Robertson County Road Builders

My Robertson County “Road Builders”

An album of photos found in my grandparent’s attic reflect a piece of our history…

My Great-Great Grandfather, James Frank Bowie and his road crew building Hwy 49 to Springfield, TN in the early 1900s

My interest in my family history has led me back in time, through the archives of our country’s history. Thanks to Robertson County’s good collection of county records, and research from my Clinard cousins into our early history in Pennsylvania and North Carolina, I can trace the Clinard branch of my family back NINE generations to the early 1700s, where they lived in Pennsylvania.

The Winters, Heads, Parkers, Justices, Holmes, Bradleys and many more of my ancestors were also here in the United States before 1800, and they were courageous, hardy pioneers that forged paths and then built roads through the wilderness in search of good farm land and freedom.

Land owners during the 1700 and 1800s were required to build and maintain common roads for their communities, and county court records are a great way to find your ancestors and who their neighbors were. Rick Russell and David Clinard dug up our North Carolina Clinard records and here is one example of a court record in Rowan County, North Carolina.

“November 9, 1787.  Ordered that the following jury, viz: Frederick Miller, John Zanker, Jacob Mock, Devolt Mock, Henry Ribble, Jacob Clinehard, Henry Betnee, Philip Craver, Philip Fox, Adam Harmon, John Foc, and Edward Burk to layoff and continue the road to the nearest and best way from the Dan River Road leading by David Morrow’s, from the County to Long Ferry Road with John Zerker overseer of said road.”

In the late 1700s my ancestors were also faced with heavy taxation and government control, and in 1776 the American Revolution broke out in response to the oppressive yoke of government. As the Revolution was raging, Americans were streaming west. My people came to the “Cumberland” or Middle Tennessee area and settled in Robertson County, but in those early days it was still part of North Carolina. It must have been back-breaking work clearing the forested land to build communities from the wilderness. Just think of removing those stumps after they cut down trees!

And don’t you bet those pioneers that headed out west wish some roads and bridges had been there??? My mother was just telling me the other day about a branch of her cousins that headed to Texas, and after crossing the Mississippi River and several getting swept away, said they would never cross that river again!

I like to dig around at the Robertson County Archives for family history and one of the earliest records I found was a county road order for my ancestor. In 1809, my ggggg-grandfather, Lawrence Clinard was named in a court order as overseer of his section of the “Ironworks Road from the Nashville Road to Brown’s Fork”, along with neighbors Peter Frey, Anthony Hinkle, Henry Frey, Matthew Morris, Wm. Houston and Wm. Crockett.

The Nashville Road is now Old Hwy 431. ***See the last entry on the page for the entry.

Robertson County, Tenn., 1809 county court records,
Lawrence Clinard road overseer last entry.

If a land owner was unable to work on the road maintenance or did not want to, they could hire a surrogate in their place and this is noted in court records as well. Everyone did their part – not the government doing it for them!

My Great-Great Grandfather, James Frank Bowie (born Aug. 12, 1851 and pictured at top), came to America from Scotland around 1880. He lived in Sharon Grove, Ky., for a while, marrying Susan Elizabeth Starks and in the early 1800s moved south to Robertson County, Tennessee. His occupation was building roads, as well as his son, my great grandfather, John “Jack” Willie Bowie.

When I was a teenager I discovered an album of old photos in my grandparent’s attic. Grandmother Bowie was Thelma Head Bowie who married Robin Earl Bowie, son of Jack. She told me the photos were of my Great-Great-Grandfather James Frank Bowie and his road crews. In some of the photos there are photos of teenagers and those would be his children. We don’t know the identity of any of the other crew members, so anyone that can identify them please let me know!

From the landmarks in the photos, they were working on Hwy 49 that runs into Springfield. The Peoples Tucker School is in the background of this next photo. It burned in 1926, so these photos had to have been before then.

James Frank Bowie (standing in front) and his road crew in front of the Peoples Tucker School.

