History

Clay County

The City of Celina
This town of about 1,400 may be best known for being one of the gateways to Dale Hollow Lake, but there’s a lot more than that going on in this heritage-rich community. This town, like many others, has seen its share of change through the decades. At different times, it’s been a bustling river town, and the home of a highly respected boarding school. It’s also been the center of a heavy concentration of industry, and the gateway to the pristine lake nearby.
The historic Clay County Courthouse is the second-oldest working courthouse in Tennessee. Today, it’s carving out another identity of sorts, adjusting to the demands of an ever-changing economy linked to all parts of the globe, while keeping its folksy charm.

“Times change, sometimes dramatically, so towns big and small have to adjust and find their niche,” said Kevin Donaldson. He serves as executive director of the Clay County Partnership Chamber of Commerce. “Celina and Clay County are already a great place to live. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our quality of life. We aim to make the best use of what we have to offer both our residents and visitors.”

Following the formation of Clay County, Celina wasn’t officially incorporated until after 1900, but it was a “town” long before that. It was the site of Civil War fighting and was named after Celina Fisk, the daughter of Middle Tennessee pioneer Moses Fisk. Fisk was something of a renaissance man, founding the Fisk Female Academy at nearby Hilham in 1806. It was said to be the first such institution in the South.
Celina is an old-time river town and was once one of the main stops between Kentucky and Nashville on the Cumberland River in the steamboat era. Lumber, livestock and crops were among the cargo that most often found its way south and west, with Nashville a common destination. Butler’s Landing, an unincorporated community down- stream from Celina, was also another much-used Cumberland River port.

Montvale Academy

The historic Clay County Courthouse is the second-oldest working courthouse in Tennessee. Today, it’s carving out another identity of sorts, adjusting to the demands of an ever-changing economy linked to all parts of the globe, while keeping its folksy charm.

“Times change, sometimes dramatically, so towns big and small have to adjust and find their niche,” said Kevin Donaldson.

He serves as executive director of the Clay County Partnership Chamber of Commerce. “Celina and Clay County are already a great place to live. We’re constantly looking for ways to improve our quality of life. We aim to make the best use of what we have to offer both our residents and visitors.”

Following the formation of Clay County, Celina wasn’t officially incorporated until after 1900, but it was a “town” long before that. It was the site of Civil War fighting and was named after Celina Fisk, the daughter of Middle Tennessee pioneer Moses Fisk. Fisk was something of a renaissance man, founding the Fisk Female Academy at nearby Hilham in 1806. It was said to be the first such institution in the South.

Heavy Industrial Presence

The garment industry came to town in the mid-1950’s, greatly changing the local economy. Farming and other traditional means of making a living had been the backbone of the local economy (and are still significant today). But the garment industry offered another way residents could make a living, as it did across the Upper Cumberland.

Times changed in the mid-1990’s. The worldwide economy affected even small towns like Celina and others across the nation. The signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) eventually sent millions of “light” industrial jobs to other parts of the world, and it hit Clay County hard. Hundreds of garment industry jobs slowly trickled away. As a result, Celina and Clay County had to undergo another identity change.

Celina Today

The town, county and residents underwent some serious changes after the mass exodus of the garment industry, and things are still changing today. Despite the many changes through the years, the town has held onto what you might call a bit of “Mayberry” charm.

Donaldson, a native of Clay County, says there’s no better place to be.

“I was able to go to Tennessee Tech University, get a degree and come back home to work. I married a local girl and we raised a family,” Donaldson said. “I’m grateful for that opportunity, and I just love being a part of Clay County. As we like to say, it’s a great place to live, work and play. Our goal is to make Clay County an even better place to live, and to attract as many jobs and visitors as we possibly can. I think Celina and Clay County have the absolute best in what people think of as small-town America.”

The downtown area has seen the beginning stages of a facelift, with help from local government and the local Three-Star Committee.