yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Henderson Co.

From Auburn Powers, History of Henderson County, Tennessee, 1930. Reproduced with permission for personal use only. No further reproduction can be made without written consent of Andy E. Powers and Sherode B. Powers.


Chapter X

After the Civil War and the reconstruction days, Henderson County enjoyed an era of general progress and growth, which lasted until the World War. During this time people lived well and enjoyed prosperity of a true and steady type. This era may well be said to have blazed the way for and to have brought us into "Modernism" which began with the extensive use of the automobile, airplane, picture show, victrola, telephone, radio, and other modern inventions.

In the field of agriculture the County enjoyed progress. The crude and clumsy farm implements were replaced by better ones. New ideas of farming crept in. The oxen were replaced by horses and mules. Wooden plows were replaced by cast and steel ones. Instead of the "fellows" of wagon wheels being wrapped with bark, they were encircled with steel tires. Horse collars were brought into the County ready made, and were quite an improvement over the ones made by hand, usually from the shucks of corn and sewed with white oak splits.

Ashley Cunningham brought, perhaps, the first mowing machine into the County about forty-six years ago. Mr. Cunningham mowed a field of red-top for W. M. Friendship, and it is reported that people "me from far and near to see the machine work. The blade clicking a rapid rhythm and a wide strip of red-top being cut as fast as the horses could draw the machine were manifestations of a great step forward in the production of hay, for heretofore all hay had been cut by hand with a scythe or a "cradle". And it was rare to find a man who could wield a cradle skillully.

The first cotton planters were homemade and constructed in the shape of a drum. They were even called "drum planters". Holes large enough for seed to pass through were cut at regular intervals around the drum half-way between the ends. An axle was run through it lengthwise so that when drawn the drum would roll over. In this manner, the seed, which had been put inside the drum, would drop through the holes as they came near the ground.

This way of planting cotton was quite an improvement over the old way, which was to wet the seed in water and ashes, roll them in the hands so that they would come apart, and finally drop them by hand and cover them. The drum planter was used until about thirty five years ago, when it was replaced by a more mechanical one, with a wooden "hopper". The latter gradually evolved into what we now use.

The first corn planters came into the County about 43 years ago, but we have no record of who owned the first one.

Perhaps the first tractors used on the farm were brought in by J. C. Benson and R. L. Diffee.

In 1912 and 1913 the farmers of Henderson County were asked to dip their cattle in a prepared solution to kill a certain kind of tick, which had spread throughout the country. "Dipping vats" were prepared at convenient places, and on certain days the people met and dipped their cattle in them. Although it was a necessity and a service rendered the farmers, they were, as a whole, very indignant and disrespectful to those connected with the movement. The "Tick Inspectors", as they came to be called, were looked upon with disgust and contempt. They were called very ugly names and not infrequently ran away when they offered to do their duty. The people could not see the value of dipping their cattle, nor would they accept the favor because, as they looked upon it, it was "forced upon them." However, the dipping of the cattle stopped the ravages of the ticks, and the people came to realize that a "service" had been forced upon them.

In the spring of 1917 a law was passed forbidding live stock to run outside. This law, known as the "no fence law", like the dipping of cows, met with much opposition and disfavor. The people again thought that their liberty and freedom in making a livelihood had been infringed upon. Many hard things were said against the law and against those who helped to make it a law. They said that the vote, which was held at Lexington, was unfair, that it did not represent the majority of the people, and that it was conducted dishonestly. Supporters of the law were accused of voting twice or even three times. The opposers of the law were right in some of their accusations, for some of the supporters actually did vote more than once.

But despite the corruption used in passing the law, it has served a two fold purpose. It has put an end to one man's stock destroying another man's crop, and it has made it possible for better stock to be bred and raised. Since the range for live stock has constantly diminished in size and quality, very few would cast a vote opposing the law now if they had the opportunity.

The County now has a fair distribution of pure bred live stock, including Jersey, Holstein, Shorthorn, and Hereford cattle; Duroc Jersey, Poland China, O. I. C., and Hampshire Hogs; white and brown leghorn, Rhode Island Red, Buff Orphangton, Plymouth Rock, and other breeds of chickens; and good breeds of other live stock.

