Due to its location well west of the Atlantic Ocean and north of the Gulf of Mexico, it may surprise some to know that Manchester’s history goes back 2000 years (and maybe more) to the times when ancient Native Americans roamed and ruled the Tennessee hills. The earliest evidence of human life in the Manchester area is dated to 2000 years ago at Old Stone Fort, a Native American site located at the confluence of the Little Duck and Duck rivers. As the rivers close in on one another, the elevation of the actual fort does not change, providing a great elevation change at the west end of the fort down to the rivers. This natural land formation coupled with man-made mounds on top of these cliffs made for great protection against neighboring tribes. The 50-acre hilltop enclosure is believed to have served as a central ceremonial gathering place for some 500 years.
Advancing some 1300 years, Coffee County came into existence on January 8, 1836 as parts of four neighboring counties – Franklin to the south, Bedford to the west, Warren to the northeast and Grundy to the southeast. A battle ensued over the naming of the county between Coffee and Webster. The name “Webster” comes from the then Speaker of the State Senate and resident of the Noah community. “Coffee” is the name of General John Coffee who was a close friend of then President Andrew Jackson. Coffee was regarded as a hero of the War of 1812 and the Creek (Indian) War. In the end, the state legislature named the county “Coffee” over “Webster”, but by the closest of margins – one vote.
In another naming change, there was a small village very close to the site of the proposed county seat: Mitchellsville. That name would be changed to Manchester, after the industrial city of Manchester, England. It was believed that the Tennessee version of it’s English cousin would mimic its relative in becoming an industrial city due to its proximity to the aforementioned waterways of the area. Also making its way through history was another small village called “Stone Fort.” Stone Fort had already jumped on the industrial track before Manchester and had several water powered milling operations from 1836-1840. One of those installations’ remnants (an old paper mill) is still very visible inside Old Stone Fort State Park.
Through the years, Manchester has also had size battles as well as name changes. Due to its proximity to the center of the new county, Hillsboro (then called “Pond Spring”) gave Manchester a tough race for the county seat. Hillsboro was actually larger than Manchester at the time. The other village in the county was Tullahoma, nestled at the junction of two major railway lines.
During Dummer’s War, the first permanent British settlement was established in 1724, with the construction of Fort Dummer. It was to protect the nearby settlements of Dummerston and Brattleboro.