The principal gateway to the Tennessee Highlands, Putnam County extends from the river valleys in the Central Basin on the west across the Eastern Highland Rim to the top of the Cumberland River escarpment on the east. Interstate 40 bisects the county, providing easy access to all points of interest in the region.
Putnam County has the largest population in the Tennessee Highlands, about twice that of the other two counties combined. Cookeville is the county seat and largest town. Other incorporated towns are Algood, Baxter and Monterey. Each of these is located along the route of the former Tennessee Central Railroad, the main economic driver in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Unincorporated communities include Silver Point, Buffalo Valley and Bloomington Springs.
Tennessee’s General Assembly established Putnam County in 1842 from portions of Jackson, Fentress, Macon and Overton counties; it was named for Israel Putnam, a veteran of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution. Borders were surveyed and a site for a new county seat, “Monticello,” was selected. However, Overton and Jackson counties sued, claiming the formation of the new jurisdiction would reduce their counties below their constitutional limits, and in 1845 the new county was dissolved. In 1854, Rep. Henderson Clements assured the legislature that the new county would leave the others with sufficient land, and Putnam County was reestablished. The first county court met at White Plains, near Algood, while the new county seat of Cookeville, specified in the act, was surveyed and laid out.
Putnam County has several major draws for tourists. It is located at the halfway point between the cities of Nashville and Knoxville on busy Interstate 40, and travelers frequently stop for fuel, food, lodging and shopping. One of Tennessee’s fastest growing universities, the Tennessee Tech University, is located in Cookeville and has a student and faculty population exceeding 11,000; many family members come to visit as a result. Wonderful natural areas like Burgess Falls State Park and Cookeville’s Cane Creek Park provide opportunities for outdoor recreation. And the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Center Hill Reservoir in the southwest corner of the county draws thousands of visitors each year. The Tennessee Highlands Visitor Center, off the interstate in Cookeville, is an important gateway for the three-county region.