yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee
History of Sardis, TN

From Beulah Hanna and Carra Holland, History of Sardis, Tennessee, Sardis Homecoming '86 Committee, May 1986.


Sardis was incorporated in 1905 for the first time. It was incorporated to pay for the first brick school building. Mr. Billy Holland was the first mayor. The corporation lasted until about 1923. M. F. Pierce was the first town marshal, who used a log cabin calaboose (jail) with one door and no windows. It stood where Randy Brown's house now stands.

The people of Sardis then, as they have continued to be, were educationally minded. The building completed in 1882 or 1883 was the first Sardis Normal College building. The school, in addition to the elementary grades, offered a preparatory course or a teacher's course, academic and scientific courses which allowed students to earn degrees that qualified them to enter a higher educational institution. The school continued to grow but the building burned down in 1895. The people were saddened and discouraged. Some even wondered if they would ever have such a school again. But when summer came the people called a meeting to decide on what they should do in regard to providing educational and cultural opportunities for their children. After some discussion, they agreed that the people of the town would build another school building. They began to raise funds, committees were appointed, and work on the building soon began. A much larger and nicer building was erected on the same location. After a few years, the people realized a need for a still larger building. The town had increased in population, more homes had been built, the reputation of the college work spread to other counties and more students were coming to Sardis from these counties. By 1904 the town had raised funds and completed the old two-story brick building near where the present school building stands. Then they sold the frame one built in 1895 to Mr. and Mrs. M. F. Pierce who ran a hotel for some time in it.

Many of us living today have many pleasant memories of going to school in this building. Although college work was only offered about five or six years after the brick building was built, it continued to be used for elementary and junior or senior high school until 1939, when it was replaced by a much larger and better equipped building that is still standing. The old two-story brick building had two staircases, an upstairs auditorium with a stage, and several classrooms. One of the unique characteristics of the building was the belfry. In addition to the basics mentioned previously, piano, elocution and band were taught. The band seems to have become quite well known, playing at other nearby towns.

At one time, there were 200 boarding students from other counties in attendance at Sardis Normal College. At that time, it was the outstanding school in this area of West Tennessee. It remained a thriving educational institution until about 1910. At that time, because of political division, the college work offered at Sardis was moved to Martin, Tennessee, to become a part of a higher educational system.

We have tried to get the names of as many teachers as possible who taught in the school from 1884, when the college was chartered, until about 1910, when they ceased to offer college work. These are the names of principals we have been able to get: J. B. Minor, who was principal when the college was chartered in 1884; and C. P. Patterson, who was principal from 1903 to 1909.

One of the most notable teachers was Professor Caleb Perry Patterson, who was at Sardis from 1903 to 1909. He was born in Decatur county on January 23, 1880. His first education began at Corinth School with W. M. (Billy) Holland as one of his first teachers. Mr. Holland later taught at Sardis when Patterson was principal. Patterson went to school at Scotts Hill and Huntingdon, earning a B.A. degree. When he left Sardis he became county superintendent of Henderson County Schools and then later, after earning twelve degrees, became head of the history department of the University of Texas. His name soon became well known in national circles of universities and government.

In 1926, he was one of fifty professors, selected by the Carnegie Foundation for Peace, to attend the meeting of the League of Nations at Geneva, Switzerland, at which time Germany was admitted to the League.

In 1930-31, he spent a year in Great Britain on a Rockefeller-Spellman grant to study the judicial system of that country. Another notable event in which he was a participant was to appear before the Judicial Committee of the United States Senate in 1937. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was attempting to pack the Supreme Court and because of Patterson's presentation, along with others, the plan was defeated.

Professor Patterson married Tommie Cochran of Sardis in 1907. They had no children. They are buried in Austin, Texas, which became their adopted home.

Others teaching at this time were: J. Wesley Williams, Mrs. Annie Douglass, Miss Hattie Hanna, W. M. Holland, Tom Crawford, Mrs. Mallie Newman Brooks, Bob Totty, and a Mr. Brooks who, we have learned, was our first exercise enthusiast and had his exercise place on the east side of the school building.

