yesterday's tennessee

Yesterday's Tennessee


edited by Brenda Kirk Fiddler


This book reveals in part the best kept secret in Henderson County history--the old Lexington Progress newspapers. Courthouse fires in 1863 and in 1895 destroyed almost all official records. Land grants, deeds and family histories are becoming available as more persons become interested in the history of this area; however, researchers still find resources limited.

A very important part of the written history is the old Lexington Progress newspapers preserved on microfilm and available through the Tennessee State Archives....

The Progress has a proud tradition. Three generations of the Barry family were involved with the publishing of the newspapers covered in this book--W.V. Barry, Henry D. Barry, and William L. Barry. For 62 years, beginning in 1884, W.V. Barry and his family published the weekly newspaper essentially every Friday....

W.V. Barry was a remarkable editor with a keen ear for news, a sharp pen and the courage to print all the news. That reporting coupled with the editor's love for Henderson County and its people and his penchant for local color stories make the Progress fun to read. The articles selected for this book, hopefully, show the evolution of Lexington and Henderson County since its creation in 1821.

To order, mail $7 (includes $2 shipping) and your name and complete address to:

Brenda Fiddler
1414 Frizzell Rd.
Lexington, Tennessee 38351

All proceeds from the sale of this book go to the Beech River Heritage Museum. The book can also be purchased at the museum for $5.

For more information, e-mail

And a few samples!

The following articles are examples of material found in the book -- a community visit, an interesting Lexington event, an interesting person, the announcement of a new public education facility, and one of a series of articles presenting a block-by-block commercial history of Lexington.

September 25, 1903: Wildersville; One of Henderson County's Liveliest Business Towns. Some of Its Enterprises:

Last Monday morning the Progress man visited Wildersville and found that enterprising town of 250 to 300 population already enjoying a fair start in fall business. During the short time at our command, we became acquainted with the following facts relative to the business and general progress of Wildersville.

Paley Rosser, whose total blindness does not interfere with his good nature, always has a cooling and harmless drink for the thirsty. Paley ordered the Progress sent to his old friend J.I. Barger at Reagan.

J.J. Edwards runs a general blacksmith and woodwork shop and is always one of the busiest men in Wildersville.

Orr, Walker & Co., the firm composed of Faulkner Orr and S.J. and B. Walker, do a general dry goods business and Mr. Orr is postmaster.

The Parker Dry Goods Co., composed of J.P. and P.E. Parker, does a big business. This house has a salesman, Mr. Will Parker, well known in Lexington.

Arthur H. Fronabarger, who is on the road for the George Arnold Grocery Co., of Memphis, does a general merchandising business, which is well cared for by his daughter.

A.R. Appleby, a Justice of the Peace for the 9th district, does an exclusive grocery business.

The Parker Grocery Co., Sid G. Parker, manager, carries a general stock including shoes, clothing, etc.

The Watson Cotton Gin Company, which bought the Munger System gin from L.J. Parker & Co., made a good beginning by buying 16,000 pounds of cotton last Saturday. This gin is under the management of Mr. B.F. Page, who showed and explained to us the wonderful Munger System. By this ginning system the cotton is taken from wagons by air suction and there is no hand work until the bale of cotton is ready to "tie out." This gin put up 1125 bales of cotton last season. it will also run a corn mill this season.

Wildersville has another gin owned by J.P. Parker, W.R. Wilson and Alf Rush, who bought 7,000 pounds of cotton last Saturday.

The Spellings-Rosser Stave Co. owns factories at Wildersville and Sulphur Springs, with combined capacity of about 3,000,000 staves a year. This company has before it a four-year run in white and red oak. The boys call Lewis Parker and Jeff Rosser the "guy rods" of this enterprising company.

Wildersville has two churches, Methodist and Baptist, and a successful school now conducted by Miss Myrtle Watson.

The Jones Hotel just about completed is a handsome structure. Mrs. Jones has been dangerously ill with congestion.

Our good friend L.F. Gordon struck a chisel in his hand some two weeks ago and has a bad hand and arm from it.

If anybody asks, tell 'em Wildersville is all right and we shall find pleasure in paving the town another visit.

April 12, 1908: Smashed Were the Remains of Bill Lancaster's Jackson Saloon: W.C.T.U. Did the Work:

Lexington does not often have sensations coming its way, but on last Saturday morning, the good ladies of the local W.C.T.U., aided by some other ladies and gentlemen, furnished a fitting climax to the long suffering the town has endured since the legal saloon was banished from the town. On Friday afternoon it became known here that W.H. Lancaster, one of the Jackson saloonists closed out April 1, had shipped a consignment of liquors from Jackson to Lexington on the local freight train of that afternoon. Lexington has been overrun with whiskey bootleggers almost ever since the saloon was abolished and a few years ago, one Bill Daws protected by a Winchester gun, a bulldog and a large and faithful patronage, sold barrel after barrel of vile intoxicants, but the idea of perhaps a whole carload of booze being openly dumped in the town, caused considerable interest which resulted in a number of W.C.T.U. ladies getting together Saturday morning, reinforced by other ladies and a few gentlemen who were willing to stand by them. Mr. Lancaster granted the ladies a conference in the Stewart drug store and there the matter was to some extent thrashed out, Mrs. J.W. Harvey speaking for the ladies and Mr. Lancaster representing himself.

