The name Wartrace evolved from Native Americans who used area trails as warpaths or war trails. In the early 1800's Andrew Jackson purchased a large tract of land from James Robertson that included the site of present day Wartrace. In 1813 Old Hickory is said to have carved "this is War Trail Creek" into a beech tree near the stream that bears the name Wartrace Creek today.
In 1851 Rice Coffee donated eight acres of land to the newly chartered Nashville and Chattanooga Rail Road to attract the proposed line to eastern Bedford County. Wartrace Depot came into existence when the N&C was completed in 1852. On October 3rd. 1853 a formal charter was granted to Wartrace Depot which was eventually shortened to Wartrace.
With the withdrawal of Confederate troops from the battle of Murfreesboro at Stones River in 1862, Wartrace became a winter encampment site during the Tullahoma Campaign. General William J. Hardee established his headquarters and camps at Beech Wood Plantation one mile east of the present town limits. An earthen fort, or redoubt, still exists on private property located atop the highest hill on the east side of Wartrace. On April 11, 1862 a skirmish between Union and Confederate troops took place in Wartrace and is recounted in a journal by Lt. Col. James M. Shanklin, the commander of a Federal 42nd Indiana detachment stationed in Wartrace. Shanklin's journal was later published in Vol. 1 of The Soldier of Indiana in the War for the Union in 1866.
Old Chockley Tavern, a stagecoach stop near downtown and the oldest standing building in Wartrace, became a meeting place for Confederate officers including Major General Patrick R. Cleburne. In "Dairy of A Confederate Soldier" by John Jackman, he mentions area locations visited during the Tullahoma Campaign.
Wartrace thrived during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. At one time the town had five banks, two large flour mills and as many as six inns and hotels for rail travelers transferring to the Shelbyville branch line. During the peak agricultural seasons train loads of hogs and potatoes were shipped to market from Wartrace. Wartrace briefly became known as a health resort in the late 1800's when special trains carried Victorians to the sulphur springs and wells located in the village. The demand for Wartrace bottled water became so great that it was shipped to other towns.
The Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis Railway dispatched up to thirteen passenger trains per day through Wartrace during the heyday of train travel. NC&St.L's first class flagship, the Dixie Flyer, carried well-heeled travelers between Chicago and Miami in plush parlor cars and private drawing rooms.
The first formally organized horse show was held in 1906 on the town square. In 1939 the first celebration of the Walking Horse was held September 7-9, on the square. The judges’ stand from the first celebration is located in the center of what is now the downtown parking area and remains that area’s focal point.
A present day picture of the Wellhouse/Judges stand.
The famous Tennessee Walking Horse breed was developed by Wartrace area horsemen in the 1920's and 30's. The idea for a Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration was hatched by a group of breeders and trainers, including noted horseman Henry Davis, in the dining room of the Hotel Overall, later renamed the Walking Horse Hotel because of the part the hotel played in history.
The Hotel was owned by horse trainer Floyd Carothers, and his wife Olive. Carothers won the first National Grand Champion Walking Horse in 1939 with a 3year old gelding, Strolling Jim. Jim was trained by Carothers, stabled; and is now buried, behind the present day Walking Horse Hotel. Legend has it Carothers first spotted Strolling Jim in a field hitched to a plow. Pictured is Strolling Jim with Floyd Carothers Up.
The history of these beautiful animals is preserved and on display at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Museum in Wartrace. Strolling Jim is buried at the far end of the lawn behind the Walking Horse Hotel.
In the mid 1990's the entire downtown commercial district and dozens of Wartrace homes and other buildings were placed on the prestigious National Register of Historic Places. For history buffs, there are five state historical commission markers in the area, a Tullahoma Campaign informational kiosk in Memorial Park and various bronze historical plaques on downtown buildings. A "Walking Tour of Historic Homes and Buildings" brochure is available at local shops and in Town Hall.