During this period another war took place. Again, there were people who served their country by going into service in the Spanish American War. The following is probably not a complete list of those who served, but it is all the names we were able to obtain: Scott Little, "Shep" Brazelton, Lon Bastin and Oscar White.

Early School and Basketball

Boys' basketball was first introduced at Sardis about 1918. The first game was around 1920. Some of those first players were Buford Benson, Connie Montgomery, Clarence Rogers and Clyde Little. A few years later girls became basketball devotees. It was a shock to some people to realize girls were going to participate in this sport. Some thought black sateen bloomers and white middy blouses were inappropriate attire for young ladies. But time marches on and, as always, there are some willing to lead. Some of those first girls are Louise Story, Jimmie Little, Opal Little, Kate Benson, Oren Benson, Ruby Carroll Hanna, and Alleene Meadors.

At the beginning there was no place to play except on an outdoor court. This added fuel to the fire for those who had objections to their children playing because of scanty uniforms and outside exposure, which they didn't consider healthy or wise. The community resolved to have a gymnasium. No funds were available from the county, so the enterprising, hard working people of Sardis began the struggle to raise funds for this endeavor. It was no easy task for this was the beginning of the depression. Ladies made ice cream and sold it. On Saturdays, vegetables and meat were donated and meals were cooked and sold. Monetary contributions, building material and labor were given. Soon the dream of a gym became a reality about 1930. Our basketball ability began to improve. In 1934, according to Willie Mae Haggard, the girls' team had a perfect regular season but they lost in the district tournament. Then in 1936, Coach J. L. Fesmire engineered a miracle. He had a group of boys who really wanted to play ball and displayed amazing ability as they achieved heights never reached or even dreamed of prior to this time. They won the right to go to the state tournament which, according to Lydle Finley, was held in Milan that year. He remembers the first game that they won was over a team from Knoxville, but doesn't recall the others. Carolyn Moore says she recalls that after the first game, E. A. Weaver announced it to the study hall. There was a variety of emotion shown, laughter and tears, but all jubilant. She also said it was the first time she recalled hearing the term ‘dark horse', for that was the way the press referred to Sardis, as this small school achieved what most people had considered impossible. They came home with the honor of being third in the state. This brought great pride and a sense of achievement to this community.

Students still had to be transported to and from school. Auburn Powers bought a Chevrolet truck and built a body on the back of it and hauled students to school. This was believed to have been the first bus in Henderson County. Tom Holland also had a truck and a frame on the back covered with a tarpaulin, which was used to transport students. The first class to graduate in 1932 consisted of Ruby Brown Blankenship, Dalphus Brown, Adene Johnson, Juana Mae and Benson Travillian and Hortense Medlin.

We have always had good teachers and some really outstanding ones. Ben Douglass ranks as one of the outstanding ones. During his tenure here as an agriculture teacher, he organized a farmers' class that met once each week. His aim in this work was to help farmers see their need and then help them to find ways to meet that need. According to a picture taken of this class, it must have involved the whole community. At this same time, Ruby Smith conducted a class for ladies. Mr. Douglass sought ways to challenge his students to do their very best. Speaking contests have always been held in conjunction with Future Farmers Association programs. In 1935, he had a student who excelled in this contest. His speech was entitled "What shall I do". Harlan Hanna, son of the late Tom Hanna arid Mrs. Beulah Hanna, won the district and state competition and went on to New Orleans to compete in the regional contest.

By 1938, interest in the school seemed to wane as talk of the building being condemned surfaced. The last class to graduate in the old building in 1939 had only four members: Opal S. Finley, Carra Holland, Thomas R. Medlin and Virgil Rogers. This is the smallest class to graduate from Sardis High School.

