McKnight House Visit

The Auburntown Historical Society’s July 21 meeting will be held at Auburntown’s most historically significant home beginning at 7 p.m.
Most anyone who has grown up in Auburntown is familiar with the big, white two-story house that sits directly on Main Street on the banks of Marshall Creek, but few know the immense history of the house.
The McKnight House was built in 1857 by John F. Weedon who owned most of the property that Auburntown sits on today. Mr. Weedon moved to Auburntown from Woodbury where the very prominent Weedon family had settled. They were instrumental in the establishment of the Woodbury Baptist Church. He sold off small tracts of land to others who established businesses and thus was instrumental in the creation of the town as it became. One of the properties became that of the first Auburn School and was located across the street from the present day Church of Christ building. Mr. Weedon and his family lived in the house from 1857-1870. After the War Between the States, many of Auburn’s families relocated to Texas. Among them was the Weedon family.
Dr. Bennett Rucker McKnight and family purchased the property during the 1890s. The McKnight daughters lived in the house until the last one passed away during the 1980s. It was then sold at auction by Guy James, a descendant of the McKnight family. The house has undergone considerable renovations over the years, including the removal of the home’s two-story wrap around porches, extensive structural, plumbing, and electrical upgrades, and continual cosmetic work.
It was the charm and character of a historic house that brought the current owners, Josh and Amanda Davis, to buy the property in September 2010 after driving by and seeing it for sale. Amanda had lived in the house previously and rented it from the previous owners, Travis and Beth Hancock. While living there, she did extensive design work on the house, including repainting all interior rooms with Benjamin Moore Historical Colors, removing dry wall from the ceiling to restore the original wooden paneling, restoring the home’s original fireplace mantels, and modernizing both upstairs bathrooms. Being that Amanda is an interior designer, she knew how to appreciate the craftsmanship and strong character of a historical home and kept true to that character in her designs.
Josh and Amanda said they been amazed at the history contained within the walls and property of the McKnight House. When Amanda is not busy restoring the house, she teaches ZUMBA classes and runs her own interior design firm, Just Design This. Josh is always busy teaching 8th grade science in nearby Wilson County, and together Josh and Amanda own a catering company, Just Imagine That Catering & Events.
Future plans include opening the McKnight House for private rentals to those individuals who wish to hold weddings, parties or family reunions in the house or on the property, including catering by Just Imagine That.
Additional future plans for the McKnight House include an extensive exterior paint job, restoration of the wooden front porch and eventual restoration of the house’s two-story wrap around porches. Josh and Amanda also plan to begin the process of having the home placed on the National Register of Historic Places to preserve a piece of Auburntown history forever. The couple said that they are privileged to own such a prestigious piece of history and are excited as they work to restore their house to its original splendor.

Sgt. York's Legacy

Efforts to save, restore school built by Sgt. York extend across the globe
Assistance from throughout the world is being sought to ensure that the school built by WWI hero Sgt. Alvin C. York is saved from demolition, and the Auburntown Historical Society is doing its part to spread the word.
Claudia Johnson-Nichols, executive director of the non-profit Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, will speak to members and guests of the Auburntown Historical Society Thursday, June 16, at 7 p.m., in the fellowship hall of the Auburntown Church of Christ.
“We are inviting any member of the public who is interested in the story of Sgt. York to join our membership for this special presentation,” said Mary Hughes of the Auburntown Historical Society. “Through screening of a 10-minute video narrated by the late Walter Cronkite, Mrs. Nichols will discuss how Sgt. York’s educational legacy is being preserved. “
Using historic images and vintage film footage, the video focuses on Sgt. York’s life before and after World War I, emphasizing his lifelong commitment to education, which included raising money for a school building used from 1925-1979 to educate the youth of his home area of the Cumberland Plateau.
The building was abandoned when a new school building was built. Although it is listed for its national significance in the National Register of Historic Places, and despite interest over the years in revitalizing it, it fell into disrepair under ownership of the State of Tennessee Department of Education.
The York Agricultural Institute building, which was slated for demolition in 2008 by the state, was the subject of numerous news stories throughout the country and several emotion-filled public hearings on Capitol Hill in Nashville.
After months of struggle, the State of Tennessee agreed to turn over the building to the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation, a 501c3 organization formed 15 years ago by descendants of Sgt. York, including his three surviving children, and many devotees of the reluctant young World War I soldier from Pall Mall, Tenn., whose resolve in battle brought him world-wide recognition.
Instead of personally capitalizing on his military accomplishments, York, one of the most highly decorated American soldiers to serve in the First World War, looked to the future.
“When I went out into that big outside world I realized how uneducated I was and what a terrible handicap it was,” York wrote. “I was called to lead my people toward a sensible modern education.”
Though York’s efforts, which included fundraising on a national scale and twice mortgaging his own home, the school of which he had dreamed opened in 1925.
“His vision was not limited to the education of children from the remote Cumberland plateau region,” Johnson-Nichols pointed out. “He wanted to include interested adults as well. He set a tremendous example, for he reminded them when he spoke, of his own former limitations, but that by reading, thinking and asking questions, he broadened his own understanding of the world.”
Sgt. York presided over every graduation ceremony until his stroke in 1953, but continued to make regular visits to the school up into the late 1950s, until he grew too frail. When the building was replaced with a more modern facility, neglect took a serious toll on the venerable structure.
With the commitment of the Sergeant York Patriotic Foundation and the cooperation of the State’s education department, the building has been stabalized and will be restored for use once again as an educational facility, both preserving York’s legacy and fulfilling his dream. More than $1million has been spent to save the building, but $4-5 million is the goal for returning the structure to an educational facility, as Sgt. York wanted.
Contact Johnson-Nichols at 931-347-2664 to offer support. Visit to learn more about the Foundation and view photos of the progress being made at York Institute.
For additional information about the Auburntown Historical Society, visit

