Putnam County

Putnam County was originally created in 1842.

Historic Context

Early Putnam County Residents


Putnam County was originally created in 1842, taking land from neighboring Jackson, Overton, Fentress, and White Counties. However, Jackson and Overton Counties claimed its creation was illegal, as their own populations were reduced below constitutional levels in the process. The county was officially dissolved until 1854, when it was re-established after many boundary disputes and revisions. Its charter called for a county seat to be named after Richard F. Cooke, a state Senator from 1851-1854 who was instrumental in the re-establishment of the county. Like other counties in the region, Putnam had its own valuable natural resources, especially saltpeter, used in the production of gunpowder. Calfkiller Saltpeter Cave and Johnson Cave were two major mines in CalfkillerValley and mining contributed to ammunition for both the War of 1812 and the Civil War.

The important Walton Road passed through the length of the county, and many pioneers heading out of Knoxville stopped to settle in Putnam County along the road. The county’s 1860 population was 8,558, but its location subjected it to assault from both Union and Confederate armies. In 1870 the population had grown only to 8,698. But the county rebounded, and the population steadily grew to 16,890 by 1900, due in large part to two railroads, the Nashville and Knoxville Railroad and the Tennessee Central Railroad, both reaching the county by 1890. The railroads helped create new rail towns, such as Monterey, established in 1893. Other new communities to appear along the rails included Baxter, Algood, and Buffalo Valley. 

During the early twentieth century, as progressive farming practices were encouraged, there was a shift in the profitably of certain agricultural products, with corn and tobacco declining in favor of poultry and dairy. By the 1920s, automobile highways, again helped bring new growth to Putnam County. US Highway 70 North was the first major highway to pass through the Upper Cumberland region and it was completed through the county by 1930. Due to a lack of employment opportunities during the 1940s and 1950s, however, the county saw a decline in population. However, this changed with the routing of Interstate 40 through the county. Tennessee Polytechnic Institute became the Tennessee Technological University in 1965 in a period where there was significant development of the state university system. I-40 also brought manufacturers to Putnam County, and by 2010, this was one of the state’s fastest growing counties.