yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee

From Lillye Younger, People of Action (Decatur County Printers, 1983). Special thanks to Constance Collett and the estate of Lillye Younger for permission to make this web page.


Lillye Younger

Here among the wooded hills of Decatur County, where 69 Hwy., crossed Morgan Creek, lies Sugar Tree.

The unincorporated town is located in the northwest corner of Decatur County, eighteen miles north of Parsons.

It got its name from a cluster of Sugar Maple Trees, which stood in the heart of the business section. Presently only one hollow trunk remains.

The first post office was established in 1874. Joseph H. Fry was appointed as the first postmaster June 19, 1874. Others who have served here were John Coble, James L. Jones, Richard S. Wesson, John W. Coble again, Joseph Odle, John F. Wilson and Mrs. Holland O. Miller who assumed charge in 1944 and is presently serving. The fourth class post office has shared quarters with business places down through the years. It is located in the rear of the Miller Grocer Business.

Blacksmith shops were a thriving business in pioneer days. Mr. Bill Terry operated the first horseshoeing place here according to the late Mr. Mike Odle. Other early smithies were Mr. John Farlow, Mr. Tom Bates and Mr. Sam Thomas. The late Mrs. Mike Odle recalled her father, Sam Thomas, operated the blacksmith shop in 1903.

Mrs. Lillian Walker of Parsons remembers when there were three general mercantile stores in Sugar Tree. "They were operated by Mr. Joe Odle, Mr. Bud and Griffin Fry and Mr. Arthur Odle,"she explains. Two large sugar maple trees graced the front of the Fry store. Mr. Joe Odle, father of Mrs. Nettie Fisher and Mrs. Walker, operated a grocery store and the post offlce was located in the rear at that time. Mrs. Fisher said, "Wylie Coble ran a drug store and Joe Spence operated a barber shop."

The last barber here was Clifford Henry, according to the late Mr. Odle. The rear of the shop served as a doctor's office. Among the early doctors who hung their shingle out in Sugar Tree were Dr. John Bradley, Dr. Byrd Bennett, Dr. Batton, Dr. George Brashers, Dr. Chaffee, Dr. Martin and Dr. J. E. Ingram.

No dentist located here; however they had reservations at the hotel for a week at a time and attended to their patient's needs. "One," Mrs. Walker remembers, "was Dr. McCawley of Camden."

A small log structure, located near the present Wesson's Chapel Cumberland Presbyterian Church, served as the first school. Mrs. Walker said, "I attended this log school and one of my teachers was a Miss Carrie Smith of Decaturville." The late Mrs. Odle attended school here in 1907 and she explained that at time it was a one teacher school with an enrollment of 60 students.

Later a two story frame school building was erected near the present abandoned one story building, perched high on a hill near Sugar Tree Cemetery. At one time it was a normal, where students, desiring to become teachers, attended. The Masonic fraternity had quarters upstairs. Mrs. Fisher explained that she taught school at Sugar Tree in 1918 and again in 1942. It was a three teacher school plus a music teacher. Earlier teachers were Mr. Dick Wesson, Mrs. Zeda Fowler, Mrs. Opal Miller, Mr. Mike Spence, Mr. Will Tacker and R. T. Wesson.

Recreation of the yesteryears included silent picture shows which were scheduled in the spring and summer here. They were shown in tents at the school ground. "It was a great event," Mrs. Odle said. In the early fall a showboat, "The Cotton Blossom" played the sparkling waters of the Tennessee River and presented 3 act melodramas, which were tear jerkers. Mr. Odle recalled one show which was entitled, "Little Lore's Sister."

The thriving little town of Sugar Tree boasted of a brass band in 1898 which made personal appearances throughout the country. Members traveled in a mule drawn wagon. Mr. Odle explained that Mr. Hallie Fry was the drummer boy.

Another type of recreation was the graphone, a type of phonograph. Mr. Odle said the first graphone he ever saw was at the Sugar Tree School. "Some fellows came through the country with one, it was a cylinder type, and we paid 25 and 15 cents to hear it played at the school.

Two churches, the Wesson's Cumberland Presbyterian Church and Cantrell's Church of Christ, have served the community down through the years.

Early industries included a stave mill, cotton gin, grist mill and tobacco factory. Staves were transported by oxen drawn wagons to the Tennessee river. Mr. John Rice bought staves at a landing up the river. The Odles, Frys and Goffs operated the cotton gins. Captain Nathaniel Wesson operated the tobacco factory. Mr. Odle described a black pot found which had been buried. It was used to melt the tobacco liquid in.

Wagons, loaded with cross ties, rolled early and led. en-route to Ledbetter Landing where they were shipped by steamboat. Peanuts, one of the chief crops, were also shipped from this landing. Buyers came up and down the river. Mr. Odle pointed out that farmers traded all year on credit at the stores and paid their bills in the fall when the crops came

in. At the time of this interview, Mr. Odle compared the farmers of the pioneer days to present times by saying that now there is only one farmer on the creek. He also expressed the need of a doctor In Sugar Tree.

Captain Nathaniel Wesson and Bud Fry were be biggest land owners on the creek.

Hotels played an integral part in the early days. They were a "Must" for drummers (traveling salesman), who supplied business places with merchandise. Hotel operators here were Wylie Coble, Bud Fry and Joe Odle. Drummers came in by way of steamboats and hired a hack at the livery stable to transport them from town to town. Since travel was very slow it became necessary for them to put up a hotel in each town in which they worked.

Like many other thriving pioneer towns, the hustle and bustle of Sugar Tree is only an interesting story as told by an old timer, of which very few are left.. Today it has shrunk. Miller's Grocery and Post office and Mrs. Hope Conley's Beauty shop continue to keep the little town alive however these are many families living here who admit "It's the Grandest Place on Earth in Which to Live." Among this group are Happy Odle and Ory Stokes.

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