The Historic John J. Coulter House At Sale Creek

Thursday, October 8, 2020 - by Curtis Coulter

I read with interest John Shearer’s account of his visit to McDonald Farm on Monday. He is correct in his assessment of the farm. Everyone who has pleasant memories of the farm and the McDonald family are saddened that the beautiful landscape will be changed forever when it becomes an industrial park.


Mr. Shearer displayed some pictures of his visit, and I would like to comment on one of them.

The large, two-story house that he displayed was known as the John J. Coulter house which was built in 1852 at the same time that James McDonald deeded five acres of property to the Sale Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church congregation. That five acres was the site on which that church constructed their building the same year. That church was located across Coulterville Road and about one hundred yards north of Coulter’s house. John Coulter was a fellow elder in that church with James McDonald’s son, Ben.


That house stayed in John J. Coulter’s family until his death on December 22, 1909. The house stayed in the Coulter family when John’s nephew, William Luther Coulter (my grandfather), moved into the house and lived there until he was killed in a depot accident on February 19, 1921. In 1928, the house passed into the Swafford family’s possession and in whose possession it remains today. Hoyt Hartman and Linda Swafford Hartman are the current owners.


The corner where the house stands was known as Coulter’s Corner during the late 1800s. The property bordered John R. Hickman’s store property on the opposite side of Swafford Road at the intersection with Coulterville Road. Hickman was chosen as the first postmaster of Coulterville in 1879, and the post office was located inside his store. That building housed the Coulterville Post Office until it was discontinued on May 31, 1918.


The corner on which the house sits was bordered by several other establishments. The Cincinnati Southern Railroad built a train station on the opposite side of Coulterville Road from the Coulter house. That station was unique to the area because it was also a watering station for the steam locomotives in use. A large water tank sat on the property as well as a hewn rock-lined well and a pump house that pumped water from the well up to the top of the water tank.


Classic water tower pictures show the spout extending from the water tank and connecting to the tender of the train. This was not the case with the Coulterville depot. The water was pumped from the well up to the water tank. From there the water flowed in large cast iron pipes down the length of the tower, went underground, and traversed under the railroad to the east side of the tracks. It then came up above ground to a swiveling spout that swung into place for the locomotives.


The water tank, well, and pump house were all constructed in 1887. The actual train station was constructed in 1880 when the Cincinnati Southern Railroad completed laying all the track of the 337-mile railway. That project took place in three phases – Cincinnati to Danville, Kentucky, Danville to Oakdale, Tennessee, and Oakdale to Chattanooga.



In addition to the watering facilities, the railroad operated a section gang out of the depot complex. The railroad constructed a two-story section house on the east side of the tracks and built a storage shed astraddle a spur line. That shed stored the handcar and tools of the section gang. The section for the Coulterville group stretched from mile 302-308 which began near the Coulterville Baptist Church and ran northward almost to Dayton.


Adjoining the depot property was the five-acre tract belonging to the Sale Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church whose land was deeded to them by James McDonald. In 1877, the railroad purchased the property from the church, and its right of way split the church’s property exactly in half which caused them to have to vacate the building and look for other facilities.


In 1868, the Tennessee legislature passed an act establishing the Sale Creek Masonic Male and Female Institute at the top of the first hill past the John Coulter house. The Masons built a 40 x 50-foot two-story building on that hill in 1872. The Masonic Lodge #280 F&AM used the top floor as a lodge hall, and the Institute used the bottom floor. That school was intended to become a four-year college administered by the Masons. The five acres obtained from James McDonald contained a proviso in the deed that if the college failed within five years that the property would revert to the ownership of James McDonald. The college experiment did, in fact, fail to materialize out of lack of interest. McDonald died in 1877, and the half interest in the land and building was then sold to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church for $700 in 1878. The church had a building again.


All of the McDonald, Hetzler, Coulter, Martin, and Hutcheson families attended that church throughout the remainder of the 1800s. By 1906 when Ben McDonald died, the church was in decline. John Coulter, another elder in that church, died three years later. By then, the membership was in flight to other churches in Graysville as well as to the Sale Creek Presbyterian Church (USA). In April of 1912, the church dissolved and sent membership letters to the members’ choice of churches. Later that year, a tornado struck the building and completely destroyed it. A nearby neighbor, James Capps, saw the tornado hit the building and observed the debris cloud moving in the direction of Black Oak Ridge several miles away. Some pieces of the church were eventually discovered on top of that high ridge. The only remains of that church are the foundation stones in a pine thicket at the top of that hill, and the church session book that the McDonald family donated to the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Bicentennial Library.


The community of Coulterville gets its name from one or the other of two brothers – John Coulter or Thomas Jefferson Coulter. Most sources ascribe the naming of the town to Thomas Jefferson Coulter who was an influential resident prior to the Civil War. He commanded the Hamilton County militia and was active in civic and political affairs. His son (and noted local undertaker), R. J. Coulter, stated on numerous occasions that Coulterville got its name as an honor to his father for his service to the community and county. Roy McDonald and David H. (Red) Gray also attributed the naming of the community to him. Red Gray was a noted and highly knowledgeable local historian for Soddy, Bakewell, Sale Creek, Coulterville, and Graysville.


One of John Coulter’s descendants contacted me in 1990 and said that the railroad named the depot and community after her grandfather because he was the one who deeded property to the railroad for the railroad station. At the time of the construction of the railroad, it was their practice in many instances to name a depot after the family who sold property for that purpose.


In 1998, I searched the Register of Deeds Office at Hamilton County Courthouse and found the deed that ceded property from John Jerome Coulter and his wife Arabella to the Cincinnati Southern Railroad with the phrase “for depot purposes” plainly stated in the transaction. John Coulter conveyed that piece of property to the railroad on January 28, 1877, for 2.24 acres of land and a token price of one dollar. The deed appeared on pages 349 and 350 of that deed book. I make no judgment as for whom the community was named.


John Jerome Coulter and his father, Thomas J. Coulter, Sr., were the first people to sell right of way to the railroad in Hamilton County. That sale took place on May 8, 1875 and involved 3.91 acres of land for $350.


James McDonald’s daughter, Harriet Watts McDonald, married Charles Newton Hutcheson, who gave the property for the cemetery at Coulterville. Originally called the Hutcheson Cemetery, it is now known as the McDonald Cemetery since it is on the McDonald Farm property. People usually referred to Hutcheson as Newt rather than Charles. That cemetery lies in a stand of pear trees on the east side of the railroad at the upper Coulterville crossing.


McDonald Farm and all the area surrounding it in the Coulterville community of Sale Creek provide a rich and treasured history of that end of the county. One would never know from driving down Coulterville Road just how much activity took place there in the past. The farm and John Coulter’s house are gentle reminders of some of those past activities.


(Curtis Coulter is preparing a detailed history of Sale Creek)



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