Brief Sketch of a Country Neighborhood

Names Index

Chapter III
Educational and Religious Situation


The first university of learning in the Mississippi Valley, being built in East Tennessee, shows that the people of this section believe in education.  So as soon as the neighborhood began to prosper, the neighbors gathered together with their axes to fell the timber for a schoolhouse.  This institution was erected on the land of John Johnson and was known as Johnson’s Schoolhouse.  It was a small log house, built as heretofore described consisting of a puncheon floor, with a log cut out for a window and almost one end of the house for a fireplace.  I have not ascertained who the first instructor was, but I have been told one of Samuel McSpadden’s sons was probably the first teacher.  The wages of teachers then ranged from twelve to eighteen dollars and when wages reached twenty dollars everybody wanted to follow pedagogy.  The funds to pay the teacher were acquired from the rents of the school land, and corn was worth from fifteen to twenty-five cents a bushel and from other farm products in proportion.  The teacher began school at sunrise and kept until sunset, with but little recess.  The textbooks consisted of Webster’s Blue Backed Speller and the testament.  The exercises of the day were rather monotonous, all spelling aloud until Friday afternoon, then a spelling contest ensued, in which all engaged that could spell by heart, as it was called.  Two of the pupils would throw up “wet or dry” and the lucky one got first choice of the spellers until all were chosen.  Then the teacher placed the leading combatants on the floor and pronounced from the spelling book until a word was missed.  The party who missed took his seat and the next from the same side took the place and so on until one side was spelled down.  This was called a spelling bee, and the pupils were always glad to see Friday afternoon come, doubtless from two reasons, one that it was the only variation from the daily routine of business; another, that they would get to stay at home Saturday and Sunday.  The teachers were not always too ignorant as some of the young pedagogues of today would have you believe.  In fact, I think they were equally advanced in their profession with other professions or business avocation of that day in this section.  One man in particular whom I have often heard complimented as a fine instructor and many of whose plans are still in vogue, was King L. Williams.  I went to the public school some eighteen years ago to an old gentleman by the name of Howard who was one of King L. Williams’ pupils, and he often spoke of this venerable old instructor’s plans of imparting knowledge and in fact followed them himself, and I must say that I have never seen anything in the line that excels many of them.  If some of our young teachers of today should happen to stagger on his plan of teaching spelling they would go to the country normal and claim to have made a great discovery in teaching that art.


