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Harpeth River Description

Harpeth River Description

The Harpeth River

The Harpeth River benefits greatly from well organized community volunteers with the Harpeth River Watershed Association. These volunteers work hard to advocate for the river and to do clean ups of litter. Among their many achievements in 2012 a useless and outdated low head dam was removed thanks in large part to the efforts of the watershed association. If you enjoy the Harpeth River, please consider donating to or volunteering with the Harpeth River Watershed Association

The Harpeth River is 125 miles long with over 1000 miles of tributaries. There are five major tributaries: The West Harpeth, The Little Harpeth, The South Harpeth, Turnbull Creek and Jones Creek.

The Harpeth River meanders through agricultural, forested and suburban areas of six counties in the greater Nashville region until it joins the Cumberland River. The Harpeth River watershed refers to the total area of land — 870 square miles — which drains into the Harpeth River.

Humans are just one of the many species that call the Harpeth River Watershed their home.  Click here to learn:what’s in my RIVER?

If you live in the watershed, at least some, if not all of your drinking water comes from the river.  We all know water as that Mickey Mouse-shaped molecule of two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.  Unfortunately due to pollution, there is much more to it than that.  Click here to learn:  what’s in my WATER?

The Harpeth River in the news

The Harpeth River has been listed on the 2012 TEN WATERS TO WATCH list! The Harpeth has been recognized in 2012 for the lowhead dam removal project by the National Fish Habitat Partnership which works nationwide to conserve fish habitat. The partnership of federal, state and other entities implement the National Fish Habitat Action Plan. The Harpeth river lowhead dam removal and restoration project helps meet these goals and received $350,000 from federal funds as a result. See press release.

The Harpeth River’s archaeological and historical significance

The Harpeth River flows through some of the most archaeologically and historically significant areas in Tennessee. Fishermen and canoeists enjoy the river’s peaceful beauty and the wide variety of fish, crayfish, mussels and other aquatic life. The Harpeth is one of the unique freshwater river systems of the Southeast, which contain a greater variety of aquatic life than anywhere else in the world.

About one-third of the Harpeth River watershed is located in one of the fastest growing regions in the country — Williamson County. Rapid development, certain agricultural activities, some poorly functioning sewage systems, and other pressures mean that, of the assessed portions of the Harpeth River, about 25% fail to meet all state water quality standards, including 73 miles of the main river from its headwaters in Eagleville to Pegram.

The primary threat to the river’s health is the region’s rapid growth. Development is quickly transforming the landscape from forests and pastures to parking lots, streets and rooftops, causing rain to rush off the land instead of soaking into the ground. Stormwater runoff is polluted, causes flooding, and erodes stream and riverbanks. Pavement also prevents precious rain from soaking into the ground so that wells and creeks dry up more readily and summer river levels are lower than in the past. As a result, oxygen levels in the Harpeth reach low levels in the summer that make the river susceptible to major fish kills like the one that occurred in Franklin in 1999.

Harpeth River description above is courtesy of  The Harpeth River Watershed Association

As of September 2014 The Harpeth River Watershed Association is taking pre orders for the Harpeth River Specialty License Plate “Protecting Rivers and Clean Water”.
Harpeth River Watershed Association: Working Together to Protect the State Scenic Harpeth River and Clean Water in Tennessee Since 1999. Consider showing your support for the most valuable resource, clean water. Purchase the only Specialty License Plate in TN “Protecting River and Clean Water” by clicking here.

ASU Legal Landscape AP

The Harpeth River Watershed Association is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit, science based, conservation organization dedicated to protecting the State Scenic Harpeth River and clean water in Tennessee.



Harpeth River description below is from Wikipedia with minor edits:

The course of the river in Cheatham County is very meandering. A few miles into Cheatham County it is joined by another major tributary, the South Harpeth, which drains some of the southwestern portion of Davidson County, southeastern Cheatham County, and a small portion of northwesternmost Williamson County.
In Cheatham County is a remarkable civil engineering feat of the early 19th century. At a place known as the “Narrows of the Harpeth”, near a prehistoric site known as Mound Bottom?an area dotted with Native American ceremonial and burial mounds of the Mississippian culture?ironmaster Montgomery Bell built an iron mill, largely through the use of slave labor. At a 7-mile (11 km) horseshoe bend, Bell’s slaves under his direction cut a tunnel through approximately 200 yards (180 m) of solid rock, assisted only by black-powder blasting techniques, to build a diversion tunnel to power the mill, which Bell called “Pattison Forge” (often spelled, incorrectly, “Patterson”) after his mother’s maiden name. Bell was so pleased with this feat that he curtailed some of his other area operations and even built a home near the site. Today, the tunnel and some “slag” are about all that remains of the operation. The Montgomery Bell Tunnel is a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The tunnel and the sheer bluffs along the Narrows are now part of the Narrows of the Harpeth section of Harpeth River State Park, a linear park connecting several natural, historic, and archaeological sites along the lower Harpeth.


From this historic site, the flow becomes generally more northerly, but still greatly meandering. The Harpeth soon forms the line between Dickson County and Cheatham County for the last part of its course. A few miles above the mouth are what are known as the Three Islands; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers proposed siting a dam near this location on several occasions and even did some preliminary study toward one, but a favorable cost-benefit ratio could never be satisfactorily shown, and the project was never built.[citation needed] Partially because of this fact, the lower portion of the Harpeth is very popular with canoeists and canoe outfitting businesses exist to rent canoes to them, which is a popular summertime activity with youth groups especially.


The mouth of the Harpeth into the Cumberland is near Ashland City, the Cheatham County seat. Near the mouth is a bridge on State Route 49 named in Montgomery Bell’s honor. The mouth is just below the Cumberland’s Harpeth Island, and is somewhat submerged by the backwaters of the Corps’ Cheatham Dam.
With the planned removal of a lowhead dam in the city of Franklin, the Harpeth will be Middle Tennessee’s second longest unimpounded stream[7] (the longest being the Buffalo). The lower portion of the Harpeth is designated as a “scenic river” under the Tennessee Scenic Rivers Act.[8]
Origins of the name-The origin of the name “Harpeth” is controversial. It is often cited in the area that it is named for the legendary outlaw brothers of the early 19th century in the area, the Harp Brothers, “Big Harp” and “Little Harp”; this is erroneous, as the name exists on maps and documents predating their fame. A late 18th century map, published in London, purportedly shows the steam as the “Fairpath”; there is some dissension about whether the name is of Native American origin or perhaps a corruption of the rather common English name “Harper”. There is no dispute that the title of the song “Harper Valley PTA” by Tom T. Hall is derived from this stream, indirectly. Hall, long an area resident, says that the song’s name derives from Harpeth Valley Elementary School in Davidson County near Bellevue, but he also states that the song was definitely not based on any occurrence there; rather, he simply liked the sound of it
Credit for Description above: Wikipedia
Wiki/Creative Commons License for description above only:


Please consider showing your appreciation of The Harpeth River by picking up some litter during your next visit, many hands make light work.

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