed in 1866.
Educationally, the city fathers prepared for students. The Male Academy, chartered in 1826, was located in the southwestern part of town and supported by tuition fees. In 1832 The Female Academy was erected and located in the southern part of town. Private schools for girls and boys were conducted in homes. Egbert and Cynthia Crisp Osborne were instructors in a private school in 1850. In 1873, St. James Hall was started by the Episcopal Church as a school for girls. Not until public schools were established and operating did all children have educational advantages offered.
Newspapers were published continually from the beginning of the town for the county. Informed men, who wished to share happenings of the county and country with the remote areas of the county, set up their presses.
In November 1847 Bolivar was incorporated. Up to this time commissioners had governed it. The town officials consisted of a mayor, recorder and five aldermen. The corporation limits had been enlarged from time to time. From the fifty acres of farm and woodland with which it started. Bolivar developed its natural resources, business advantages and culture until it was recognized as a progressive town.
A thriving Town
Near Bolivar, Dunlap Springs was the resort place of West Tennessee and Northeast Mississippi. It was well established in the 1850’s. Features boasted for the town were five mails with one daily to Memphis except Sunday. Three stage lines were located in the town with one going to Nashville advertising "only 58 miles of dirt road and the rest a turnpike", one to Huntingdon and one to Holly Springs which left at four o’clock in the morning and arrived at eight in the evening. Steamers left on the Hatchie with the first rise of the river in shipping season, from Bolivar to Memphis, and returned. There were two hotels, The Bolivar Hotel managed by G.G. Adams and Union Hall Hotel that was converted from the Odd Fellows meeting hall with additional rooms and operated by H. Champ. A boarding house for young women attending the Female Institute was operated by T.B. Adams, Merchants, mechanics shops, wagon, carriage repair shops and J.R. Robertson, a photographer who excelled in daguerreotypes, were in the business section. Law Offices; a dentist and a barbershop were advertised in 1851. The main interest was the railroad that came through in 1856; The Mississippi Central Railroad completed to Jackson, Tennessee in 1858. It was consolidated with the Great Northern Connection in 1877 and is now the Illinois Central. The depot built of handmade brick was a center of attraction. The railroad created jobs and was a new means of getting products to the markets. Traveling took on a new concept.
In 1860 the census for Bolivar showed 466 citizens and its location in the sixth district of Hardeman County. There were 136 males over 20 years of age and 108 under 20 ears of age. Most of these potential soldiers would march away in the War of Rebellion, as the historians were to call the Civil War. There were eighty residences, two hotels, two schools, one newspaper, a concert hall and the business district filled with merchants, grocers and all the mechanics, lawyers, doctors, tailors, seamstresses, photographers, druggists, confectioners, and saloons that make a small town.
Civil War Years
From 1862 until May 1864 Bolivar was under military law. No battles were fought in the town but several skirmishes were around the town. Major Lew Wallace and his army of 15,000 composing the Illinois and Indiana troops camped at the fairgrounds in 1862. In September 1862 General Hurlburt’s army arrived setting up hospitals in the Methodist, Episcopal, both Presbyterian Churches, both Academies and the homes of General J.J. Neely and Captain Wood. The Male Academy was used as a prison. This was after the battle of Davis Mill near Pocahontas. During the occupation the Union Generals, Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman, J.B. McPherson and Lew Wallace made visits. In May 1864 General Sturgis came with his 12,000 soldiers. He decided to make the town useless to any army and especially the Confederates who had defeated him in battle. He burned the business section including the Baptist and Methodist churches and the courthouse. During the year 1865 progress was made rebuilding the business section. In May 1866 an organization was formed: The Monumental Society, to erect a memorial to the soldiers of the Confederacy who had given their lives to the Lost Cause.
