Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas Toys and Memories

The author in his Roy Roger sweatshirt and Soupy Sales socks waiting by the traditional cedar tree for Santa and the family gathering to begin in 1960

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
(previously published in the Robertson County Times)
My Dad purchased a movie camera on Christmas Eve of 1963 and we have a wonderful record of the people and gatherings of many holidays thereafter. Although everyone’s home movies look the same, it is hard to capture the true essence of those family gatherings.
In an effort to understand more about the childhood holidays and memories in Robertson County, I decided to listen to several friends discuss their most memorable holiday seasons.
Connie Head Lowe started asking friends on Facebook about their favorite Christmas toy and memory. Connie’s was Mr. Potato Head. It came with body parts but no body. You used a real potato. She remembered, “No telling how many potatoes we used, I bet mama and daddy were glad they had a good crop that year. Mama kept the apples and oranges in the hall were it was cool so they would keep longer, I can still smell the aroma it smelled like Christmas.”
The holiday season is filled with memories. Fragrances of cinnamon, gingerbread, and oranges fill the air. The smells and sounds of our memories connect us to our past and often to the enjoyment of special times of the year.
Edna Sloan Cooksey shared that her favorite Christmas toy was a 36" bride doll I received when I was six years old that I still have in the cedar chest. My doll is in great shape but one shoe broke but I think it can be fixed I just never bother to get her out and do it.
Dolls were definitely a favorite among this crowd. Dawn Foust Tinsley remembered receiving a Chrissy baby doll when she was five years old. Her hair was either short or you could pull it to make it long. Connie Head Lowe also got a large doll. Connie was six years old and her doll’s name was Cathy. Pam Head Champion, Connie’s sister, said she also got a doll about 1957. Pam’s doll had black hair and was named was Susie.
Cindy Farmer and Faye Hobgood Head both remembered their Thumbelina dolls. Faye said “I tried to take my Thumbelina apart to see how it worked. I thought my Mom was going to shoot me!” Cindy replied that she just wore her Thumbelina doll out.
Martha Walker shared her memories. “I think I still have every doll I ever got, and the clothes Momma made for them. But I remember when I got my "little red spinning wheel", I thought that was the neatest thing.” Martha said the only thing she ever made was a belt that was long enough for her Momma to wear. Martha also remembered a potholder weaving loom she received one Christmas. She added, “I thought I was going to get rich off [those potholders] selling them for a quarter a potholder, or five for a dollar.” Martha still has that loom.
My sister, Beverly Pyle, remembers a record player she received. It was one of those portable box types where the top fastened. She added, “I think the reason I loved it so much was that I always loved music.” Her Uncle, Hank Brosche, was a disc jockey in Bowling Green and gave her a bunch of 45 rpm records. All of Bev’s friends would come over and listen to music.
Colleen Bogenholm, who grew up in St. Paul, Minnesota, remembered that every Christmas Eve, she and her sisters would always get a new pair of pajamas. Because they were so close in age, they almost always got the same presents, just different colors, etc. Colleen added, “Although our parents were not wealthy, we never knew it. My sisters and I remember such wonderful Holiday times. The one toy I remember was a doll I received when I was about five or six. These dolls did nothing, but their eyes did open and close. Their limbs did not bend.” Colleen said that later she and her sisters would take shoeboxes and make cars, so their dolls could travel around the country. They had such wonderful imaginations. Colleen’s daughter, Sara, and her friend, Jennifer Hatcher, both recalled playing with their Barbies. Sara remembered one that was really fancy with a big gold dress. She loved dressing up the dolls and she remembered receiving a really big Barbie doll house that she kept forever.
I remember gathering around the tree with my family as a child. Although the decorations on the tree changed through the years, the laughter, great food and fellowship were always present. Our home was always filled with friends and family. The gifts under the tree were not usually expensive, but every gift was important. Someone always commented about the blessings we had all received that year. Being the fifth child, I certainly heard many stories of earlier Christmas memories from my siblings.
Occasionally, my parents would load us in the family Oldsmobile and drive to town. Yes, we referred to Springfield as “town.” I remember visiting Santa at Ben Franklin’s 5 & 10 on Main Street. For some reason, I honestly told him I had not been good that year, and he gave me a lesser reward for my visit. I never made that mistake again. The next year I visited with Santa at Gamble’s Hardware on 5th Ave. My eye was on a bright red wagon. Santa came through that year.
Over the years, we visited Santa in many places in the county, and our requested gifts varied. Like many in America, we learned about the “wish book” from Sears, Roebuck & Co. or Montgomery Ward. We always loved our trips to town before Christmas. I remember sitting in the car at the Kroger (on 7th Ave.) watching the neon rocking chair at Garvin Furniture on Main St.. Springfield was lit up with the glow of Christmas lights and people were walking the streets “window shopping” after the stores had closed.
Old family movies and photographs cannot hold the smell of Christmas, but they can stir those memories that make our Holidays a special time. Family gatherings during this holiday are as varied as the individuals involved, but somehow, we have developed our own special family tradition – Traditions based on the memories of our youth.

