Rutherford County was created in 1803 from parts of Davidson and Williamson counties. The county was named in honor of Griffith Rutherford, an Irish immigrant who rose to the rank of brigadier general in the Continental army during the Revolutionary War. Covering an area of 619 square miles, the county occupies the geographical center of the state.
The first meeting of the county court was held at the home of Thomas Rucker, and in 1805, the fledgling town of Jefferson, located just above the forks of the Stones River, was selected as the seat of government. By 1811, the decline in river traffic and a shift in population necessitated a more centrally-located county seat. A commission of citizens chose a sixty-acre piece of land along the west fork of Stones River belonging to Capt. William Lytle for the honor. Briefly called Cannonsburgh, the new town soon become known as Murfreesborough. The name was later shortened to its present form.
Rutherford County's location and well-developed transportation system allowed many residents to ship a variety of crops and livestock profitably to Nashville and other towns. By 1840, the county was one of the largest corn producers in the nation. Local farmers also grew large amounts of cotton and tobacco for market. The arrival of the railroad in 1851 created increased opportunities for selling agricultural products. The widespread and diverse agrarian base limited the development of large-scale industrial endeavors until after the Civil War.