Black and white photographs of abandoned downtown Adams, Tennessee

Home of the famous Bell witch legend now looks like a haunted ghost town

Maybe you’ve never heard of tiny Adams, Tennessee (population approximately 650), but odds are good that you’ve heard the tale of the Bell witch, the reportedly true story of a haunting that occurred in the vicinity of Adams in the years from 1817-1821. The mysterious paranormal activities inside the Bell house were witnessed and verified by many people outside the Bell family, including Andrew Jackson. The tale of the Bell witch has been the topic of countless stories, TV programs, and horror films. 

Bell Witch book cover

Cover of Authenticated History of the Bell Witch, published in 1894 by newspaper editor Martin V. Ingram

Adams later became the home of the first church west of the Cumberlands, as well as a train depot, post office, and assorted other businesses. Despite nearly total destruction during the Civil War, Adams bounced back and became a bustling community, benefiting from its position close to the railway and centered on old Highway 41 — once the major route from Chicago to Miami. After modern interstate highways opened, diverting travelers and business away from town, Adams went into a decline. Today, its old downtown is little more than a handful of decaying old buildings — a ghost town.

Visitors to Adams today can see a reproduction of the old Bell family house, where the legendary haunting occurred, and visit a tourist attraction called the “Bell Witch Cave.”

Pictures of old downtown Adams

Featured photograph (above): J.E. Winters Co. Dry Goods building. Buy a fine print here.

The Masonic stone on the front of the building shows it built in October 1897.

The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville featured a news item regarding this business in November, 1899: "A stave factory, conducted by J. M. Wilder, will be in operation at Adams in a few days. J. E. Winters, a leading dry goods merchant of the town, has taken the contract to furnish the white oak timber, a large quantity of which has already been hauled to the lumber yard."

The JE Winters building in Adams Tennessee, black and white photograph by Keith Dotson

Ivy on an Abandoned Brick Building – Adams, Tennessee. This is a side-view of the J.E. Winters building. Click to buy a black and white photograph

Abandoned church in Adams Tennessee

Abandoned and Boarded-up Church - Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5274). Click to buy this black and white photograph. On the day this photograph was taken, a possessive mockingbird, having nested in the steeple, loudly protested Keith's presence.

Abandoned storefronts in the old downtown of Adams, Tennessee. Click to buy a fine black and white print

Robertson and Co. Storefront Sign in Adams Tennessee. Click to buy a fine photograph.

Brick Wall with Ivy in Adams, Tennessee, a black and white photograph by Keith Dotson. Click to buy a fine print.

Abandoned Storefront Detail (RQ0A5246)

Abandoned Storefront Detail (RQ0A5246). Click to buy a fine art print.

Abandoned Brick Building - Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5235)

Abandoned Brick Building - Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5235). Buy a fine art print.

Ivy-Covered Barn, Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5217)

Ivy-Covered Barn, Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5217)

Peeling Paint on a Post in Downtown Adams (RQ0A5243)

Peeling Paint on a Post in Downtown Adams (RQ0A5243)

Cracked Paint Under the Awning in Downtown Adams (RQ0A5265)

Cracked Paint Under the Awning in Downtown Adams (RQ0A5265)

Railroad Bridge in Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5293)

Railroad Bridge in Adams, Tennessee (RQ0A5293). Click the photograph to buy a fine art print.

Abandoned Church and Broken Sidewalk in Adams, Tennessee

Abandoned Church and Broken Sidewalk in Adams, Tennessee.

Sunburst Door Pattern and Peeling Paint on Antique Door (DSC01549)

Detail of woodwork on the front doors of the J.E. Winters Co. Dry Goods building in Adams, Tennessee. Click to buy a fine black and white photographic print

Thanks for reading!

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See also Keith's blog post about Southern haints and ghosts


Jim Brooks:

Very nice old pictures. I grew up in Adams. And yes, it ws burned by the Federal Army duing the War Between the States. Only three buildings were left standing. One still stands today. One of the other two collapsed perhaps 20 years ago. The other one I think caught fire and burned a few years earlier.There were two small battles at Adams during the WBTS.The Confederates, aided by local farm boys, won both battles.
As a boy, I often asked the old pepole who had heard stories about the Bell Witch from family members who were living there at the time, if they believed those things really happened. Most would refuse to answer but some would say yes. Some said no, but later I might hear them discussing the Bell Witch with family or friends and they would be saying how they believed those things did happen. I often heard some of those same people telling strangers than they did not believe those things ever happened. They did not want to admit to strangers that they believed in the Bell Witch.. The stories you heard depended on how much they trusted you not to laugh at them. The stories I wanted to hear were the ones told by old people who had heard those stories from relatives were were there and saw and heard those things when thye happened. I had ancestors who were close friends and near neighbors to the bells. Though I knew family members who had heard those stories from grandparents and great grandparents who saw and heard those things, it was hard to get them to repeat what they had been told,. They said to do so glorified the devil. When I could get such a person to repeat what eyewitnesses hAD TOLD THEM, THEY WOULD ONLY TALK FOR A MINUTE OR TWO. They would begin to look scared and wou;ld say it was best not to talk about it anymore that day. Some other time, they would say, but no more that day. One thing several family members told me was that both John Bell and his best friend, my ancestor James Johnston, suspected the school teacher of being involved with the Bell Witch in some way.

Jan 31, 2024

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