Though Sgt. Alvin C. York’s efforts, which included fundraising on a national scale and twice mortgaging his own home, the school of which he had dreamed, York Agricultural Institute, opened in Jamestown in 1925. York, in the ditch wearing a white shirt in the center of this vintage photograph, was involved in every aspect of the building's construction, including digging its foundation. More than eight decades later the Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation is fighting to save the building from demolition and restore it for adaptive reuse as an educational facility.
Photo courtesy of Sgt. York Patriotic Foundation

Brawley’s Fork by Robert Bush

The monthly meeting of the Auburntown Historical Society was held Thursday night, May 19 in Auburntown. Presenting a program entitled “Early Tennessee History and History of Brawley’s Fork,” Robert Bush delivered an outstanding presentation to those in attendance. 
Several from the Woodbury and Bradyville communities attended this meeting to hear Mr. Bush speak of his research experiences and conclusions as related to the settlement of Bradyville and the Brawley’s Fork area. 
Much of the same circumstances that led to the development of these settlements also affected the settlement of greater Cannon County. Even after the one hour presentation was concluded, attendees of this meeting continued discussion in an open forum with Mr. Bush that continued for another hour with the meeting actually concluding at 9 p.m. 
One member was heard to express that he learned more about Tennessee history in this one hour presentation than he had learned in a lifetime. Such was the sentiment by others fortunate enough to have attended this particular program presented by one of Cannon County’s own historians.
Mr. Bush has become a respected authority on the history of Cannon County and with special interest on the Brawley’s Fork and Bradyville area which he considers his ancestral home. His research has often been presented in the Cannon Courier and has provided those interested in the county history with much insight with regard to its early settlement.
Meetings of the Auburntown Historical Society are open to the public for attendance. “We strive to bring the highest quality programs available to our community for our membership,” said Danny Nichols, current treasurer and co-founder of the society, adding. “We aren’t just talking about history, but we’re actually making it.”
Nichols noted that after 6 years of existence, the Auburntown Historical Society has become a venue sought out by historians in the area who desire to present programs of interest to the public.
“We welcome visitors, we invite membership,” he said.

Local Columnist

An Early History of Tennessee and Cannon County's Brawley's Creek is the subject of a free program to be presented by local historian and writer Robert Bush, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 19, at the regular monthly meeting of the Auburntown Historical Society.
“My interests in the earliest history of Cannon County began as a small boy walking the hills and valleys of the upper Brawley Creek, while listening to the many tall tales as told by the oldtimers in the area,” said Bush, who is a well-known contributor to the Cannon Courier.
Bush said that after graduating from Woodbury High School his interests increased as he explored the old Sagely cabin in the old Dug Hollow on numerous occasions.
“I was mystified by the notion that it could have been built as early as 1784,” Bush said. “The rich archaeological history of the upper Brawley Creek suggested Native Americans had been in the area for untold centuries before the Europeans arrived.”
As a student at MTSU in the early 1970s Bush began studying the microfilm housed the college library.
“There was no internet in those days,” Bush recalled, adding, “Between classes I studied the Census records and the earliest settlers that may have lived along the upper Brawley Creek.”
This led Bush, in later years, to numerous trips to the Tennessee State Library and Archives in Nashville, where he explored the extensive land grant system of early Tennessee. Of particular interest was how the grant system impacted the early settlement of the upper Brawley Creek, especially the area described as Hopewell, just south of the town of Bradyville.
"In those days research into the land grant system was a slow process, since every file had to be requested and then pulled by a staff member, and in turn, looked up on a hand cranked microfilm machine,” Bush observed. “Today, the process is much quicker, and information can be extracted more readily.”
Mary Hughes, president of the Auburntown Historical Society, said that everyone is invited to the lecture, which begins at 7 p.m. at Auburntown Church of Christ Fellowship Hall and is free and open to all. For more information about the Auburntown Historical Society, visit

Dr. Calvin Dickinson

Dr. Calvin Dickinson's presentation to the AHS brought some events of the Civil War in Tennessee to life for a group of more than 30 on March 17.
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Soldiers, Spies & Spartans

A new book, Soldiers, Spies and Spartans, that highlights the role of several children, youth and women in the Civil War is the topic for the March 17 meeting of the Auburntown Historical Society.