In 1916 a large canal was dug down Beech Bottom, which opened it up for cultivation. Before then the bottom was overflowed by every big rain that fell. The land in it was fertile and, after the canal was dug, has become very productive. The greater part of the broad valley is now in cultivation.

During the same year Cane Creek was straightened by a canal. The Cane Creek Canal extends to the mouth of Cane Creek and down Beech River as far as what is known as the "Old Tommie Hole", a swimming hole just above the Robins land. The large bodies of land along Cane Creek are perhaps the most productive lands in the County since they have been properly drained.

Since that time many other streams have been straightened with similar results, Among them are Flat Creek, Piney Creek, Doe Creek, Forked Deer River,- Big Sandy River, Hurricane Creek, and Middleton's Creek.

One of the greatest steps forward that the County has made in agriculture was that of securing the help of H. A. Powers as County Demonstrator. He has done much in arousing interest in better farming by introducing new and scientific methods and by finding better markets for home grown products. · He has also helped the people through cooperative selling and buying. He has been responsible for much of the good work done through county and community fairs and agricultural clubs, all of which play a heavier part in the progress of agriculture than many stop to consider. He is doing a practical and beneficial work.

Below is a list of some of the outstanding club members: Harvey Adcock; who won second place in the crop judging contest in the West Tennessee District Fair at Jackson in 1925, which gave him a free trip to the State Club Camp at Knoxville, and first place in 1926, which gave him a free trip to the international Live Stock Show in Chicago; Edward Dennison, who won a trip to the State Club Camp at Knoxville as reserve champion for cotton club work for West Tennessee for the year 1927; Buenos Harris, who had champion crop exhibit for boys fifteen years old or more at West Tennessee District fair at Jackson in 1928 and won a free trip to the International Live Stock Show at Chicago; Fay Pope; who won a free trip to the National Club Congress at Washington D.C. in 1928 based upon club work for a seven year State contest; Homer D. Fesmire, who won a free trip to Spring6eld, Massachusetts in 1929 based upon his work as a club member and club leader in a State contest; and others who won prizes in different contests and work.

The following are also worthy of mention as outstanding in club work: Lloyd Davis, Charles Deere, Carmon Duck, Warren Helms, Nell Jackson, Clarence Kolwick, Frank Maness, Charles Martin, Roy McPeake, Troy McPeake, Nova Millner, Harry Mullins, Noble Mullins, Irby Park, Bobbie Pope, Fay Pope, Flora Pope, John L. Pope, Rex Pope, Aubum Powers, Ohlen Reed, Floyd Richardson, J. L. Ross, Tillford Sellers, G. Tillman Stewart, Charles Taylor, Edward Timberlake, Loyal Tyler, Glenn Walker, Poley Walker, and others. Henderson County now has over 1,000 4·H club members.

During the era preceding the World War the economical affairs of the County improved favorably. The set-back that the Civil War brought on subsided gradually to the constant effort and perseverence of the Henderson Countians. Markets opened up for farm, forest, and manufactured products. Federal money circulated freely again, and the people were able, not only to make a living, but to lay in store for the future. Banks sprang up over the County to provide a safe place for keeping money and to lend money for investments. [The history of the different banks will be given in connection with the history of the towns and communities in which they are located.]

During this era turnpikes and highways were opened up. They were not of the quality that ours are today, but they were a great improvement over those of earlier days.

It was not, however, until a few years ago that our first graveled road was made, and not until 1929 that the first stretch of concrete road was constructed in the County.

In the sixties, seventies, and eighties, the mode of marketing products and of bringing in merchandise was slow. Live stock was usually driven either to Jackson or to the Tennessee River to be marketed. Cotton and other products were hauled on wagons to the same places and cloth, shoes, coffee, and other merchandise from them. Logs, stave bolts, and the like were floated down Beech, Forked Deer, and Big Sandy Rivers during high waters.

In August 1888 the people saw the beginning of the Tennessee Middlin Railroad, which was soon to carry their products to market and to bring to them luxuries and necessities from other places. Maddox, a leader in the grading and construction work, struck the first lick in the building of the railroad near the present site of the Lexington Depot, in August 1888.

The railroad was planned to cross the Tennessee River at Perryville and go on to Nashville, but it never crossed the River.