Mrs. Harvey told Mr. Lancaster that the ladies were informed that he wanted and intended to quit the whiskey business with the closing of his Jackson house and the ladies wanted to help him quit, etc. Mr. Lancaster stated that the liquor was his property, that he could not afford to deprive his family of its value and added that the ladies were meddling in what did not concern them, that there were men in Lexington to attend to business affairs. Mr. Lancaster declined selling the liquors to the ladies, disclaimed any intention to sell it here and declared himself a law abiding citizen. During the conference in the Stewart drug store, Mr. Lancaster was asked point blank how much whiskey he had and his reply was, as we are informed, "Twenty or thirty gallons; possibly a little more or a little less." At some time after the matter came up, John W. Stewart, our Town Recorder, told Mr. Lancaster he would pay for the whiskey destroyed.

The entire crowd of ladies, Mr. Stewart, Mr. Lancaster, Rev. A.E. Cole and others left the drug store and went to the depot, where on a sidetrack stood the car containing the whiskey. On the understanding that the liquor should be destroyed and paid for, the car was opened and no time lost in the smashing program. Here too, Mrs. Harvey made a very touching little talk and taking in her hand the first bottle passed out, handed it over to Mrs. C.G. Gathings who opened the ceremonies. The entire lot of jugs, newly filled bottles and case bottles went the same way and here is an inventory of it as kept by John W. Stewart: 27 Gallons, 92 Quarts, 243 Pints, 146 Half Pints, Remnants--$2.45, 10 Quarts Champagne--$40. The bill footed up the sum of $264.95 and John W. Stewart has issued his check to cover it.

We have given a bare recital of what happened--we might greatly embellish it, for the occasion was far out of the ordinary. That the ladies were backed in their action by the better element of Lexington there is no doubt. The wisdom of paying for the whiskey is questioned, for there is not much moral point in giving Mr. Lancaster a market for the whiskey left on his hands--much of it, we are told by men present, being of the vilest kind. There are towns m Tennessee, which have not had the long suffering experience of Lexington, where the car would have been forcibly entered, the whiskey destroyed, and Mr. Lancaster and the railroad company as owners of the property forcibly entered and seized, to "pop their whips" by means of the law. Our people who did not favor the accursed smuggling of whiskey, who could not buy it from the bootleggers if they would, have suffered long and patiently while the town was making a desperate name abroad and we trust the unique deal of last Saturday between the W.C.T.U. ladies and Mr. Lancaster will mark the beginning of a more respectable era in Lexington.

August 23, 1920: A Notable Birthday Visit: Aunt Betsy Milam

Aunt Betsy Milam was born July 16th, 1831, hence was 89 years on that day when I visited her. Her's is a sprightly bright mind for her great age and her hair is but about half gray. Sometimes late in the afternoon she visits the farm to see how the work is going on. Her mind is bright about things that happened in her younger days. Aunt Betsy was three weeks old when the first church house was built at Mt. Gilead and her mother cooked the dinner for the hands that raised the walls and the work was assisted by Aunt Betsy White, a neighbor. Her father, the late G.H. Buck, was born in the state of Pennsylvania, was reared in North Carolina and married Susan Neisler and moved to Tennessee in 1827. He was reared by the "Old School" Presbyterians but was a Cumberland Presbyterian all his life and was an elder in the church. Aunt Betsy says that in those days men went as far as five miles to roll logs and it was the custom for each man to make his log heap before breakfast. The first church elders whom she remembers were Joshua Gibbs, Jackson Petty and father, and the first Cumberland Presbyterian preacher she ever heard was Rev. Jordan Lambert. The church house was built of large poplar logs, 22 and 24 feet long. The door for the ladies was on the West side and for the men on the South. The old ladies sat on the left of the pulpit and the brethren on the right, the young ladies farther back on the left and the young men on the right. Ladies and gentlemen were not allowed to sit with each other. The pulpit was breast high.

Aunt Betsy has been a member of the C.P. church 72 years. She was married to L.M. Milam, August 1, 1850, and Mr. Milam, who was also a life-long Presbyterian, has been dead just four years and eight months. Aunt Betsy was reared within one mile of Mt. Gilead Church. She had two sisters, Sallie Cook and Polly Neisler, and eight brothers, Jackson, Charles, George, Milton, William, Wilson, Jordan and Alexander. She owns a farm and lives two miles North of old Center Hill, known as the Daniel McCollum place.--G.H. Buck

June 23, 1922: Negroes have a Creditable Building:

Messrs. Kennon Smith and Ed. Thomas, house building contractors, practically finished construction last week of the Lexington colored school building, the funds for which come from several sources--the corporation of Lexington, Henderson County, the state and Julius Rosenwald fund. The house is built on the F.M. Davis land on the West side of town and is a good location with ample playgrounds. It is a one-story structure, with an auditorium, with movable partition, three class rooms and four small cloak rooms. There are two flues, with three openings for stoves and the house is storm-sheeted and papered in a way to insure comfort--in fact, the whole building is well constructed notwithstanding the wood work was done in fifteen days. Mr. J.W. Potts has the painting contract under Smith & Thomas. The colored people are to be congratulated on their local school facilities and they have nothing to prevent their children from obtaining a substantial education, sufficient to meet their needs in life. Prof. Vincent seems to be a satisfactory teacher and we understand he will have charge of the school when it opens in September.

