Jefferson City is a city in Jefferson County, Tennessee, United States. It is part of the Morristown, Tennessee Metropolitan Statistical Area. The population was 7,760 at the 2000 census. The city was originally named Mossy Creek, but was changed in 1901 to honor Thomas Jefferson. Carson-Newman College, a Baptist college founded in 1851, is located in Jefferson City.
The first explorers to the area chose the name because of the vivid green moss growing in the creek bed. Apparently Mossy Creek was a supply point for these early explorers. When Adam and Elizabeth Sharkey Peck and family arrived from Virginia in 1788, they found a small abandoned fort or blockhouse beside a spring of fresh water flowing into a nearby creek. Tradition goes that the Pecks set up their dwelling in this structure until their own log cabin, slightly northwest of the present city, was ready for occupation. Despite the danger from the Indians, Mossy Creek proved to be so desirable that by 1797 seventy-five to one hundred families had settled within a four-mile radius of it.
Several grist mills operated in the area for years, the last of which was the Branner-Jarnigan Mill on the west bank of Mossy Creek, east of the city. It was built by George Branner soon after he moved to Mossy Creek from Dandridge, about 1835. Before 1838 George Branner lived in what the family called Manor House on a rise on the south side of the old road near the mill. He built three cabins east of the mill. The cabin farthest east was a tavern. Branner also built an imposing brick dwelling on the northwest slope below Glenmore. When Glenmore was built (1867-69), Branner’s house was removed, and the handsome bricks were used in the Timmon’s House and in the walks around Glenmore.
Mossy Creek did not escape the Civil War. On December 29, 1863, a battle was fought, with the Union forces on one side of the creek and the Confederate forces on the other side. This encounter resulted in a defeat for the latter. During the tragic days after the war many southern civic, government, and military leaders had to sign a Certificate of Allegiance to the Constitution of the United States.
John Roper Branner, often leading the way in the early development of the city, built the imposing Branner-Jarnigan mansion, (Glenmore Mansion 1867-69) on the eastern edge of their city. He did not live to see it completed. His heirs sold it to Milton P. Jarnigan who moved there in 1882. However, before this transaction took place, Glenmore was for several years home of the Branner Institute for Young Ladies. Its first session was in 1876-77. A copy of the initial catalogue shows an ambitious program in music, art, literature, languages, science, and mathematics.
Despite the passing of many years, the change of the city’s name and other changes, two conditions from the old days are much the same. From here and surrounding locations, according to a newspaper article of 1853, “The views are not excelled anywhere for picturesque beauty. Landscapes of wooded hills and cultivated valleys stretch out til the eye rests against the blue dimness of the distant mountains to behold wondrous loveliness…The courageous, dignified and refined people make Mossy Creek a most delightful place to visit. Hospitality is second nature with people here, and a visitor never fails to come again.”
Historical sketch excerpted from Diamond Jubilee-Bicentennial (Mossy Creek-Jefferson City), 1976.
Photos compliments of Doug Berryhill.