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Exerpts from Byrum's History
WWI and Beyond
Walthall and Mahery Lumber - as noted above, serving railroads throughout the
East. Later, in 1928, F. O. Mabery, Sr., would. take over leadership of the
Athens Stove Works which had begun in 1924. In the thirty-three years of
Mahery's presidency, the company moved from wood and coal stove to gas in 19J2
and electric in 1956. The motto, "Vesta Stoves for Better Living - Everywhere"
would become a national slogan.
Athens Furniture Company - which became Athens Table and Manufacturing Company
under the Hobacks who were assisted by the Baylesses, Carl in sales, Richard in
manufacturing itself, and Sarah as office manager. "Sarah's gntiring interest
has proven how valuable the services of a woman may become ."J Maynard Ellis
was the bookkeeper.
Cooke Brothers Box Company - operated by the sons of the famous Methodist
Bishop, R. J. Cooke.
Live Oaks Farms - the predecessor of the Mayfield Dairy Farms . An old ad
read: "T. B. Mayfield and Son are among the best farmers of the county.
The active management of the farm at this time falls to T. B., Jr., who besides
having a university course, has made a close study of farming methods and stock
raising." The ad then continues : ''We breed and have for sale saddle colts ,
saddle fillies, mules, jacks, jersey cows, jersey heifers, and famous
Berkshire hogs" A 1922 ad read: "Cattle Tuberculine Tested - dairy product;;
from tuberculine tested cattle should command your first consideration, and its
importance cannot be overestimated."
Grant Dental Office - probably the oldest professional concern in the county
and operated in 1921 by Dr, Will Grant who had been mayor seven years .
Smiley Dental Office in the county only a few years at the time, but to
continue under the tutelage of Hoyt Smiley, Jr. , until the present time.
c. F. Keith, Jr. Insurance - operating under the care of the man who was also
the ranking major of the State National Guard.
First National Bank - coming to prominence with leaders such as J.M. Henderson,
James Hornsby, R. M., R. J., and James G, Fisher, Clem Jones, and S. F. Gettys .
The present downtown branch building had just been completed in 1921, and was
the showplace of East Tennessee.
J. Nat Moore Hardware becoming in 1921 Athens Hardware, and identified with
the leading name in feed and seed sales in the county's history. The name has
been carried down to the present business community.
J.C. Reed Real Estate - a successful history of both real estate and insurance
Morris Goodfriend coming about 1915 to be the first important Jewish merchant
in the county. In later years Simon Monen would continue the tradition of
excellent Jewish business establishments in the community.
J . H. Neil Groc~ry - for many years at the corner of Jackson and Washington
Street, Neil 's son, J oe Wheeler, is described as "a young man of exceptional
worth and character, one who applies himself strict4b to his business, yet is
always courteous and considerate to his customers."
Miles A. Riddle Drugs - the 1921 chronicler was correct in saying that Riddle
in eleven yea.rs was ''building a business which will remain one of Athens'
greater institutions during the yea.rs to come." Ed Heird, from Meigs County
was working for Riddle and would later have his own drug store.
Dixie Filling Station - where W. E. Clark "exchanges the product of John D.
for the product of the United State Mint. 1142 The big selling feature was
"visible gas," and the company carried Mansfield , Silvertown, Oxford, and
Dennis Foundry - making nearly all metal cast parts of the variety of heavy
metal industries in the county.
J . W. Colston Store - a famous name in the county in general merchandise since
Horton and Son Drugs - in business for forty-eight years under Joe Horton and
until recent years under his son, Glenn. The Horton name had been central to
the development of business in the county almost since its inception.
Athens Hosiery Mill - the result of the creativity and genius of R. J. Fisher,
Sr., and later led by his sons R.J., Jr,, who had strong design and technical
expertise , and Ed, whose relationship with the workers of the mill is still
well-known in North Athens. The mill became famous for its "Spartan," "Takoma
.Pear ," and "Maid of Athens" brands which were distributed throughout the world .
D. B. Shoemaker Grocery - so immediately successful that his store building
fell in . His wife, Marie , was from France and Shoemaker had met her during
Brakebill Meat Market - "a full supply of the choice and tender meats that are
so desirable to the county residents.
Kate Fox Millinery - "it is an assured fact that the lady in quest of stylish
and seasonable headgear willMot go amiss when visiting the establishmente de
milinaire of Mrs . Kate Fox.'
