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 continued to be an educational, cultural and commercial center for the surrounding territory. People came here to shop for their family. All kinds of clothing, suits, coats, shoes and hats were available. The millinery shops brought in people from St. Louis for the spring and fall seasons to decorate hats. You could choose an untrimmed hat and then choose your desired trimmings, ribbons, feathers, flowers, etc., and go out decked in the latest St. Louis fashion. There was a real spirit of competition. Mr. Bob Totty, who was co-owner of Fowler and Totty Store, was trying to sell a pair of shoes to a customer. The man said he could buy them five cents cheaper up the street. Mr. Totty allowed him to get to the door before relenting and selling them to him at the cheaper price. Mr. Fowler had witnessed the transaction and remarked, "Bob, we may have lost money on that deal, but we gained a customer." Anything that was needed was found in Sardis. Whether it be groceries, clothing, drugs, hardware, ice, and even shrouds and caskets.

The term ‘general store' implied clothing of every kind and also groceries. In 1910 these were the businesses in Sardis:

General Stores: Baker & Fowler; A. W. Blevins; Churchwell & Doss; F. W. Fowler; Fowler, Brayant &t Presley; J. L. Jones; McBride & Johnson; O. Moffett; Montgomery Bros.; T. P. Nolen; Pitts & Co.; and John G. Rickett.

Groceries: Ricketts Ft Booker; L. E. Scott.

Drugs: W. I. Ellis, Keeton & Johnson.

Blacksmiths: J. C. Austin; J. F. Edwards; J. H. Mayo; Stanfill & Hanna.

J. E. Vernon Coffins & Woodwork.

The Sardis Bank, J. W. Fowler, president; J. L. Cockran, cashier.

With all of the town's advantages, there was one big hindrance -- red, clay mud. This was a problem with horse drawn vehicles. Earl Story told us that, as late as 1925 when his grandmother (Mrs. Ann Story) died, it took sixteen mules to pull four wagons from the Story place to the Sardis Cemetery. So we can see the difficulty the first cars had in getting from place to place.

John Bryant is believed to have owned the first car. It created as much excitement at that time as a rocket landing here would today. Once, when there was a barbecue at the Roy Medlin place, he hauled people back and forth for ten cents. John Thrasher came here to supervise digging canals to drain Hurricane and Middleton Creeks. He not only was one of the first to own a car, but according to Aubert Little, he introduced the game of tennis to Sardis. Aubert played the game with the Thrasher children.

By the early 1920s more people had cars, and transportation and communication greatly improved.


We aren't sure when the first telephone system came to Sardis but we think it was around 1905. The first one was very primitive and you were only sure of service when the weather was clear. There were only party lines and there were usually ten or more families on each line. No message was ever private for, when the phone rang for anyone, it rang in every house on that line. Each family was assigned his own combination of long and short rings which was equivalent to our phone numbers today. You were only supposed to listen when it was your number of rings. But that ringing phone exerted a powerful influence on those people who were near the phone and, consequently, almost every phone receiver was picked up so that one might learn the news. If you were outside and heard your phone and failed to reach it in time, you could ring once, get the operator and find out who had just called -- almost like having an answering service. The first telephone office was near where the Methodist Church is now located. During the next few years, it was located at two other sites in town. It was in buildings that had an upstairs, once where Billy Duck's insurance office is located, and the other where L & W Grocery now stands. As far as we were able to discover, among the first telephone systems, was a stock company known as Center Point Telephone Company with Walter Rice as manager. Some of the ladies who served as telephone operators were Misses Tola and Sarah Davey, Ora Ellis, Millie Wheatley, Lee Piercy Stanfill, Bertie Presley Hanna, Lorena Holland, Kayte Holland, and Mattie Moffit Ford. Mr. Rice assumed control of the company about 1930 and he and his family ran the office until the mid-1940s, when Mr. and Mrs. Ray Little took it over. In 1951, a stockholder company was formed known as Sardis Telephone Company. A new switchboard was purchased, new lines were built and many new phones were installed. Les Huff was appointed to be the manager. This system provided satisfactory service until Tennessee Telephone Company purchased the Sardis system, for one dollar, and assumed control in 1958.


For the purpose of lighting homes down through the years, most people only had candles or coal oil lamps. However, some were fortunate enough that, by about 1920, they had a carbide lighting system. An underground tank was installed and, when it was being used, there was a steady dripping of water into the carbide, forming a gas, which in turn served as a source of power for lights in a home. Some of those who had these lights were Dr. J. T. Keeton, Mr. John Story, Mr. Edd Hardeman and Senator Jim Jones. Jones lived in a large house, where Earl Barber's home is now located, and he piped the gas across the street to light the Methodist Church.

Another innovative idea for lighting was devised by Fred Wilhite who used a wet cell battery which provided power for a lighting system for his home and store. But finally, around 1935, electricity came to town. Gone were the old, sad irons that you heated by fire and always worried that black might rub off on some of the many white items that had to be starched and ironed. Gone was the warm and sometimes spoiled milk and other foods. A glad welcome was given to electric lights, irons and refrigerators. These appliances came first and others were added, as each family could afford them.