January 27, 1933: "Another Strip of Lexington History"

After getting in touch with our local historian, Esq. Wyatt T. Threadgill, we stocked up with enough additional Lexington historical information to furnish an article covering the Northwest side of the Public square, which was burned clean by the men of Colonel Fielding Hurst of McNairy County. In fact the torch which started the fire which burned the entire row of buildings, beginning with what is now the Watson drug store and including the one now occupied by the Central State Bank, was applied by Taylor Hurst, a little, tallow-faced devil incarnate, a brother of the older outlaw Fielding Hurst, who was a commissioned colonel in the Federal army, in addition to his antics of outlawry, for he burned and slew where there was no need and where a reputable officer would have protected instead of destroying the property. Taylor Hurst first asked a man to hold his horse, and when the man refused, he turned to Wyatt Threadgill, just a lad and when he said, "Here Sonny. hold my horse," got the reply, "I'd see you dead first."

We do not know what became of Taylor Hurst, but happened to know that old Fielding died in Purdy and, strange to say, with his boots on. Well, the Watson drug store corner before that burning was occupied by the James Glass hardware business, with a furniture line perhaps, and Glass was a brother-in-law of "Elijah (called "Lish") and Uriah Collins, Elijah living long at Milan, as a prominent banker, and Uriah being known as a runner of railroad excursions--who always told us to write his excursion notices in "your own happy style."

That Glass corner stood vacant with part of the brick walls standing until E.E.Flake, known as "Frate," son-in-law of the late Sam Howard, and whose widow, was later the widow of the late E.E. Tarbet of Point Pleasant on the Tennessee River, built thereon in about 1872, the present building, and in it was conducted a general store--but when the writer came to Lexington in 1884, Mr. Flake had died and the closed building was the property of the late Esq. James H. Fuller, maternal grandfather of Circuit Judge W.H. Denison. Esq. Fuller sold the property late in 1884 to C.F. McHaney who moved his drugstore from the corner of the Council block. McHaney sold to Dr. W. T. Watson and either he or his son, W. V. owns it now. Next to the Glass house came the tailor shop of the late Jim Pinkston, whose son, Harry, is associated with Tom Scruggs, in the drug business in Jackson, but we do not know the residence or any other surviving member of the family--except the delightful daughter, Minnie, who has been twice married and lives in Holly Springs, Miss. Associated with Jim Pinkston, was his brother, "Hen," who married Miss Whig Sanders, daughter of Rev. Aaron Sanders, a Baptist preacher of Purdy, McNairy County.

Next came the Collins general store, a two-story, wooden building, run by old man Billie Collins; next came the Dr. Chapin store where Dr. Chapin also practiced medicine. Where this building stood was afterward the Joe Gatz lot-and it will be remembered that Gatz, the German shoemaker, moved to Jonesboro, Arkansas, and there died. The home of Dr. Chapin was the Joe Gatz home lot, at the end of the alley, which begins at the home of Ed Shrewsberry, colored, now owned by Hal Lawler, who lives in New Orleans. Central Alley then is still Central Alley, between the Brown and the Essary buildings, running all the way from the Public Square to the next street, Henry, which intersects North Main at the Threadgill Lumber corner, which was our beginning point last week. After Central Alley came the John S. Fielder drug store--and the writer can remember that before the Civil War, the Fielder drug store in Lexington, was advertised in a newspaper published in Purdy, McNairy County, by the late Isaac W. Nash--and this we know by seeing a copy of the old paper many years later.

The next business was the Felix Henry saddle shop, Felix being the grandfather of our present citizen James A. Henry, and father of Jim Henry, who ran a "grocery" of that day, carrying other goods, in addition to 'spiritus frumenti'--and that Jim Henry was register of Henderson County for many years, dying in April, 1884, after the writer came to Lexington.

On the corner now occupied by the Central State Bank, was John Clark's dry goods store, one of the best in Lexington--the last of a solid side of the public square, every stick of which was burned through pure deviltry--and from the Glass corner to the Clark corner there was a brick sidewalk, edged by a stone wall.

On the present site of the Southern Methodist Church, Sam Hefley put up a two-story building, which was known later as the Cathy Wilson House and was variously used--the side room by Dr. W.T. Watson, as his office, the main storeroom by Mrs. Lou Teague, for millinery, and different persons lived in the upstairs. So long 'till next week. W.V. Barry

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