Monday, December 6, 2010

More Television Memories

Evidently I struck a chord with our discussion of television in Middle Tennessee. I appreciate hearing from folks who remember vividly their first televisions. The majority of folks could remember their first color TV set and could describe the programs they viewed. Without exception their favorite programs broadcast in color were on Sunday. Wonderful World of Disney and Bonanza topped the list.
Bonanza ran on NBC from September 12, 1959 to January 16, 1973. The Cartwright’s Ponderosa came into our homes and we adopted the name “Ponderosa” to refer to a family’s farm or homeplace. Ben Cartwright (Lorne Greene) and his sons, Adam (Pernell Roberts), Hoss (Dan Blocker) and Little Joe (Michael Landon) were discussed throughout the area.
One storekeeper remembers that the demand for cowboy hats like Little Joe’s were demanded by youngsters in Robertson county. Many of my friends had the chaps, vest and hat to become a real Ponderosa cowboy. The number of children born with the names Adam, Joseph, Michael, Ben and Eric increased dramatically in the years, 1960, 1961, 1962 and 1963. Eric Cartwright was better known as ‘Hoss.’
Television series certainly shaped discussion and provided cultural lessons. Cheyenne Bodie, Bronco Layne, and Sugarfoot all taught the lesson that good overcomes evil. Cheyenne was a western television series of 108 black-and-white episodes broadcast on ABC from 1955 to 1963. The show was the first hour-long western and was filmed by Warner Brothers. Other Westerns mentioned by callers were the Mavericks, Have Gun Will Travel (Palladin), and Gunsmoke.
Some one remembered the stockade gates (looked like a Fort) over on Highway 41A where Cheyenne or another TV show did some filming. I was unable to gather information about this site, but would love to hear the story if you have information.

I even got a comment from my sister who says she remember watching Captain Midnight, whose show was sponsored by Ovaltine. Captain Midnight was an adventure series that followed the adventures of pilot Captain Midnight and his Secret Squadron. The series featured 39 black and white episodes. Much like the Little Orphan Annie radio episodes, Captain Midnight offered a decoder and secret messages as part of each show. I also learned Little Miss Brenda Lee was born Brenda Mae Tarpley on December 11, 1944 in Atlanta, Georgia. She attended Maplewood High School in Nashville, Tennessee.

I certainly remember the “Big Show,” a movie that came on every weekday afternoon on Channel 5. One of the reasons for the delay in television broadcasting in Middle Tennessee was the Korean War. The issuance of television broadcast licenses was frozen because of the war.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Television Comes to Town

Bill Jay and Captain Bob Lobertini

Brenda Lee visits Romper Room

The Map of the famous Bonanza - Sunday night television

Bob Overton hosted the Five O'Clock Hop

(As published in the Robertson County Times - August 2009
J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
In a January 1937 edition of the Robertson County Times, an article predicted that Television would be a reality by next Christmas [1938]. I suddenly realized television has been present for most post-WW2 babies and wondered how this medium has changed our perception of the world.
Here’s the article reprinted from the Times taken from The Progressive Farmer magazine.
Television by Christmas of 1937 is now the prediction. Of course many engineers around the world are working at the problems of television. If we do have television by next Christmas, it is largely due to the genius of an Idaho farm lad – Philo T. Farnsworth.
Philo Taylor Farnsworth was born in 1906 in southwestern Utah, in a log cabin built by his grandfather, a follower of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young. As a young boy, Farnsworth loved to read Popular Science magazine and science books. By the time he entered high school in Rigby, Idaho, he had already converted most of the family's household appliances to electrical power.
Farnsworth was particularly interested in molecular theory and motors, as well as then novel devices like the Bell telephone, the Edison gramophone, and, later, the Nipkow-disc television. In 1922, Farnsworth sketched out for his Chemistry teacher his idea for an "image dissector" vacuum tube that could revolutionize television.
Neither Farnsworth's teacher nor anyone else around him had ever heard of the "television," which in the 1920s meant a device that mechanically scanned an image through a spinning disc with holes cut in it, then projected a tiny, unstable reproduction of what was being scanned on a screen. Farnsworth imagined instead a vacuum tube that could reproduce images electronically, by shooting a beam of electrons, line by line, against a light-sensitive screen.
Living on a farm 50 miles from a railroad, by the time he was 12 years old, he was chief engineer on his father’s farm. He developed a home lighting plant, hay-hoisting equipment and converted a handpowered washing machine into an electrically operated one. He even winded the armature for his electric motor.
Farnsworth dreamed of television without moving parts when he was thirteen; a year later, still in high school, he invented some of the basic parts of electronic television.
At age 19 in 1926, he completed his models and blueprints, applying for patents on his television device. In 1927, he received his first patent, on an entire television system – not just one part – and Donald K. Lippincott, the radio engineer, called him one of the ten greatest mathematical wizards of the day. Since that time, he has been busy building his system. An experimental broadcasting station has been completed in Philadelphia and test are now being conducted on an extensive scale. It seems likely that the image will be 8 by 10 inches in size with a home receiver becoming available for $200 to $300.

