Courthouse Controversy

The Courthouse Controversy

On October 5th, 1896 William Jennings Bryan, who was campaigning to become President of the United States, made a visit to downtown Dickson. When Bryan got to town there were over 5,000 people eagerly awaiting his arrival. He reportedly visited Main Street and made a speech to the large crowd. This was only about a month before the presidential election of 1896, and just a few months after Bryan had delivered his famous “Cross of Gold” speech which had thrust him into the national spotlight.

While Bryan would go on to lose the election, he was very popular with the locals, receiving 69% of the vote in Dickson County. Bryan would run for President a total of 3 times but never make it to the White House.

In years passed, Charlotte, not Dickson would have been the place a candidate of that caliber would have visited to campaign, but Dickson had certain advantages because of its location on the railroad. Because of those advantages, it was around this time that people started talking about moving the county seat of government from Charlotte to Dickson. There had been talk amongst the Dickson folks for years, but the rest of the county had always resisted the change.

While Dickson had all of the growth, Charlotte had all of the history. Charlotte had been formed way back in 1804 to serve as the county seat. Charlotte’s location was picked in part due to its location near the center of the county. It had been the county seat for almost 100 years up until that point. The courthouse in Charlotte, which still stands today, is the oldest operating courthouse in Tennessee. It was built over 200 years ago. The Tennessee Supreme Court met in Charlotte briefly, and at one time the town had even been considered as the site for the permanent Tennessee State Capital before Nashville was chosen.

Charlotte had once been a growing town that showed a lot of promise, but it had been in decline since the Civil War. In the late 1800’s, when railroads began connecting small towns all across Tennessee, the people of Charlotte decided not to pursue one. Without a railroad, Charlotte experienced little growth while Dickson was booming.

The people of Dickson began pushing for a vote to move the county seat. Several prominent men in town had already secured the money and offered to donate a new courthouse and jail if the county seat was moved.

Finally, on September 1, 1898 people went to the polls. Dickson needed a ⅔ majority to get the county seat moved. The final vote was 1,495 in favor of the move to Dickson and 714 against. Dickson claimed they had won the vote, and it appeared as if they did, but the people of Charlotte cried foul. They claimed that the election board had not followed the proper procedures and it seemed as if everyone was confused.

On September 2nd, one day after the election a Nashville newspaper claimed that Dickson had won the county seat by “a small majority.” But, the next day on September 3rd, the same paper ran the headline, “Proposition defeated, the county seat of Dickson County will remain in Charlotte.”

The people of Dickson were furious. They felt like they had won and even threatened to come to Charlotte to take the county records back to Dickson by force if the matter was not resolved. But the people of Charlotte were not losing any sleep over the matter and they were quite confident that when the question was tested in the courts there would only be one result, the courthouse would remain in Charlotte.

It’s unclear exactly what happened, or if foul play was actually involved, but there were reports that the election commissioners were investigated and in the end the move to Dickson never allowed.

However, there was a compromise. A deal was made in the Tennessee General Assembly for the county to have two courthouses. Charlotte would serve the north side of the county while Dickson would serve the south side of the county with Jones Creek serving as the unofficial dividing line.

The people of Dickson went forward with their plans to build a courthouse. It was built in Dickson, south of the railroad tracks on the current site of the War Memorial building. It was almost finished at the end of the year, and was fully functional by the beginning of 1899.

The people of Charlotte had kept their ancient and historic courthouse, while the people of Dickson had also won a great victory. Now that Dickson had all of this momentum going their way it seemed as if 1899 was the perfect time to file for a new charter and reincorporate the town.