History

A Historic, Charming Riverfront Community

Clarksville Downtown Building

Established in 1784, as part of colonial North Carolina, Clarksville and Montgomery County have deep historical ties – each named for Indian Fighters and Revolutionary War leaders. Clarksville is named in honor of General George Rogers Clark, and Montgomery County in honor of John Montgomery.  

Fort Defiance in Clarksville was established as a Confederate war post in 1861. The defensive earthworks fort sits on a bluff 200 feet above the junction of the Red and Cumberland Rivers. The area was originally inhabited by American Indians and in the late 1800s became a flourishing trade center and settlement, well known to attract runaway and freed slaves. Today the site is the Fort Defiance Civil War Park & Interpretive Center and includes walking trails and interactive exhibits that show and tell visitors about the many perspectives of life during the Civil War era. Living history events are often hosted on the grounds with reenactors and presenters to give visitors an authentic Civil War experience.

Clarksville-Downtown-history-signage

In 1941, the federal government established Camp Campbell in Montgomery County, named in honor of General William Bowen Campbell. In 1950 the camp became a permanent installation, creating what we now know as Fort Campbell. It has been the home of the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) since 1956. Plus, two prestigious Special Operations Command units – the 5th Special Forces Group (Airborne) and the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne), have been at Fort Campbell since the mid-1980s. Throughout its history, the installation has supported the training and deployment of front-line Army units involved in the nation’s wars. Since 2002, Fort Campbell units have been among the most deployed combat units in the Army.  

The area is home to many notable figures including four-time Olympic medalist Wilma Rudolph. Rudolph rose from poverty and overcame polio to become an Olympic track star and the world’s most famous black female athletes, winning a bronze medal in 1956 and three gold medals in 1960. In fact, one of the most prominent streets in Clarksville was re-named in her honor in 1994. A bronze statue erected in her memory stands at the Wilma Rudolph Events Center near the Cumberland River. 

The Cumberland was not only the basis for Clarksville’s founding, the river propelled the city’s growth and development, and still contributes to both our economic and recreational well-being. In the 1940s, the frequently traveled Cumberland helped establish the area as a well-known trading post for its cash crop, dark-fired tobacco. Today the river is a key feature and source of scenic beauty with a riverfront park, a 2-mile pedestrian trail, playground, and picnic area, home to many local festivals and events, all near the heart of the city’s charming historic downtown district. Plus, it’s the best stop in town to experience a jaw-dropping sunset.