Harpeth River

The Harpeth is a State Scenic River within Nashville's Davidson County. It is also a stream with over 100 rural miles of Class 1 floating . . . the Harpeth means history!

Mound Bottom is the remnant of a sprawling, 300-acre Indian settlement that flourished from about 1000 to 1600 A. D. The Indians, known as Mississippians, developed a complex social system, and built large mound centers for both civic and ceremonial use with villages, hamlets, and farmsteads stretching for miles up and down the river valley. Though the culture was centered around intensive corn agriculture, they also engaged in long-distance trade in copper, marine shell, and other materials.
Mound Bottom contains 14 mounds outlining an open, level plaza which was presumably used for social and ceremonial gatherings. A large platform mound, constructed in four, possibly five stages during the occupation of the site, was certainly the main focal point of the center, containing the residence of the leader, a temple, a townhouse, or some other communal building of importance. The other smaller mounds are thought to have supported the residences of lesser ranking officials and their families as well as other communal or ceremonial structures. The exact significance of the mounds is as yet unclear. A petroglyph "scepter" appears on a bluff on the other side of the river overlooking the ceremonial sites.

Montgomery Bell is responsible for the tunnel at the Narrows of the Harpeth. Using slave labor and black powder, Bell tunneled through 100 yards of rock to gain access to the 14-foot waterfall that could drive water toward his iron forge. Once in full throttle, the forge turned out cannons, cannonballs, kettles, skillets and a host of other iron items for the country’s use during the War of 1812.

For many years there reportedly has been a strange, glowing light often seen after dark in the vicinity of the Narrows of the Harpeth. Those of a superstitious bent believe this to be the spirit of Montgomery Bell, which returns to make certain that the treasure reputedly hidden is safe. As confirmation of this, some say the light arises from the graveyard where Bell is buried, crosses the river, travels up and along the Narrows Bluff, then returns by the same route.

Could the light indeed be the spirit of the wealthy, uneasy Bell…or maybe the perturbed spirit of one of his unhappy slaves?

Rules of the river are simple. You can load up your canoe with coolers, picnic baskets, inner tubes and other supplies. All gear – life jackets, cushions and paddles – is provided, as is parking and transportation to the river. You must sign a liability waiver before embarking. Dress appropriately, in shorts and sneakers you don’t mind getting wet. And, as they say at Foggy Bottom, if you can’t afford to lose it, don’t bring it with you.

If you can afford to lose a few hours, a day or even a week, along with your cares and your fetters to civilization, you may find on the Harpeth what Mark Twain found on the Mississippi – a wonderful book with a new story to tell every day.