Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Harpeth River State Park

Harpeth River

site of historic Pattison Forge

Montgomery Bell tunnel
ridge trail






ridge trail view

pulpit rock

We visited the Harpeth River State Park on Saturday, our goal to find the infamous tunnel. We were successful, finding the tunnel and a lot more, a scenic river with folks canoeing, hiking trails, and a history lesson.

Just west of Nashville, The Harpeth River winds through middle Tennessee, making a horseshoe turn around a narrow ridge, returning to within 200 feet of itself, known as The Narrows of the Harpeth.

Interested in the potential of water power, Montgomery Bell moved to middle Tennessee around 1804 and saw an opportunity at the Narrows to use water power for his Pattison Iron Works.

The Harpeth River makes a tight bend around a steep limestone ridge, losing 17 feet of elevation in a run of 5 1/2 miles. Bell excavated a tunnel through the limestone ridge, creating a shortcut for the river. The hydropower derived from this drop in elevation was used to drive the Pattison Iron Works built by Bell.   
Montgomery Bell's Tunnel is one of the oldest tunnels in America. Though historic records are incomplete, it is likely that Bell both located the site and designed the tunnel himself. Slave labor was used to excavate the tunnel. The project is also significant because it is believed that all excavation for the 290-foot tunnel was performed using hand drills and black powder. ~American Society of Civil Engineers
The Montgomery Bell Tunnel, built in 1819, was the first "full-scale" water diversion tunnel built in the United States. It is also apparently the first "full-scale" tunnel of any type in the United States, according to histories of tunneling.  ~Wikipedia
"One of the oldest man-made tunnels in existence today." ~Tennessee State Parks

The tunnel was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1994. It is now included in the Harpeth River State Park"The oldest known full-size tunnel of any kind in the country." ~National Historic Landmarks 

The tunnel is the only thing left of the iron works from the early 1800s. The water flowing from the tunnel only adds to the peaceful setting, the hiking trial climbs the ridge over the tunnel, offering vistas of the Harpeth valley below. The only sounds are a distant tractor gathering hay and the laughter of kids in canoes. Even after stopping to read the informational sign about the iron works, it is very hard to imagine this as a noisy industrial location. Another piece of local history, gone but not forgotten.


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