yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


John Walter Roberts

Standing on the back porch of the John Duncan Roberts home in Old Alberton are several members of the George W. Roberts family. Walter is the small boy standing in front of his mother. The well to the left by the window furnished water for drinking and cooking. Notice the bellhouse by the chimney. A rope from the bell descended through the roof so it could be sounded from within the kitchen. The ringing of the dinner bell at noon summoned the workers to the house to eat. At other times the ringing was a call for help. The photo was made in 1915. [Made from xerox copy of newspaper photo. Sorry for poor quality--David]


Note from Brenda Kirk Fiddler: John Walter Roberts, a former resident, related memories of old Alberton Community in 1993. An edited account by Mr. Roberts was printed in The Lexington Progress, December 15, 1993. In April 1998, Mr. Roberts, now 95-years old, lives in Union City Residential Care Center. He enjoys visiting with former students who drop by to see him and still enjoys going to high school basketball games. He and Allie Lindsey Thrash, the special childhood friend of the Alberton days, continue to correspond and exchange photographs. She is 93-years old and lives in a retirement home in Mineral Wells, Texas.

In 1923 Walter Roberts, a native Henderson Countian, was hired by Gibson County Superintendent F. L. Browning (brother to former Governor Gordon Browning) to be principal of Medina High School. He also taught five classes and coached the new game of basketball. During one period five members of his family were teaching school. Mr. Roberts was senior class president and valedictorian of the class of 1922 at what is now known as Freed Hardeman University.


"Home is where the heart is," and Mr. Walter Roberts' heart is in old Alberton. Now retired after many years as an educator in Gibson and Obion counties, he often returns to this area to visit his kin and to drive through his old home community. Recently Progress articles on the Alberton community and school motivated Mr. Roberts to write his memoirs. He shared them with Brenda Kirk Fiddler, who now shares them with other Progress readers.

I was born September 6,1902, on a farm about six miles south of the Natchez Trace Park Headquarters. We spoke of it as the farm near the Big Rock. My mother, Martha Viola Altom Roberts, had inherited it from her father, David Crockett Altom, a Civil War veteran, who died in 1902. Other members of her family were Sylvester, David Green, Jim, Lizzie (wife of Newt Duke), Cora (wife of Willie Harrington), Dora (wife of John Scott) and Oscar. My mother was the wife of George W. Roberts. Members of Dad's family included Jim, John, Tom and sister Donnie, who married Cajer Appleby. She and at least one of their children died about the time of the epidemic of flux. My family sold this little farm about 1910 to Lige Lewis for $3000 in 1917. We then moved to Chester County near Henderson.

When we lived in the Alberton community, Grandpa lived with us. He made coffins for the burial of children. I still have the drawing knife he used. He visited friends and relatives, using "Old Bird, a white-faced black pony to pull his buggy. Grandpa Dunk died in 1922 at the age of 85.

Borrowing the poetic expression, "We are seven," the children in George W. and Martha Roberts' family were Flora Blanche, Sarah Rebecca, John Walter, Georgia Crockett, Wilton, Charles Clifford and Lyman Lanoice, who was born in Chester County.

Our "Grandpa House" was an interesting structure. It had a front porch with columns. Dad regularly took a noontime nap on the bench kept there. Wood burning fireplaces heated the four big rooms, all with high ceilings. The kitchen had a wood burning Majestic cook stove with a reservoir for hot water and a warming closet, oven and eyes. Of course wood was needed for it as well as for all those fireplaces.

We made kraut by the barrel, sausage from the slaughter of six to eight hogs and cooked out enough lard, hopefully, for the year ahead. Near the big smokehouse we kept a barrel where we stored ashes to use at soap making time. Salt and flour were bought by the barrel and sugar by the 100 pounds. A well served to supply drinking water and for cooking. For clothes washing water, we went to the spring about a quarter mile away, unless we had caught enough water in the rain barrels, which were placed to catch the runoff from the house top. Three big cedars and two large aspen trees graced the front yard. A huge post oak shaded the woodpile. And yes, we had a "three-holer" rest room. (The barn and back of the smokehouse also served as needed.)