Henderson County agreed to pay $75,000.00 to the Tennessee Middlin Railroad Company for the construction of the railroad through the County as soon as it was finished to the Decatur County Line. It was finished thus far and the first·trip made to the Line and back to Memphis on the first Monday in February 1889.

Throngs of people gathered at the different stations along its line to see the event. At Lexington the people gathered in great numbers. It was here that a man, attempting to catch the train missed his goal and was thrown under a wheel and cut in two.

About three years after the completion of the Tennessee Middlin, the Paducah, Tennessee, and Alabama Railroad was finished as far as the Carroll County line and later to Hollow Rock Junction.

These railroads are now known as the N. C. & St. L. Railroads. It paid Henderson County over $19,000.00 in taxes for the year 1929 and hauls approximately 15,000 bales of cotton and also the seed from this cotton, approximately 7,000 ton, out of the County annually. It also hauls approximately 150 car loads of live poultry; several car loads of eggs, cream, etc; about 50 car loads of cattle and hogs; over 400 car loads of forest products; over 75 car loads of tomatoes; and many other products, not including local shipments at all.

The railroad started with one engine weighing approximately 50 tons and hauling approximately 200 tons. The company now operates engines in Henderson County weighing over 300 tons and hauling over 2500 tons.

The railroad has furnished employment to many Henderson Countians. At present at least one·half of all the employees on the line from Paducah to Memphis are from Henderson County.

The railroads have been a wonderful asset to the County and still are, but, for the past few years, they have been losing ground to the automobile, though only in the carrying of passengers. The hauling of freight is still increasing.

Dr. W. F. Huntsman brought the first automobile into Henderson County in September 1909. It was a Maxwell Messenger without a top and was powered with a two-cylinder motor.. Dr. Huntsman had a top put on it and after about six months, painted it blue. It was red at first. The motor is still good and is operating a fishing boat on the Tennessee River.

Mr. C. G. Gathings, the mayor of Lexington at that time, purchased the second car in Henderson County about six months later.

The early automobiles had their effect upon the people and animals as well. Men, women, and children gathered on the roadside to view the "horseless carriage" as it passed, and commented upon the danger of riding in one. The horses, mules, and even cattle kept as far away from the roaring monster as was possible. Those being used on the road when an automobile passed would attempt to run away, and, if forced to remain would look at the car: and tremble with fear as it passed. Those outside and in pastures would leave the roadside in great haste and, after gaining a safe distance, turn around with hoisted heads and expanded nostrils to view the nameless creature, a bellowing dangerous bug with hideous eyes and able to eat a horse at one meal, as it no doubt appeared to them.

But, after their first introduction, automobiles poured into the County, until before the World War they were a very common means of travel.

There are 1,308 automobiles in the County at present according to a query box conducted in cooperation with the University of Tennessee. There were over 400 parked around the court square in Lexington on Saturday, June 7, 1930.

But to "Cap the stack" man s amazement reached its climax when, during the World War, a trio of airplanes scared over the County. People laid aside their work to view them. Some yelled; some waved; while others shed tears, for such as they were dropping bomb shells on the boys in France. Yet all viewed the planes with a sense of wonder and suspicion. Man had unquestionably robbed the birds of their domain. However, up to the present time no Henderson Countian has owned a plane while a resident of the County, so far as the author has record.

With the early improvement of means of transportation came many other advancements. For years the people sent letters by friends and received same in like manner. Next came the system of post offices. The people would go to the post offices for their mail. Last came the R. F. D. system. This system met with disapproval in many localities. People feared the mail would be lost or misplaced. It soon gained the confidence of the people, however, and proved to be very dependable. Now mail is brought to almost every man's door in the County.

The period that we are now studying marks a radical change in domestic and social life. The family no longer made shoes, or built its furniture. [A few persisted in clinging to the old methods for a long time, but the majority gave way to the new ideas of buying.] These things were bought ready made, but we do not know the date of the first brought in.

Just previous to 1880 a kind of sewing machine was introduced into the-County, which was operated by turning a wheel or crank with the hand. It was so made that it could be fixed on the edge of a common dining table or any other like structure. The work it did was not of a desirable kind. If a stitch broke, the whole seam might come apart, for if one of the broken ends of the thread was pulled, it would unravel. So you see the predicament a lady would be in if a stitch in: her dress should break and be pulled. This machine, however, soon evolved into a much better one--that which we have today.

