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.


By 1914, many countries in Europe were in a conflict that became World War I. Its effect was felt all over the world. In April 1917, the United States became involved. Everyone was frightened and distressed but anxious to do what they could. America was not prepared to fight a war. Yet we had declared war. America had to raise money, so war bonds were sold. The slogan was "This a war to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy." They would have a public attraction to get a crowd to sell the bonds. Imagine the excitement when a small airplane landed in the area to promote the sale of bonds. It was a thrill of a lifetime for both young people and adults to examine a plane close-up.

The nation needed more men for every area of service. They quickly set up machinery to register young men. At first only the single men and men without children were drafted into service. Among those who served from Sardis and surrounding area were Herman Lane, R. C. Hopper, Elbert Hanna, Clif Bingham, Tom Grissom, Harrison Shirley, Newt Adams, Eather Rice, Grover Wiley, Leo Presley, Tom Phillips, Robert Hodgins, Elbert Grissom, Cal Bivens, Hobart Craig, Elbert Weaver, Ily Everett, Fred Wilhite, R. C. McMurray, Frank Presley, Ophia Holland, Claude Montgomery, William Homer Rice, Elmer Phillips, Elbert Bivens, Jet Smith, and Clarence Hanna. Among those who gave their lives in service to our country were Elmer Phillips, Claud Montgomery, Elbert Bivens and Lynn McNatt.

During the war, those of us at home were called on to help. We were asked to, and many did, have one meatless and one wheatless day each week.

The war made prices unstable and lowered the morale of many. There was also an air of discontent evident, especially in young people. As always, older people were uncertain how to cope with this attitude and make the adjustment to the new ideas that seemed to be sweeping the nation as a whole and Sardis in particular. People were fooled into believing that farm prices and their products would continue to bring a high price. Consequently, people in general overinvested and when depression struck, they found themselves facing distressing problems financially. But with a struggle, most people came through, most with less money but with a zest to go forward. The thirties were a slow climb upward for Sardis as well as the whole country. When Pearl Harbor came in 1941, then everyone realized that the World War I slogan, "a war to end all wars", was just a slogan, not a truth.

The Resilience of Sardis

As we have just mentioned, in the first half of the 1920s, we as a nation were enjoying a time of a growing economy. The little town of Sardis was, to all appearances, prospering when in February of 1925 a fire burned out eight business houses: the bank, telephone office and switchboard, and the post office. All of these businesses suffered heavy losses. When the shock wore off, they began to take stock and make plans for the future. Sardis had been settled by a hardy group of people, the grandparents of many of these men, and they were not the kind that stayed down. They came up with the ability to find the resources to build larger and better buildings. Some were able to make arrangements to start rebuilding immediately. Gradually, they were back in business. There were four or five businesses that were not burned. The post office and bank set up temporary places at once to continue serving the people until they could construct permanent buildings. Very soon the bank erected the building where Sardis Cafe is at present. They remained there until they moved into a new and larger building that was well equipped with modern banking facilities, in 1964. With these facilities, they could serve the community better. This building is across the street from the one they had occupied since 1925. The Peoples Bank was organized in 1920 with a capital of $10,000.00, with E. A. Weaver as cashier and J. G. Ricketts as president. On January 1, 1986, the Peoples Bank had a capital of $50,000.00, a surplus of $100,000.00, and undivided profits and reserves of $710,000.00. It requires five people to serve its customers. Present officers are Van Carter, president and cashier; Mrs. Dianne Carter, comptroller; Mrs. Pat Pruett, assistant cashier; Mrs. Stephanie Ross and Tim Little, tellers and bookkeepers.

By 1930, the following businesses had survived the crash of the stock market in 1929 and the breakdown of the national economy. There were: six general merchandise stores -- J. S. Johnson, George Medlin, Phillips Bros., W. W. Willis, and A. W. Blevins; J. A. Medlin Drug Company; G. H. Spellings Cotton Gin; A. A. Hanna Grist Mill; two barbershops -- B. V. Bivens and W. A. Schrivner; three blacksmith shops -- Henry Bivens, Fate Tubbs and Jim Montgomery; and a telephone office with 240 phones operated by C. W. Rice.

The Sardis post office made its new home after the fire on the corner of Hinkle and Lexington streets where Billy Duck's insurance agency now stands. In 1966. it moved into a new brick structure across from where they were, on Hinkle Street. The post office serves approximately 900 to 1000 people and has 75 post office box patrons and 433 rural boxes. There are approximately 510 families served today by our post office.

We can confirm, from information from the National Archives, that Isaac Hassell was appointed as postmaster for Sardis post office in 1875. Following Isaac Hassell was J. R. Montgomery. He was followed by Earl Vernon and Mr. Vernon was followed by Arthur Medlin, in about 1928 or 1929. Mr. Medlin retired in 1965 and Mrs. Jimmie Little was acting postmaster until Mrs. Clara Martin, our present postmistress, was appointed in March 1968.

Many men and women of today have happy memories of meeting their rural mail carrier at their mail box when they were small, supposedly anxious to get the mail but actually to get a piece of chewing gum or candy that he often gave them. The cheery ‘good morning' of the carrier brightened the day for many who lived on farms and didn't see many people during the work week. The rural carrier would bring any community news to people on his route also. We are unable to find any authentic information on rural mail carriers in the 1800s. But we are told by some older people of today that they remember hearing their parents talk about Horace Hanna and a Mr. Denny Roy being rural carriers in the late 1800s and very early 1900s.