Although college courses and preparatory courses were not taught long in this period, Sardis maintained its history as a good school with qualified teachers. It was only a junior high school during the 1920s. Below is a list of some outstanding teachers from 1910 to 1930:

C. P. Roland, who went on to teach at Freed Hardeman College until he retired; Otis Jones, who later became bursar at Memphis State University; Caleb Todd; John Wilson; Jim Duck; Roy McPeake; Vena Kerr; Jesse Johnson; Ephrains Kennedy; D. L. Story; Mr. and Mrs. George Worthman; Elmer Duck; Seburn Middleton; Elbert Weaver; Vashti Orr; Margaret Sisson; Myrtle Smith; Bertha Petty; Mr. and Mrs. Andy Steele; Beulah Dumas; Beulah Hanna; Hortense Medlin; Carrie Powers; Nellie Blevins; Mr. and Mrs. Hurley; Ruby Webb; and Louise Oakley.

Sardis became an accredited senior high school in 1931. Tillman Stewart was much appreciated for his efforts in bringing this to pass. Two of the small schools, Prospect and Union Hill, disbanded and came to Sardis in the 1920s. It wasn't until the 1930s that New Erie and Wake Forest came here. These students were brought to Sardis by covered wagons for awhile. The only drivers of these wagons that we've learned about were Glenn Presley, Jim Benson, Howard Wylie and Raymond Parker from the Prospect school, and Edd Mitchell from Union Hill.

Some of the teachers at these schools were: New Erie -- R. C. Hopper, Walter Weaver, John Haggard, Mitch Bivens, Ila Austin, Ellis Scott, Adam Dyer, Ruth Vandyke and Hortense Medlin (their last teacher); Union Hill -- Register Johnson, Omer Phillips, Edgar Montgomery, Jesse Johnson, Mae Story, Zelma O'Neal and Beulah Dumas (their last teacher); Prospect -- Elmer Duck, Elbert Grissom, Gladys Mitchell, Amanda Ricketts and Mae Roby; Wake Forest -- Andy Travillian, Opal Story, Tommy Phillips, Eula Weaver and Ruby Hanna Williams.

We obtained a copy of the Hardin County Enterprise dated August 1932, and below is a list of the teachers who were here the first year we were a senior high school. Many of them stayed several years.

Sardis High School News

Hardin County Enterprise, August 1932

It is being rumored that we are having the greatest and best school at Sardis, Tennessee, since the days of Patterson and Williams. Those who remember the school when Dr. C. P. Patterson and Professor J. W. Williams were principals know that it was one of the greatest schools of its kind in West Tennessee.

It seems that everything is working very pleasantly among teachers and pupils. There seems to be a general good feeling among the students from the kindergarten to the seniors in high school. Every teacher seems to be working where they fit best and enjoy their work.

Professor Auburn Powers, a graduate of the University of Tennessee is the principal. Professor Powers has a wonderful personality and the other teachers, as well as all the students, have fallen in love with him. They admire him very much. He has had some few years experience in teaching and seems to be at ease in the schoolroom.

Miss Nelle Duffy, a graduate of West Tennessee Teachers College, is also a great favorite in high school.

Miss Ada McPeake, a graduate of Union University, is also one of our teachers who has won favor with her students.

Professor Ben Douglass, a graduate of the University of Tennessee, is the Smith-Hughes man. He is making fine progress and the students are delighted with him and greatly enjoy their new line of work.

Professor J. L. Fesmire, who has had some college work, is doing some work worthy of note. Mr. Fesmire is a relative of the famous J. Wesley Williams, a great teacher. Mr. Fesmire comes of that Fesmire teaching stock and is displaying ability in a professional way.

Miss Vera Sue Bailey, though not a graduate of college, has had some college work. Since her ancestors on both sides were teachers she is also making a good teacher.

D. L. Story, who has had two years of college, is one of our home teachers teaching in grade school. He has had a great deal of experience in teaching and has been returned for the third time to his same position.