Television did not become a reality in 1937. It was two more years before limited broadcasts would begin in the U.S. Television came to Robertson county in 1950. WSM, Nashville’s first AM radio station in 1925 and FM radio station in 1941 became the first television broadcaster. It was estimated there were 10,000 television set in all of Middle Tennessee in 1950. The first program included Jack DeWitt, Ott Devine, David Cobb and Dottie Dillard. WSIX-TV began broadcasting in 1953, and WLAC-TV joined the air in 1954. Most Robertson county folks depended upon radio stations for local news and weather reports, along with the daily newspapers from Nashville and local weekly papers. With the advent of television, early morning news and weather reports became popular. Eddie Hill, hosted a news and variety show, called Country Junction. This program featured local talent, with current farm prices and basic weather forecasts. WSM added the Waking Crew, the Noon Show and regular news programming with Jud Collins.
WSIX introduced us to live studio wrestling, Youth on Parade, and Shock Theatre.
When asked about the first TV shows he watched, my brother, Wayne, remembered watching the Howdy Doody Show with Buffalo Bob Smith, Clarabell the Clown and Chief Thunderthud. He also mentioned the Lone Ranger and Romper Room, but they never called his name through the Magic Mirror. Romper Room changed teachers over the years, but stuck with some of the same songs, games, and sayings – like Do Bee. My sister, Beverly, and her friends watched American Bandstand in the afternoon, and a Nashville show, called 5 o’clock Hop hosted by Dave Overton. Little Miss Brenda Lee was a regular guest on that show.
The cartoon shows continued to be the primary entertainment of younger viewers. I remember Captain Bill Jay and Captain Bob Lobertini both hosting Popeye and other cartoons. Other folks mentioned Bozo the clown, Captain Countdown, Cap’n Crook’s Crew, and the Happy Town Gang. Boyce Hawkins, remembered as a weather man, played Grandpa Moses on the Happy Town Gang which played the Three Stooges comedies. The great westerns like Roy Rogers, My Friend Flicka, Have Gun Will Travel, Gunsmoke, Bonzana, and Maverick were the favorites of young and old alike.
My Mom and some of her friends watched Jack LaLanne and Slimnastics, with Bob Lobertini and Jackie Bell. These exercise program introduced the Glamour Stretcher and regular daily exercise routines. I remember these grown ladies rolling on the floor doing the bicycle and hip rolls. One of my Dad’s favorite programs was Woods ‘n Waters hosted by Bill Jay and Bill Clay. I remember we made a special trip down 8th Ave in Nashville to visit Bill Clay’s Sporting Goods store in Melrose Place.
Today with the addition of cable and satellite programming, recording devices and movie rentals, it is not uncommon for homes to have a television in every room of the house. My how times change, I still remember when WLAC – Channel 5 became the first Nashville station to go to a 24-hour format. We sat up all night just to see it happen. I wonder what Philo T. Farnsworth would think today about his invention.
Sources: Nashville Broadcasting, Dorman; Popular Science – Nov 1940; RC Times 1937.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving Memories

Mom (Christine) decides to gather her clean family together before a family gathering in 1957. L to R) Joe, Denny, Beverly holding Mark, Wayne and J. W (Dad).

