Incorporated in 1971, White House, Tennessee is a young city currently experiencing population growth, economic progress, and community development. The city is located North of Nashville within the greater Nashville region and has already benefited greatly from the suburban expansion of Nashville during the 1990’s. As a landmark community positioned on the borders of both Robertson County and Sumner County, and close to Interstate 65 between Nashville and the Kentucky border, White House holds even greater potential for future growth and prosperity.
Although White House has formally been recognized as a city for a little more than thirty years, this town has a rich, 200 year history. The first recorded explorations of the present -day community of White House were in the 1790’s when hunters, trappers, and surveyors found a trail that had reportedly been made by buffalo seeking salt springs, and Native Americans seeking hunting grounds. One such pioneer was Richard Wilks. In 1796, Wilks took advantage of a pre-emption law which offered 360 acres of land to those who would establish permanent settlements in Middle Tennessee. He constructed a large, white, two story house on a portion of this land, through which happened to run a part of the old buffalo and Indian trail. White was a particularly rare hue to appear on a house at the time, especially in the underdeveloped land between Louisville and Nashville.
As development of the Middle Tennessee – Southern Kentucky area progressed and a definite travel route was established between the growing cities of Nashville and Louisville, Wilks’ home, conveniently located adjacent to the travel route, was converted into an inn. Stagecoach travel became more frequent and drivers, most familiar with the house as a convenient stop for changing horses, began to tell travelers that they might find lodging at “The White House Inn”.
The popularity of “The White House” grew and soon the name was applied to the small community surrounding this landmark. During the first half of the 1800’s, there was a marked increase in travel along what had become known as the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Pike. Many troops used the Pike during the Civil War.
Describing the activity along the L&N Pike in White House in her book, White House/Calista Road Scrapbook: Stories and Legends, Aleen Cook writes: General Andrew Jackson, a famous Tennessean, used the Old Pike. In 1829 the news came to the Post Office on the Pike that General Jackson would pass that way on a certain day. The children of the neighborhood school were conducted by the teacher, Mr. Mimm, to the edge of the road to see the old hero…”When he saw the loyal little group, General Jackson stopped the carriage and rose with a bared head to thank them. He made a short speech then continued on his way northward”.(1) Cook goes on to note that tradition holds Jackson was actually on his way to see George Washington to be inaugurated when this incident occurred. Whether this is true or not, Jackson was a friend of Richard Wilks and is said to have stayed at the White House several times during this trips to and from Washington, D.C.
Other famous residents of the White House were Jenny Lind, “The Swedish Nightingale”, and her tour manager, P.T. Barnum. The two traveled the L&N Pike and spent a night at the White House during her American tour in the 1850’s.
The White House, which was sold by Richard Wilks in the late 1870’s eventually became Tom Covington’s residence. Covington moved his family into the dwelling around the beginning of 1892, maintaining its function as a haven for weary travelers, whose numbers were steadily increasing. Under Covington’s ownership, the White House underwent extensive renovation, including the addition of the two porches and a “drummer’s room”, a reflection of the changing tide of travelers. “Drummers” were traveling salesmen who would spend the night at the White House and them peddle their wares to the community.(2) By this time, the L&N Railway was also well established and White House saw new growth, both commercially and residentially, due to this progress.
Although the monument for which the town was named was torn down in 1951 to make was for new development, this small community has maintained it’s identity as a calm haven for those in transit between cities. In 1986, the community undertook the construction of a replica of this Grand Old Building, which is now located on Highway 76 near the White House Fire Department. The “Inn” is now home to the Public Library, part of the Warioto Regional Library Service. The second floor houses a museum of artifacts, depicting life in early White House. Exhibited are early tools, furniture, photographs and historic documents. The Chamber of Commerce is also located in this building.
(1) Aleen J. Cook, White House/Calista Road Scrapbook: Stories and Legends (Self-published, 1986), 22.
(2) Harriette Henderson, “The White House” Inn to be rebuild, “Nashville Banner”, 5B.
The book “White House History and Reflections by Evelyn P. Guill can be purchased at the Chamber office for $25.00.