Athens Roller Mills- the operation of the Long Family. "A paragon
of quality and purity.
Bolton's Jewelry Store - operated by Mrs.Ira Bolton after her husband's death
with the assistance of watchmaker Gardner Horton.
Julian's Pharmacy - "his soda jerker juggles a wicked glass . His fountain
~ispenses all the frozen and semi-artistic dainties usually found in a me45opolitan
palace of sweets, which causes the cash register to tinkle merrily."
Bud Steed's Stores - operating the first "chain" grocery store, with two
locations in the county.
Smith's Bootery_ - "will fit out the pedal extremities of either Cinderella or
Athens Box Company - operating in North Athens under the leadership of H.
Bayless Hardware - the major hardware and general merchandise store in the
area which, in 1921, had just added a furniture and music department.
R. J , Haley Rubber Company- not only selling tires, but vulcanizing its own
Athens Plow Company - growing out of a new tractor plow invented by Jay
Stevenson who worked for McMinn Motor Company. Under the later leadership of
E. L. Willson, Athens Plow would become a major industrial concern of the
count y. In the mid-1940s, J.H. Taylor would move from Athens Plow to build hi s
own inventions at Taylor Implement Manufacturing Company .
Athens Motor Company - selling Chevrolets and Studebakers under the ownership
of Marshall J. Keith.
Athens Brazing and Welding Company - led by R.H. Morrow .
McMinn Motor Company - the Ford dealership which has continued to the present
time. Led by Cyril Jones, brother of Clem Jones, and Hugh Lowery.
W.W . Padgett Marble Company - sending exquisite Tennessee and Georgia marble
thr oughout the world. ·
Dodson Insurance Agency - founded by William Calvin Dodson in 1899 , and the
oldest i nsurance agency in t he county. Operated until 1968 under t he able
and memorable leadership of Frank Dodson.
Owen and Company - ready-to-wear business highly visible for many years on the
square in Athens. James Cravey, a salesperson, would later have his own dry
Lackey Hardware formerly the Lackey, Keith, Gettys Hardward Company . This
company also sold Buick automobiles with Leuty Owen as the main clerk. Lackey' s
full-page, 1922 Christmas ad offered the chance to win a seventy-five piece
dinner set worth $65 .00 - a considerable amount f or that time.
James Vaughn Dentist married T. B. Mayfield ' s daughter, Elma, and became
a l eading dentist of the State, Enjoyed raising prize ch i ckens as a hobby .
The Saliba Sanatorium - an intriquing medical phenomena of the turn of the century
era . Operated by Dr . J. A. Saliba on the site of present Hammer Johnson Supply in a large,
impressive mansion-like building across from the Monday House, another hotel.
The Strand Theatre - thanks primarily to Cora Hoge, the first movie house to
succeed in the county after numerous failures. Formerly called "The Palace"
until 1916. In the 1921 ad, reference is made to the following qualities:
"The Pictureland of Athens," "Entertaining as well as Instructive," and "Presents
High-Class Plays, Newest and Best."
In 1921, the object of greatest excitement and promise throughout the
county was the work that was going on from Calhoun to Athens on the first concrete
highway to be built in the State. Paving of Athens' streeiBto join up with this
modern Lee Highway was a major concern and a source of high civic pride.
Dr . J. L. Proudfoot, a former physician, was so beloved by the people,
t hat they gave his family a nice home after his death.
His first hospital had been established in 1916 with Ella Dodson as his nurse.
Dr . J. 0 . Foree, a beloved former physician, has left two sons, &1.win and Carey, ,___,
to carry on the good work . The Foree Hospital is a great inst itut i on for the
rel ief of human ills. Dr. J. R. Nankiville, the oldest physician in our city ,
and you might call him the Dean of the medical profession, is widely educated in
other lines and takes great interest in our schools. Dr. Arrants, Dr. Epperson,
Dr . Dubois , and Dr. Brock, county physician, faithfully look after the people's
ills and I guess in this time of depression they deserve more thanks than most
any other class of men. Dr. L. W. Spradling besides being an able physian is a
_wonderful mechanic, a gifted writer, landscape painter and all around versatile
genius, a radiator of sunshine. Dr. Janeway is a successful physician of the
Charpractic School . God bless all the doctors.
