History

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courthouse on the square

History of Lafayette, Tennessee
Submitted by Betty C. Meadows Scott
September 2002

Lafayette, the county seat of Macon County, is located on the Highland Rim.

The first settlers were John B. Johnston and his wife, Mary Gresham Johnston, who built a log house on a rise near a big spring called Town Spring.

Several citizens wanted the town to be named Johnstonville, but since there were other towns with similar names, it was decided to call the town LaFayette, so named for the Marquis de LaFayette, the famous French general of our Revolutionary War.  In later years, the spelling  was changed  to Lafayette.

Johnston - spelled with a T - is a Swedish name, and descendants have since spelled the name Johnson.

Like many areas, land grants were given for war service, and early settlers farmed their land, and sold parts of it to other settlers.  This was a rural area  for many years after Macon County was established 26 May 1842 by a deed transfer of 20 acres from J.B. Johnston to the Commissioners of Macon County.  This was land on which downtown Lafayette is now located.  King Kerley was appointed the first sheriff for Macon County.  The City of LaFayette was granted a charter by the Tennessee General Assembly on 26 March 1899.

During the War Between the States, the majority of men from the  northern part of the county served in the 9th Kentucky Volunteer Infantry (Union).  The southern section of the county had the most slave owners, and supported the Confederacy.

On 25 April 1865, Colonel Blackburn of the Virginia Army gave orders to send four companies of soldiers to Lafayette to assist civil authorities with protection. 

There have been three courthouse fires at Lafayette, the last being in 1934, destroying many historical documents, thus making research most difficult.

The Lafayette Academy, a three-room brick structure, was built during the mid 1800's, and Lafayette College was built in 1901 and burned in 1923 according to the late County Historian, Harold G. Blankenship's book, History of Macon County, Tennessee.

It has been said that Macon County, which had no railroad system,  remained mostly isolated until Highway 52 was cut through across the county making it more accessible to neighboring towns.

Today, Lafayette still has a few businesses around the square, but most of the growth of new businesses are expanding outward from downtown, i.e. the new Criminal Justice facility, North Central Telephone Company, Macon County Junior High School,  Tri-County EMC.

In recent years, an addition has been built onto the Macon County Public Library which serves the Lafayette area, and a new library facility is now located in Red Boiling Springs. 

The Macon County Fair is still held each year at the Lafayette fairgrounds located near the airport.

The local newspaper in Lafayette, The Macon County Times, was founded in 1919, and still continues to publish a weekly edition.  There were other earlier publications, but they did not last long.

The Chamber of Commerce and Lafayette Post Office are located in Lafayette.  Farming is still a big business.  Burley tobacco is the main crop for the many county farmers who still prefer the good life on the farm.

In today's economy, small factories cannot compete, and Lafayette lost several of these businesses in recent years.  However, many new businesses now are located here, as the population growth has increased  with  many citizens moving here from out-of-state. 

From a population of only 126 in the 1850 census, Lafayette now has a population of 3,885 according to the last census.

It is a growing city with a hospital, library, radio station, many churches, police and fire protection, weekly newspaper, civic organizations, a Chamber of Commerce, and most of all, good, friendly people. 

 

Please visit the
Macon County Historical Society's web site.