Fletcher Sloan, a young architect, designed many of the buildings and the courthouse after he designed St. James Episcopal Church. As the sound of war left, the citizens immediately began to reconstruct the town for business, education, religious and social life. There were no major altercations to disgrace the period of adjustment. The people returned to the fields of industry and the shops. A tax was placed by the Mayor and Aldermen on carriages, buggies, pleasure vehicles, gold and silver watches, silverplate, etc. to have revenue. The packet boats plied Hatchie River carrying staves and products of the area to New Orleans and returned with goods for the merchants. Drunken men paraded the streets brandishing weapons and swearing but ordinances were set up for the town, and enforcement, order and peace were restored. By the year 1869 forty new residences had been built, ten business houses, three churches. The Baptist of frame with a beautiful cupola. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church, St. Michael’s for the blacks of Episcopal faith, and the Methodist Church was repaired. The societies formed were: Bolivar Harmonic Philomathesian Society for young men, a debating club and the Silver Cornet Band.
Gradually, the 1870’s ushered in progress. Shade trees were planted on each side of the principal streets, which had been improved. Plank walkways were laid. The United Sons and Daughters of Charity was established in 1873 as a local self-help benevolent organization to assist African-Americans during Civil War Reconstruction to attend the sick, the distressed, and to bury their dead. St. James Episcopal Church was completed and the Chapel, used as the parish house and Sunday school, was finished. A public well was dug on the southwest corner of the square - 73 feet deep. Lamps were erected on the four corners of the square. Population for the town showed 775 whites and 425 blacks. Of this number
The 1880’s were plagued with fires. In March 1881 a big blaze destroyed twelve buildings. This was the fifth fire in as many years. The entire southern part of the square was destroyed with the exception of Miller’s Livery Stable on the southeast and Mrs. Marshall T. Polk’s stores on the southwest. Tate’s Opera House in 1881 was the pride of Bolivar, situated on the East Side of the square and offering varied entertainment. Six private schools were in operation besides the public school. In 1882 Dunlap Springs was re-opened as a resort as it had been neglected after it burned in 1864. The Illinois Central Railroad had vacant land across from the depot, which was plowed and seeded to grass for a public park. Trees and shrubbery were planted in the area in 1874. It became a favorite place for the traveling public and town functions. The horse mails went out daily to the countryside from the Post Office. By 1884 Bolivar’s population was 1,500. In the business section there were four dry goods stores, one millinery shop, one jewelry store, six family groceries, two drug stores, one dentist, one farm implement shop, two blacksmith shops, two barbers, seven law firms, one newspaper, one livery stable, three saloons, two hotels, two saddle and harness makers, one undertaker, one public school which was in session five months a year, five churches - Baptist, Methodist, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Cumberland Presbyterian; and one tin ship. A YMCA met every Tuesday night at the Presbyterian Church. The Temperance Society, a Sunday school convention, a Chapter of the County Agricultural Wheel were all active. Tragedy struck in June 1885 when fire began in Moffitt’s and Company’s cellar, which was located in the center of the block of brick buildings east of the courthouse. Powder and combustibles exploded burning the entire block of buildings. The offices of Dr. Moore and Tate on the north corner were left standing. With the fire went Tate’s Opera House and the post office that was in Moffitt’s. By August new buildings were going up on the site. In December the Opera House and Post office were situated in the new buildings. The street was named, "Seldom Row" and shade trees were planted in front. The Bolivar Minstrel Company was organized in 1887 and the Dramatic Club formed in 1888. In answer to the plea for repaired sidewalks, new wooden ones were laid. Planning and work was begun on Western State Hospital, then outside the corporate limits. This facility was finished in 1889. The Bank of Bolivar was organized in 1886, the first for the county.