J. Mark Lowe
(as it appeared in Robertson County Times, 24, Nov 2010)

I can still remember the excitement of waking up early on Thanksgiving Day so that we could watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Since my birthday was often on Thanksgiving Day, my brothers called it Markey’s Parade. Can you imagine how spoiled I really must be? The smell of sage, cornbread and turkey filled the air.
Probably wearing my Davy Crockett pajamas, I would plant a pillow in front of the TV and wait for the excitement to begin. It is amazing we ever watched any of the parade with all the excitement happening around the house. We rarely celebrated any holiday without additional family or friends visiting.
One year, our Aunt Martha (my Dad’s sister) and Uncle Kenny came from Oklahoma City for Thanksgiving Day. This also meant their son, Jimmy, came along. He was about a year older than me and we always had a good time.
About a day or two before Thanksgiving, Aunt Martha would persuade one of two of the kids to go to town with her. Although there was some work involved, we all would jump at the chance. This year it was my turn. Aunt Martha and I headed to town in her pink cadillac. We went directly to the Kroger store on 7th and Locust. This is the site of the Alternative School today. This was one of my favorite stores because I would get to see Mrs Watha Farmer. Miss Watha was just one of the sweetest people I ever knew. I always got a big hug from her when we got to the store and when we were leaving.
I started with my hug and Aunt Martha had me push the buggy down the aisles. Although my Mom had already bought everything for the Thanksgiving dinner, Aunt Martha got a great joy in shopping. We would buy whole cranberries, jelled cranberry sauce, and cranberry relish. We bought pecans, oranges, apples, grapes, and bananas for Aunt Martha’s fruit salad. Once the buggy was full, he headed to Miss Watha’s register. Once the tally was made, I got my farewell hug and headed to the car to help load the groceries in the pink cadillac. Sometimes, Aunt Martha would have another store or two on her agenda, but on this particular day, we headed back to Cedar Hill.
Once we arrived back home and began to unload the groceries, it was always fun to watch my Mom decide where to put all of these ‘extra’ groceries. Aunt Martha would almost giggle with excitement. My Mom would exclaim, “Martha Doolittle, what am I going to do with you?” I can assure you that when my Mom passed away, there were still cans of jelled cranberry sauce in the cupboard purchased by Aunt Martha.
It was always hard to go to school when we had company at home. But going to school the day before Thanksgiving Day was particularly hard. Although the teachers planned special activities, the school was a buzz with holiday talk. Since I was in the primary grades, we would complete our Thanksgiving art projects. They often included leaves colored in the shades of Autumn, Pilgrims in hats or turkeys made by tracing our hands with colorful tail feathers.
I guess the highlight of the school day would be the Thanksgiving lunch in the cafeteria. We were blessed with wonderful people in the school cafeteria like Flossie Haynes, Janie Ruth Armstrong, Ora Corbin, Ethel Poole and others. They always prepared wonderful food, but especially the holiday meals. I really don’t remember if we stayed at school all day or got out early for Thanksgiving, perhaps because I was so excited to get home and play with my cousin, Jimmy.
It seemed the weather around here for Thanksgiving was often mild and we enjoyed playing in the yard and fields. We might even sneak down to Lowe’s Feed Mill so that we could get a bag of peanuts and cold drink. I wasn’t supposed to cross the railroad tracks in Cedar Hill by myself, so with my cousin I felt free to do so. My Dad would say, “You be very careful crossing those railroad tracks!”
As we headed back to the house, we would talk about what we were going to do when we grew up. Jimmy always said he was joining the circus. Today, he runs a travelling carnival in the southwest. I often suggested that I might be a fireman, or a bank teller. When we got close to my parents’ house, we might see a tractor-trailer (or transfer truck as we called it) pass on the highway and we decided we might get them to blow their air horns. Highway 41 passed right in front of our house and since there were no Interstate Highways at that time, this was one of the major federal highways and traffic was heavy. We sat out near the road and watched for trucks. When we saw one coming down the hill near St. James Baptist Church, we would stand and begin our motion of pulling the horn cable. Many of the drivers would accommodate by blowing their air horns and we would laugh and jump with delight when they did.
Let’s get back to Thanksgiving morning. I don’t remember if the parade was on multiple channels in the old days. We didn’t have remote controls and we children served as the remote. But we were watching my parade and waiting for every band, float, and big balloon. Sometime during the morning, my Mom would interrupt the parade and ask for someone to taste her cornbread dressing. I loved my Mom’s cornbread dressing and tasting it was a real treat for all of us. Once she had our approval, she would divide the dressing into individual servings and pat them into small mounds for baking. That cornbread dressing was the only thing that could pull us away from the parade.
Aunt Martha would be busy helping in the kitchen, but she was also making her fruit salad. She would even peel those grapes. Aunt Martha’s fruit salad was served at many of our important family gatherings, including a few wedding receptions.
You might think that the food was the most important part of this gathering, but without the wonderful family and friends, a Thanksgiving feast would just be good food. May you and your family create special memories on this day of giving Thanks and remembering the family times of our collective history.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Remembering Summertime Old Time Gospel Meetings

[Photograph: A singing school at the Mt. Zion Methodist Church, Robertson County, Tenn.]
J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society

Growing up in Robertson County, some of my best stories are about attending Gospel Meetings or as some groups call a Revival Meeting. These were almost always in the mid-Summer after crops were growing, but before the busy harvest season. Hosted by local churches, these meetings typically brought in a visiting evangelist for a week-long event.
These events almost always began with a great food event. Although you don’t hear this phrase as often these days, the concept of dinner on the grounds is still a part of summer church gatherings. When I was a young man, these dinners were often held under the shade trees of some church member’s yard. Remember, we didn’t have air-conditioned homes or churches in those days.
Mr. John Sory and Maxine Inman Stroud hosted many of these picnics for the church of Christ in Cedar Hill. At that time, they lived on Garrett Road between Springfield and Cedar Hill. Their frame house set on a small hill with lots of trees in the front yard. The Stroud children, Faye, John, Tom, Sandra, Ken and Jim, helped everyone unload their food. Two large wagons covered with tablecloths became laden with some of the best food ever made. After the traditional blessing by the visiting preacher, the crowd would grow quiet while plates were heaped with favorite recipes and traditional foods. Almost everyone had a garden then, so the fresh tomatoes, squash casseroles, green beans, garden peas, and sliced cucumbers were homegrown and freshly picked.
Henry W. ‘Bill’ Baggett would choose his favorite dish, usually a dessert, and declare it ‘larrupin good.’ Of course, everyone who hadn’t tasted his choice, had to come back for their own judgment. There are some great restaurants in Robertson county and surrounds, but most of my favorite foods are directly related to these ‘dinners on the grounds’ Miss Lucille’s pickles, Miss Janie Ruth’s rolls and chocolate pies, Miss Ann’s roast beef and potatoes, Miss Rebecca’s ‘fatback’ and my Mama’s cherry cobbler have formed my taste buds. The ladies would often share and receive recipes for a new entree or family favorite.
After enjoying this bountiful feast, the crowd would settle down for conversation and the young folks would wander away to play. With six Stroud children as hosts, the young people at their home were well entertained. I still remember the year when I rode a bicycle around the yard at the Strouds. My usual gang of friends were there: Billy Corbin, Ken Stroud, Jim Stroud, Gail Carter [Jenkins], Steve Carter. Although my brothers had bicycles, their bikes were too large for me to ride. Ken showed me how to pedal and keep my balance. The group balanced the bicycle as I took my first tentative ride. I rode around the back of the house and began to build up some speed. As I approached the side of the house, the yard ran down to the driveway which sloped even further toward the road. Feeling very confident, I peddled away from my protectors and headed towards the driveway. Once I had committed to that direction, I realized that the cars were parked so closely that I wouldn’t be able to navigate this wobbly two-wheeled device between the cars.
In spite of my wonderful tutelage by Ken and the gang, they had failed to show me one important action. I did not know how to stop the bicycle. Rolling ever faster down the driveway, I realized that my stop would probably be sudden and hard. Deciding whose car I would hit was flashing through my mind, but choices like that would require more dexterity than this young boy could muster. Splat! I stopped in the middle of someone’s green Oldsmobile. No visible damage to either the car, bicycle or me, although my bruises did not appear until later. My entourage decided we should probably restrict our riding to the back and side yards.
We wandered back towards the adults when we heard a discussion about keeping in shape. Our young minister, Frank Bunner, challenged another of the men to a push-up contest. Willie Carter was the other challenger. Willie suggested they do inverted push-ups with their feet up the side of a tree. Mr. Carter then demonstrated and did several push-ups basically while standing on his head. The two men laughed and the younger Bunner told Mr. Carter that he believed he could still wrestle him down. I believe there might be old home movies of the Bunner-Carter wrestling match. The two men grappled and tussled while laughing and encouraging the other. There was no doubt that Willie Carter would be the winner. I remember some mention of the wrestling match during the sermon that night, but don’t recall the details, except Jacob and the angel.

