Contributed by Irma B Kitzmiller
The Bowmantown community, located about five miles west of Jonesborough, had its beginnings with a North Carolina land grant, dated 1778, issued to John Trotter. This tract of land was later purchased by John Carmichael, who sold it to John Bowman in 1833. In 1838, John Bowman deeded a portion of this land to his son, Daniel. There was a grist mill on Daniel Bowman’s land, located near the place where Blackley Creek empties onto Big Limestone Creek. No record has been found of the type of dwelling that was first constructed here, but during the 1830’s the Bowmans built a house and a mill from brick burned at the site. The brick house, still standing, is owned and occupied by descendants of Daniel Bowman.
The mill, a three story structure, had a large basement, a first level where customers entered and waited on their trade, and a second level for machinery and storage. The mill contained hand-hewn beams that were fifty feet long. Part of the mill floor was puncheon (spilt log with the face smoothed) and rest was made of oak boards nearly two inches thick. A mill dam, located at the upper end of the property, diverted water from Blackley Creek through a race-way to the mill. Two water wheels turned the gears that moved the mill stones, grinding wheat into flour or corn into meal. Around 1900, Benjamin Bowman converted the mill into a roller mill. This mill was operated by four generations of Bowmans until the 1930s. It was razed in 1942.
A day (account) book used in the mill at Bowmantown from 1835 to 1844 contains many names of early residents in and around the Bowmantown community. On the first page of the book is written: “August 30, 1835, bought of Leroy Bowers this book, cost 75 cents.” Names (original spelling preserved) appearing in this account book include: Emanuel Arnold, John Aston, Jerry Armentrout, Joseph Armentrout, James Armentrout, Frederick Armentrout, Fate Armentrout, John Aken, Julia Armentrout, Daniel Bowman, Jacob Bowman, M.M. Bowman, Alexander Booth, Christian Barger, Wiley Barger, Enoch Brown, Abraham Brown, Joseph Beard, Daniel Brewbaker, Ebenezer Barkly, Benjamin Bierly, Robert Brooks, Joseph Bales, William Bowers, John Blair, John Balys, William I. Bous, Izrel I. Browning, John Bashor, Harvy Buchanan, John Boyd, William Barkley, Wiley Barger, John Barkley, Roderick Bane, Joseph Beard, Henry Baker, Jacob Bishop, Wesley Butler, james Bacon, James Campbell, John Campbell, David Campbell, Madison Campbell, Willian Campbell, Brookins Campbell, Leroy Campbell, Gackas Clark, Walter I. Chase, William C. Clark, William Crookshanks, Ross Carson, David Carson, Moses Carson, George Cochran, John Charlton, Jonathan Conley, Samuel Conley, William Conley, James Conley, John H. Cowan, John Collins, William Crouch, Rachel Conley, Mark Chase, Ambrose Collins, William Collins, James Collins, Henderson Clark, William Carmichael, Martin Cash, Nathaniel Cash, Samuel Chester, John Crowder, John Duncan, John DeVault, Charles Deacon, George Dunbares, Robert Duncan, James Deacon, Frederick DeVault, Joseph Duncan, Samuel Ellis, Joseph Evins, John Ellis, Nancy Ferguson, John H. Fondren, Ham Folio, R.H. Ferguson, Joseph Good, Jacob Good, Anderson Glass, Daniel Good, John Good, William Glass, Samuel Green, Samuel Greenway, John G. Guinn, Samuel Garber, Hiram Glass, Jerry Gibson, Jacob Hysinger, George Hinkle, Alford Hare, John Hare, Elijah Hare, John C. Hysinger, Christopher Himes, John Holsinger, Samuel Hysinger, Samuel Hopkins, Joseph Hunter, James Hunter, Samuel Holms, William Has, Elijah Hays, James Haws, William Umphreys, Jesse Harris, Samuel Hollins, J.K. Hamit, Isasc Hair, John Hays, Archibald Jordan, S. Keebler, Martin Kortz, John Kortz, John Kirk, James L. King, David Klepper, John Keys, Daniel Keebler, John Kelsey, Jordan Lovegrove, Samuel D. Lovegrove, Christian Lightner, Samuel Maxwell, Richard Macklin, William Milburn, Daniel Meghen, Samuel Meghen, Joseph Macklin, Henry Martin, John Need, George Nelson, Andrew Nelson, Robert Nelson, Andrew Odle, Alexander Pain, George Paton, Zak Pearse, Ezra Pearse, Samuel Powell, John Robinson, Geroge Phillips, Joseph Parton, Weldon Russell, James Robert, Jonathan Rush, John Roberts, David Russel, Abraham Rowe, Benjamin Rector, Squire Roberts, James Staton, John F. Smith, M. Stanbery, Jeremiah Sherfy, Robert Smith, David Steward, William Smith, Hiram Sweeney, John B. Strain, John Slagle, James Stanton, Robert Strain, John Stuart, Capt. G. Satterfield, William Shanks, Nathaniel Sands, Joseph Sands, Joseph Shields, Hue Staton, James Staten, J.J.A. Squibb, George Sellers, Allen Salts, Thomas Tucker, Wiley Tucker, John Tadlock, Elexandra Tapp, Sevier Tadlock, Abraham Tucker, Jacob Taylor, George Watenbarger, Henry Wagner, Mack West, John Walker, Samuel Watenbarger, Martin Weddel, Daniel Willoby, James Wheelock, Frederick F. Watenbarger, John Vaughn, James Vaughn, Christian Zetty, Daniel Zimmerman.