The 1900’s were heralded with the Temperance movement’s triumph, and saloons were outlawed in 1901. Education was the order of the decade. Some of the teachers of secondary schools were Mrs. Pitser Miller, Gladstone Kaufman, Charles Mason, C.B. Lams, Will Robinson, Albert Hudson and E.S. Balstrop. The City Board of Education was composed of Charles Miller, Tom Newbern, and Dr. B. Vernon Hudson. In 1909 Bolivar High School had an enrollment of 173 pupils. Several were boarding in town from Saulsbury, Crainville and Middleburg. Charles Mason was Principal. Teachers were Eloise Miller, Mary Franklin, Jennie Hardeway, Lillian Jacobs, and Ollie Campbell. In 1914 the County Court established the county high school and incorporated the city until 1930. A school for the black children was on the location of Bolivar Junior High School and known as Bolivar Industrial School. High School opportunities were offered for them at Allen-White school in Whiteville until Bolivar Industrial was founded. Transportation to school was the parent’s responsibility. In 1928 a school wagon was used and later buses for transporting pupils. Matthew W. Robinson was Principal in 1922. In 1932 a gymnasium with four classrooms was built across the street from Central High School. C. Bruce Hanna began teaching in 1932 in the school and was coach for the girl’s basketball team, which won state honors. He was principal in 1945. In 1938 J. Bernal Smith was Principal. A cafeteria was added to the facility and a Parent-Teacher Organization was progressing in 1938. In 1949 work began on a new High School building. It was located on a 23-acre trace in West Bolivar. A band was organized in 1948. Milton Basden has been Principal since 1956.
Through the years the postmaster and carriers have served as newsman, friend, and delivery boy. Rural routes to outlying town were established in 1905. John Redd was postmaster. The routes established were to New Hop; Knox Nuckolls, carrier; the other Crainville with Alliganey Fulghum, carrier.
Social organizations were active in this period; The Sketch Club; The Colonial Maids; Hardeman County Medical Society met at Bolivar; Truckers Association was formed 1902 to foster growth and sale of produce; Bolivar Baseball Club; Daughters of the Confederacy, an outgrowth of the Monumental Society in 1906; The Masons; Margaret Brent Suffrage League; Sons of Confederate Veterans in 1902; West End Tennis Club; The Tea Cups; Entre Nous; Book Club; Bridge Club and Shakespearean Club.
Streets were of sand eighteen feet wide and six inches deep and full of mud holes down a favorite place. In 1917 the old plank walkways were being replaced with concrete ones. Streets were graded and improved with fireplugs installed, but funds did not include gravel. Fire was still an enemy in the business area. In 1913 the West Side of the square had four buildings destroyed and two damaged by flames. The fire fighters, which had organized a Volunteer Fire Department in 1907 with N.F. Hizer as chief, were on hand to battle the blaze.
World War I
The newspaper, May 26, 1917, carried a notice: "All males between ages 21-31 white and colored shall register for military service at respective voting places between seven and nine Tuesday, 5 June 1917. Failure to register, imprisonment for not more than on year and forced to register for military service." World War I had arrived and "boys" left for service overseas, coming home as men with memories they could have done without, or never returning except in military boxes. Many carried scars for life for their supreme sacrifice. In November 1918 in the Bolivar Bulletin: "People of Bolivar awakened Monday morning by blowing of whistles, ringing of bells, firing of guns and shouts of the populace. The news had arrived about the signing of the armistice. Business was suspended schools closed and in a body marched with the townspeople around the square waving flags and banners."
Pursuits were resumed establishing the forward march into the 1920’s. The Princess Theater was showing the latest pictures; school activities, special celebrations and the fairs helped the spirits of the citizens. In 1926 Market Street, the road to Whiteville was graveled. A Chamber of Commerce was organized in 1926. Motor buses made three trips a day through the town. A new well at the water plant pumped 100 gallons of water a minute. Roads were paved and a sewer system installed. An ice plant, Beare Ice and Coal, located in 1928 where the old blacksmith shop had stood west of the railroad. Modern brick buildings were erected by George A. and Curtis Vaughan on the north side of the square in 1929. The prosperity was soon to slump.