Usually after all had played awhile, a group would pull out some songbooks and an impromptu acapella singing would erupt. Gathering around with our parents and their friends was often a highlight of the day. E.W. ‘Dutch’ Armstrong was the prominent bass. His brother, Doug Armstrong, would often take the lead, while everyone else joined the singing. The Armstrong boys had learned to sing back in Stewart county in one of the traveling singing schools. Using shaped notes, they often would share techniques for reading music with our group. Although the harmony was beautiful, all were invited to participate, whether they could carry a tune or not.
This wonderful event finally ended when someone suggested they needed to go feed the cows or milk before church time. Family, friends and visitors were warmly greeted as they parted this wonderful fellowship.
More on these memories later. Keep telling those stories

Friday, July 9, 2010

Mineral Springs and Boyhood Trips, Part 2

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society

As my Dad continued his story, we headed toward a picnic table with our dessert from JELLIS. [J. Ellis Drug Store, Glasgow, KY] Towards the river, a large round stone stood with water flowing from the top and sides. My Dad said when he was a little boy and they stopped here, he would go to that stone and drink as much water as he could hold. He said the water contained minerals and was good for one's health. I walked to the stone and saw the water shooting about 3 or 4 inches above the stone. I bent over and began drinking the cool water flowing above the stone. Just like many of the springs where I have tasted water, this water was very cold. I swallowed a big drink from the stone and stood up. Suddenly, I realized the water had a peculiar taste. Not only did the water now have a taste, I began to notice an odor much like rotten eggs. I was drinking from a old sulphur spring. As I began to belch the sulphur gas, my Dad began to laugh.
He related the story of the Sulphur Well. They would stop here for a rest during the all-day journey to the house of his Aunt Maude and Uncle Leonard. The ladies would begin to spread linens across the picnic tables, while the men and children washed their hands at the big stone.
I could only imagine the lunch these relatives prepared. Growing up attending family reunions, these relatives made the most scrumptious fried chicken, cathead biscuits, and sweet corn pudding. The ladies were recognized as the best cooks in southern Kentucky. There were three sisters called Annie,Nannie and Clara. As everyone else unloaded their prepared feasts, Annie and Nannie were spying out what they might carry home for supper.
We sat down at the picnic table, and I asked my Dad what they did while they rode along during this journey. He told me they sang songs, told stories, played games, and watched the sites along the road. His Uncles had to bring gasoline along to fill the tanks. Although there were some gas refueling stations or service stations, my Dad said there were few in the country.
He said the family gathered around the picnic feast, which was now covered with a large tablecloth. One of his Uncles would lead a prayer of blessing and the cloth covering the food would be removed.

When my Dad visited the White Sulphur Well as a boy, he remembered a swinging bridge crossing the water to the hotel and grounds. On the site of the sulphur well is a Kentucky Historical Society roadside marker:
This artesian well was discovered in 1845 by Ezekiel Neal, who was drilling for salt water. When he reached 180 ft. depth, pressure shot water, auger, and shafting over top of large sycamore tree. Besides salt, water contained sulphur, magnesium, and iron; used by many for its medicinal value. Constant water supply not affected by cold, heat, rain, or draught.