After the tornado of 1913 hit Lexington and the Alberton area, we had a storm house.

A large barn cared for three or four horses and the same number of mares, and several horses. We stored corn and hay for a year's use. Between the house and barn was a large garden space enclosed with sharpened pointed palings so treated to prevent chickens from lighting on the tops. Occasionally though, one chicken would try and miss, thus getting hung by the neck. If the chicken was found in time, we would have chicken and dumplings for dinner.

Much of the 360 acres was in the finest of timber which had never been cut over. Longfellow's line would fit: This is the forest primeval." Dad, with the help of tenants, began clearing the land. I am saddened as I recall the procedure of tall trees being felled, and the huge logs cut in such lengths as could be rolled over or carried by eight to ten men. I recall two log rollings my family put on. Later my sisters and I would help our mother burn off the "new ground." With the bringing into production of land, tenants were needed. I recall John Henry Woods, wife Sally Ann, sons Lester and Chester, and daughter Ethel; Logan and Ellie Sego; Jeff Keene and wife Mrs. Elizabeth, son Roy and Atlas Evans; the Charlie Jowers family that included Miss Lucy, Gene, Nelle, Georgia and Mary; the William Jowers family that included Ida, Jessie and Klein with whom I possum hunted.

One mile to the east was was the Dick Lindsey family that included wife Laura, Ellis, Allie, Melvia, Maud, Evie, Etta, Paul and Jim. Though I have not seen Allie since her family moved to Sweeny, Texas, in 1917, we still correspond.

In those days, mules were necessary beasts of burden. Since the mule is a cross between the jack and mare, Grandpa had a jack. A special fenced off area south of the house was known as the ‘Jack lot." This brings to mind an amusing incident I'll relate. My Uncle Tom Roberts, the father of Madge Johnson, Duncan Roberts and Gertrude Rawls, was a prosperous farmer. Uncle Tom had lots of farm animals, including, of course, a jack. During the "teens" Duncan had bought his first car (a Dodge) which was the talk of the community: "It had lights, it drank water, it could dodge rocks in the road, and it had a horn to warn people that it was coming." One of Uncle Tom's many tenants and a small child were working in their yard one morning when the old jack cut loose on a prolonged "Hee Haw." The excited child cried out, "Mama, Mama, is that Mr. Duncan's new car?"

Though the telephone had become fairly common in Lexington, it did not come to the Alberton area until the early teens. Several families were on the same line, but each house had a different ring. Our ring was a long and a short. The Dick Lindsey ring was two longs and three shorts. The rings were produced by turning a crank on the side of the box. A common pastime for shut-ins was listening in.

I rebelled at the idea of going to school, and on the first day that I was forced to start, I turned around and started back home. Papa stepped out from behind a big tree with a switch. This ended my rebellion for school. From this time (1910), till 1971,1 knew nothing but school, having taught 49 years and loved it.

The Alberton School House was a large, white building with two front doors. There were rolls of double desks with girls sitting on the right and boys on the left. The teacher sat at a desk on the stage in the middle part of the room. A blackboard hung on the wall. We got water from a hand pump in front of the store manager's house about a quarter of a mile from the school. Two boys would go to the pump, get a bucket of water, and using common dippers, the boys would pass the water around the room.

Students were summoned to school with the ringing of the huge bell mounted on the large platform outside. Students were summoned to school with the ringing of the huge bell mounted on the large platform outside. The building faced west, with am ample playground to the front; a gully to the back extended to the Hares' pasture, where we played "Gully Bird." The catcher stayed in the gully and had to catch the players who ran from bank to bank. At recess time most of the pupils, who ranged in age from primer to several grown boys and girls, took part in the games and occasionally the teacher joined in. Mrs. Pearl Helms, the teacher in 1914, often played games as "Drop the Handkerchief" and "Ring Around the Rosy" with us. Other teachers I recall were Mrs. Roberta Hare, Miss May Joyce, Emerson McPeake, Zephie Howell and Neely Murren.