Lighter Moments

The community was fortunate to have many things to do for recreation and to broaden their scope of interest. There were parties in homes. One room was cleared of furniture and a large group could enjoy fun and fellowship with music from a victrola, a hand wound machine that played records. Barbecues were held in various places, sometimes in conjunction with a baseball game and political speeches. Some of the special attractions were tubs of lemonade and homemade candy, made by Mr. and Mrs. Jim Bridges from a special recipe belonging to the Bridges family. They cooked the ingredients to the proper consistency, then pulled it from hand to hand until it was snow white, unless you wanted it striped with peppermint. Then it was cut into pieces about five inches long and they sold it for a penny each. Some other attractions were races. Mrs. Mary Rice and Mrs. Ruby Carroll Hanna raced on their horses at one barbecue. Mrs. Rice says that Mrs. Ruby Hanna won that race but she has always been known as a fast walker, so she won the walking race. Barbecues continued on until the 1940s and the last ones were sponsored by the Fox Hunters Association. These were held at the place where Jack Benson's home now stands and also where Adam Brown now lives. It was a big event, involving the whole community. All the county officials usually attended and, at the invitation of Dr. Medlin and others, several doctors from Jackson came each year. Some of them were Drs. Chandler, Myrr, Johnston, Parker, Edwards and Wylie. In the early years of this century, boat shows toured up and down the river, docking at Saltillo. If the weather was right, the steam calliope on the boat could be heard at Sardis. This was the signal to get together a wagonload of people and head for the show.

Adult groups and the school organized and presented plays. The performances were not for Sardis' pleasure alone but they traveled to other communities such as Scotts Hill, Milledgeville and Saltillo. One production remembered was Mrs. Annie Douglass' third grade class presentation of the "Tom Thumb Wedding", Mrs. Mary Rice as the bride, Clyde Cromwell as the groom and Murry Dickson as the preacher. During the 1930s there was, each year, a full week of commencement exercises. It began with the baccalaureate sermon on Sunday night, a play each night of the week given by each of the four high school classes and ended with the graduation on Friday night.

There were ice cream parties and box suppers. Each girl decorated a box and inside it were some delightful goodies. The boys bid for them, trying to get them as cheaply as possible. The girls always tried diligently to let their boyfriend know which box belonged to them.

From about 1915 to 1925, there was a soda fountain in town where young people gathered to talk, laugh and have fun.

When the first family in each community got a radio, people gathered in those homes to listen to them. Radios were first battery powered and then electric. Many times, on Saturday night, people gathered around the radio, wherever there was one, and listened to the Grand Old Opry.

A one-time event happened in the fall of 1938. Sardis had a fair. The gymnasium was lined with exhibits and booths. There were all kinds of cooked food: pies, cakes, candy, biscuits, corn muffins, canned fruits, vegetables, jellies and preserves. There were exhibits of fresh vegetables and produce and crafts of every kind. These were all judged and prizes were awarded. We believe this was a four day fair, Wednesday through Saturday. On the area between the school and town, there was a carnival with ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and several other rides.

Mrs. Della Bivens said she cooked meals and sold them to those who were with the carnival for twenty-five cents each. Another exciting event in the life of this community1

Music was a vital part of the town from its earliest history. Always, there have been self taught musicians who could play harmonicas, fiddles and guitars. We have already noted that Sardis was known for its brass band. These are some of the music teachers who have taught here: Olive Simmons, Laura Presley, Pearl Bondurant, Beulah Bunch, Misses Holt and Morris, Edith Little, Madeline Gardner, Kayte Holland and Mr. Jesse McClain.

Although our school no longer exists here in Sardis, we are glad we have a music teacher, Mrs. Patricia Stanford.

The John Gilbert family is a noted musical family who lived in Sardis for several years. One of the sons, Noel, relates a humorous experience that happened while they lived here:

"One of my big musical moments came when I was thirteen. Pop, Millie Newman, and I took part in a church musical program. C. P. Little, a good friend and an admirer of Pop, made a speech on music. Our part was to play a few numbers on the piano and two violins. An exciting end to our part was that the loud applause we received when we finished our numbers caused somebody's team that was hitched to a wagon to run away, and there went our crowd."

Shortly after this, they were booked to play at the Savannah fair. Before they left Sardis, Noel decided he would try his father's trumpet. It didn't sound right and the valves stuck. He took them out and had to replace them hurriedly because it was time to begin the journey to Savannah. They were entertained royally at the Farris Hotel. A crowd had gathered across the street where they were to give a preview performance. They went across to play for them and, with some gusto, Pop Gilbert gave the downbeat to start. But not a sound came from the trumpet. Noel had put the valves back in and, in his hurry, had gotten them in wrong and the square was as silent as a tomb. But better things were in store for Noel. He was Professor of Music at Memphis State University for twenty-six years. And, he and his brother, Jerome, played dinner music for the once prestigious Peabody Hotel in Memphis.

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