Beula Villa Hotel - Built in 1903 by Catlett W. Thompson, across from sulphur well. Two main buildings with guest rooms were noted for spacious, wide verandas. A swinging bridge was erected from the main veranda to the well. Next owner was King C. Crenshaw. Business thrived until 1960, when Crenshaw's health failed. After 65 years of serving the community, this popular hotel closed in 1968
My Dad did not remember ever staying at the hotel, but he did remember eating there on one occasion. He remembered the wide porches with rocking chairs, the smell of country ham and hot biscuits. My two most vivid flashbacks of the visit are seeing my Dad laugh as I continued to burp the taste of sulphur on our journey.
Martha Neal Cooke shared her memories of the Sulphur Well Hotel called the Beula Vista from her childhood.
“The smells from the Beula Vista met us as we made the turn toward the grand hotel in Sulphur Well. This was th eone Sunday ritual I looked forward to as a child. We got out of our car and headed for the enormous porch which semi-circled the hotel, and each adult and child found a high-backed flat-armed rocking chair in which to rock and talk for at least 30 minutes before dinner.
At the stroke of noon, King Crenshaw would come out on the porch and ring the biggest brass bell I’ve ever seen. He then led us through the parlor, with its Gone With the Wind lamps and their awesome prisms, to the dining room. There, round tables to seat 12 were ready with starched linen, heavy flatware, and the precious cargo of Sunday-dinner: fried county ham still steaming with the smell of coffee in the red-eye gravy, mashed potatoes with butter melting from the peaks, fried chicken and accompanying bowls of cream gravy, green beans visibly bolstered with ham chunks, and those silver dollar biscuits that would fog your glasses when you pulled them apart. How could they keep everything so hot! I don’t remember salads, except maybe cole slaw, but dessert! I can still taste the mixture of hot apple cobbler and cold ice-cream coming together in my mouth.” Sources: Southern Food: At Home, On the Road, in History, Egerton, 1993, Kentucky Historical Society

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mineral Springs and Boyhood Trips, Part 1

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society

Although I grew up in Cedar Hill, my parents were natives of Kentucky. I grew up hearing the place names and stories of small Kentucky towns. For example, Chalybeate Springs, pronounced Clee-Bit, is a small town in Edmonson county, Kentucky near the Mammoth Cave and known for the mineral springs with the mineral, Chalybeate, known for its healing properties. As a young boy, I remember the sulphur well which provided water for Jo Byrns High School [Cedar Hill, Tenn.]. How could one forget the taste of that water from the water fountain.
In a review of medical journals, I found a lot of study of the medicinal qualities of mineral and thermal waters. In one 1902 Medical Journal, I found a list of noted mineral springs. Among them were:
Eldorado Springs, Chancy [later Ridgetop]. Robertson Co., Tenn. sulphuretted, Idaho Springs, St. Bethlehem, Montgomery Co., Tenn.; Kingston Springs, Cheatham Co., Tenn., sulphuretted and chalybeate; Red Boiling Springs, Macon Co., Tenn. sulphuretted and chalybeate; also in this list were Buena Vista Springs and Borgher Springs near Russellville in Logan County.
According to the 1893 Keating and Hamilton’s Dictionary of Medicine, “Natural water possessing more or less distinct medicinal properties due to inorganic substances in solution. All are diuretic when taken in considerable quantities. Chalybeate waters are those holding in solution one or more of the iron compounds, most frequently ferrous bicarbonate and ferrous oxide. They are useful in anemia, but usually have other constituents, the administration of which may or may not be indicated in certain cases. Purgative waters usually owe their properties to sodium sulphate and magnesium sulphate. They are used in some cases of constipation, and in gout, gastric congestion [catarrh], and congestion of the liver. Sulphuretted waters contain sulphuretted hydrogen, and usually the sulphates of sodium and potassium. They, are useful in some cases of gout and rheumatism, in hepatic torpor [liver inactivity], and in constipation, and are asserted to have been used with good results in cases of chronic bronchitis and phthisis [tuberculosis or consumption]. In all these diseases they may be used internally, and externally as baths.”
The springs of Kentucky and Tennessee have had considerable attention paid to them by geologists and chemists, and they have many improved resorts.
I remembered my Dad talking about stopping at the White Sulphur Well on his way to visit his Aunt and Uncle in South Central Kentucky. Eventually, I would learn more about the Sulphur Well. When the father of the Baptist minister in Cedar Hill died in Kentucky, my father and I set out to the funeral home.
We left early one Saturday morning, right after breakfast. I’m not quite sure why I was chosen to go, but I always enjoyed the one-on-one time with my Dad. We traveled through Keysburg and on to Russellville, where we turned onto Highway 68-80. I was familiar with this road, since we often visited family in Bowling Green, but on this day our destination was a bit further. We passed the South Union Shaker village in Logan county and passed the oil pumps near Woodburn. As we approached the community of Rockfield, my Dad told me that he attended first grade in the old school here. He promised we could come back to visit on another day. We passed through Bowling Green and continued northward on the highway.
We soon passed through Bristow, where I knew my brothers and sister attended school before the family moved to Tennessee. Dad turned right following 68-80 through the community of Oakland and by Smiths Grove.
We traveled through the countryside with my tour guide pointing out farms and sights from his youth. I only wish I could remember more of the stories he told on that day. We headed into Glasgow, and he said “I guess we will have time to stop at JELLIS.” I didn’t know what he meant, but he encouraged me to wait and see. As we turned into the city square in Glasgow, I saw across from the Courthouse, a large brick building with a sign painted across the front – J. Ellis’ Drug. [JELLIS] We went inside for an early lunch at the drugstore counter, where everyone there seemed to know my Dad. He suggested we get our dessert to go and head on our journey.
Heading east on Hwy 68-80, he began to tell me about how his family loaded up in a wagon to visit his Aunt Maude and Uncle Leonard, who lived in Greensburg, Kentucky. He said his grandmother, his Uncles, Aunts, and parents would load up two truck wagons with food and supplies for the visit. Based on his stories, I would suspect his first trip would have been about 1925. One of the trucks has high sides and a cover over part of the bed. The other truck had lower sides and only a cloth cover. My Dad remembered his younger brother, Ralph, being held by an Aunt most of the way. The trip would take all day, so they would head out early in the morning, stop over for lunch, then arrive in the early evening at their destination. Staying a day or two, they would head back following the same plan. He said,” We always stopped at the Sulphur Well for lunch.” As he shared more about this trip, he pulled over to a small parking area, he announced, “ We’re here!”
Although disappointed at the story being interupted, I jumped out of the car with anticipation. “Where are we?” I asked, only seeing a rushing creek and a few picnic tables. “The Sulphur Well, we are at the Sulphur Well, “ he exclaimed as he grinned.
Learn more about the trip to Sulphur Well next week.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Evening at Elmwood Celebrates Residents of Local Cemetery