The depression came with banks closed; money dear and Bolivar slowed down. Teachers were
1940's and World War II
In February 1940 Wilburn Orr, of Old Hickory, purchased Bolivar Drug Store from R.P. Shackelford. Other businesses were: George Ragon Company started in 1910 as Bolivar Mercantile Company, with his father-in-law James M. Davidson; Meeks Auto Center; H.W. Black Insurance and Real Estate; Brown and Brooks, parts and repair; City Dry Cleaners owned by L.C. Clinton. The old established merchants were still at their stands. A new post office building was erected on east Market Street with the first stamp sold to Henry Doyle. John J. Parran was postmaster from 1934 to 1958. In March 1941 the dial system for telephones was installed between Bolivar and Whiteville. War clouds were gathering and once again the young men marched away to the far reaches of the globe. In 1944 the first frozen food locker plant, operated by M.O. Vincent, was established, in his grocery store on Market Street. The Bolivar Development Corporation was organized in 1945 to encourage new industries to locate in Bolivar. On application of Curtis Vaughan, A. Odell Sipes and M.O. Vincent, a charter was granted 26 July 1945. Officers who served were R.P. Shackelford, President; Ewing J. Harris, Secretary; Directors were M.O. VINCENT, Curtis W. Vaughan, and A. Odell Sipes. W.G. Porter, J.M. Cohn, Mahlon Brown, B. Harris Bradley. The corporation had not issued stock when International Shoe Company representatives talked with the directors about locating a plant in Bolivar. The company did locate north of town, employing 307.
By 1949 Bolivar had hard surface streets, many new homes, and construction had begun on a new High School. Other additions were Harlan Thomas Tourist Courts at the intersection of Highways 18 and 64 on the west; the strawberry processing plant was enlarged and by 1950 was processing okra, peppers and onion rings. World War II ended in 1945 and the veterans returned to their homes beginning peacetime occupational pursuits.
The 1950’s were filed with new ventures. Mrs. Fisher Killen on the East Side of the square established Bolivar Florist in August 1950. The Bolivar to Middleton Highway was begun, coming through town down South Main Street. Dr. Douglas L. Brint erected Brint’s Hospital on the corner of Jefferson and Water Streets February 3, 1952 as physician and owner. A new charter was adopted for the town May 8, 1953 voiding the 1901 charter. Natural gas was installed in 1954. Dedication of City Hall and Electric Department, the first municipally owned City Administration Building, occurred July 13, 1954. The City Hall included general offices, courtroom, jail and fire department. The Electric Building included general offices, demonstration electric kitchen, laundry, warehouse and garage.
The public library was the project of the Tuesday Club. The city provided rooms over the Hardeman County Savings Bank on North Main Street and L.A. Shappley donated shelving. The library opened for business May 3, 1954 with Jeanette Russell, librarian. The Regional Library sponsored by the Board of Education had books on loan to the facility. A Library Board governs it as it has county funds for operation.
In 1956 the Chamber of Commerce sponsored the West Tennessee Forest Festival for the first time. Emphasis was on the fact that Hardeman County was the hardwood center of the south. Street markers were placed in 1957, and mail was extended on street delivery. Towers Filling Station was razed on the corner of Market and Washington for a new site for Hardeman County Savings Bank established in 1903. As point of pride, Bolivar had in the 1950’s three major bus lines, a trucking company, Illinois Central Railroad, access highway 18, 64, 125; a population of 2,900, Bolivar Frozen Foods, International Shoe Company Tanner, Little League Ball Park, a lighted Football Stadium, a Volunteer Fire Department, two banks, a hospital with wings added in 1956, two dairies, a playground for town children, Boy Scout Lodge, swimming pool, nine churches - St. James Episcopal, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Cumberland Presbyterian, Church of Christ, Missionary Baptist, Assembly of God and Catholic. Clubs were: Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, Lions, Parents-Teachers Association, Tuesday Club, Crappie Club, Band Boosters, Hatchie Chapter, National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution, Bridge Clubs, Sewing Clubs, and Fraternal Orders. Businesses were still clustered around Court Square and had moved with the highways east and west.