Miss Lois Johnson, also a home teacher, with one year of college and some experience in teaching, has been returned to her same position which is a good sign.

Miss Mary Blevins, a graduate of West Tennessee Teachers College, is also a home teacher. It goes without saying she is a good teacher. Her friends are numbered by her acquaintances.

Miss Edith Little, another teacher, is a graduate of Chester County High School. Miss Little went north and studied for some time in the schools of Michigan and is well qualified for her responsible position. She is our music and expression teacher.

You see, with the above faculty and every high school teacher a college graduate, and part of the grade teachers are college graduates, and all the grade teachers have some college work and teaching experience, we believe we have as strong a faculty as you will find anywhere.

There is no reason for our not having one of the best schools in the land. In fact, it is already growing by leaps and bounds.

Although we have a large campus, the students keep piling in until it seemed necessary to secure more ground to take care of the crowded situation and, through the efforts of our splendid principal, Mr. Powers, we secured another block of land joining the campus and the boys soon had it in shape for playground activities.

We boast of having one of the best P.T.A. organizations to be found anywhere.

Sardis Parent Teachers Association

A strong arm that is of great importance to any school is the support given by an active P.T.A. Always very aware that it is only a supportive group and has no authority except as it relates to that unit.

There have always been those who are willing to serve as leaders, but just as important is the fact that there have been hosts of people who have worked long, tiring hours on behalf of this school. But, all feel well repaid as we are able to see the many ways we help in building a better school.

A meal has always been cooked and served at Thanksgiving each year. The past few years it has been primarily a take-out meal. But many remember it as a Thanksgiving banquet beginning in 1939 and going into the early 1970s. The money derived from it is important, but in the past the greater emphasis was placed on fellowship that was enjoyed by those who participated.

The first one was in 1939, before the new school was finished. Home economics that year was taught in the Masonic building where they had one stove. The food that year was partially prepared at home and finished on this one stove and then served in that building. After the new building was finished, this banquet was planned and anticipated with great pleasure by many people. It was planned primarily to be served at school. In fact, for many years, tickets were scarce for those who wanted to dress in their best and be present and be a part of the festivities. Our seating space was limited, so we had to only sell as many tickets as we were able to seat. We always tried to have a good, guest speaker, special music and a beautifully decorated table and girls who did a marvelous job of serving the tables. All of this was under the direction of Mrs. Beulah Hanna and the girls in her home economics department. Some of the special speakers were Judge Andrew T. Taylor, Edwin Deusner, Joe Hopper, "Red" Bond, Tillman Stewart, and Gordon Turner when he was a roving reporter for the Nashville Tennessean. He always gave us a good report in his paper and Mr. W. T. Franklin, owner of Lexington Progress was almost always a regular guest, always giving us good publicity. In 1974 Governor Winfield Dunn addressed our P.T.A. He was the second governor to visit this little town. Governor William G. Brownlow was here in 1867.

At this banquet the person who had been chosen, by secret vote, to be Parent of the Year was announced. These people were chosen for some outstanding community contributions they had made on behalf of young people. Many people have pleasant memories as they recall the good times that were enjoyed by all.

In the early years of the lunchroom, the government didn't supply much help, so parents worked out a schedule and one person came each day to help in the lunchroom. In order to help with the supply of food, people gathered during the summer at various places where extra vegetables were available, and prepared and canned them for the school. For the past twenty-five years or so, turkeys have been purchased for the Thanksgiving meal. But some remember it hasn't always been that way. Once, we dressed chickens and then prepared and cooked them. Carolyn Moore says she remembers that one year we were in the midst of cooking for the banquet and decided there wasn't enough chicken. Mrs. Lily Story had said if we needed more chickens she would give one if we would come and catch it. So Carolyn and Douglass went at that late hour, caught and dressed it and we cooked it for the meal that night.

The parents gave time to help the cafeteria in many ways. We painted it more than once, and much of the money earned by the P.T.A. was used to buy much needed equipment so the students could be served with greater efficiency. We believe the only time all the windows in the school were washed at one time was when the P.T.A. did it.