Mrs. Helms boarded at our house when she was Miss Pearl Owens. She married Dorsey Helms during the Christmas holidays. He brought her back in a buggy and spent the night. I was amazed the next morning when he got down on his knees to lace up her high top shoes.

The school was located near the fine Hare home and the store. Hare Bros. carried everything country people needed as horse collars, dishes and a cracker barrel, which the customer helped himself to. It fell my lot to take the eggs and swap them for needed items. If there was any money left over, I could get a stick of candy. Northwest a hundred yards or more, the cotton gin and wagon scales were located. Between the house and the gin were large trees with several beehives. Also nearby was the storekeeper's house.

A much beloved operator for a long time at the Hare Brothers' general store was Mr. Case Hancock. He and his family eventually moved to Lexington and he continued in the hardware business. I well remember Mary and Lucille. There were other children whose names I can't recall.

I have heard that there was at one time a post office in the store and that Cajer Appleby was the postmaster as well as the store operator. ["Tennessee Postmasters, Henderson County" compiled by L. M. McDaniel gives this information for Alberton Post Office: "Arcadus R. Appleby, 4/04/1883 to 3/31/1890.]

Southeast from the store a little ways were the barns and stables, much needed since the Hares' farm lands and related activities were large. At the west edge of the barns was a novelty--the dipping vat. Something (was it ticks?) had become so common and harmful to cattle the USDA had required that cattle be dipped per periodically. Owners drove their cattle there to the vat that was so fenced in it was easy to make them one at a time jump in over their heads, swim to the other end which was sloped. The cattle would drain off and then be ready to go home. [See G. Tillman Stewart's account of Agriculture.]

Less than 100 yards to the southeast of the barn was Mr. Albert's fish pond. This large pond served as the baptistry for the Church of Christ. It was in this pond that my great uncle John Burton and I were baptized into Christ after school one day in 1915 or 1916. The church building was new. I understand that the Hare brothers had given the land and materials. The carpenters boarded at our house as they built it, and that was part of the building contribution. A former Church of Christ place of worship was Holly Hill about a half a mile distant and adjoining our farm. The building had been allowed to fall into ruin and it had become a sheep shelter. I recall the old building burning one night about midnight. All that remains to mark the site are two grave markers for Neely Murren's small children. [See Holly Hill Cemetery Records.]

The sandstone at the Alberton church may be found southeast of the fishpond. I recall the names of some ministers who served the Alberton Church of Christ: J. C. Lewis, who baptized me, and Bro. Holland from Greenfield. [Big crowds attended church services at Alberton. The Lexington Progress, August 12, 1904, reported on the singing contest: "The singing contest at Alberton last Saturday was one of the most interesting in the history of singing in Henderson County. The crowd estimated was 1500 people. Shady Hill Class, under the direction of Prof. Anse (Anderson) Sego, won the prize."]

After graduation from Alberton School, Flora and Sarah attended Lexington High School six miles away via "Old Maud" and the big one year. The second year they kept house in a rented apartment. My parents, much concerned that we attend school, talked with Bro. N. B. Hardeman, who was holding a protracted meeting at Alberton Church of Christ. He suggested that they sell the farm and buy a 65-acre farm that he owned near Henderson, where we would be within walking distance of both church and school. The deal was made. We bought the Hardeman farm two miles out from Henderson "at the bridge." I began school in Henderson at the National Teachers' College (later to be called Freed-Hardeman College) in the fall of 1917.

During Christmas week of 1917, we moved in four wagons to the farm purchased from Bro. Hardeman. The older children took turns driving the milk cows and helping Mama drive the buggy carrying the younger children. We spent the first night at Uncle Oscar Altom's house on the south edge of Lexington. The next day's trip of about 25 miles was not as bad as you might think.

This ends the seven-year period of my life spent in the Alberton community. I loved it and still enjoy visiting the area. Again and again, I repeat the poetical expression, "How dear to my heart are the scenes of my childhood."

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