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What is the Story Behind Nameless, Tennessee?

nameless tennessee

Brian Stansberry, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in Jackson County, about 30 minutes from Cookeville and 1.5 hours from Nashville, Nameless, Tennessee, is more than just a tiny town with a funny name. The city has a centuries’ worth of charm and a piece of its thriving history that refuses to be forgotten.

This incorporated town is centered around its deep-rooted community, whose cornerstone is the “J.T. Watts General Merchandise.” This Nameless store has been integral in the generations of families whose grandparents and great-grandparents were born in this tiny Tennessee town.

About The Nameless Store

Technically closed, the J.T. Watts General Merchandise store is open to the public and the community on four memorable days out of the year. Located alongside Highway 290 in the rustic forests of north-central Tenessee, the story of the town of Nameless could not be told without talking about Davis Watts and his late parents, Virginia Watts (also known as Miss Ginny) and J.T. Watts (also known as Thurmond Watts or Mr. Thurmond).

From 1953 until the general store shut its doors to the public in 1978, the Watts family was the place of refuge for those seeking ice-cold Coca-Cola, Moon Pies, and other summertime staples. It served as a grocery store where you could purchase all the things you needed to live your day-to-day life.

Revitalizing the Store

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After his parents passed, Davis Watts took on the task of revitalizing the store to its former glory and having it stand as a community center-type gathering place (but only for four days of the year).

People say walking into the store is like walking straight into a scene in the 1950s. The original wood floors still stand; the building still has its pot-bellied stove, rocking chairs, and lonely checkerboard.

“I restored it back in 2004 and have been having these reunions since about 2005,” Davis told the Carthage Courier. “The store was the center of the community. I did it to honor my mother and dad and my late sister, Hilda.”

Davis aims to keep the store as an honorary museum of such. The annual celebration called “Heritage Day” takes place on Labor Day Weekend is one of the four days that the store is open. The other three days correlate with the Memorial Day festival in Granville and other celebrations in October and December.

How Did Nameless, Tennessee Get Its Name?

The arguably silly name of the town allegedly stemmed from the colonists’ inability to pick a name for their new settlement.

“Nameless got its name from when the community was in disagreement in what to name it,” Davis said in 2017. “So when they filled out the application and sent it to Washington without a name, then Washington stamped it Nameless and sent it back.”

But that’s just one version of a hard-to-pin-down origin story. A 2006 article in the Cookeville Herald-Citizen says that the residents applied to have a post office constructed. According to this story, the U.S. Post Office Department returned the application with “Nameless” stamped on the blank “name” line.

Yet another story about the place-name town comes from the book Blue Highways: A Journey Into America by William Least Heat-Moon. Published in 1982, the book chronicles over 13,000 miles of Heat-Moon’s road trips across the county. Heat-Moon’s account of Nameless’ origin story is that someone said, “This here’s a nameless place if I ever seen one, so leave it be.”

In 1933, the Jackson County Sentinel paper published an article that said that a local official had first wanted to name the post office “Morgan” after the county attorney general George Morgan. Since some residents did not appreciate the name’s ties with the Confederacy. However, whatever story stands to be accurate, the fact is that the post office was established in 1866 and remained open until 1909.

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