Historic Downtown Murfreesboro
Today, many visit this block to go to City Hall or the Linebaugh Public Library; however, in the grand scheme of Murfreesboro’s history, these places are relatively new. Before the Broad Street Project that began in 1952, the landscape looked incredibly different. For one thing, it was often submerged in water due to its low-lying terrain and proximity to Town Creek.
Town Creek, at one time, ran straight through this area; wooden and stone alike had to be constructed over several roads. The incessant flooding earned it the nickname The Bottoms. While the blocks just north were more developed— hosting the courthouse and surrounding businesses.
The Bottoms consisted of a predominantly poor African American community and light industries that greatly benefited from the nearby railroad. Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show tenements specifically labelled as African American and cotton, grain, and lumber companies, for example, from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth centuries.
The photos that exist of the Bottoms usually depict battered wooden houses rising up from the standing water. Oral histories accounts are key in understanding what life was like for those living there. In a 2016 interview for the Daily News Journal, Gracie White Turner shared her memory of growing up in the Bottoms. She discussed how her father “would put [their] furniture up and [they’d] go to [her] great-grandmother’s home” to escape the flooding. Beyond that, Turner also described the extreme poverty faced by her own family and neighboring ones. “Nobody in the Bottoms had running water or indoor toilets or electricity,” so they would bring in water from a nearby fire hydrant.
The nationwide Urban Renewal trend of the late ‘40s and early ‘50s, however, brought a lot of change, namely the construction of Broad Street and lack of residencies currently seen in the area.