Early Bell Buckle HistoryA settlement of small proportions thrived in the Bell Buckle area during the early part of the nineteenth century, however, it was not until mid-century that the population increased enough to incorporate a town. Location of a main line of the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad through Bedford County in 1852 stimulated growth in many small settlements near its right of way. A. D. Fuggitt, generally credited as being the founder of Bell Buckle, donated land for construction of the railroad near the settlement in 1852, and opened the community’s first general store in the same year.
In 1852, the Louisville to Nashville Railroad was constructed through Bell Buckle bringing instant economic prosperity to the community. The town became the largest shipping point for livestock between Nashville and Chattanooga. During the same period, Webb School, a private, college preparatory school, relocated to Bell Buckle contributing greatly to the growth and popularity of the community. The importance of the railroad was emphasized during the civil war when Bell Buckle residents were witness to many troop movements by both armies as they sought to control rail traffic into the Deep South. Bell Buckle flourished with the growing popularity of rail transportation and enjoyed its greatest period of prosperity between 1870 and 1900.
Soon after the turn of the century, however, the “iron horse” entered into a period of what was a steady decline, and thus foreshadowed Bell Buckle’s future. Today the freight trains of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad still rumble through Bell Buckle, but they are given only cursory acknowledgement by the town’s residents.
The Great Depression of the 1920’s devastated the Bell Buckle railroad trade. The advent of the automobile and the decline of the railroad created enormous adversity and the row of one-story businesses, which comprised the downtown, began to suffer the dilapidation of many other railroad stops. Long unoccupied, most stores were boarded up until the 1960’s.
During the 1960’s, a quickening of appreciation for its quaint heritage started a wave of rentals, purchases and renovations that helped Bell Buckle flourish once again. One unexpected result of the earlier economic declines was that many of the Victorian and Arts and Crafts style homes were not replaced with more modern structures. In 1976, during the nation’s Bicentennial, an area including the Bell Buckle downtown and continuing to the Webb School property, was listed in the National Register of Historic Places. There are a great many of these homes that have been restored or renovated, not only in the officially designated historic district but also through the town.