Memories of Marshall Article from News Record 2008
Reprinted from The News Record and Sentinel Article by Judy Ricker 2008
Deadwood, South Dakota in its heyday couldn’t hold a light to the town of Marshall in the 40’s and 50’s. Please keep in mind this story is told from the memory of a child. It is as close to historically correct as I remember. Any omissions or incorrect perceptions are purely not intentional.
Saturday was our big day to travel to Marshall. Mama taught at White Rock School and when Friday came, we started to get excited about our trip to town to get all the things we needed that couldn’t be bought from the peddler, to get the car serviced, to get medicine and MAYBE go to the movie! We left early, traveling slowly down the dirt road from White Rock to Belva. Once we got to Belva, the traffic stream began. This being the only route from Greeneville, Tennessee to Asheville and beyond, the road was filled with transfer trucks (before we called them 18 wheelers), cattle trucks going to the stockyard and various other travelers making the same sojourn as us. It was slow going as we made our way along Laurel River to the Old Mill Wheel, then the traffic became even more congested as the travelers and trucks coming from Newport, Tennessee joined our caravan. The road was curvy and winding and mama said sometimes you’d meet yourself coming back the other way the curves were so sharp. We made our way past Obray Ramsey’s and sometimes he and Bard (Ray), both of them our cousins, would be making the beautiful mountain music they were so famous for. People came from miles around to just sit and pick with them. As we made it to the top of Hopewell Mountain, sometimes mama would stop at Hartford Tweed’s as she had gone to college with Jeanette at Western Carolina and they were both teachers. Down from Hopewell, we only had Walnut Mountain to conquer and we would be headed into Marshall.
Close your eyes and transport yourself back in time and memory. Be a single brick high on the wall of the Court House. Smell the wondrous aromas winding their way to you from the cafes, the cotton mill, the lumber yards and the coal burning stoves. Watch an amazingly diverse group of people as they pass by. Some walking, some sitting on the benches that lined Main Street, talking to one another and swapping stories. Some folks are just passing through. Passing through the only town on the road from Greeneville and Newport, Tennessee to Asheville.
The sounds. Hear the train coming as it approaches Barnard carrying a load of coal out of Kentucky, carrying passengers from all walks of life, going from here to there. See the children lined up along the track pumping their arms up and down to get the engineer to blow his whistle even more. Hear the engine cross the trestle above Rollins and the caboose nowhere in sight. There are loads of chickens, cattle and livestock on the transfer trucks, stopped to get gas at one of the many service stations and a bite to eat before traveling on south to yet another destination.
You could reach out touch and talk to the amazing people whose lives impacted ours and all citizens of this county and made it what it is today. It is history, and sometimes history is remembered differently by each individual. There may be some people I fail to remember. There may be some business I fail to remember. That does not mean they are any less important than the others. They are remembered by others and they still impacted the history of our county.
There were five service stations in town that were busy from daylight to dark and after, with lines forming up and down the street to fill up with gas. They were truly “full service” stations with oil changes and lube, repairs, tires, belts and hoses of all descriptions. Pee Wee Ward ran the East End gas station, Snooks Haney ran the Amoco, Bill Hunter ran the Esso, Russ Wilson had the Philips 66 and Joe Webb had the other Esso. Pee Wee had small one room houses out back of his station with a simple bed and light that truck drivers could rent for an overnight stay before they hit the road again. One colorful character named Hambone was a permanent resident in one of the houses. He was the wash and wax fellow and was busy all the time with folks leaving their cars all day for him to put a spit and polish shine that was second to none. Gas was 20 cents a gallon, but sometimes they would have a “gas war” where each station would decrease their price a penny, then another would lower it a penny lower than that until sometimes you could get a fill up for 15 cents a gallon. Honesty was a man’s word back then. If you were out late at night and needed gas, you could go to Pee Wee’s, get 50 cents worth of gas and leave him and note and he knew you were good for it. He would always say “I know where you live boy”. The Chevrolet dealership and the Ford dealership had their own gas pumps and you could get gas there too if you had taken your car in for service.