In 1960 the population of Bolivar was 3,338. This decade brought change and expansion. Hardeman Garment Corporation located a factory that employed 400. The banks provided parking for customers. The Church of Christ moved to a new building on West Market Street and sold the former edifice on Main Street to the Bolivar-Hardeman County Library in 1961. First Methodist built classrooms and a new sanctuary. "Freedom of Choice" integration in schools began in 1965. In 1969 plans to annex an area northwest of town increased the population 2,800. The area included Western State Psychiatric Hospital and lands, Whitehurst and Westover Sub-divisions and the Hardeman County Golf and Country Club grounds. International Shoe Company Tannery was changed to Armira. Bolivar Electric Company moved into new offices south of town on Highway 18. Fifty-two units of public housing and subdivision, Lyndell Meadows, Lakeview and Fairgrounds were added.
1974 was a year of tremendous growth. A new hospital, Bolivar Community Hospital with sixty-one beds was built on Nuckolls Road and included the latest equipment and a staff of five doctors and two surgeons. Near the hospital is a 119-bed nursing home operated by the Care-Inn program. The forty-two acre plot will be the health care center of the town. A housing project for the elderly was completed and utilized. A Medical Clinic, Ambulance Service, eight doctors and dentists served the town. A shopping center, completed near the intersection of Highways 64 and 18, offers a variety of consumer goods.
In 1973 ten acres of Oak Forest was listed on the National Registry of Natural Landmarks. It is located on Joseph and Louise McAnulty’s land within the corporate limits. It is the only known parcel of virgin forest in West Tennessee and has white oaks estimated to be 450 years old.
The town today contains eleven fine churches with educational and recreational facilities for the membership.
Communications media include: The Bolivar Bulletin, a weekly newspaper; Radio Stations WBOL and WVST-FM; five television viewing channels; South Central Bell; Western Union Telegraph; and a first class Post Office.
Educational advantages are found in the elementary school, Junior High School, a Child Development Center and three Nursery schools.
City law enforcement has three patrol cars and eighteen employees who are highly efficient.
Electric power, gas, water and sewage are municipally owned with power, gas, water and sewage are municipally owned with power supplied by Tennessee Valley Authority.
Transportation is adequate to and from the town. There is a modern airport three miles west, three bus lines, five truck lines, with Meadors Motors having its terminal in Bolivar. Three highways served the area.
Industry has expanded from agricultural pursuits a lumbering to include Armira, Bolivar Warehousing Corporation, Harmon International-Automotive Division, Koppers, Lucern Products Incorporated and Northrup-King.
Bolivar has zoning ordinances and a building code with a Planning Commission composed of seven members. Awareness for the need of preservation came with the Sesquicentennial Celebration and the bicentennial Celebration. The downtown merchants endorsed a regional Historic Preservation Plan. The plan is to reserve the Victorian flavor of court square the building that flanks it on all sides. A group of five formed the Bolivar Historical and Cultural Commission to work with the Planning Commission to preserve sites of significance. The charter group appointed, Austin A. Baker, Jr. Chairman, James Stevens Vice-Chairman, Alan Sexton, R.P. Shackelford and county historian, Faye Tennyson Davidson. This was in October 1973. A map was designed to include the special districts.
Sixteen districts were recommended by this commission and included the Fentress-Black House, the Presbyterian Manse, the Gardens, the Kahn House, Magnolia Manor, the Durrett House, the Presbyterian Church, Little Courthouse Museum, Levi Joy House, Riverside Cemetery, Union Cemetery, Hazlegrove House, Hudson House, The Columns, The Pillars, St. James Chapel and Church, McNeal Place, The Wren’s Nest, Polk Cemetery, the Cent4al Business District, the Wright House, McAnulty Woods, Emerson-McKinnis House, High Moore House, and Trenches Cemetery near Hatchie River.
The Chamber of Commerce is combined with the County Chamber and has a historic site for offices, the old water plant on West Market Street. It is being renovated to accommodate the work of the organizations.
Recreational facilities are afforded the public, and Chickasaw State Park is within a few minutes driving distance. Fast foods chains have located to serve affluent society. Social Clubs and Fraternal Societies offer opportunities.
People make history and people have made Bolivar a good town separate from the fact that it is also the seat of county government.