There were three rural mail routes established out of Sardis in the early 1900s. Mr. Drew Moore, Mr. Scott Little and Mr. Charlie Little were appointed carriers. All three of them carried the mail until the 1920s, when the three routes were merged into two routes. Then Mr. Drew Moore was transferred to Lexington. The two Mr. Littles continued as carriers until they retired in 1938. Soon Tommy Holland and Douglas Moore were appointed to replace them. They both carried the mail until 1973 when the two routes were merged into one route. Mr. Moore was transferred to a route out of the Jackson post office. Mr. Moore didn't live to carry this route. He was stricken with illness that caused his death in 1974. Mr. Holland continued with the one route until he retired in 1975. He was replaced by Robert Presley. Mr. Presley carried this until his sudden death in January 1983. He was replaced by Jimmy Joshlin who is still serving us.

Doctors and Drug Stores

Previously we have mentioned Doctors A. B. Hanna, J. H. England and John Duckworth, who served the community until their retirement in the 1900s. We were fortunate to have a new doctor move to Sardis about the time these very able doctors retired. Dr. Wilhite came early in the 1900s. He was followed by Dr. Sam Brazellton, about 1918. Dr. John Keeton came in a few years, and then Dr. Mackay. These doctors retired or moved away in the twenties. Dr. Gilbert Howell came in 1926 and served the community and surrounding area well until his illness and death in 1943. Soon after he passed on, the community began to encourage Arthur Medlin to use the skills he had learned through self-education, work as a pharmacist, and his close association with Dr. Howell over the years, and start practicing medicine. Thus, Arthur began practicing and started increasing his medical knowledge by self-study and studying under Dr. Wylie of Scotts Hill. The community came to love and appreciate Dr. Medlin for he really cared about his patients and especially endeared himself to older people. These same traits were exemplified in all doctors who practiced here, but those of us who are living now knew Arthur so well. He became very efficient in family practice. When he wasn't sure what a problem was or its cause, he would send the patient to Jackson Clinic or Jackson General Hospital. The doctors there respected Dr. Medlin and accepted his patients gladly. Dr. Medlin seemed to have an uncanny ability to diagnose a case. He was very dedicated to his work and his wife, Hortense Carter Medlin, often rode with him when he made calls at night. Also, she was very sympathetic and thoughtful with people who came for office calls. Although he never had any training in surgery, he did save a boy's finger which was cut off in a lawn mower accident. If the finger was to be saved, it had to be sewn back immediately. So a local woman helped by administering chloroform to the boy while Dr. Medlin put the finger in place and sewed it back to his hand. That boy is now the math teacher at Lexington High School, Melvin Montgomery, and he definitely has good use of that finger.

Dr. Medlin retired in 1965 and secured Dr. Patrick O'Keeffe to replace him. Dr. O'Keeffe served the people of the Sardis area well until the 1980s. He is now practicing nearby and we have a nice office building ready, hoping to get another qualified physician soon.

Sardis has had a drug store for most of the twentieth century but not as well stocked as was the J. A. Medlin Drug Store. There were very few prescriptions that ‘Dr. Medlin' couldn't fill from his stock.

Blacks in Sardis

For several years in Sardis we had some good black people, worthy citizens of this town.

The first blacks, of course, came as slaves. Some of these are buried in the McBride Cemetery near here. They were owned by Jess McBride.

Albert Sidney Johnson owned and ran a blacksmith shop here about 1915.

Harrison Kaiser was among the early settlers. His two daughters and a brother lived here for many years. I want to relate an interesting story told to us by Frank Pierce who is living in Lexington now. He was born in Sardis and lived here a long time. Shortly after the turn of this century, many black people came through Sardis. Some had to do it stealthily because of various reasons. Most of the time they were not law breakers but were maligned simply because of their color. When they got to Sardis they all came to Mr. Kaiser's. Frank's father, M. F. Pierce, was the town policeman and he knew Mr. Kaiser as an honest, God fearing man. So they had a code worked out. When a man came that Kaiser wanted to help, he would go to Pierce's window and knock a certain number of times. Pierce knew this was his signal to get up, get dressed and help them because he trusted Mr. Kaiser.

Others who lived here were Chess Smith and his family, Elmer Reynolds and his family, and Charlie Kennedy and his family.

Charlie Kennedy was a school teacher for all the black children in the community for a few years. The school was located near where Roy Medlin now lives. Later it was used only for a church. Mrs. Lula Medlin says she can't remember it being a school after 1915.

Earl Story told us that his father was making a trip to Lexington and going to Lexington in those days was no easy task. Mr. Kennedy sent by Mr. Story to pick up his marriage license for him. Earl remembers the look of consternation on Mr. Kennedy's face when his mother jokingly told him that Mr. Story had forgotten the license. He was visualizing another tiresome trip to Lexington before his marriage could take place.

He married Rena Kaiser and they were a wonderful couple and had a nice family. Around 1920 he served as a butler at the Governor's Mansion. Arthur Montgomery was in the legislature and helped him to get the position. The Kennedys had five children and it was difficult at that time for black children to get an education. But, Mr. Kennedy had the foresight to see how important it was for every child to be educated. He had to take his children elsewhere to receive their education. One of his daughters became a teacher and all of us remember with deep affection Charlie Kennedy, Jr., lovingly known to us as ‘Bub'. With deep respect we remember his wife, Mrs. Eula Mae Kennedy, a teacher and guidance counselor in the Henderson County schools.

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.

Photograph, 1937 Basketball Team

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.

Some Other Items Taken from This Paper

Miss Pearl Johnson was very much missed from Saltillo School Monday, when she was absent because of illness.

Aubert Little and Holland Rice were visitors in Milledgeville last week.

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