I was awed by the five automobile dealerships in town. Bright, shiny and chrome abounded the five dealerships. White wall tires were really “in” and there was no short supply of them. There was the Pontiac Dealership, with Fred Freeman. This dealership was where the Ponder Auto Supply store was located before it burned recently. Chick Murray had the Chevrolet dealership. The Ford dealership was Service Motor Sales run by John Corbett. International Harvester was owned by the Houston brothers and the Dodge/Plymouth owned by Robell Redmon and Theodore Worley. All of the dealerships were filled to the brim with folks just kickin’ tires and trading. Troy Ramsey had a used car lot on the upper end of town. He was always ready and willing to trade. He’d tell you “take that car on and drive it a while, see how you like it, then come on back and we’ll trade.” Where else, and when else since then, would you have been able to do that?
There were two pharmacies; Robert’s Pharmacy run by Vena and Bob Davis. It had a lunch counter and a fountain where you could get the most mouth watering Vanilla Coke in the world, made from real syrup and carbonated water. I always got a pack of Teaberry chewing gum for a nickel. They had a perfume counter and a hair supply counter, all kinds of boxed candies and pharmaceuticals and herbs of all descriptions. Ice cream by the cone and sundaes and all things delicious were served there. The other pharmacy was Moore’s and it was run by the pharmacist, Mr. Dinwiddie.
Cafe’s abounded and the smells would make you hungry even if you weren’t. I never had the problem of not being hungry. They were always full to overflowing and when court was in session, one almost had to make an appointment to get something to eat. There were five cafes; the Rock Cafe, the same place it is now, the Light House Grill at the lower end of town, Carey Tipton’s Café on Main Street and the City Café. There was the Street Car Diner run by Fats Plemmons. Daisy Ricker managed the Street Car Diner for Mr. Plemmons. I didn’t realize back then what an important, influential and impacting part she would play in my life. She could tell you right down to the very penny how much each serving on your plate cost her. She could do this for every item on the menu from hot dogs to pinto beans and cornbread, with an onion on top. She said this was her most popular item. She always told me “Take care of the pennies and the dollars will take care of themselves”. The most impacting thing she always said to both me and my children was “A way will be made for you”. I go by that even in the most stressful times and in all decisions. Many a time she would take tip money out of her pocket and give some to a soldier passing through, or someone who didn’t have enough money to buy a meal. I remember her telling me once that a young boy came in looking for something to eat. She got to talking to him and he had run away from home. She talked to him for a long time and gave him the bus money to go back home. I still miss her every day. Mr. Plemmons also had a small ice cream parlor next door to the restaurant.
Four very busy grocery stores were: the A&P managed by Joe Eads and the Dixie run by Kelly and Charles Davis. Pa Paw Canter always thought of it as the “When in Dixie” and called it that. Dodson’s grocery store was locally owned as opposed to being a chain like the other two. I can still smell 8 o’clock coffee that was freshly ground in the A&P. A couple of doors up the street from Dodson’s was the Model Grocery run by Ron Sprinkle. They carried local produce, milk, eggs and butter from all around the county. Boys from the high school would work after school and weekends stocking goods and cleaning. They learned a lot about business and responsibility from these jobs and some carried on their experience to become merchants themselves.
There were also five dry goods (department) stores and there was never a place that you couldn’t find something you liked or wanted in the way of clothing or household items. There were two floors to the Belk’s store; actually it was Belk-Broome then. All kinds of coats, dresses, suits, shoes, and all things personal were hanging on the racks. McKinney’s was another store. They carried bolts of cloth and thread and needles and yarn. They also carried print dresses and bobby pins and saddle oxfords. Penland’s Department Store was one of the most popular. It was run by Jim Penland and E.R. Tweed. Later it was Penland and Dorn, then Jim and his two sons George and Joe. Now that was a store. You could spend all day in just that one store. George would keep you entertained with his stories and his abounding personality. Whatever you wanted, he had it, could talk you into something else, or could order it for you and have it here by Monday. Rows and rows of Pointer overalls sold out in a hurry. He had a HUGE pair hanging up over the counter. They would have covered a wagon and I’ll bet were two axe handles across the rear. I don’t think anybody ever bought those. Penland’s shoe department was second to none with Red Wing boots. They never seemed to wear out. There was also a smaller dry goods store named Watson’s.
The two banks were the Citizens Bank and the French Broad Bank. My memory fails me as to most of the banking business, but the names of Arthur Whitehurst, Craig Rudisill and Edward Mashburn seemed to be associated with them. I remember mama mentioning those names when she had bank business to do. The Hot Springs Health Clinic at Hot Springs was named after Mr. Rudisill. On the day that they poured the initial footings for the clinic, Mr. Rudisill, of course, attended, and on the way back home to Marshall he began to feel bad. He stopped at the Old Mill Wheel. Edna Haney and her husband, Donald, took him out back to sit and rest and get some fresh air. Mrs. Haney went back inside to get him something cold to drink and before she got back, he had died of an apparent heart attack.