Parents and teachers at Sardis have always felt the need to try to have the best school possible. So whatever it took to accomplish that, we combined our efforts in that endeavor. There were students who lived in areas where they had a choice of where they would attend school. Of course, we wanted them at Sardis, so each year parents and teachers united to go out and see those students and make them feel that we wanted them here. Some came, and we felt this was partially because of our efforts.

One of the things that we hope helped both students and teachers was the appointment of a room mother for each class. This room mother coordinated all the mothers into a combined unit to work for the good of that class. They served refreshments to the classes at designated times such as Easter and Christmas. They served as chaperones for class parties and trips. It helped parents, teachers and students to get to know each other better.

The P.T.A. in the 1950s got together a cookie cookbook and then in the 1960s a regular cookbook was printed, composed of recipes from the good Sardis cooks alone. This was a good money making project, but more important, it was a service because it is still being used by many of us. Those of you who don't own one are missing a lot.

Another thing that we began as a money making venture turned out to be so much fun that we wondered if that wasn't the primary motive in the beginning. We presented a humorous play, "The Podunk Limited." It turned out to be just as humorous for the cast as the audience. Another time we ventured into "drama" and presented a variety show. It was a general consensus of opinion that Sue Goff and Carra Holland came the nearest to bringing down the house with their rendition of "Sweet Violets" with appropriate costumes.

The P.T.A. sponsored two alumni banquets. We were deeply gratified by the response of those who had once attended school here. We are glad that renewing friendship is important to all of us, and that our old alma mater will always be dear to us.

Beginning in the 1960s, we had a community picnic the second week of school each year. Just an opportunity for grandparents, teachers, parents and students to have a time of fellowship. When we know each other better, then a better understanding exists between us.

In my estimation the greatest community effort spearheaded by the P.T.A. was when we exerted all the pressure we could muster, in order for the County Court to see how much we needed a new gymnasium. Someone made the remark that on that day there weren't enough people left in Sardis to put out a fire. All of the community had made an exodus to Lexington. The effort was successful, we got our new gym. This proved anew that when a community will really pull together, great things can happen.

In the early 1940s we bought our first popcorn popper. Down through the years it had to be replaced a couple of times. We always had one going at every ball game, high school or elementary. It wasn't a fast money making source, but it was steady and supplied many needs connected with the school. Two adults were always there to pop and sell corn. It really meant a great deal to those who had the responsibility of leadership to have willing people to serve when asked to do so. Many times people didn't wait to be asked, but volunteered their services, a good community.

In the spring of 1963, we learned Saltillo was completing their last year as a high school. Several of the students there expressed a desire to come to Sardis if transportation could be provided. Henderson County couldn't send a bus there, so the P.T.A. agreed to buy a bus to bring those students here. Again we exerted our efforts to help build a better school by getting more students. This provided us with more students and a broader curriculum.

Some of the latest things purchased by the P.T.A. are air conditioner units for all the classrooms, a fence around the playground and additional playground equipment.

In the mid-1950s the P.T.A. sponsored a Boy Scout and a Girl Scout troop, just to help to make real good citizens of our youth.

For the past eight years, the P.T.A. has sponsored a beauty pageant each year. This hasn't been primarily a money making event but to promote poise and confidence in our young girls and boys.

We would like to mention all the wonderful people who helped to make this P.T.A. such a meaningful part of the school. But that's impossible. But, we will mention all the presidents' names that we were able to obtain: Maude Little, Jessie White, Mary Rice, Mildred Presley, Carolyn Moore, Carra Holland, Anita Johnson, Audry Mae Ross, Edith Hart, Lucille Presley Hanna, Bessie Stanfill, Pat Pruett, Mary Eva Goff, Nada Pitts, Manuel Pipkin, Ann O'Keeffe, Willard Gurley, Donald Martin, Wayne Scott, and Dianne Carter.

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