During the Civil War, Union soldiers camped on a ridge about one mile below Bowmantown. This area is still known as the “Yankee Camps.” Several graves, believed to be of soldiers who died in the camp are located there.
A debating group, known as the Trojan Society, was organized in Bowmantown December 17, 1869. The Society met at both Bowmantown School and Campbell School; the early members included W.D. McCrary, L.F. Smith, D.A. Humphreys, B.C. Carson, S.C. Pinner, H.C. Bowman, M.L. Browning, J.W. Browning, C.W. Smith, D.M. Carson, T.J. Humphreys, J.D. Whitlock, J.E. Klepper, J.M. Oran, John Knight, Isaac Gaby, P.L. Reed, C.A. Mathes, J.A. Patton, S.L. Carson, W.R. McLin, and M.C. Mathes. The constitution and by-laws set forth specific rules of order and conduct of the members. This organization was still meeting in 1879.
The store was built from walnut timber cut from the ridge on the Bowman property. Years later in a remodeling project, some of the counters and shelves were removed from the store to make kitchen cabinets in the homeplace, which also had solid walnut woodwork used throughout when it was built. The store was burned in the late 1940’s and was replaced by a block structure. Joe Duncan was managing the store when a post office was located there from July 13, 1889 until November 30, 1900; this post office was later moved to Telford. The store was operated by Bowmans and different relatives and neighbors down through the years, and was known as Campbell’s store in the late 1860’s ; a tradition tells that a group of people were gathering there at that time to hold religious meetings. This was the beginning of the Baptist church in Bowmantown.
From these early meetings in the store, the people moved to a schoolhouse in the neighborhood known as Civil Gap; there, the church was organized January 27, 1870 and named Philadelphia Baptist Church. Later W.J. Austin and wife Sarah deeded some land and a one-room frame church house was built. In 1960 the church was renamed Bowmantown Baptist Church. After several remodelings, a new brick church was built in 1980, and the steeple from the old church was placed on the now one.
There is a small graveyard next to the church building, with the names of Austin, Range, Poore, Tapp and Hamet inscribed on the 15 remaining stones. There appear to be no family cemeteries in the Bowmantown community, but larger cemeteries at Fairview, Oakland and Providence list many names of earlier Bowmantown residents.
Bowmantown schoolhouse was built near the church. It, too, was a one-room structure, with folding or sliding doors to make two rooms when necessary. In one end of the building was a stage where recitations were held on Fridays. A stable room under the building was used to house the ponies that pupils rode to school. Cake walks, soup eatings, pie suppers and ice cream suppers were held in the schoolhouse for the benefit of the school. The school building was later purchased by Charlie Arnold, who bricked the exterior and used it as a private residence. It is still standing next to Bowmantown Baptist Church.
These four buildings – mill, store, church and school – formed the center of Bowmantown community. The mill and the store met the physical needs of the families living there, while the church and school added to the spiritual and educational growth of the community. All four provided a place where neighbors and friends met and exchanged family, local and county-wide news, not to mention political happenings.
Although the mill and schoolhouse are gone, friends still gather at the store to visit, enjoy a coke or candy bar, have a friendly game of rook, and even challenge neighboring communities of Oakland and Sulphur Springs in a a rook tournament.
In the mid 1930’s, the Bowmantown School and Campbell School (near the Oakland community) were combined and a new brick building was erected about one and one-half mile west of Bowmantown. This new structure, also known as Bowmantown School, operated until the late 1950’s, when the county schools were consolidated. It is presently used by the Bowmantown Ruritan as a community center.
Present day Bowmantown is best described in the following paragraph from the booklet, A History of the Philadelphia/Bowmantown Baptist Church 1870 – 1983: “Bowmantown is a community of rolling hills, of quiet and peaceful valleys and woodlands, and of rich and productive farmland. It is a community whose people have inherited from their forefathers the ethics of hard work, the honor of honest relationships, and the enjoyment of a simple lifestyle. It is a community of pride in achievement, of close-knit togetherness, of compassionate outreach in time of need, and of southern hospitality”