You could walk down the street in Marshall and get anything you needed and see much more that you wanted. There was a hub of activity at the four hardware and building supply stores. They had it all, from an adze to strip the bark off a log to barbed wire (I can’t think of anything in hardware supply with X, Y, or Z, but I’m sure if you needed one, there would be one there somewhere.
Coal, Feed and Lumber Company was owned by Mr. Craig Rudisill, and as stated, they had everything from coal, feed and lumber to all in between. They had a coal bin out back of the store and the railroad car with coal would stop and unload it right there. No need for a front end loader at that stop. There was Builder’s Supply owned by Liston Ramsey and his brother Weldon. Little did we know at that time the impact Mr. Ramsey would have on our county and the state of North Carolina in the House of Representatives. There was Bowman Hardware run by Mr. Carl Bowman. His brother Dedrick owned the funeral home. Bowman Funeral Home was a well respected and professional business that served the north end of the county and more. Sprinkle-Shelton was owned by Mr. J.H. Sprinkle and Fowler Shelton. This is the same Fowler Shelton who donated the land in White Rock for the Presbyterian Hospital.
There was Wild’s Radio there on the corner beside the Esso where you turned and went up corkscrew hill to Balsam Tourist Court run by the Penland’s. There was also Stewart’s Tourist Home on Main Street. These were other place for overnight stays besides the rooms at Pee Wee Ward’s station.
Home Electric and Furniture was one of my favorite stores. Granny always got parts for her wood cook stove there and her “blacking” that she polished the cast iron surface with. She kept the rag soaked with the blacking in a jar and cleaned that stove every day. They had Red Flyer Wagons and Schwinn bicycles and all kinds of furniture that would be delivered by them. Mr. Leonard Baker was a top notch store keeper. I remember a small bicycle shop beside the French Broad Bank, they also sold bicycle parts, chains and bumpers and chrome wheel covers and tassels that hung down from the handle bars.
On the upper end of town was Teague Milling Company run by Ernest Teague. This was the place to get your corn ground into meal and your wheat ground into flour. On each bag of flour, it was stamped “made from highest quality Madison County Wheat”. Each bag was guaranteed satisfaction or your money back. He carried all kinds of animal feed, alfalfa hay and timothy hay, straw to bed down your animals, whole kernel corn, corn on the cob, cracked corn and I guess corn for other reasons that he never asked what for. There was always a line of farm trucks backed up to the loading dock and being filled to the brim with everything pertaining to farming.
The post office was a couple of houses down the street from the Chevrolet Place. It was where “My Sister’s Attic” now stands. Next to this was Doc Treadway’s shoe shop. This was a man who could fix anything leather from shoes to harness, saddles, blinders and shoe soles and heels. The shoe shop was filled with the most memorable smells. Leather, polish, glue and all things to make the senses never forget. A story circulated around Marshall at the time that Doc had a really bad tooth that had hurt for days. He put a horseshoe nail inside his mouth and put it under the tooth and forced the tooth out. He then put the tooth on an anvil and smashed it to smithereens with a hammer and said “now thump and throb d….. you”. He was quite a character and one you keep in your memory bank forever.
The State, movie theatre between Moore’s drugstore and the Ford Place was run by Hubert Edwards. My goodness, what a treat to get to come to town and go to the movies. Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and Lash LaRue. It was almost more excitement than you could stand with all that wonderful popcorn, Necco wafers and Mary Jane candies. In my mind, those folks are still young, bounding away on Trigger and Champion, never aging like the rest of us. I loved Lash LaRue’s blacksnake whip. Does anyone know if that really was made out of a blacksnake? I would pretend I was Lash and ride the woods saving people. My whip was made out of hay baling string and a tobacco stake. Hay baling string was like today’s duct tape, you could use it for just about anything. I wonder if anyone ever wrote the book “1001 uses for hay baling string”?