J. Mark Lowe
Robertson County Historical Society
The summer evening was still. The shadows grew long as the sun began to slide below the horizon. It was a typical early summer evening. “Halt! Who goes there !!!,” shouted the sentry at his post. As the soldier drew near, his uniform marked him as a Confederate soldier. He looked tired and worn. He questioned the visitors about loyalty, and after determining that no “Yankee spies” were in the group, he began to tell his story.
Evening at Elmwood is the annual fundraiser by the Robertson County Historical Society that brings the stories of our past citizens to the attention of eager audience members.
This year [2010], participants will have the chance to meet Mrs. R. K. (Ann) Hicks, W.E. Ryan, Thomas W. Mason, Richard Cheatham, and T. Marion Henry. The evening will begin with a box supper on the grounds of historic Elmwood Cemetery.
After the meal, costumed guides will lead small groups of dinner guests throughout the cemetery where they will meet the special resident hosts and hear their story. These guides will also provide general information about the cemetery, point out interesting gravestones or share additional stories about other residents.
Here are just a few tidbits about the resident hosts for the evening:
Miss Ann K. Greer was born in Gallatin, Tennessee in 1815. She was married to young Physician, Robert K. Hicks in October 1842 by Thomas Farmer, a Justice of the Peace. The Methodist Church in Springfield was organized in the 1830’s. Mrs. Hicks was one of the early members. By 1850, the Hicks family had grown to include Robert Jr., Edwin and Ida. Mr. Hicks was also involved in politics. He attended an 1854 political Convention held in Charleston, representing nearly all of the Southern and Western States. The session lasted for six days, business of the greatest importance was discussed (including slavery, railroads, taxation, territorial expansion.) Hicks attended the convention at personal expense. Ann Hicks was connected to the famous Abingdon/Holston Salt works and wealthy land owner, William King. She filed a power of attorney to place her claim towards the estate. The exact relationship has not been determined.
William Eugene Ryan was born in Logan county, Ky in 1858, the son of James and Sarah Mason Ryan. The family moved to Springfield about 1880, where James Ryan operated a grocery. W.E. Ryan became Vice-President of the Springfield National Bank in place of the deceased John Y. Hutchinson. Ryan later became President of that bank. He was also one of the major founding stockholders of the Springfield Woolen Mill. W.E. Ryan & Co was the distributor of Horseshoe Brand Tobacco Grower fertilizer from 1900-1905.
Thomas W. Mason is buried beneath a gravestone indicating he was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War. The stone lacks a date of birth or date of death. Thomas W. Mason was born about 1843 in Logan county, Kentucky. He was the son of D.D. and Francis J. French Mason. After the death of his parents, Thomas lived with his half-sister, Sarah Mason, and her husband James Ryan. Young Thomas Mason enlisted in the 1st Kentucky Regiment on 23 April 1861, but the unit was disbanded in May of 1862. Mason then enlisted the 25th of August, 1862 at Keysburg, Kentucky in (Gano’s) 2nd Kentucky Cavalry. He was captured in Greensburg, Kentucky on 20 May 1863 and was taken to the Military Prison in Louisville, where he was sent to Baltimore on the 29th of May. He was paroled from Fort McHenry in Baltimore in June, and exchanged in Virginia. He was recaptured in Salineville, Ohio in July of the same year and taken to Camp Chase, Ohio. He was transferred to Camp Douglas, Illinois in August of 1863, where he remained until 21 January 1865 when he was released. He is surrounded my the Ryan family in Elmwood Cemetery.
Richard Cheatham, born in Springfield, Tennessee, in the year 1799 was a merchant, farmer, breeder of fine horses and cotton ginner. He was appointed a Brigadier General of the State Militia in 1829. Cheatham served as a Representative to the State legislature from 1825 until 1836. He battled Cave Johnson unsuccessfully for the U.S. Congressional Seat through the campaigns of 1830, 1832, and 1834 before defeating Johnson in 1836. Gen. Richard Cheatham served in Congress from the Whig party from 1837 to 1839. He was defeated by Cave Johnson, who returned to the House of Representatives.
Thomas Marion Henry was born in 1826. T. Marion married Miss Harriet Gunn in 1851. She was the daughter of the Rev Thomas Gunn and his wife, Frances. In the 1860 census, Mr. Henry’s occupation is a cabinet maker by 1880 he is listed as a furniture dealer. Previously Henry was in partnership of a grocery in Springfield with James T. Henry for only a year (1876-1877).
To learn more about this event or the wonderful history of Robertson County, call the Robertson County History Museum at 382-7173.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Family Farm Recognized

