Henry County History

The land between the Tennessee and Mississippi Rivers was purchased from the Chickasaw Indians in 1818. The Jackson Purchase–named for Andrew Jackson–was divided between Tennessee and Kentucky. Tennessee’s portion became known as West Tennessee.

Settlers soon swarmed in and the Tennessee General Assembly created the County of Henry on November 7, 1821. The county was named in honor of Revolutionary War patriot and statesman, Patrick Henry. Henry County became the gateway for the settlement of West Tennessee and beyond.

The town of Paris was established as the county seat on September 23, 1823, and became West Tennessee’s oldest incorporated municipality. The town was named for the French capital in honor of Lafayette, who visited Tennessee in the early 1800s.

A two-room “dogtrot” cabin of small poplar logs was erected in 1823 to serve as the county’s first courthouse. Court was held in the north room while pies and liquor were sold in the south room.

During the War Between the States, the courthouse lawn was the setting for the organization of military units including the Fifth Tennessee Infantry Regiment led by Lieutenant-Colonel J.D.C. Atkins.

Henry County sent more than 2,500 volunteers to the Confederacy and was given the title “Volunteer County of the Volunteer State” for providing more volunteer soldiers per capita than any other county in Tennessee.

The Civil War came to the county after Gen. Ulysses S. Grant ordered a Union force into Paris. On March 11, 1862, four companies and a battery of artillery consisting of 500 men attacked the Confederate encampment which numbered 400 soldiers.

After this “duel between artillery and Enfield rifles” had gone on for 35 minutes, the Federals retreated back toward Paris Landing. The Battle of Paris ended with 20 Confederates killed or wounded and left the Federals with four killed, five wounded and one captured.

On March 21, 1864, Governor Isham G. Harris was involved in a skirmish near Mansfield where two Confederates were wounded. The Union soldiers retreated with two killed, including their major in command, and several wounded.

Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest began his Johnsonville Campaign at Paris Landing on October 29, 1864. He captured four Union gunboats, 14 transports, 20 barges, 26 pieces of artillery, $6,700,000 worth of property and 150 prisoners on the Tennessee River.

Another war also had a significant impact on Henry County. Camp Tyson, named for Brig. Gen. Lawrence D. Tyson, was built near the Routon community in 1941. The camp was the only barrage balloon training center in the U.S. Army during World War II. Thousands of American servicemen were trained for the Barrage Balloon Service of the Coast Artillery Corps. In addition, Camp Tyson held German prisoners of war.

Henry County’s first tourist attraction, Sulphur Well, was created by accident in 1821 when an artesian well of sulphur water was struck in an attempt to locate a large salt bed on a Chickasaw reservation.

Eventually a summer resort was erected at the site to accommodate the large numbers of people who came to drink the water which was thought to have health benefits. Many sought refuge at Sulphur Well during the 1837 yellow fever epidemic.

In 1944, Sulphur Well was covered by TVA’s Kentucky Lake, the largest man-made lake in the United States and the second largest in the world.

Paris Landing State Park was created in 1945 and the lake soon became a popular recreation destination. Paris became known as the “Capital City of Kentucky Lake” and tourism took on an important role in the area’s economy.

The “World’s Biggest Fish Fry” emerged as one of Tennessee’s premier annual festivals which draws tens of thousands of visitors into Paris and Henry County during the last full week of April.

Historial Figures

Isham Green Harris, born in Franklin County in 1818, moved to Paris as a young boy and was a member of both state houses before he was elected governor in 1859.

Harris became Tennessee’s only Confederate governor and served as brigadier general aide-de-camp to Albert Sidney Johnston, Braxton Bragg and Joseph E. Johnston. He served 20 years in the U.S. Senate and was president pro tempore of the Senate until his death in 1897.

James Davis Porter, born in Paris in 1828, was elected to the state legislature in 1859. Porter helped organize the Army of Tennessee and was Gen. B.F. Cheatham’s chief of staff. He was elected governor for two terms beginning in 1874.

Porter later served as Assistant Secretary of State, Minister to Chile, president of the N.C. & St. L. Railway, president of the University of Nashville and chancellor of Peabody College. In 1912, Porter died at his Dunlap Street home in Paris.

Thomas Clarke Rye, born in Camden in 1863, moved to Paris in 1902. He was governor during World War I, serving from 1915-19. Rye became a Chancery Court judge in 1919 and served 20 years. He died at his North Poplar Street home in Paris in 1953.

Other political figures from Henry County include former governor and state legislator, Ned R. McWherter, who built a home near the bridge over Kentucky Lake which bears his name.

Gen. John Dewitt Clinton Atkins, the only man to return to the U.S. Congress after serving in the Confederate Congress, chaired the House Committee on Appropriations and later became Commissioner of Indian Affairs.

John Wesley Crockett, the eldest son of the legendary David Crockett, took his father’s old Congressional seat in 1837.

Henry Countians who have had an impact on education include Dudley M. Clements who began the nation’s first vocational agriculture program following the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act.

Edwin Wiley Grove, who headed the Paris Medicine Company and Grove Laboratories which produced “Grove’s Tasteless Chill Tonic,” was the namesake of E.W. Grove Henry County High School, Tennessee’s first privately endowed public high school.

University presidents from the county include Dr. C.C. “Sonny” Humphreys’ Memphis State University; Dr. Thomas D. Jarrett, Atlanta University; Dr. Mordecai Johnson, Howard University; and Dr. Joe Morgan, Austin Peay State University.

Well known musicians from Henry County include Bobby Jones, award-winning gospel performer;Keith Lancaster, founder of the Acapella Music Group; Harry Neal, member of the duo-piano team of Nelson & Neal; and Jackie de Shannon, pop music singer.

Those in the country music field include performers Rattlesnake Annie, Ricky Revel and Hank Williams, Jr., as well as writer and manager Merle Kilgore.

Other entertainers include Buster Jones, host of the television program, Soul Unlimited; Cherry Jones, Tony Award-winning actress; and Ula Love, Hollywood starlet and member of the Ziegfield Follies.

Other prominent Henry Countians include Vernon Jarrett, newspaper columnist and social commentator; Virginia Weldon Kelly, syndicated columnist; Ethel McFadden, crowned the first Miss Tennessee; and Christine Reynolds, the state’s first female cabinet member.

Local artist “Miss Pearl” Routon was one of those responsible for the Iris chosen as Tennessee’s official cultivated flower. Dr. Henrietta Veltman delivered over 4,000 babies during her 50 year of practice.

Vernon McGarity received the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of the Bulge during World War II.

Drive Civil War Tour