The railroad depot was where it stands now, only bigger, and bustling with folk from daylight to dark. The cars carried passengers, some stopping in Marshall, others just passing through on their way to somewhere else. You can remember smelling the wood floor polish that was put on both the benches and the floors. In my childhood mind, I thought it strange that the two bathrooms were marked “for whites only”, and the other one said “colored”. I tried to get someone to explain it to me and they always told me they would later, but I had to grow up on my own learning what it meant. Hambone always had to go to the back door of one of the cafe’s to get them to give him something to eat. Daisy made sure he never went hungry. You could hear the trains coming down about Barnard and the engineer would start blowing the whistle. Children would line the tracks and pump their arms up and down to get him to blow more, and he usually did. Some of the older boys would jump the train down about Barnard and throw chunks of coal off the rail cars until they got to the trestle that crosses the French Broad. There were quite a few homes in the Rollins area, so extra effort was made to see that they got a good supply of coal. The trains stopped being a passenger service in the 50’s. I hope the statute of limitations has run out on boys throwing coal from the rail cars 50 some odd years ago. There was a huge water tower for the railroad engines above the depot on the right side of the track.
One of the most respected and well liked men in Marshall was Charlie Rector, the policeman. Charlie always carried a gun, but he never did drive a car. There was not one store, front and back, alleyway, cubbyhole or door latch that Charlie didn’t check each and every night he was on duty. One never got by with anything when Charlie was on duty. Besides Charlie Rector, the policemen were: Morgan Pritchard, Roscoe Briggs, Fred McDevitt and Millard Payne. Mr. E.Y. Ponder became the sheriff in either 1952 or 1954. I believe Jeter P. Ramsey was the sheriff before him, but I may be mistaken.
There was a bridge crossing the river at the upper end of town going to the cotton mill. They had built their own set of “mill houses” up on the hill behind them. There was also a row of nice homes “over behind the island”. I would love to know the history of the cotton mill (another story perhaps), but they must have made cotton thread because several folks talked about being “spinners”.
The REA had a generating plant across the river and CP&L had one at Redmon.
The second floors of most of the merchants on Main Street held offices and I remember only four of the most prestigious and well remembered attorneys at the time was Mr. Edward Mashburn , Mr. Eldridge Leake and Mr. Joe Huff. I also remember Mr. Clyde Roberts. Mr. Roberts was a dear, dear man. Moving forward several years reminds me of Mr. Roberts always going with us on the annual Wagon Train that was very popular here in the county in the 70’s and 80’s. He had a little team of mules and a wagon. All along the way, folks would wave at him as he went by and yell at him to come back and eat supper and spend the night. Sometimes he would, but most times, he would come by the campsites of all the rest of us and everyone wanted him to eat a little something. Mr. Roberts never had to worry about meals while on the trail. Sometimes, he’d make his bed underneath his wagon and spend the night there, in the case he didn’t go back and spend the night as invited by folks along the way. My memory fails me as to others in the second story offices, but that doesn’t mean they were any less important, just never became stored in my memory bank. One of the second story offices was occupied by Dr. William Albert Sams. Most all sickness, injuries and ailments passed through “Doc’s” office sooner or later. When he didn’t have patients, he would sit in a rocker in the window and watch people pass below. If he saw someone he hadn’t seen in a while or someone he needed to follow up on a treatment he had given them, he would holler down at them to come on up, he needed to see them. This was especially true for children; he made sure they all got their polio shots and immunizations. Not many got by him. The story is told that once there was a group of construction workers clearing a job near Marshall. One of the workers was cutting saplings with an axe. He missed the sapling and the axe came full force down on and through his leg. The other workers carried him to Doc Sams’ office. He looked at the wound and said “looks like you got a problem, son”, as he opened the wound and exposed muscle tissue, bone fragments, etc. Doc went and got a jar of kerosene, asked the other men to hold the man down and proceeded to pour the jar of kerosene into the wound. The man passed out and Doc proceeded to stitch up the wound. As far as the story goes, the man fared pretty well after his injury with no loss of limb. Many a “William” and “Albert” have Doc Sams as their namesake. Dr. McElroy also had an office on the lower end of town. Dr. Arthur Ramsey had a dental office on the lower end of town. There was also Dr. Ditmore in town. The story goes that he had served in WWII and had suffered a head injury when his plane went down. The State Medical Board was not going to renew his MD license due to the fact that he was somewhat uncoordinated due to the injury. Dr. Sams and Mrs. Ditmore went to the board and Dr. Sams told them what a remote and widespread area he had to cover here in Madison County and that he desperately needed Dr. Ditmore to help him. The Board awarded his license back and he practiced in Marshall until his death.
