Christmasville, Tenn. Its very name conjures up the most vivid Christmas images
- Santa ho-ho-hoing his way across the rooftops, carolers going from door to
door to spread their special holiday cheer, and shoppers bustling to pick just
the right gift for everyone on their lists.
It won't take Santa long, though, to make his rounds of Christmasville, - a
beautiful little community that stretches in several directions in the northeast
corner of Carroll County.
There's no town square to decorate at Christmasville. There are no stores in
which to shop. And because there is no post office, folks can't even have their
Christmas cards postmarked at Christmasville.
Christmasville has been called the "town that time passed by," and almost all
that remains of the original settlement are stories that serve as souvenirs of
While some stories are factual, many border on folklore. When the Carroll
County Historical Society and Dr. Marvin L. Downing, a professor at the
University of Tennessee at Martin, organized a study group in 1974 to research
and revive Christmasville history, they had their work cut out for them.
Even how the town got its name has been the subject of many Christmasville
According to Downing, the most popular "legend-has-it" account goes something
like this: During the early 1820s, shortly after settlers arrived on the site,
town folks gathered for a community celebration or "frolic".
Captivated with all the festivity, one young man said to his sweetheart: "The
town looks like Christmas all the time to me, don't it to you?" And he
suggested naming the town "Christmas".
The girl replied, "Christmasville or Christmasburg would be even better."
Because the couple were in the middle of a pigeon wing dance contest, they
decided that they would wait until the contest was over and then let the crowd
decide the best name for the town.
Before the contest was finished, however, the young man fainted from exhaustion.
He was allegedly revived with "old North Carolina Apple Jack".
When he awoke, he told the townspeople about the conversation he had had with
his girl and asked that they voice their vote on the town's name. As settlers
chanted "Christmasville!" they threw up their gingham bonnets and wool hats and
celebrated with the Virginia Reel. Thereafter, each road that connected with
the town was called Christmasville Road.
In another version of how Christmasville got its name, some men hauling cotton
were forced to set up camp in the settlement when a blizzard struck during
Christmas week. From this time on these men, and eventually the early settlers,
referred to the community as "the Christmas place."
As legends go, they are intriguing stories, but after a year's research, Downing
and the Carroll County study group believe that the town's name is most related
to the earliest land owner's name. John Christmas McLemore owned the land and
the town when it was commissioned by the Tennessee Legislature in 1823.
Presently, Christmasville is in its third location, and it is unlikely that a
stranger just passing through would ever realize he was in Christmasville.
However, the original Christmasville site, which was situated on a bluff about
one-half mile to the north of the South Fork of the Obion River, is now marked
with a historical marker erected in April 1977 after the historical society and
Downing pieced together the Christmasville story.
"We have lost so much early history because nobody wrote it down. But we have
got a lot of proof that Christmasville was there. We just don't have a good,
complete story," says Mary Ruth Devault, librarian at the McKenzie Memorial
Library and president of the Carroll County Historical Society when the group
undertook the Christmasville research project.
Besides the chore of separating fact from folklore, the study group had a
difficult time finding deeds for Christmasville. The town was 10 years old by
the time McLemore gave any deeds for the land to townspeople.
"When John Christmas McLemore gave deeds to this town, " Mrs. Devault explains,
"he gave deeds with houses already on the lots and a hotel on the lot and a
tanning business on the lot. We don't understand that. We don't know if he
leased the lots or just let them use them or what, but it was 1833 before he
gave any deeds."
Few people live in Christmasville now and even fewer remnants of the once
thriving river town remain intact, but the recollections of the town and its
people still linger with some of the surviving residents.
Harve Aden is a descendant of one of the earliest families to settle in
Christmasville. Aden's grandfather, Clinton Aden, moved his family to
Christmasville because of the "high moral standards" n the community.
"My granddaddy was a judge, you see," Aden explains, "and, being a judge, he
knew about things like this and he had never heard of a murder being committed
in the area. So he decided to move his family here."
Aden, who shares his grandfather's pride in the community, has lived and farmed
in Christmasville all his life. Many other Adens still own homes and property
In a book published in 1915 entitled "The Two Whys", Thomas F. Moore, who was
born and raised in Christmasville, sketched and described the town as it was in
the 1860s. Downing uses Moore's account to explain that there were a couple of
two-story framestores, "a church built on a rise," a furniture mill, a town
spring and tanyard, and several other businesses and residences.
