Henderson, Tennessee, was formed in the 1850’s as a railroad stop on the Mobile Railroad. It was then located in Southern Madison County and was known as Dayton. Sometime near the Civil War, the name was changed to Henderson Station. During the War, there was a major Confederate States of America recruitment center located along what is now Front Street, and the 51st and 52nd Tennessee Infantry were raised here. After their departure, the Railroad Depot and area around it was occupied by Union forces.
Some locals (Raiders) loyal to the Southern Cause set fire to the Depot, and it was reduced to embers. The Union Troops were captured and given to Confederate troops in the area, and they were, in turn, sent to one of the South’s prisons.
After the War, the name was shortened to Henderson. During the 1880’s era, Henderson had a large amount of growth, and by the turn of the century, it had more than 2,000 residents. Most of the town was built around the railroad, but a college caused growth, as well. Though it went through many names changes from its humble beginnings in 1869, Freed-Hardeman College was founded in Henderson in 1907 by A.G. Freed and N.B. Hardeman. The college was the lifeblood of the town for many years before cars made travel much easier.
Henderson has had several interesting natives who made an impression upon our nation. Sue Shelton White was raised on Church Street in Henderson, and she became one of the great leaders of the Woman’s Right to Vote Movement of the early 1900’s. She later helped design the US Social Security System under Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Today Henderson is made up of many diverse people from all over the country. Freed-Hardeman University is still a major school in Southwest Tennessee, and much of Henderson’s livelihood is still closely intertwined with it. Also Henderson still has its locals who have lived here for generation after generation. Their forefathers came here and settled after the War of 1812, and they, just like each generation before, call Henderson home.
Henderson is a progressive modern, small Southern town, but it also has its heritage and history deeply embedded within its borders and embraced by its citizens. In 1973, the legacy of McNairy County Sheriff Buford Pusser was preserved in film when “Walking Tall” was filmed in Henderson and Chester County. Many Henderson residents served as extras or played bit parts in the film that launched several sequels.
Henderson’s most famous son is country music singer and songwriter Eddy Arnold, who was born in Henderson in 1918. In the 1930s, Arnold could be seen every Saturday sitting atop downtown’s overhead bridge, strumming his guitar and telling skeptical onlookers that someday he’d be famous. He kept that promise, rising to the top of the country charts with songs such as “Make the World Go Away” and “What’s He Doing in My World.” Arnold was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1966.
From its contributions to war, women’s rights and music, Henderson residents prove why Tennessee is the Volunteer State. Its rich heritage and family traditions make it one of the best small Southern towns on the map.