William Jasper Matthews

With the addition of Highway 111 from Livingston to Cookeville, we don’t often find it necessary to drive down old Highway 42 anymore. That is, unless you’re like me, and like to take the “scenic route” or “the long way home” from time to time. And it’s on old Highway 42 a highway marker used to be found that said “Roberts-Matthews Highway.” Many times those two names are mistaken for “Robert Matthews.” As it so happens, the last name “Roberts” represents former governor Albert Houston Roberts who was originally from Overton County. The last name “Matthews” represents William Jasper Matthews that very little or next to nothing is known about by most people who live in Livingston and the surrounding area this day and time. Hopefully, this story will shed some light on a very accomplished individual. First of all, William Jasper Matthews was always known as W.J. Matthews, or Bill Matthews. He is the grandfather of Mary Frances Fleming, wife of Donald Fleming, of the Allons community; the late Billy Joe Matthews, husband of Louise Matthews, of Livingston; and Jerry Matthews, husband of our present day Circuit Court Clerk, Barbara Matthews, of Livingston; and Virginia (Jenny) Key of the Hardys Chapel Community. Here is a look back at someone who not only rubbed elbows with some well known and distinguished gentlemen, but was a close personal friend to some outstanding political figures.

William Jasper Matthews was born July 18, 1861, in Overton County. He was married to Mary Frances Webb. They were the parents of 13 children, two of which died in infancy. He is described as being a farmer, merchant, druggist and postmaster. He served with distinction a period of 14 years in the State Legislature, in both the House and Senate. Highway 42 from Sparta to Static on the Kentucky line, by way of Cookeville; Algood; Okalona; Livingston and Byrdstown was named Roberts-Matthews Highway in his honor, along with Governor A.H. Roberts. During his political life, he sponsored many bills that were made laws. In March of 1915, he was a sponsor of House Bill No. 757 that provided for the establishment and maintenance of a school of technology that came to be known as Tennessee Polytechnic Institute located in Cookeville. This school, begun in 1916, became one of the best schools in the South, and in 1965 it was renamed Tennessee Technological University. There were members of both the Senate and House of Representatives who wanted this school located in either Knoxville or Memphis. However, W.J. Matthews was quoted as saying, “Through my influence, I was the man that turned the trick and finally nailed down the Polytechnic Institute at Cookeville.”

For some 32 years, some of his close friends included these names:

William Jennings Bryan, an orator and politician, who was a dominant force in the Democratic party. He ran for President three times.

Robert Love “Bob” Taylor, a politician, writer and lecturer who served three terms as Governor of Tennessee; also served as US Senator. He is remembered for defeating his older brother, Alfred A. “Alf” Taylor, in the 1886 gubernatorial campaign known as the “The War of Roses.”

Alfred A. “Alf” Taylor, a Republican, who served as Governor of Tennessee from 1921-23. He and his brother, Bob Taylor, often traveled together all across the state while campaigning for Governor against each other, and engaged in light-hearted banter while playing fiddles in contrast to fierce debates. (Couldn’t we use a big dose of that type campaigning today!!)

Edward Hull “Boss” Crump, a Democrat and politician from Memphis who dominated Tennessee politics. He once served as Mayor of Memphis and was a member of the US House of Representatives.

Joe C. Carr, born in Cookeville, and served as Tennessee Secretary of State for a total of almost 27 years.

Kenneth Douglas McKellar, Tennessee US Representative and supporter of the creation of Tennessee Valley Authority.

John Ridley Mitchell, born in Livingston, TN. His profession is described as being an attorney; a politician; and judge. He served as US Representative from Tennessee; and held the office of Attorney General.

Albert Gore, Sr., born in Granville, TN; held office as US Representative from Tennessee; and US Senator. He is the father of former Vice-President Al Gore, Jr.

Cordell Hull, born in a log cabin in Olympus, TN., near Byrdstown. He received an elementary education in a one-room log building in Willow Grove built by his father. He was the longest-serving US Secretary of State. Some of the places where he practiced law included Livingston, Celina, and Gainesboro.

Alvin C. York, born in Fentress County, is one of the most decorated US army soldiers of World War I. He later served as project superintendent of the Civilian Conservation Corps. He also served as superintendent of Cumberland Mountain State Park near Crossville, TN. An historic state park that includes a museum in Pall Mall, TN, is named in his honor.

There are many homes and businesses today in the Cookeville/Sparta area that have an address as being located on Roberts-Matthews Highway, and some of those are incorrectly listed as Robert Matthews Highway. It would be interesting to know just how many homeowners and/or business people with the Roberts-Matthews Highway address would recognize either of the names Albert Houston Roberts and/or William Jasper Matthews. Another question comes to mind along that line. Of those who have attended Tenn Tech, how many would know the name of the person responsible for that college being located in Cookeville? And how about “Alexa”so often turned to for information these days rather than doing the research the old fashioned way … would she have the right answer?

It’s too bad just a last name on a highway marker doesn’t begin to tell the story of an outstanding politician Livingston and Overton County can claim as having lived and grown up here. Those who have obtained a college education from Tenn Tech allowing them not to have to travel a great distance to attend, and/or possibly live at home while studying for a degree should definitely be thankful to William Jasper Matthews. He was certainly someone to be remembered and recognized for his accomplishments and distinguished service for all of Tennessee.

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