yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


Brenda Kirk Fiddler

[Note: This article originally appeared in the Lexington Progress, May 26, 1993, under the title "Rural Community of Alberton provided needed services."]

Three generations ago in Henderson County, rural communities were so self-sufficient that practically the only reason to go to Lexington was to pay the taxes. Alberton, located six miles NE of town, had a cotton gin, grist mill, saw mill, stave mill, church house and school house centered around a two-story general store. The Hare brothers operated it all, even using their own "Hare money" for the convenience of their customers and for their own financial success. Most of the community worked at least part of the year for the Hares in the mills or in their fields.

Alberton might be termed a company town as it was named for Thomas Albert Hare, commonly called Mr. Albert. (The area had previously been called the Hare's Mill community.) Born in 1845, he and his youngest brother, John Lafayette, called Mr. Johnny, established and ran the multi-business operation centered around the large farm tended by the "non-Hare" families. They were two of nine children of John Banks Hare and Emarilla Stanford Hare, from North Carolina. In 1849, John B. Hare could afford the five-dollar fee to send Martin A., his eight-year-old son, to a subscription school taught in Liberty Church. Willie Herndon, John B. Foster, Lucy Clark, I. Spaulding, N.G. Robertson, Matthew Lewis, Lee Griggs, Thomas Stanford, Benjamin Todd, James T. Douglas, James Hart, L.A. McMurrey, J.J. Duke, and Sam Miller of the area also contracted with John K. Wood, a teacher from Ohio for the five-month term.

Martin Hare became active in Lexington and Henderson county affairs. He was a contractor on the brick jail built in 1881 in Lexington at a cost of $8,400. As a member of the county court, he helped plan and supervise the building of the courthouse in 1896 at a cost of $11,600. Lemuel Hare, the third son, and still remembered as one of the county's more interesting persons, was involved in a variety of business deals. In 1905, he and Lem Stanford went on the road in a get-rich plan to provide entertainment for a fee with an "optograph," a moving picture outfit that Stanford and E.A. Moffitt had purchased for one thousand dollars. Mechanically gifted, Lem Hare once removed the engine from his brand new Overland car and carried it into his parlor, where he disassembled it to see how it worked. Lem and his wife Nannie Wallace Hare, and daughters Ebbie and Effie, lived in one of the county's most beautiful homes. The cook's log cabin on the grounds still stands, now property of F.L. Jowers.

Many of the workers lived in tenant houses on the Hare land that stretched from Hare Cemetery to Mazies Chapel Baptist Church. Jackson Murren was employed from 1879 to 1891 as an engineer crafting wooden gears and parts to keep the mill machinery running. The cotton gin, powered by a water wheel in Hailey's Creek, employed several men eventhough ginning capacity was only two bales a day, a marked contrast to today's gins that can process 150,000 pounds an hour.

Hare Brothers General Merchants, established in 1895, operated in a 60-ft long by 25-ft wide store, and offered a variety of items and services. Christmas shoppers buying their children's presents could go upstairs to choose from the toys displayed. In 1905, the accommodating John Hare, who operated the mercantile business, announced in the PROGRESS that he was expanding to include farming implements and buggies there and in the Yuma location. The brothers sold Tennessee, Studebaker, and Fish Bros. wagons. They even manufactured their own brand of buggy. (A top of the line buggy with harness sold for $60.00.) Many customers used "Hare money," an ingenious system involving the use of brass tokens instead of cash when families borrowed money from the Hares to make a crop on. Since the tokens could be used only at the store, the method insured that the borrowed money would be spent at their businesses. The loan would be paid back with the sale of the first bale of cotton ginned at the Hare gin.

Alberton Church of Christ was located near the store. The Hare family constructed a church house with stained glass windows. The congregation had first met in 1871 on nearby Holly Hill, where the site is still marked by four Murren gravestones. Early church records list members from the Small, Roberts, Alton, Wilkerson, Burkett, Wood, Derryberry, and Murren families. (Horn Public Library has church records.) The Alberton church house was no longer in use by the mid 30's, and the lumber was sold for use in a church in Pinson. Elections were big events at Alberton, and as many as 100 men would be sitting around the store and out under the shade trees eating 25c barbecue sandwiches and sipping 5c lemonade and sometimes stronger brew before and after they went into the school house to vote. Though known as a Republican stronghold, the third district supported the Hare brothers, active Democrats, who were elected to the state legislature--John as senator in 1913, and Albert as representative in 1915. John Hare was outspoken in his support of getting a law passed requiring the fencing in of livestock. Countywide, the voters turned down the proposal on the first vote in 1913 with 1,037 cast for it and 1,395 against it. Alberton voted 45 for and 44 against. In 1917, the private act known as the "No Fence Law" was passed, and persons permitting their livestock to roam could be fined and even imprisoned up to 60 days.

The first public school in the community was probably held in Mazies Chapel Baptist Church about two miles NE of Alberton. W. R. Wilson taught there before becoming school superintendent in 1892. Alberton School was operating by 1904 with more than 40 students in the large building furnished by the Hare family. William Orris Smith was the teacher. In 1907, the teacher was Miss Roberta Joyce from Clifton. With her marriage to Mr. Johnny in 1908, Miss Birda, as she was fondly but respectfully called, watched over the education of students for almost half a century. Between 1921 and 1933, Alberton was usually a two-teacher school, sometimes offering two years of high school. The school was closed in 1949, but the building stood until 1956, with everything in place. The desks were kept in straight rows, and the pigeonhole case built for the children's drinking cups still hung on the wall when the tornado blew the school house away.

Many students from outside the Alberton area walked past other schools in order to have the opportunity to go to Miss Birda, known for her ability to motivate students into doing their absolute best. She was well-educated, having done advanced work at the Peabody Institute, in addition to being a 1905 graduate of Sardis Normal College. Chartered in 1884, SNC attracted as many as 200 students in the summer who studied under excellent teachers. Caleb Perry Patterson, the county's most educated scholar and holder of 12 degrees, taught there, and then served as school superintendent from 1905-1907, before going on to study and teach at universities including Vanderbilt, Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Texas.

Today, the Alberton landmarks are few. When Vernon Cozart passes by and sees the old oak tree, he remembers the story about the time a man came through with his show bear and made it climb the tree to entertain the store crowd. The pond, the scene of many church baptizings, reminds Bob Lewis of the time his brother as a primer student decided to stay outside and go swimming. Miss Birda had him spanked before he could climb up the bank. Mrs. Kim Hendrix, great-granddaughter of John and Roberta Hare, sometimes unearths old tokens while digging in her garden. She lives in a house partially constructed of lumber from the store dismantled in the mid 970's.

PROGRESS Editor W.V. Barry in 1908, asked Mrs. John Hare to write the Alberton News Items. She continued until shortly before her death in 1966. Editor W. T. Franklin, in naming her the "Dean of Our Correspondents" in 1947, said that she was as faithful, dependable, and accurate as any country editor could hope for.

The second part of the history of Alberton will be based on her writing and thus will give a view of the community and school as seen by Mrs. Hare for more than a half century.

Go to Photographs
Go to The Alberton News and Mrs. John L. Hare

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