Curtis Coulter: How Did Sale Creek And Coulterville Get Their Names?

  • Tuesday, September 5, 2023
  • Curtis Coulter

Sale Creek originally got its name from the April 29, 1779, auction that Colonel Evan Shelby held in the area now known as the Regatta Point subdivision on Lee Pike. Because of that auction of captured British goods from his militia’s battle with the Chickamauga Indians near current-day Brainerd, the creek as well as the nearby town became known as the Sale Creek because there was a sale on the creek.

At that time there were many Cherokee villages in the area (at least five in proximity to the auction site), and the Cherokees undoubtedly were some of the recipients and buyers of the British goods that were sold at that auction since settlers were not allowed in the future Hamilton County for another forty years. A later Cherokee settlement nearby in the late 1790s and early 1800s prior to the establishment of Hamilton County on October 25, 1819, was known as Fields Settlement, named after one-eighth Cherokee chief Richard John Fields, Jr. That settlement was near the upper end of Lee Pike between the current Brown’s Bridge and the Tennessee River.

When the first post office was established in 1846 with Thomas Coulter as postmaster, the town’s office was incorrectly spelled Sail Creek instead of Sale Creek. That was corrected in 1858.

In 1880 when the Cincinnati Southern Railroad connected to Chattanooga, the railroad often named the depots lining the valley in honor of the families that ceded property to them for the construction of those stations. (Information supplied by David H. (Red) Gray.) In the case of the Coulterville station, it was named for either John Jerome Coulter (who sold the property to CSRR for depot purposes for $1.00) or his brother Thomas Jefferson Coulter who was a prominent citizen in the area and who was a former leader of the Hamilton County Militia prior to the Civil War.

For some unknown reason, the naming of the depot at Sale Creek did not follow that convention, and the railroad planned to call the depot Rock Creek because it was so close to that waterway. Of course, Rock Creek is aptly named because it is quite simply just that – millions of rocks forming a creek channel. That action raised such a howl and community stink that the railroad company relented and named it Sale Creek to fit the rest of the town.

Now here is where things get confusing. The whole area of what is now Sale Creek and the area that became known as Coulterville was originally called Sale Creek. Actually, the most prominent part at that time was where Coulterville was later defined. The Sale Creek Masonic Lodge #280 F&AM met in the upper room of the Sale Creek Cumberland Presbyterian Church (established in 1823 and the first building erected 1852). Also, in 1869 when the state legislature authorized the Sale Creek Masonic Male and Female Institute (an attempt at a four-year college), it also met in the upstairs room of the church.

Likewise, in 1872 the legislature authorized the Sale Creek Academy which met in that area as well. All those entities were located in the area of the hill adjacent to Swafford Road. In addition, there was the depot, watering station, switch yard, section house, and section tool shed with hand car in close proximity; plus, the 292-acre (at that time) McDonald Farm joined all of those properties as well. (Note: After land acquisitions in the 20th century by Frank and Roy McDonald, the McDonald Farm eventually grew in size to nearly 2,200 acres.)

Because of the depot being called Coulterville, the area around it came to be called Coulterville as well. To further complicate things, the United States Post Office Department established a post office there from June 3, 1879 – May 31, 1918. John R. Hickman was the first postmaster. The post office was housed in his store across Coulterville Road from the railroad depot, very similar to Ike Godsey’s store and post office on the Waltons television show.

To provide more complication, the actual Sale Creek Post Office was then located inside the bounds of the Coulterville office, so they had to move it farther south to an area across current-day Dayton Pike from the south end of Coulterville Road. A few years later it was moved again to a one-room building on the southwest side of the Leggett Road railroad crossing. In 1925 Ed Downey built a two-room building next to it, and the post office used the front room while the Ell-Dee Orchard Company used the back room as their office until they went out of business. The older one-room building was moved by horse and mule teams to a house on Wall Street and made into an addition.

More confusion.

Many of the old timers still could not get the division of the two parts of the community straightened out in their heads, so some residents still referred to current-day Sale Creek as Rock Creek, and that reference appeared on many records. The Presbyterian Church at Sale Creek was referred to in several documents as being “the Presbyterian Church at Rock Creek.” Katherine Patterson Troxler Sanders told this author on more than one occasion that her grandfather Jacob Alfred Newton Patterson (one of the most intelligent and educated men in Sale Creek at the time) often referred to Sale Creek as Rock Creek.

Another wrinkle occurred in 1878 when Hamilton County bought a 10-acre tract along Patterson Road for the purpose of building a two-story, frame schoolhouse. The building was finished in 1880, and the first term opened that fall. The name of the school – The Rock Creek Academy. That school continued in operation until the high school opened in January 1908.

Most of the confusion was resolved when the Coulterville post office closed in 1918 and mail delivery moved to the Sale Creek office. At that time the whole area from the Rhea County line to a point south of Ragan Hill and from the Tennessee River to the Bledsoe County line became known in its entirety as Sale Creek.

The fact remains that some people in the Coulterville area still say they are from Coulterville or from Coulterville in Sale Creek. It is the same as people saying they are from the other little areas of the community like New Providence, Lake Drive, Hodge Town, Pitty Pat Hollow, Slab Town, ‘Possum Trot (Oakdale), “the mountain,” or Pyatt.

Ah, yes, Pyatt. Another wrench in the gears! At the turn of the 20th Century, there were some Pyatt family members and other families living in an area near the old Doughty Ferry which was called the Coppinger Ferry by that time. That ferry was located at the end of Daugherty Ferry Road. Doughty somehow became Daugherty over the years.

In 1900 the United States Post Office Department (it was not U.S. Postal Service until July 1, 1971) established a U.S. Post Office in that area, and it became known as Pyatt, Tennessee. The postmaster of that short-lived town was Phillip Fox who served the entire five years from 1900-1905. When Grover C. Jones worked as a clerk in the Sale Creek Post Office with Luther G. Coulter, postmaster, he often mentioned Pyatt, and one day when Luther was going through some old records, he found a cash receipt signed by Phillip Fox with Pyatt, Tenn listed as the post office. Pyatt was located in the vicinity of Crestview Drive in Sale Creek.

Other distinctions to the town of Sale Creek – it is the oldest community in Hamilton County and the first English-named community as well. It also has the distinctions of being (1) the site of the establishment of Hamilton County in 1819 (either in the home of Robert Patterson or Charles Gamble), (2) the first citizen (Robert Patterson), the first sheriff (Charles Gamble), (3) the first superintendent of Hamilton County Schools (William Beene - 1875), (4) first Masonic school in Hamilton County (Sale Creek Masonic Academy – 1850-1871), (5) first public school for settlers (Robert Patterson – 1819), (6) first mission school to Cherokee Indians (Gideon Blackburn – 1805-1810), (7) first right-of-way sold to Cincinnati Southern Railroad – 1875 by Thomas, Rebecca, and John Jerome Coulter, and (8) first coal mine (Robert Jacks – 1843).

In addition, Sale Creek High School is the oldest high school that still resides on its original campus. Sale Creek was the sixth Hamilton County high school to open but is the only one that still occupies its original campus from 1878.

Source: A Sentimental Journey Down Country Roads by Curtis N. Coulter (1990) and An Expedition to the Past – A History of Sale Creek and Coulterville, Tennessee by Curtis N. Coulter (2021). (Available on coulterpublications.com website.)

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