McKenzie and Christmasville were known as "The Barrens". The
land was covered with a barren grass which grew so tall that a rider on a horse
could only be seen from the shoulders up.
The Chickasaw Indians had hunted this area until very little small game was left. Wolves were numerous and a bounty was put on their head. They destroyed the farm animals the settlers brought with them. Wild turkey and deer were plentiful and bear hunting was considered the finest and most exciting sport.
The westward march began about 1817 when the people of North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Kentucky and Middle and East Tennessee were drawn as if there was a magnet to the New West. A Knoxville paper in 1825 mentioned that four or five thousand carts, wagons and carriages passed through annually heading west, some getting land grants for services in the Revolution and War of 1812. Flatboats were the cheapest way to travel as they poled their way up the smaller slow running rivers.
Among the first settlers were Stephen Pate who owned several hundred acres in West McKenzie, John M. Gilbert in the northern part, Colonel John D. McKenzie and R.S. Cole in the central part, Garland Snead the southern part and the Harris and Collier the east part. The Sneads and Gilberts were rivals and two trading posts were established. Garland Snead claimed the honor of locating the town of Dundas which held its name for five years.
In 1853, the Memphis and Ohio Railroad was organized and the first train came through from Memphis to Paris May 4, 1860. Meanwhile, the Nashville and Northwestern Railroad Company was building a road to connect West Tennessee with Nashville. Work on this road was suspended because of a lack of funds. Monroe McKenzie built the McKenzie Hotel near the railroad.
The growth of McKenzie came to a standstill during the Civil War. Schools closed, looting was common, travel was dangerous and few men were left to cultivate the land for four years. What was cultivated was either sent to the Confederate Army or stolen by the Union Army. Northern raiders stole food, cattle, horses and leather goods, burned houses, barns and fences. Older men were forced to tell where their gold was hidden or they were hanged, some until dead.
Work on the railroad was renewed after the war, and the tracks completed in 1867. This made McKenzie a crossroads. George McKenzie became the first station agent for the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Railroad.
Caledonia College moved to McKenzie. The name was later changed to McTyeire Institute. The Masons of Caledonia brought their lodge to McKenzie and built the Masonic Hall on land given by J.M. McKenzie. The lower floor was used for school and church.
McKenzie was incorporated Jan. 22, 1869, Captain W.H. Hawkins, brother of Governor Alvin Hawkins, was first mayor.
Bethel College was moved from McLemorsville in 1872.
McKenzie Hotel was destroyed by fire and rebuilt in 1872. It was a three story brick structure located in the junction of the two railroads. The Peabody of Memphis and the Maxwell of Nashville were the only two in the state that were larger. It was destroyed by fire again August 5, 1922
In 1885, a band of Indians placed their tents just outside the city limits and lived there for several months. That portion of land became known as Nation Hill until the city expanded their limits by 1890.
The first lamplighter was Charlie Manley.
The yellow fever epidemic hit West Tennessee and many came to McKenzie to flee from the plague.
October 15, 1887, President Grover Cleveland and his wife visited McKenzie and thousands came to see him appear on the balcony of the McKenzie Hotel.
From 1900 to 1917, public schools were built, a water and light plant and streets were graveled. Then the automobile came and a speed of 10 miles per hour was set.
A new post office was built in 1936 and the cornerstone was laid June 27 with the Caledonia Lodge presiding over the action. A new grammar school was also built this year. By 1941, the Milan Arsenal was built and the population of McKenzie increased with people being relocated by the government purchase of their lands near Milan.
The Wilker Brothers Factory began in 1949, Gaines Manufacturing in 1958 and Brown Shoe Company in 1963.
McKenzie has a local weekly newspaper, two radios stations, an airport and Bethel College that they are very proud of.
Hand coded by Jane N Powell notes submitted by Jere R Cox Jr.