No longer is it necessary for us to go to a neighbor's house to borrow a chunk of fire or to resort to the old flint and steel process when our fire dies out. We have handy matches to resort to, the first of these being introduced into Henderson County about 1850. These were known as the sulphur matches and had a bad odor. They were put up in round wooden boxes of twelve each and sold for ten cents a box.

The Mason Fruit Jars came in 1885. These were, perhaps, the first of their kind ever in Henderson County. People soon began using them extensively, until now much valuable and delicious food is preserved in them for use when such food is scarce.

Perhaps the most recent inventions that lighten and make more pleasant the work of the family are the electric light, the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, and other electric devices. Not all of the people have access to these latter things yet, but they are growing to use them more each year.

About 1885 the first phonograph entered the County. It was in the form of a square box and had no magnifier, as do the phonographs of today. In order to hear it one had to hold the tube to his ear. It was not a loud speaker. This phonograph was demonstrated on the streets in Lexington. Will Teague, of four miles north west of Lexington and Arthur·Barry, now in Stutgart, Arkansas memorized the record played, "Two Little Girls in Blue."

In 1884 a telephone line was extended from Jackson to Lexington and the first telephone was installed where Timber lake and Buckley now stands. Mrs. Jennie Edwards was operator of the line. Just who talked first over the line the author is not able to learn, but G. W. McCall and his brother, then in Jackson, were the second ones to talk over it. G. W. McCall's brother learned of the line's being opened and attempted to be the first one to use it, but another beat him. A joke that occured in connection with this second call was that Mr. McCall nodded his head to his brother as though he were talking face·to·face with him. The people that were looking on and saw him nod his head laughed at him for a long time.

Since that time telephones have increased in number until we now have a telephone system throughout the County, numbering about 1,000 phones. They are no longer a luxury, but a common necessity.

The latest means of communication and amusement is the radio, which is purely modern. Radios are spreading to rural and urban communities alike.

Motion picture shows visited the County at an earlier date. Guy B. Amis installed the first talking picture at the Princess Theatre at Lexington in 1929.

With all the advantages and desirable results of progress, inventions, and the like come a few changes that are looked upon with disfavor. "Home life" seems to be disappearing. The family counsel and fireside conversation are held only occasionally and they usually in the country. The disappearing of home life is partially due to the parents' and children's working away from home and having little or no time to spend with the other members of the family. We are faced with many divorce cases arising in our courts.

Yet, in spite of all this, we are inclined to believe that it is circumstance, and not the fault of the people altogether, that is responsible for this. The moral conduct of people in general and the relations between husband and wife seem to be on a gradual incline in very recent years, 1928-1930, in Henderson County.

The close of the era that we are now studying marks the entrance of Henderson County into what we term "Modernism". Modemism may well be looked upon as the universal adoption and use of modern ideas, customs, inventions, etc. Modernism offers, even more so than has been offered heretofore, equal pleasure, social standing, and opportunity to the entire mass people. The country people and the city people, the poor and the rich are all one people in thought, interest, appearance, and education.

  1. Discuss briefly the era between the Civil War and Modernism.
  2. Mention a few changes in agricultural lines.
  3. Tell of the first mowing machine brought into the County.
  4. How was cotton planted in early days?
  5. When were the first corn planters brought into the County?
  6. Tell about "dipping cattle."
  7. What is meant by "no fence law", and what two purposes has it served?
  8. What streams have been straightened by canals?
  9. What has the County Demonstrator done for agriculture?
  10. Mention some outstanding 4·H club members.
  11. During the sixties, seventies, and eighties, how and where were products marketed?
  12. When was the Tennessee Middlin Railroad begun? When completed?
  13. What did Henderson County agree to pay for the construction of it through the County?
  14. Tell of the first trip over it.
  15. Mention some things the railroad company hauls out of the County each year.
  16. When and by whom were the two first automobiles brought into the County?
  17. Tell of the early postal service, sewing machines, matches, and glass fruit jars.
  18. Tell of the first phonograph-The first telephone line.
  19. What does modernism offer?

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