Reverend Clisby (sometimes seen as Clisbe) Austin was born on January 21st, 1802 in East Tennessee. His parents were Archibald Austin and Rebekah Blankenship Austin. He was one of 8 children. He had a rather normal childhood and was well educated. He became a minister as well as a farmer and small merchant. Clisby married his first wife Sallie Robertson in 1820 – they had 16 children, a few who passed in childbirth.
In 1845, Clisby and his family decided to move from East Tennessee and settle in Tunnel Hill. His mother moved too, and in fact in buried by the Clisby Austin house. The reason for their move was the Western and Atlantic Railroad Tunnel. It was slated to bring great progress and business to this small area. The tunnel was connecting Chattanooga and Atlanta by railway and would forever change this rural North Georgia area. Clisby’s first wife Sallie died in 1842 and he remarried to Jane Hammond in 1843 or 1844 (around the time he moved from East Tennessee to Tunnel Hill) – they had 3 children. Jane Hammond Austin died in 1893.
In 1850 Clisby Austin wrote his daughter Polly, who was still living in Loudon, Tennessee about how well his business and farm were doing in Tunnel Hill. He recently purchased an additional 160 acres to bring his farm to 320 acres that he felt were worth between 12 and 15 hundred dollars. Clisby also mentioned the fact that the “Low Country people are swarming up in the country for their health by the hundreds. We have had several applications for boarders to stay with us and drink our good water, but turned them all away. If I was to fix up I could get plenty of boarders at $.75 cents a day or say $4.00 or $5.00 a week here in this healthy region and at the Tunnel”. He goes on to say “I see nothing on earth as yet to make me think I shall ever move from this place while I live, be that long or short.”
Of course, Clisby did end up moving away. Just before the Civil War he sold his farm (including the Clisby Austin House) and business. He felt that the area would be too involved in fighting and wanted to keep his family safe. So, he moved back to East Tennessee. His fears were not far off as the house served as a battlefield hospital, and also housed General William T. Sherman as he planned his fiery march through Georgia.
The Austin Family has an interesting connection to the “Great Locomotive Chase”. This infamous chase started in at the Lacy Hotel in Big Shanty, GA (present day Kennesaw). Clisby’s 3rd daughter Edna married George Lacy in 1838. They moved to North Georgia along with her father. Later, Edna and George moved to Big Shanty and opened up the Lacy Hotel. The General stopped for breakfast at their hotel before being stolen by James Andrews and his raiders. The chase commenced from there eventually going through the very tunnel near the Clisby Austin home. The home, of course, was no longer home to the Austin family but still a cool connection.
During the later years of the Civil War, Edna’s younger sister Adaline and her children including Millard Josephus Laymance retreated by freight car from Tunnel Hill. They were fleeing the Union Army’s advance to Tunnel Hill. They headed to the Lacey Hotel to reunite with Edna in Big Shanty. Young Josephus sold homemade cookies to the passing Confederate soldiers on the Western & Atlantic Railroad. He recounted his families’ war time experiences as they traveled around the state of Georgia as refugees in a 1931 memoir.
Clisby was a very religious man, who was a life-long Methodist. A letter he wrote in 1850, mentions the “very good religious people” of Tunnel Hill but he went on to mention some other less religious folk “but among us we have mixed up set of drunkards, swearers, and gamblers that I abhor very much indeed and 2 “Dogerys in our town that do a great work for the devil, but by the grace of God, we are of a better stripe and will stand our ground and fight the enemy of sales till we die.”
Clisby had great success in his new home Austin Mills near Rogersville, Tennessee. He had two grist mills on the Holstun River and after the war ran a hotel in Rogersville as well as the Austin Mineral Springs – a summer resort. He died in Austin Mills on July 24, 1883 where he was also buried. He may not have resided a long time in Tunnel Hill, but his settling there and building “Meadowlawn” did help found the city and forever change the area. Come out and see our new exhibit dedicated to him in the home he built! Learn more about his life from our awesome tour guides! We are open Monday-Saturday 10 am – 5 pm. And would love to see you at the Western and Atlantic Tunnel and Museum.