Tom Sherman and Mel Hammer of the Sherman-Hammer Co., are dealers in everything
in the building line. Hugh Hoback & Charlie at the Athens Planing Mill have a
full supply of everything f~r the building trade. The Duckworth Planing Mill i s
a pioneer in the lumber business, first started by W. L. Hoback. Mr. McLendon
is also a dealer in building supplies. All these men are public spirited
c itizens, loyal to the best interests of our town. M.r. Harry Johnson, with the
Athens Hardware Company, and Mr. McSpadden, the furniture dealer in the Junior
Order Building, are both public spirited citizens.
Mr . H. A. Vestal, a man of great experience in the wholesale grocery trade, is
now general manager of the Chilhowee Silk Hosiery Mill. He takes great interest
in the Red Cross and is a most useful citizen. Mr. Robert Miller has a nice
manufacturing business in the furniture line, 2~d it is wonderful to see what
beautiful stool and chair bottoms he can make .- ·.h shucks .
Honorable Clem Jones, Railroad and Corporation Attorney of the law firm, Jones
and R. A. Davis, owns a fine farm between Athens and Niota. If you want to see
the best in farming go to Mr. Jones' farm and zoo, Honorable H. M. Chandler,
Attorney, who represented this county in the House and Senate twenty-four years,
also takes great delight in·farming, Judge S. C. Brown, Circuit Judge many
years and at one time Dean of a law school and Honorable E. B. Madison with the
longest experience at the Athens bar, are wonderfully gifted men. Jimmie Clark
and Tom Taylor, _Attorneys, each represented our county On)term in the legislature.
Mr. Boyd, Paul Stewart and P.. N. Ivins, are also young attorneys of great
Professor Ridinour with an excellent corps of teachers has been principal of the
Forrest Hill School eighteen years. Professor J. H. Walker, a Greek scholar,
formerly principal of the North Athens School, is spending a happy old age with
family and friends. Mrs. Laura Sliger has taught longer in North Athens than
any other teacher. Annie Sliger, a former teacher, is like unto her.
On June 12, Dr. G. W. Stanton, the beloved physician of North Athens, passed
away after a fifteen month illness. He was a most remarkable man - a carpentar,
cabinet maker, inventor, farmer, a most capable physician, thorough in everyt hing
he undertook, a most useful citizen, beloved by the people to whom he ministered.
Mitchel Hanks and J.M. Millard, managers of the DeSoto and Plymouth Agency;
Mooney Tallent, Dillard Browp, Carlos Hanks, Carl Hammons, Earnie Russell, and
Jim Baskette, their helpers; Mr. Wilkins of a leading pioneer family, owns t hat
fine garage opposite the Robert E. Lee Hotel. His son, Boyd, is Clerk and
Master of the Chancery Court' and Ford Shell is his helper. Mr. EdShell and
Mr. Skinny Waters are managers of the Service Motor Company with Red Matthews
their helper. Our garage men and filling stations who supply us with oil and
many different kinds of gas even carbonic acid gas.
We must not forget the faithful paper carriers - Mr. Neil, Mr. Wofford, Mr. Hub
Johnson, Mr. Owenby, Mr. Atchley, Mr. Davis, Mr. Will Clark, our genial Democratic
politician, and last your humble servant. We carry the papers to the palace of
the rich and the hovel of the poor, and thus we help the knights of the quill.
_Mrs. R. J. McKeldin, our florist, is ready for weddings, funerals, and all
Quissenberry and Forrest, a comparatively new company in the undertaking business,
and Mrs. Evans and Harry, who have served our people in the undert~~ng line many
years, will assist in the last rites whert we cease from our labors,
The majority of information to this point on industrial and community growth
has involved Athens, with some mention being made of Englewood/Tellico Junction,
Calhoun, and Riceville. It would also have been possible to note that south of
Riceville a woolen mill was established on the farm of Frank Gettys by his
brother Tobe. The mill constructed a depot on the Southern line and named it
"Sanford" after a prominent Knoxville family. The small community also did a
large business in the production and shipment of railroad ties. In addition,
by the early part of the twentieth century, the names of McAlister, Henry, and
Bolen had become important in Calhoun business circles. The name of Dr. H.F.