There were two very busy barber shops: Vader Shelton and the Palace Barber Shop. Charlie and his son Talmadge McLean were in the Palace Barber Shop along with Ben Frisby and Paul Rice. Mr. Frisby was quite a magician and children and folks always loved to come by and watch him make things appear and disappear, change colors and all sorts of unusual “Magic” tricks. He was also a registered land surveyor.
The African American population in town besides “Hambone” included “Footsie” Barnette, who worked at Coal, Feed and Lumber, “Badeye” Charlie Jones worked at the Chevrolet Dealership and Bill Stokely was a mechanic at the East End Gas Station, who later opened up a radiator business on back street. His brother, Clinton, rode a bicycle and delivered the paper. Some of the younger boys would stop him and ask to ride on the back of the bicycle and throw the paper. That became a small competition amongst the boys to see which one got to ride next time Clinton came through. The African American church was on Hayes Run, called Ponder’s Chapel. Everett Barnette was a painter; he worked there at the church with upkeep and such. And, Henry and his wife Carrie, who worked at Moore’s Pharmacy.
There were some beautiful residences along Main Street in Marshall that lended an even more uniqueness to the town. Ernest Sawyer, Loy P. Roberts, Scobey Proffitt, Eva Sams, Choppy and Valerie Shelton, Kyle and Bett English all lived on the lower end of town. Mr. George Robinette and his sister Jesse occupied the house next to the cleaners.
There were the Baptist Church and Presbyterian Church standing where they are today. The rock building on the lower end of town where the Arts Council is now, was once the Methodist Church. Membership and attendance continued to dwindle until it had to close.
The main get together and “cultural” center, of course, was the island. There was hustle qnd bustle over there all the time. There were carnivals that came through 2-3 times a year with rides and ferries wheels and cotton candy. The school always put on a “fall” festival and a “May Day” festival and a “spring festival”. All the classrooms would be decorated and the auditorium would have a big event with door prizes and gifts. Most times there was standing room only. There would be country singers and their bands passing through and the auditorium was always full for that. I remember going to see Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs and other top named stars at the time. We would all “ooohhh” and “ahhhhh” over their oversized station wagons and “limos”, as we had never seen the likes of these all important stars’ automobiles. We all betted they were millionaires many times over. Little did we know compared to now. Once I remember that Bill Monroe and his brother Charlie had the first band forming the Blue Grass Boys. They were scheduled to sing at White Rock School and we were all looking forward to going that night. Granny said “I’ll bet those boys are down there and haven’t had a bite to eat all day.” She sent daddy down there to see and sure enough he came back home with them. Granny and I went out to the hen house and she grabbed two chickens. I could never understand how she did it, but she would take the chicken by the neck, turn her wrist one time and the chicken was “poof” almost ready for the pot. We then scalded it with hot water she kept on the stove, plucked the feathers, then she would light a paper and burn the feather stubs off. She cleaned them both up good, with the liver and gizzards being the delicacies, cut them up and made a big pot of chicken and dumplings and biscuits. I’ll never forget, and I’m sure they didn’t either, those musicians sitting around granny’s table stuffing themselves with chicken and dumplings. I always meant to write Mr. Monroe and asked if he remembered that, but of course, as most all of us do, I let it pass until it was too late.
There would be plowing contests and always a good game of horseshoes going on. The big, big thing on the island would be Tornadoes football games. There was the biggest turnout of all for a football game. The football players were “stars” in their own right and had a groupie following like you have never known. The rivalry was unparalleled, but sportsmanship always prevailed. Go Tornadoes.
It was a glorious time, a time when a man only had to give his word to buy a tract of land, or a cow or even a car. The characters, residents and visitors to the town made this county a place of wonderment; memorable characters, vivid and alive, never making headlines or America’s Fortune 500, but what memories, impressions and ways of life. My life has been greatly enriched for having known these people and I want the people who never met or talked to them to know them and know how they formed and molded our great county. Rest in peace, all of those who have gone, and know that you, indeed, made a difference.
Then it was time for us to leave, all our various and sundry errands accomplished, seen who we needed to see and bought what we needed to buy. Back across the curvy mountain roads to Shelton Laurel and home, filled with the excitement and wonder of having made a trip into town. The next week would be filled with work, chores, school, bumps and scrapes and the excitement would build until the next time we could look forward to a trip into Marshall.