The church Moore refers to is the Obion Presbyterian Church built in the 1850s.
The original building is still standing in Christmasville, though it was moved
to a new site and is now called the New Hope Presbyterian Church. In 1857, the
Baptists organized the Concord Baptist Church, and in 1865 the Pilgrim's Rest
Cumberland Presbyterian Church began meeting. All three of these churches are
still meeting in what is now Christmasville.
Downing says the most unusual account is Moore's description of the furniture
mill's power source. On the side of the structure was a wheel of "no more than
30 or 50 feet." Grief Buckner, the furniture maker, put a small mule inside the
wheel, and the animal's walking motion turned the wheel that drove Buckner's
lathe. "This power source amazed Moore and seems unusual even to 20th century
folks," Downing says.
According to Moore, the tanyard and the town's spring were located at the rim of
a bluff overlooking the South Fork river bottom.
Mrs. Devault says some of the earliest records show that the first post office
was established in Christmasville on Feb. 10, 1829. She was able to come up
with a list of some 17 Christmasville postmasters.
Graden Featherstone, retired McKenzie postmaster whose grandfather was a
Christmasville Postmaster, took an active role in the research of
Christmasville. Downing refers to him as one of the most "informed
The retired postmaster says he tried "desperately" for years to get
authorization for a Christmas postmarking station in Christmasville. Postal
authorities refused, however. "They would always come back to me that they
couldn't figure how they would make any money (with the station)," Featherstone
says. "Well, this wasn't an idea of making money.....it was just something to
do, you know. But I never could get them to do it."
Featherstone says that when the settlers first arrived in Christmasville, the
entire area was covered with barren grass, a tall plant that grew "taller than
horses." According to Featherstone, early settlers trained their dogs to find
their children when they became lost in the barren grass.
Featherstone also tells how dogs were used to tell the early settlers that boats
were coming with supplies:
"Back then, there were no railroads, no roads, and the rivers were your
highways. Men bringing wares would float down the Mississippi to the confluence
of where the Obion River flowed into it. Then they would pull their boats
upstream. Christmasville was as far as they could go."
"The early settlers depended on these grocery boats or 'doodle boats.' When the
man who owned the doodle boat got there, he wanted to be able to set out his
wares. So boatmen came up with the novel idea of training two dogs to go to the
town and let the settlers know they were coming. When the boats were about
halfway up the river, they'd put the dogs out. The dogs wore collars listing
the merchants' wares, and they would go right on to the settlement, you see. So
by the time the boat got there, everybody in the whole country was down there to
meet the boat to buy him out."
The home of William Travis, one of the town's early doctors, still stands. His
grandson's widow, Mrs. Vannie Fly Travis, still lives in the beautiful old home.
Mrs. Travis, a petite lady with bright blue eyes and a lovely smile, still uses
many of the house's original pieces of furniture and keeps the home looking neat
and bright. As Mrs. Devault say, "it just looks like Christmas all the time in
Aden repeated a story he had heard his grandmother tell about the dances that
took place in the Travis home.
"They used to move everything out of the sitting room and have square dances.
These dances were big events in those days because that was their only form of
It has been well over 100 years since Christmasville was a young, flourishing
town, but Dr. Downing and the Carroll County Historical Society's Christmasville
study group have made sure that Christmasville has gotten its proper recognition
as one of the earliest and most prosperous towns in West Tennessee.
December 1987 The Tennessee Magazine Story by Mary Ellen Glasco
The historical marker reads:
4A 33 Christmasville
First used as Post No. 2 by the 1785 surveyors, a town was later established on
November 14, 1823, at John Christmas McLemore's Bluff, on the South Fork of the
Obion River. Goods were shipped down the river until 1854. Buckeye Point, 1
mile east, was an Indian campsite. The town spring furnished water for the
inhabitants and a tanyard, and a post office operated here from 1827 to 1902.
Note from Jere Cox:
Christmasville was a favorite community of Mary Ruth Devault. She and Gordon
Browning chartered the Carroll Co. Historical Society in 1971.
Graden Featherston and Harve Aden both deceased visited the library quite often
and told stories of old Christmasville.
Dr. Downing just announced his retirement as head of the History Dept. at
University of TN at Martin. He approached my son, Brent to teach full time this
September to fill the empty slot. --Jere Cox April 2003