Taylor, who served a good deal of the county from his office in Ca1houn, cannot
The names of Porter, Swafford, Parkinson, Erikson, Womac, Oliphant, and
Bishop came to be of lasting importance in Riceville. The old Porter house
still stands south of Riceville on U.S. Highway 11 where it was restored by
Charlie Miller who came to possess one of the largest pedigreed cattle fa..i.--ms
in the State.
Charles Rice, the town's founder, had left in 1859 when land was opened in
Arkansas on a fifty W.3€On "train" which he organized . C. W. Oliphant clerked in
the store that Rice sold to a relative, and later established his own merchantile
business before selling out to J, M. Lockmiller and becoming a f amed salesman.
Dan Roberts became an important business figure at about this same time. Ben
Bishop had a W.3€On shop in the earliest times and was assisted by Charlie and
Dave Boyd, the latter being a famed blacksmith for over sixty-five years.
Charlie Boyd gained fame as an inventor. Bill Vaught operated a tan yard, and
his son , along with the Vincent family, gained a name for creating f ine furniture.
This section will now give more attention to the development that occured
in the two other significant county communities, Niota and Etowah .
The Etowah history owes a great deal of the efforts of the long-time editor of The Etowah
/rank McKinney Enterprise, The history of Niota is probably better secured than any other
community in the county due to the efforts of historian James Burn who has been
Although relatively small s ince its incorporation in 1911, with H. A.
Collins as the first chairman of the city commj ,ion, Niota has always been
noted as a well-established arrl.progressive colTUl 1ity. The persons who have come
to be of significant influence in the Niota community since the turn of the
century have inevitably come to be important in the county and, in fact, in the
State as a whole.
As has been noted, Niota began as a station of the EI'V&G Railroad before
the Civil War known as Mouse Creek. Soon a co1101unity began to be established,
with a sale of lots by H. L. Shultz, and the first industry of any consequence
was a tan yard started by Eli Dixon, Jr. The "Tan Yard" changed hands until
1879 when it became the property of Samuel P. Blair. By this time, the community
had continued to grow and now also housed one of the best-known educational
institutions in the area, Mouse Creek Academy.
Blair was an innovator who contributed in many respects to the community.
In addition to the Niota Leather Company in 1898, he established a department
store known as Blair, John, and Company (today, after changing hands numerous
times, this is H.K. Hicks' General Merchandise Store), and a flour and grist
mill at a small community known as "Surprise" near Niota.
Blair also became important for his work in establishing the Cumberland
Presbyterian Church in Niota. The casting of a church bell was always
significant, and Blair, along with three other men, made provisions for the ~ell.
·The names of "Four Es" were inscribed including Blair, Brock, Buttram, and
Burnes (sic). It is ironic, given the important role that the Burn family would
play in the history of the community, that the bell makers would incorrectly
spell their name on this artifact that now hangs in the Methodist Church steeple.
Unfortunately, Blair would eventually experience financial disaster.
In 1913, in a mortgage foreclosure sale, the majority of his Niota holdings would
be bought by James L. Burn and Walter Forrest for the Cresent Hosiery Mill which
they had organized to give employment to the members of the growing community.
The Cresent mill became a central fixture of the community. The first
stockholders included several members of the Burn family, Forrest, H. M. and
R. S. Willson, J, C. Cate, and T. J. Isbell, H. M. Willson would become the
first president, and W. F. Forrest would manage it until the 19J0s. In later
years, the Willson family would become involved in a variety of activities in
the county including the Athens Plow Company; a later Hugh Willson would make
the Citizens National Bank a thriving instituti?n. The Forrest family name
would be c~ied on by the J, Ben Forrest Ha.rdward and Furniture Company. The
family of the first city commission chairman, H. A. Collins, would become
involved in a successful feed store.
The other, central fixture in the community's growth and development has
been the Bank of Niota. In fact, in the 1920 edition of Dun and Bradst reet,
t he town was described as "a banking town. 1151 The bank was organized t he same
year t hat the town was incorporated. J. L. Burn was the first president and
C. B. Staley the first cashier.
Niota provides a good example of one aspect of the development of many
communities throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries fires.
I t was not uncommon for fires to destroy important buildings and to devistat e
entire towns. Niota seemed to have more than its share. The entire business
section burned in 1897, another fire destroyed a major business in 1910, and a
section of the business district was again destroyed in the late 1920s. As
late as 1966, fire continued to play havoc with the town as its major industry,
the Cresent Mill, burned.