I googled the school to find out more and on this site:, found the following:

“James A. Peoples, who with his brothers Grier and Hal had worked at Battle Ground Academy, founded Peoples-Tucker along with Everett B. Tucker in 1908. The founders were both alumni of Vanderbilt, and encouraged athletic participation along with academics. Peoples acted as principal for the school’’s entire existence; Tucker left in 1910 for another position. In 1925, Peoples sold the school to the town of Springfield, and the school became Springfield High School. The original buildings burned in 1936.”

In the next photo there are two boys on the mules – The older teenaged boy waving is John Willie Bowie (born in 1886 and my great grandfather) and the younger one Fred Bowie (born in 1889), James Frank’s sons. Or the younger boy could have been his son, Frank H. Bowie who was born in 1896 and died in 1900 of a head injury. The girls would have been his daughters, Etta and Ethel.

James Frank Bowie road crew, boys on mules

In this next photo it looks like one of the Springfield Tobacco Warehouses in the background? Can you imagine using those wishbone-looking drags to move and level that dirt – or maybe they put dirt or rocks in them?

James Frank Bowie road crew in town?

Here’s a few family photos of James Frank Bowie and family:

James Frank Bowie

James Frank Bowie with his wife, Lizzie Starks and her sister, Rada Starks and her husband

Elizabeth, John, Etta, Fred and Ethel Bowie (young)

James Frank’s son, “Jack” (John Willie) worked with his father on the road crews as he got older, and as an adult, had his own crews. This picture was from the 1940s – no more mules!

Jack Bowie and crew in the 1940s

We found this campaign card in the stairwell of the old Clinard house when we wearing tearing it down. He married Jessie Lee Clinard. From family history, he worked on roads all over the southeast during the 1940s.

Jack Bowie election card

In 2009 and 2010 I went to Morningside Assisted Living in Springfield to interview Ralph Felts, 93, and his wife, Katherine Clinard Felts about family history. Come to find out, Ralph had worked for my Great-Grandfather, Jack Bowie when he was a young man. He shared his memories with me:

“I knew Jack Bowie. I worked for Jack a lot in the early days. He was supervisor for Interstate Construction. I remember Jessie Bowie (Clinard) very well. She and Lucian favored. In 1931-32, the year I graduated from Coopertown High School, I took a pair of mules and pulled dirt out along the roads for $6 a day. My mule team was Kit and Lou – they were seven or eight years old. One died of colic. A two or three-year-old mule would cost $200-$300 back then.

Jack Bowie was very, very precise in what he did, and at the same time he was the nicest person you would ever know. When he told you what we had to do he meant for you to do it. He wasn’t prone to any foul language. A fella named Payne that was superintendant of the company cussed every breath. The road we built was about six miles of 49 from Pleasant View to the other side of Coopertown. I worked pulling up dirt against the forms.

We were surfacing the roads then adding about three-inch rocks to the dirt. Then we’d run a roller over it and then add another two inches down and roll it again, then it would have a five-inch base. They would let it get run over good. There was a grater that went over it twice a week from Springfield to Ashland City that was on a tractor.

We got that completed and moved to East Tennessee. We built the first streets in Norris City. Clinton was where we were hanging out in. I was driving a dump truck. Two of us were sealing the Knoxville to Clinton road that was shot with asphalt, backing in with chirt to add. Jack was the supervisor of that job, and was there on some of it. He was also working on another road. Then I worked for Payne. They brought chirt in on the railroad and unloaded it with a crane. Two crane operators were out and Payne told me to operate the crane. It was Up and Down. I made 60 cents and hour when I worked on the crane and when I finished there I made $1.25. I made more money then I had every made. I started with them right out of high school and worked through to Christmas. I left and never went back. That wasn’t what I wanted to keep doing.”


Well, that’s all for now. Bet you’ll appreciate those roads more now that you know all the hard work that went into building them!

Categories: Family History & Genealogy, Family History: BOWIE, Family History: CLINARD, NC to Robertson Co, Tenn | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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