Ayres Family Farm recognized for Century of Agricultural Production
J. Mark Lowe
(as printed in the Robertson County Times, 20 Jan 2010)

Dan and Billie Ann Ayres along with their family were recognized in 2008 as living on a Tennessee Century Farm, by the Center for Historic Preservation, which is located on the MTSU campus. The Century Farm Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have continuously owned, and kept in production, family land for at least 100 years. This project recognizes the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farm Program.
On 7 April 1909, Daniel P. and Mary Ayres acquired 83 acres in Cedar Hill from J. B. and Malissa Robertson. Dan P. and Mary were parents to three sons, Joseph, Jack and William, and raised tobacco and corn. Prior to this, Daniel P. Ayres had been an undertaker in Cedar Hill.
div>The second owner of the land was Daniel’s brother, James M. Ayres. He acquired the property in 1910. He and wife Mary Elizabeth Moon reared five children: Bessie Ellen [married Walton Benton Cope], James Louis, Willie Stephen, Samuel Lee and Wallace [died as infant]. During this generation, the farm produced corn, tobacco and wheat. Daniel P. Ayres established a grist mill in Cedar Hill, which he operated until his death.
James M. Ayers and his wife, Mary mortgaged the land to the Union Central Life Insurance Company on 22 Sept 1913. The mortgage was for $700. A description of the property was included on the mortgage:
Beg at a stone, Jesse Alley’s Southeast Corner thence East 50 & 1/6 poles to a Stone, Bob Alley’s corner; thence North crossing the Adams and Barren Plains road [now known as Sturgeon Creek Road] with Bob Alley’s line 240 poles to a stone in William Miles line; thence West with his line 56-1/2 pols to a stone, Allbrooks’s Southeast corner; thence North 5-1/2 poles to a stone; thence West 3-1/3 poles to a stone in said Allbrook’s line; thence South crossing the Adams and Barren Plains road with Jesse Alley’s line 245-1/2 poles to the beginning , containing 83 acres.
After James M. Ayres died in 1919, the family sought to complete his earlier mortgage and extend a new mortgage for building and land.
Mrs. Mary Ayres in her deposition: “I am 59 years of age, reside in the 5th District of Robertson county, on the farm owned by my husband, James, at the time of his death, and my two sons, Louis and Samuel live with me and work and run the farm.
They proposed borrowing $1500 in order to “… pay off the loan and build a new tobacco barn as the storm blew our barn down and blew down the henhouse and damaged the dwelling some, and we have no other barn without building a new one to house our tobacco crop and it will be absolutely necessary to build a new tobacco barn so we can run the farm.” The family petitioned the court to remove the disability of age from Samuel Ayres so he could participate in the mortgage, he being 19 years of age at the time. The original mortgage was released on 19 November 1923.
In 1931, James Louis Ayres became the third generation to own the farm. Louis was married in 1925 to Virginia Ewing Webb (daughter of John J. and Nannie Webb) and their three children were Clarence Edward, James Daniel ‘Dan’ and Betty Ann.
Growing up during the Great Depression, Dan remembers that the family was reasonably self-sufficient. Everyone worked hard to produce corn, tobacco, dairy cattle, hogs and chickens for the family’s table and to sell. He also recalled that although their house was small, “we always had room for family or friends who had no other place to live.”
According to family records, in 1945 the farm received electricity and in the early 1950s, the family’s first telephone was on an eight-party line.
In 1981, Dan, who married Billie Ann Dority, became the fourth generation of the Ayres family to own the farm. Today, the couple’s son, Jeff, produces corn, tobacco, hay and beef cattle on the property, which is currently celebrating a century of family ownership and agricultural production. Lisa, the daughter of Dan and Billie Ann, and her husband, Chris Traughber, have also lived on the farm since they married. The sixth generation to live and work on the farm are the daughter of Lisa (LlieAnna Danielle) and son and daughter of Jeff (Louis Daniel and Laura).
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture began the Tennessee Century Farm Program in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial. Today, the TDA provides a metal outdoor sign denoting either 100, 150 or 200 years of “continuous agricultural production” to Century Farm families.
According to Caneta Hawkins, director of the Century Farms program, “To be considered for eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years; must produce $1,000 revenue annually; must have at least 10 acres of the original farm; and one owner must be a resident of Tennessee.The Century Farmers represent all the farm families of Tennessee and their contributions to the economy, and to the social, cultural and agrarian vitality of the state, both past and present, is immeasurable. Each farm is a Tennessee treasure.”
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit
Sources: Century Farm Application; Chancery Case #3027; Original Estate Settlements, Deeds and Mortgages in Robertson County Archives.

J. Mark Lowe
J. Mark Lowe Reviews
Springfield, Tennessee Speakers
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