Athens experienced the same phenomena time and again. Many citizens who are
alive now can recall the Red Elephant Fire, the first high school fire in the
late 1940s, the second high school fire in the fifties, and the burning of
t he beautifully restored and meticulously remodeled county court house in 1964 .
Returning to Niota, t he way that its name was determined is intriguing
Originally called "Mouse Creek," there was continured confusion of mail and
fre i ght with a "Mossy Creek," present-day Jeffers City. According to James
Burn, a local railroad agent had suggested "Movilla" aince the Morse code station
call letters "MO" would not have to be changed. Several local citizens sent
their ideas to the railroad superintendent, with the dispatch envelope opened
to include John Boggess' suggestion just as the train to carry the dis!)atch
was arriving. Boggess ' suggestion of Niota, which was supposedly the name of
an Indian ~hief in a novel he was reading, was selected. Burn also recalls tha t
the proper, original pronunciation was Nee-o-tah.
Finally, in regard to the city, it can be noted that it became the social
center f or the entire community with the establishment of Springbrook Golf and
Country Club which, for many years, was the only facility of its sort in the
entire area. The country club has continued to be the center of the social and
recreational activities of the leaders of the business, professional, and
political community of the county.
As has been noted, Eowah came into existence because of the L&N Railroad.
The railroad at first had tried to purchase lands for major shops and a terminal
at both Tellico Junction and Wetmore, but failing to do so ultimately bought
for twenty dollars per acre nearly fifteen hundred acres from the farms of James
L. Cooper, William T. Peck, Robert Smith, Robert Reynolds, William Paris, and
Joseph Cobb. The notice of the creation of a new town immediately brought an
influx of businessmen from all over the South. Soon the whole area was brimming
with activity, and by April 8, 1909, when the town was chartered and officially
took up the railroad construction crew's name of "Etowah," meaning "muddy
waters," the makings of a population explosion were at hand.
The town was laid out in a rectangular fashion with avenues named after
states running north and south, and numbered streets running at right angles
to these . The first construction became Tennessee Avenue and this thoroughfare,
joined with U.S. Highway 411, has become the main business district. Realizing
what an industry that would bring in two thousand employees to almost any
community today would be like, it is hard to imagine what occured in Etowah with
the L&N before 1920.
As one might imagine, the first businesses were established to take care
of the.construction crews and later railroad workers that would come. John
Rains put up a small shanty near the new tracks which served as both a store and
Etowah's first post office. J. N. Lewis, who had operat ed a s t ore at Grady
three miles north on the L&N, would move to Etowah with the new tracks and
become· a leading businessman.
The first major businesses that involved substantial construction were the
hotel-boarding houses that began to spring up throughout the t own - the
Ownbey Boarding House, the Carlock Hot el, the Risk Hotel, the Glenora Hotel
(later t o become the Reed Hotel, and named after Gl en Froneberger and Ora
Nichols , daughters of the first owners), the Hotel St afford , t he Mountair. View
Hotel, and the Tennessee Hotel. The Hotel Stafford would outlast all the
others. A landmark from 1908 until 1929 was the L&if YMCA Building. This
building became the site of all kinds of community affairs from town meetings
to evangelistic rallies. The Glenore Hotel also became known due to its cigar
manufacturing plant. "Glenore Cigars" were made by N. G. Dixon.
The first general store was opened by Lewis' partner 0 . L. Davis, and this
was followed with similar stores run by McKinney Brothers, Reed Brothers, H. D.
Rule and Company, E. A. Adams, M. M. and H. H. Miller, A J.C. Penny Company
store would come later. A store called "The Blue Front" became one of the best
known locations in the city. It was an extremely important meeting place for
the community, and several churches and fraternal groups were organized and
Other early businesses included: a furniture store, Ster chi Brothers and
Tillery, which arose from the partnership of · Knoxville based furniture and
J.M. Tillery; Center and Powell, a hard.ware store organized by Carl Center of
Pendergast (present Delano) and N. C. Powell; O. A. Rule Furniture Company; and,
Cunningham and Watts Livery. Hugh Manning would establish the Gem Theatre
(later the Martin) in 1918, and stayed on to become one of the leading citizens
of the town's early history.
