The Chickasaw Indians gave this area of what is now Western Kentucky and Northwestern Tennessee its first name, Pontotoc, which means the “Land of the Hanging Grapes.” It was in this area that the Indians hunted and fought other tribes, although it is believed that they never took up permanent residence here. The earliest known post in this area was located on the Graham farm on the Middle Road. It was a station called Pontotoc where mail was dropped. In 1811, Andrew Jackson purchased thousands of acres that became known as the Jackson Purchase. The land was purchased from the Chickasaw Indians for $3,000.00, and included the land on which Fulton and South Fulton are located.
The earliest records of Fulton date to 1828, when Benjamin Franklin Carr acquired a land grant of 150 acres. The Commonwealth of Kentucky wanted more pioneer settlers for this section, and offered the land grants. B.F. Carr paid $80.00 for the 150 acres. He acquired grants through the year 1831, and as a result, acquired a total of 1, 1100 acres. Fulton's first settlers were B.F. Carr, F.G. Bard, and Noah Norman.
The first railroad deed was sold in 1857, and construction reached Pontotoc in 1859. The first train ran over the Paducah-Memphis line. For a long time, Fulton was referred to as the “end of the line’ by the United States Government, and all mail was addressed in this manner. Passengers rode to Fulton, got off at the crossing, and took a stagecoach to Jacksonville. With the advent of the railroad, an argument of long standing was settled. When Fulton was named Pontotoc, it had aroused a great deal of animosity among the residents of Pontotoc, Mississippi, as they wanted a clear title to the name, Pontotoc. It was an opportune time as this was the year Robert Fulton built the first steamship. To honor the popular inventor, the town was named Fulton.
The first school established was Welch Academy located on State Line Road. It boasted of an imposing building of classrooms and a beautiful dormitory. This was a fashionable place, and it attracted students from afar.
The Carr Institute, erected in 1884, for $15,000.00, was used for elementary grades until 1902. In 1941, the old Carr building was razed, and in 1942, it was replaced by a beautiful, modern plant.
Incorporation of the City of Fulton took place in 1872, by an act of the state legislature, with Ed Starks as the first mayor of Fulton.
By 1896, the Illinois Central owned the two railroad lines that crossed Fulton. The district division offices were established in Fulton. More than 30 passenger trains stopped in Fulton each day, and 3,000 freight cars picked up or delivered cargo.
The turn of the century found Fultonians in a gay, prosperous mood. The Vendome Opera House was built in 1896, by Joe Bennet, Sr. and W.W. Meadows. “The Face on the Bar-Room Floor” was the first program presented. Most of the celebrities of the nation arrived in Fulton via train, appeared for an evening’s billing at the Opera House, and spent the night at one of the plush hotels. John Phillip Sousa and his band, Sarah Bernhardt, Al G. Fields Minstrels, Lena Rivers, and many others of like fame appeared here between the years of 1896 and 1912. William Jennings Bryant once spoke here.
Fulton was at the crossroads of the Illinois Central lines and the town became one of the best-known places on the line for good hotels and restaurants. The Meadow’s Hotel, The Commercial Hotel and Smith’s Restaurant were early businesses that thrived with the economy. The Knight Hotel, formerly the Flemming, was completed in 1897. From the beginning, the hotel assumed a cosmopolitan air, and it was a Mecca for celebrities. A Christian Church congregation was formed about 1855, and preaching was held in the yard of Daniel Huddleston. A log house known as Mont Rose was built, but the church was not formally organized until 1878. The First Methodist Church was established in 1870, by T.L. Beard. The Trinity Episcopal Church was founded in 1874. The First Baptist Church was founded in 1878, and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church in 1887.
The Fulton Bank was organized I 1883, with A.T. Mitchell as the first cashier. G.W. Martin was the first president. The bank was later called Farmers Tobacco Bank, then First National. It was liquidated and reorganized in 1946, as Fulton Bank. The City National Bank dates back to October 2, 1897, when it was organized as Citizen’s Bank and located at the corner of Lake and Commercial. The first officers were Smith Fields, C.E. Rice and N.G. Cooke.
In 1881, G.I. McFall and a Mr. McAdoo bought two acres of ground from Mr. Carr to create Fulton’s first cemetery. Mr. McFall’s death was the first to be recorded in March, 1881, in Fairview Cemetery. It is believed that E.B. Eddings helped survey the cemetery.
A fire department was organized in 1892, with I.R. Nolan as the first fire chief and twelve men to assist him. The chief drew $5.00 a call, and the firemen, $2.00.
Fulton is home to many historical homes and buildings. The Carr Home at 203 Second Street was built in 1858. It originally stood upon what is now North College. It was moved to the location across the street from its present location. The original house was a one-story dog trot log cabin. A second story was added, along with clapboard siding, and the dog trot was filled in with double doors. In 1912, Judge Herbert Carr had the house moved to its present location.
Judge Herbert Carr also had the house next door built. It is said to be the finest old home in the twin cities today. Every room had different parquet flooring and beautiful stained glass.
The home at 301 Eddings is the Sam and Willie Leggin McCall House. The home has exceptional millwork and parquet floors. The ceilings are 13 foot. It is reported that Sam and Willie went to St. Louis and loved the new prevailing architecture there. They commissioned an architect to design and build the home, but they never really felt at home in Fulton. They went to California and spent the rest of their lives there.
All of the above mentioned homes and 113 others are in the newly formed Carr Historic District. Some homes in the district are grand old houses, while others are smaller bungalows. All speak to us of the great history of our area.
While Fulton is no longer the “Banana Capitol of the World” as it was when the railroad brought all bananas through Fulton for re-icing, we value our long history with the railroad. Today, the railroad is still an important part in the economy of the Twin Cities, moving over two thousand cars daily through our yards. However, with the interstate system, we have diversified, and the Twin Cities are host to several varied industries. We are diversified in our people, too, as they have come from all over the country to make our towns their homes. We believe that diversity is an important part of our strength and that strength assures us of an historical link with the past.