Covington’s Early History
Soon after the founding of Tipon County in 1823, Commissioners were appointed by the Tennessee State Legislature to locate a suitable site for a County Seat. A site was chosen in 1824 near the center of the County. The commissioners selected a location on a large hill with a natural spring upon it. The site was on the lands of early settlers, Tyree Rodes, John C. McLemore, and James Vaulx.
The new town was named “Covington” in honor of General Leonard Wales Covington. Covington was mortally wounded in the battle of Chrysler’s Field on November 11, 1813, dying two days later.
In December 1824, the Tipton County Court of Pleas and Quarterly Sessions appointed Robert G. Green, Elias F. Pope, Marquis Calmes, John Eckford, and Alexander Robinson to survey the new townsite. They were instructed to lay out seven streets and 106 lots, selling the lots as soon as possible. The first sale of the town lots occurred on April 12, 1825, and the proceeds of that sale, and the subsequent sale of lots, were used to construct the County Court House. The first Court House, a framed two-story structure, 20 feet by 30 feet square, was completed in July 1825.
The Town of Covington was incorporated in 1826 by an Act of the Tennessee General Assembly. The names of the first officers of the town and their accomplishments have been lost to history.
Education must have been important to the early settlers of Covington for in 1826, the first school in the little town was established. Known as the Covington Male Academy, this incorporated institution provided education for the children of Covington and the surrounding area for over the next 60 years.
It took a few more years before organized religion took hold. The first denomination to organize a congregation in Covington were the Presbyterians in 1829. This short-lived congregation merged with Mt. Carmel Presbyterian Church in 1839. The Baptists were the second denomination to call Covington home. They organized their first church in Covington in 1839, and eight years later, this congregation also moved from town.
Covington, before the War Between the States, saw little growth. Randolph, and later Portersville, were the bustling commercial centers of the County in the antebellum period. Covington was largely a sleepy hamlet that only came alive during the times the courts were in session at the Court House.
In 1854 the Tipton Female Seminary was opened in Covington. This fine institution was under the able guidance of Rev. James Holmes, D.D. and his son, Prof. George D. Holmes, during the majority of its existence.
Civil War and Reconstruction
On the eve of the War Between the States, Covington was finally showing evidence of progress. A new hotel had been built and numerous new businesses were opening their doors around the Square. Covington’s first newspaper, The Covington Spy, began publication in 1860.
Covington and Tipton County was pro-Union up to the firing on Fort Sumter by Federal troops in April 1861. Overnight, the town espoused the ideas of the Secession movement. Immediately thereafter in May 1861, the young men of Covington and the surrounding area formed “the Tipton Rifles.” This was the first military unit to be formed in the County and to be sent off to fight for the Confederacy. Later in February 1862, former County Sheriff, Henry J. Maley, raised Company C of the 1st Tennessee Heavy Artillery in Covington. Both of these units saw action in some of the worst battles of the war.
Life in Covington during the War was largely quiet. Covingtonians suffered from the deprivations caused by the War, as did the rest of the South, but fortunately, did not suffer greatly from the loss of property. Following the fall of this area to the Union horde in 1862, Covington was only occupied by Federal forces for short periods of time.
After the end of the War, Covington’s economy quickly recovered. Before the War, plans were being made to construct a railroad through Covington, but the War dashed those dreams. In the late 1860s, the plans for that railroad were revived. The anticipation caused by the coming of the “iron horse” provided the boost local citizens needed to invest in the future of Covington especially during this unstable period in Southern history.
In 1873, the first section of the Memphis and Paducah Railroad between Memphis and Covington was completed. This was a tremendous boon to the town’s economy. Soon the railroad would not only bring expanded trade and new retail establishments to the Town of Covington but it would also bring numerous families from varied backgrounds whose fresh ideas would help reshape the town. Covington supplanted Mason as the commercial municipality of the county. To this day, Covington remains the largest center in the county as well as the leader in both retailing and manufacturing.
During the 1890s tremendous changes were being made in the infrastructure of the Town of Covington that would become the basis of the municipality we know today. The construction of the present Tipton County Court House in 1889-90, the establishment of the Covington City School System in 1894, the development of the first electrical system and water system by private investors and the establishment of a municipal volunteer fire department. Also during these years, the population of the town was growing by leaps and bounds. Throughout Covington, new homes were being constructed and around the square, new business houses were being erected. Many of these structures are still standing today, reflecting this period of unprecedented growth and prosperity at the turn of the century.
Courtesy of David A. Gwinn, Tipton County Genealogist and Historian