Local historian and author praises Trenton

By Crystal Burns

Madison County Historian and author Harbert Alexander holds Trenton in high regards.

In his latest book, “Echoes and Footprints,” Alexander said that some towns have history while others do not. Worse are those towns that do have history but don’t know it. Of Trenton, Alexander wrote, “Trenton, Tennessee has historical events and people, and it knows it.”

Alexander held a book talk and signing in the Teapot Museum last week as part of a Day of History organized by the Fred Culp Historical Museum.

“It’s a little intimidating to be in Trenton talking about history,” Alexander said. “I was so lucky to have known Mr. [Fred] Culp. He was a wonderful resource. I miss him as we all do.”

The late Culp co-authored “Gibson County Past and Present” and served as county historian for decades. His years of collecting local historical artifacts led to the museum bearing his name. The current exhibit, “The Lightning War Came to Trenton,” was curated by retired Gibson Co. High School teacher Mike Ramsey and compliments Alexander’s latest book, “Echoes and Footprints.”

Alexander said his title comes from knowing that history is all around us if we’re willing to listen to the echoes and look for the footprints. He encouraged his guests to think about what happened in Trenton during the Civil War as famed General Nathan Bedford Forrest made one of two raids into West Tennessee. Alexander said Forrest’s time in Trenton was a high moment for him.

“He had the good fortune to capture an amazing amount of ammunition,” Alexander said.

His book also includes information about Davy Crockett, celebrated each year in Rutherford with the Davy Crockett Days festival and parade. Alexander said he is distantly related to Tennessee’s favorite son.

“You can’t talk about history without Davy Crockett,” Alexander said. “He was everywhere.”

In 1836, Crockett was in Washington, D.C. during what was an exciting time for him. The former-Whig-turned-Republican Party was promoting Crockett as a possible presidential candidate.

“With Crockett’s personality and all, he might’ve put Mr. Trump to shame,” Alexander joked.

Crockett’s chance of a national political career was dashed when he lost his Tennessee seat by 252 votes.

Alexander briefly described some of Trenton’s more notable residents including Pulitzer Prize-winning author Peter Taylor, Julius Freed and his son Dr. Frederick Freed and Wallace Wade. Alexander knew the Freeds personally.

“I have really wonderful, sweet memories of the Freeds,” he said.

The football stadium at Duke University bears the name of Wallace Wade, an outstanding college football coach who won three national championships at the University of Alabama. Wade played football under Tuck Faucett at Peabody High School.

“I get tired of people talking about Nick Saban and Bear Bryant,” Alexander said. “Most people don’t know who Wallace Wade was. He really had an incredible career.”

“Echoes and Footprints” also includes stories from Skullbone, Fruitvale and Humboldt. Alexander called Skullbone “an amazing little town,” that got its name from the bare knuckles fighting that made it famous. Alexander said that one man would allow himself to be knocked out so he could get a free drink of whiskey. He also said that the community’s baseball team didn’t use gloves.

Fruitvale was a mecca of growing fruits, vegetables and seedlings to ship north.

“So many West Tennessee towns that made their living growing fruits and vegetables no longer exist,” Alexander said.

Like Trenton, Humboldt was home to a famous author. Jesse Hill Ford tackled racially sensitive issues in his fiction such as his novel “The Liberation of Lord Byron Jones,” which was also made into a movie. In 1971, Ford shot a black soldier in his driveway because he thought the man was a threat to his son. A Gibson Co. Grand Jury indicted him on a first-degree murder charge. He was released on a $20,000 bond at the preliminary hearing.

“I like to take West Tennessee people and find good in them,” Alexander said. “There was good in [Jesse Hill Ford]. He was a brilliant writer.”

To end his presentation, Alexander ran down a list of notable people and events from Royal Street in Jackson, including the first place Jefferson Davis spoke when he was released from federal prison in 1870, the Catholic cemetery where Casey Jones is buried and the home of the founder of the City of Jackson. A train station is also located on Royal St., and Alexander said he believes that Thomas Alva Edison visited the station when he was a little boy and even lived in Jackson for about three weeks.

“History is funny,” Alexander said. “Sometimes you find it in peculiar places.”

For example, a story his Sunday school teacher told him about Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken Fame led Alexander to research that revealed Sanders worked two years for the railroad in Jackson.

Alexander’s books are available for purchase online at amazon.com, Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble.

The Fred Culp Historical Museum is located inside Trenton City Hall. There is no admission charge. Museum hours are Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. or by appointment. Call 731-855-2013 for more information.

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