P. A, Kinser opened the first drug: store which later became Gem Drugs,
Charles E. Mcconkey ca.me from Monroe County in 1908 to organize Etowah Drugs,
and B. M. Tallent of Englewood opened Tallent Drugs in 1923, Frank Rutledge
came to town in 1909 from Tullahoma and was initially active in the Etowah Bank
and Trust Company before becoming instrumental in both an insurance company and
the Etowah Water and Light Company. Alex Adams and his son, Stacy, established
an early men's store.
Lawmen were also needed, and following S. H. Vandivere, who was known as the
"town marshall," several law officers have become noteworthy. Foremost of
these are Burch E. Biggs, who would also become important in the history of
Polk County, and C. O. (Bull) Kennedy, Otto Kennedy would become a similarly
well-known law officer in the county's history.
Hardly any business could have taken better advantage of a "boom town"
. environment than a lumber company . R. L. Tucker established the Etowah Lumber
Company in 1910. This was later sold to the Cantrell family, and would help to
make them one of the most important families in the town's history, They would
become of particular importance, especially Paul Cantrell, because of their
banking and political interests .
A n'.lillber of well-known names in Etowah's history have been those of
lawyers . The first permanent lawyer was Eugene Ivins who was the first city
attorney in 1909. The Ivins' name has long been important, with Dan Ivins
having served as town recorder for many years. D. W. Lillard came from Decatur
to practice for several years. Lillard was a hero of Wbrld War I. Donald
Todd, who would ultimately establish Green Hill Cemetery, came to the city to
practice law in 1910.
A large number of l ocal youngsters would become lawyers and establish t heir
practices in the city. These included Reuel Webb , Sam Gi lreath , C. B. Stanberry,
Amzy Steed ( who would later become general counsel for the Texaco Oil Corporation),
Shields Cagle, Knox (and Nell) Williams, and William M. Dender. Cousins Ralph
Duggan and Tom Taylor would establish practices in Athens and both become of
high importance to the county's history following World War II.
Two of the first physicians to come to Etowah were W.R. Froneberger and
J. 0 . Nichols. These men were keen businessmen and, in addition to the medical
practi ces, each established drug stores - the Gem and Rexall respectively -
and jointly established a hotel. Other early physicians were E. M .. Foreman,
Olin Rogers, and H. E. Center.
Early dentists were G. L. Keith, W. S. Moore, L. C. Ogle, and E. M. Akins.
E. R. Battle and W. R. Anderson would maintain long pract ices later.
It was not until 1929 that Etowah got i ts f irst hospital. Dr. P. E.
Parker from Sweetwater erected a two-story hospital on Fifth Street which did
well until t he Depression when it closed. Dr. Spenser Mcclary, who had moved
his practice to Etowah in 1925, was persuaded to reopen the hospital in 1935 .
He and his son, Boyd, operated the hospital until the beginning of World War II
when Boyd entered the service and his father died.
One important community landmark is the Carnegie Library. The Carnegie
Foundation was offering grants for the establishment of free public libraries
in new communities such as Etowah. A group of citizens including C. D. Bevan,
John M. Johnson, T. A. Abner, Haywood York, A. B. Bayless, and N. Z. Dewees
successfully pursued a grant that led to Etowah having the only Carnegie
Library in Southeast Tennessee. Until 1922, the local high school met in the
In many respects, Etowah is still a young town, not yet close to a
centennial celebration. Many of the old buildings that originally constituted
t he business district still stand, and there seems to be a community spirit of
preservation that has been lacking in other communities in the county. Many
beautiful, fine homes still exist along tree-lined avenues - sometimes like a
.scene from some idealized past. One can only imagine what Etowah might have
been like today had the Depression not occured and the decision by L&N not to
equip the wood car repair shops to repair metal cars not been ma.de.
This section will be concluded by giving attention to the growth and
development of the Black community in McMinn County. Unfortunately, there has
been a great deal of inattention to this aspect of the development of most
communities, and much of the information has been lost.
While that which is recalled here is certainly incomplete, it is fortunate
t hat a central figure of the· Black community of the county, Professor W. E.
Nash, at ninety-six was alive at the time of this writing. Not only are Professor
Nash's recollections an important repository of historical information, but his
own life story is a high moment in the county's overall history.
Nash was born in Virginia in Lunenburg County, and by the time he was eight
had been hired out by his mother as a water1:oy carrying water to field hands
working on large farms. The first year that he worked, he earned his food and
a few cloth~s; the second year, he earned nine dollars and twelve the third. By
the time he was sixteen, he was earning fourty dollar a year, and had begun to
operate team-driven freight wagons.