"Our February program about the World War II maneuvers in Tennessee drew more than 60 members and visitors," said Mary Hughes, president of the Auburntown Historical Society. "We are inviting everyone to join us as the author discusses ...this often overlooked aspect of the Civil War in Tennessee."

Published in January by The Overmountain Press in Johnson City, the book was co-authored by Dr. Calvin Dickinson, a retired professor from the Tennessee Tech University history department and the author of more than 20 books, and Cookeville writer Jennie Ivey.

“The last Southern state to secede from the Union, Tennessee contributed 120,000 soldiers to the Confederate cause and 31,000 to the Union, more Union soldiers than all other confederate states combined,” Dickinson explained, adding that the book does not seek to tell the story of the entire war, just the stories of a few “surprisingly young participants.”

The authors traveled across Tennessee to learn more about their stories and visit the places associated with them, completing more than a year of research.

“Some wore blue uniforms, while others wore gray,” Dickinson observed. “Several were civilians, and others were slaves-turned-soldiers. Many were heroes, but all were victims.”

Among the stories included are those of Union Private Elisha Stockwell at the Battle of Shiloh, Confederate Spy Ginny Moon, Chickamauga drummer boy Johnny Clem, the McGavock and Carter children, who experienced the bloody Battle of Franklin, boy hero of the Confederacy Sam Davis, hanged as a spy in Pulaski, and young slave Hanson Caruthers, who witnessed the Battle of Nashville.

“Not all Civil War cavalry soldiers rode horses with two feet in the stirrups,” Ivey pointed out. “In Rhea County more than two dozen young women between age 15 and 21 galloped through the countryside delivering medical supplies to confederate troops, earning them the nickname ‘Rhea County Spartans.’”

The 87-page book is illustrated with original and archival photos and contains suggestions for further reading as well as explanatory sidebars for enhanced understanding of the time period and customs, giving context to the tales told.

“We wanted to make the book very readable for anyone from middle school students to senior citizens,” Dickinson said. “We also wanted it to be affordable so that these stories can be enjoyed by everyone.”

The book is $10 and will be available for purchase for a book signing after the AHS meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 17 at the Fellowship Hall of Auburntown Church of Christ.

For more information about AHS visit For more on Dickinson's books, visit

In the Presence of Soldiers

For a slideshow of the night's activities, click link below.

In the Presence of Soldiers, a new book by Tennessean Woody McMillin was discussed by the author at the Auburntown Historical Society on Feb. 17, followed by a book signing. More than 60 people from Cannon and surrounding counties attended.

Auburntown and Cannon County’s role in Tennessee’s World War II Maneuvers was the subject of a free program presented by author Woody McMillin, at 7 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 17, at the monthly meeting of the Auburntown Historical Society.
From 1941 to 1944 the U.S. Army conducted seven large-scale maneuvers across most of Middle Tennessee, involving more than 800,000 soldiers in series of simulated combat operations. McMillin’s new book, In the Presence of Soldiers, is an unprecedented account of the massive 2nd Army of Tennessee Maneuvers in which 25 airborne, infantry and armored divisions practiced and refined their deadly skills in the backyards of civilians.
“Many local residents remember this time period, and they are especially encouraged to attend the lecture,” said Mary Hughes, president of the Auburntown Historical Society. “Woody McMillin spent two years researching and interviewing, collecting hundreds of stories from these who lived through this challenging time in our history.”
McMillin noted that two soldiers were killed in July of 1943 in a tank accident near Auburntown, during the fouth of seven maneuvers. One was Jerres D. Morrison of Clarksville and the other was Eugene F. Novotny of Cleveland, Ohio, and they were most probably from the 10th Armored Division, according to McMillin.
The book offers explanations of every operation with information about where and when the action occurred, divisions and units involved, mission objectives, tactical issues air support and results. It also describes what happened to divisions after they left Tennessee. Much of this information was gleaned from now-declassified National Archives documents.
“The personal recollections of soldiers, war workers and civilians interwoven throughout the narrative helps to recreate the emotions of the time,” Hughes said, adding that McMillin’s broad telling of the story of the Tennessee Maneuvers helps to preserve and record the actions of everyday men women and children as well.
The 498-page book contains 28 pages of photos, most from the National Archives and unpublished until now.
“While I don’t pretend to be a scholar, I’m hopeful that this book preserves an important element of the WWII years and a good read for those who appreciate history,” said McMillin, who autographed books after the meeting.
For more information about the book, email