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Robertson County: Where History Comes to Life

This Tennessee region infuses its rich past into beloved community traditions and events.

By Kelly Rogers on May 5, 2023

The Bell Witch Fall Festival includes the production of “SPIRIT,” a play inspired by a local story.
Nathan Lambrecht

For Robertson County, the past and the present go hand in hand. Though the region’s rich history is certainly documented on historical markers and inside local museums in Robertson County, it’s also deeply integrated into annual community events across the region.

Tourists and residents alike continue to flock to these heritage-rich gatherings, and for good reason – they’re authentic, unique, educational and culturally engaging.

In the fall, it’s common to see farmers smoking tobacco in their barns.
Margot Fosnes

Scenic Storytelling

One of Robertson County’s specialties is bringing history to life in creative and captivating ways. History is nearly literally resurrected, for example, at a community favorite event called Evening at Elmwood (previously known as Supper in the Cemetery).

Sponsored by the Robertson County Historical Society, this event invites guests to the Elmwood Cemetery, where tables and chairs are strategically set up in a serene setting. During their meal, the guests are treated to performances by actors who emerge from behind headstones portraying historical figures and telling their stories.

Storytelling is also a key component of the Bell Witch Fall Festival, which takes place every year in Adams. Featuring two major theater productions, the festival kicks off with a free storytelling event, Red River Tales. To see one or both of the plays, audience members can purchase tickets for any of the multiple showings throughout the month of October.

“The mission of it is to provide entertainment while also telling the story of our area,” says Kevin Mead, member of the board for Community Spirit Inc., which sponsors the festival.

Experience Robertson County

For a chance to see all the community has to offer, the Experience Robertson County event is the perfect opportunity. Held every second Saturday in September, the countywide tourism campaign, strategically held around the same time as other fall festivities, gives visitors a chance to experience a self-guided tour through each of the region’s 11 charming municipalities.

The first play, “Spirit: The Authentic Bell Witch Experience,” is based on William Bell’s memoir and tells the story of the Bell Witch Hauntings. The show is performed on the site of the Bell School, right next to the Bell family’s graves.

“It’s a really cool, tangible thing for people to get to experience – to hear the Bell Witch story sitting on the ground where it happened,” Mead says.

The other headlining production, “Smoke: A Ballad of the Night Riders,” is a musical drama that follows the journey of the Hartley family during the tobacco wars of the early 1900s that took place in Tennessee and Kentucky.

Beyond showcasing the area’s history, the plays also have incredible production value thanks to extremely talented professionals who are hired to act, direct and produce the shows.

Kilgore Station Bluegrass Festival in Robertson County, TN
Rebecca Richards/Kilgore Station Bluegrass Festival

Traditions of Gathering

Music is another facet of Robertson County’s rich heritage, and it’s celebrated as such. The Kilgore Station Bluegrass Festival highlights bluegrass, a genre of music that originated in the South, drawing attendees from Tennessee and other nearby states. Local and regional artists perform on a stage that’s attached to an authentic tobacco barn on the bank of Honey Run Creek in Cross Plains.

Another local get-together that takes place each year is the Turning of the Pig in Greenbrier. This Fourth of July celebration traces its roots to 1910, although it didn’t officially get its current name until the 1980s. The festivities were originally organized to raise funds for the local school, which is still the purpose today. With amazing barbecue, live music, a parade and games, Turning of the Pig represents a widespread community legacy of tradition and gathering.

Springfield Downtown Historic District in Robertson County, TN
Jeff Adkins

Looking and Learning

Robertson County is home to over 35 historical markers and 28 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places – and once a year, some of those places open their doors to the public.

The annual Robertson County Historic Home Tour takes place at Christmas time and always sells out of tickets. Attendees take a self-guided tour through five to six historic homes, each of which are cheerfully decorated for the holidays.

“People come from all over to take this tour and be able to go into these beautiful historic homes, including many that are on the historical register,” says Jodi Ballard, a Robertson County Historical Society board member. “We have volunteers scattered throughout to help answer questions and guide them through.”

The Historic Home Tour is yet another opportunity to engage with Robertson County’s history, and it’s just one of so many community offerings that seamlessly combines the area’s past with present day.

St. Michael Catholic Church in Cedar Hill, TN
R. Paul Maloney

Foundations of Faith in Robertson County

Four churches in Robertson County are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, with each serving its congregation for more than 100 years.

One of the houses of faith is St. Michael Catholic Church in Cedar Hill, which is the oldest Catholic church in continuous operation in Tennessee. Land for the church was dedicated in 1842, and a landmark tower for the building was added in 1942.

First Presbyterian Church in Springfield was built in 1839 and is the oldest public building in current use in Robertson County. Located on Lot 17 of the original Springfield city plat, the church’s original building was especially interesting because a center partition placed men on one side of the church and women on the other.

In Ridgetop, Highland Chapel Union Church is set in an old school building that opened in 1906 and was also used for church services. The original church building opened in 1890 but was destroyed by fire in 1904, so the current building was constructed and opened two years later.

In Coopertown, Frierson Chapel is a historically African American church constructed in the early 1880s. A drive is currently underway to restore the historic building. Frierson Chapel sat vacant for many years. Donations are being accepted for the building’s renovation as well as improvements to the road leading to the church grounds.

It is believed more than 50 parishioners are buried in the graveyard, including chapel namesake Rev. W.D. Frierson. Heading the donation effort is the Coopertown Commission for Culture, History and Arts.

Staff Writer Kevin Litwin contributed to this article.

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