However, there had always been a burning desire in his heart, and that of
his mother, to get an education. Undaunted by what many might consider a late
start, Nash left horrein 1905 with eleven dollars and two pair of pants, and
walked t wenty miles to Chase City, Virginia, and entered school. Working at
whatever jobs were available, he completed high school when he was twenty-seven.
He returned to his home where a group of parents and community leaders
agreed to start a private school with Nash as the teacher. Each student paid
fifty cents a month - at that time, twenty-five dollars a month was good pay
for a teacher in many areas.
Soon after this work had begun, a local Presbyterian group decided that it
would be a good idea to grant a scholarship to some deserving youth to attend
Knoxville College, and Nash was chosen. He sold a tobacco crop and a calf ,
and with his belongings carried in a small "telescope" case , set out for
Knoxville. There be worked on campus and helped with the tutoring of the
younger students. His work was done so well that when World War I started, the
president of the college got him exempted from the draft to stay at the school
and work. In 1921, following his graduation, Nash came to Athens to be assistant
to J. L. Cook at the Athens Academy. Nash knew Booker T. Washington personally,
and was greatly influenced by him.
When Nash arrived in the county, there wer, Black persons in their 80s and
90s who were among the first to come to the county. Blacks had originally come
to the county in two ways, either with the settlers as they arrived, or as a
result of being purchased at "slave sales" up until the time of the Civil War.
By the 1800s, few - if any - slaves were coming to this immediate area directly
from Africa. Virginia had come to be known as the "slave breeding ground," and
most major c.i ties in that state would have periodic sales in which the slaves
were sold at auction.
Typically, the slaveowners would work in groups, and after purchases were
made, march the slaves back to their new homes. East Tennessee was a major
route south toward Atlanta. If someone became ill or could not make the full
trip , there would be sold, traded, or given away along the way. In this way,
people of less affluence might acquire one or two slaves across several years.
"Slaves" to these people typically meant an additional hand to work alongside of
them in their fields and mills. The huge sprawl of cotton fields, with hundreds
of field hands and their overseers spread out across a vast acreage, would have
been foreign to McMinn County. At the height of slavery, there were only a
small number of persons in the county owning more than a half dozen slaves.
Nash stressed that the general cruelties of the slavery period notwithstand-
. i ng, that the relations between the races was peaceful and harmonious most of
the t ime. People were respected for the quality of their work - a hard worker,
who was trustworthy and dependable, was considered to be a positive member of
the community regardless of color. Slothfulness of any color was, on the other
hand, despised. Obviously, a minority group within any population is not going
to have the same access as the majority, and freedom of accessibility never
comes without anxious moments and event conflict. At least, an environment was
being generally created throughout the middle 1900s that would allow for
substantial movements towards equality in the 1960s.
Four of the best-known, Black citizens who were still alive in the early
1920s were Rose Baker, Issac Matlock, George Gettys, and William Keith. As the
names suggest, the slaves were given the last names of their owners, and thus
the same names are handed down in the Black community that are found in the
White community. The names are also typically preceeded by the respectful
designations "Aunt" and "Uncle." Mrs. Baker had been a slave, and was an active
leader as one of the first member of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church (Freedman's
Chapel). Matlock was known f or his gardening abilities , and Keith was a drayman
delivering freight from the Southern depot.
Another old citizen was Pat Spriggs, who gained some degree of notoriety
because of an event that had occured during the Civil War. Spriggs, like
several other young Black men f rom the area , fought in Sherman's army, was
involved in most of the fighting in East Tennessee, and participated in the
"March to the Sea." One night near Atlanta, the cry arose about t wo in the
morning that camp must be broken and a rushed march immediately begun, In his
haste, Spriggs did not have time to pull on his socks. Evidently, a morning of ........_,
marching and a day of fighting without socks left a deep impression - until he
died in 1930, Spriggs never slept a single night without wearing his socks.
Finally, in this early period, mention would need to be made of Bart
Arnwine. Arnwine had three trademarks - a broad sense of humor, asiining,
double-bladed ax, and the reputation of being able to thresh more wheat in one
day than anyone in the county. Like so many of these memorable people, Arnwine
lived to be over one-hundred years old.
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