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The ‘typo’ that stood the test of time

By Kevin Quinn

Is December 13 actually Bartlett’s 157th birthday? Kind of, sort of, but the year 1866 has become the typo that has stood the test of time. 

As the Civil War drew to a close, the citizens of Union Depot hoped for better days for their village (20 families, a dry good store, a variety store, two groceries, livery stable, a railroad depot, a blacksmith shop, five physicians, two schools, two places of worship, and a Masonic Lodge) and decided it needed a better name than the one given by the Memphis and Ohio Railroad in 1855. The post office was opened in 1856 and in good government fashion named itself Jessamine and not Union Depot. While the citizens preferred the name Jessamine, the railroad refused to change their name unless the village incorporated into a town and selected a name. So the citizens decided upon Bartlett and applied to the Tennessee Legislature for their charter. The incorporation passed through the required three readings, with the last one on December 13, 1866. Only they had written it as Baltimore instead of Bartlett each time and accidentally had the first elections, the effective date of the town being legal, as May 1, 1866, instead of 1867. Even with that being the law, the town had the first election on May 2, 1867. 

Fast forward to January 1885 and the town now numbered 300 and had several saloons (one very popular one was said to even have “cut glass decanters”). The ladies of Bartlett decided they’d had enough of the men hanging out and drinking but knew that State law didn’t allow the closures of saloons except in an unincorporated area. A vote was held (among the men since a woman’s right to vote was just a dream at the time) and was defeated by 49 of the registered voters for saloons, with 11 siding with the ladies. This led to all the so-called “Forty-Niners” receiving very sarcastic valentine cards, each with an unflattering caricature of himself.  After many tense discussions between the male voters and the women, the town leaders asked the State to revoke their charter. On March 4, 1885, the town of Bartlett ceased to exist. To drive the point home and put the last nail in the coffin, the anti-whiskey group also worked to establish a chartered school in Bartlett. State law at the time stated that it was illegal for spirits to be sold within four miles of an incorporated school. 

In the two years following, Bartlett lost the Circuit Court, many professionals, and most of the businesses. After successfully lobbying the Legislature, another charter was granted on December 15, 1897. But in two separate elections over the next few years, victory went back and forth between liquor and no-liquor advocates. On March 29, 1905, the TN Legislature once again revoked the Bartlett charter but it was re-chartered on April 14, 1905 after the Shelby County delegation of State Senators and Representatives stepped in to put an end to the back and forth. 

The City Seal in use today has 1866 on it and was designed by a high school student in 1970. If you’re ever being asked what year Bartlett was incorporated, I think you’re fine picking the one you prefer.

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