There were no church house in the settlement and but few ministers.  So the people would hold services at the neighbors’ houses, then they began to use Johnson’s Schoolhouse for a church house.  The boys would have great fun sometimes at these meetings.  If a bat came in the house while the preacher was preaching, the boys would gather up the broom and their hats and kill it while the preacher would take a rest and then go on with his discourse.  On a certain occasion a preacher by the name of Butcher came to Johnson’s schoolhouse to preach and found the door fastened against him.  It appears that some of the neighbors did not want to hear Brother Butcher.  It was on Sunday morning and the boys told Brother Butcher that they had come on purpose to hear him preach and if he would preach they would soon clear off a piece of ground, near the house, large enough for the congregation, and he should have a place to preach.  To this he willingly consented.  So the boys took their pocketknives and set to work to clean off a place for holding services.  The crowd waited patiently as did Brother Butcher until all was ready.  Perry Howard, who was a young man full of fun, told Brother Butcher to ascend the rostrum.  Perry made a mark on the ground with a stick and said, “Now Butcher, you must stay behind this mark.” to which he agreed.  In the midst of the discourse, Brother Butcher became so animated that he stepped out near the mark.  Perry cried out in a loud voice, “Stand back, Butcher, you are near the dead line.”  Brother Butcher begged pardon, stepped back and enthusiastically finished his sermon.  Such conduct would seem ridiculous now, so would such preaching, yet many were converted to the religion of Christ and held out faithful to the end.  Johnson’s schoolhouse soon became too small to accommodate the congregation and the people decided to build another, so they built it in the gap of a ridge between the two valleys included in the three miles of the settlement.  This spot is at the foot of a big ridge which is covered with beautiful laurel which is evergreen.  At the base of this ridge and near this particular spot there gurgles from the ground as pretty a stream of clear crystal water as ever flowed.  When the people met to cut the logs for the walls of the building and were discussing the dimensions of it, they all thought Peter Airheart wanted to build it too large, so Uncle Peter finally agreed that 20 x 50 was enough.  They got to work to build it.  Uncle Peter cut the pole to measure the logs and instead of making it 20 x 30, he made it some larger.  Soon after it was completed they found it too small and acknowledged it to Uncle Peter.  He then proudly told them he knew it would be too small and that he had fooled them and that the house was much larger than it would have been.  They then acknowledged Uncle Peter’s superior ideas.  This was known as Laurel Hill church and schoolhouse.  Preachers had improved as other things.  By this time, Methodist circuit riders had been sent to this work and Laurel Hill became a Methodist church.  Among the first ministers were Henry Price, Elijah Still and A.F. Shannon.  I cannot give the exact date of these transactions, but Laurel Hill church was built sometime in the forties.  Laurel Hill, as had been said, was also a schoolhouse and at this place was one of the most brutal teachers that ever kept school in a civilized country.  His name was Foster.  He was a preacher and a doctor.  He was an old man and wore a wig and he would take off his wig and throw it at the children and scare them almost to death.  He would pitch a hickory at them, right at their faces, and have them carry it to him, then he would whip them.  He has been known to tie the hair of two boys together and whip them until one would pull the wisp out of the other boy’s head.  He would make the boys jump benches and would strike them as they went over.  On one occasion he told the children he was going to hang one of the boys to a joist, which he did for a while, and the child went home, took sick and died.  The boy’s father did not law him because he was the boy’s teacher.  Laurel Hill still existed as the center of attraction until in the year 1855.  Mr. Foster was still keeping school and the circuit rider came to preach.  As it was customary at that time for the circuit rider to preach through the week, there was a large fire kept on that occasion, the house caught on fire and so ended Laurel Hill church house.  The people met again and soon erected another log house, larger than the first and better in every respect.  The fireplace did not take up so much room and the cracks were well daubed and it had glass windows, in fact was quite a comfortable house.  It was no longer called Laurel Hill, but was called “Lebanon.”  Doubtless this house would have become too small and uncommodious much sooner than it did if things had moved on in peace as before.  The war broke out and disturbed the peace and prosperity of the settlement until they must be content with a log house in which to educate their children and in which to worship God, until about the year 1879, when some of the citizens decided a better house should be built in which to worship.  Therefore a building committee was appointed and the business of building a church was, for the first time, gone about in a business manner.  This committee consisted of five members, as follows: J.S. Roberts, Chairman; W.S. Johnson, Secretary and Treasurer; S.M. Thatch, W.P. McSpadden, Garbiel North, Jas. McCarty.  Mr. Johnson was Secretary, but was allowed no vote, only five being allowed to vote.  This Committee went about house building in a business-like way and erected a large commodious house, well finished, at a cost of about eight hundred dollars and had a little money left after it was dedicated.  It still retains the name “Lebanon.”  They still had to use the old log house for a school and here I spent my first day in school in the year 1868, I believe.  A long day it was, too, for I could not touch the floor with my foot and I was afraid to ask the teacher if I could leave the room.  Shortly after the erection of the church, a good schoolhouse was built, thus ended log cabin days of what is now Lebanon.  The church and school houses are the pride of every country community, as they should be, and I shall now give a short biography of the building committee of Lebanon Church.


J.S. Roberts, Chairman, was reared a poor boy somewhere in the eastern part of Bradley County, come to this neighborhood when quite a boy.  He was so energetic and full of business that the boys nicknamed him “Goahead.”  He married Miss Mollie Brown, daughter of the venerable Jacob Brown, spoken of heretofore.  Soon after the close of the war, Mr. Roberts, like many others, had a hard time making a living.  He peddled awhile and finally got enough money ahead to plank up about six feet on his father-in-law’s porch for a store and put fifty dollars worth of goods in it.  This was the beginning of his mercantile life.  He prospered in this little shanty until he was soon able to box up a larger place and put in more goods.  I have been told that he, like many others who had grown up about war times, did not have enough education to make a calculation if it had fractions in it.  The neighbors sarcastically named his little store “Baltimore.”  It rather offended Mr. Roberts for them to call his little shanty “Baltimore.”  In the course of a few years he was able to build a large storehouse and keep a fine assortment of goods.  He then advertised his place as “New Baltimore” and put up guideposts along the road to tell the people the way to his place.  He moved to Apison about the time the railroad was completed from Ooltewah to Cohutta, and sold goods there for a while, then moved to Sherman Heights, thence to Cleveland, where he is one of the leading merchants of that city.  Mr. Roberts is a liberal, kindhearted pleasant man, a little inclined to melancholy.  He gave more toward building Lebanon than anyone else and always enjoys a visit to this place.


W.S. Roberts, Secretary of the Board, was born near Lebanon.  He is the son of John Johnson, and is about forty-five years of age.  Mr. Johnson was a young man when his father died and left him to take care of his mother and two other members of the family.  He managed to get a very good education and taught for some time.  He married Miss Mary Watkins of Ooltewah and continued to live with his mother on the old homestead until her death.  He then moved to Ooltewah and sold goods for a while but was not very successful in the goods business.  He could not say “no” easy enough to become a successful merchant.  Mr. Johnson then moved to Sherman Heights where his wife died about a year ago and left him with a family of children to care for.  They are getting along well.  His only daughter, Miss Hattie, is only about thirteen years old but she is like her mother, very sensible and a good manager.  Mr. Johnson is a good citizen, a kind and loving father and a devout Christian gentleman.


S.M. Thatch was a son of Henderson Thatch and was a boy large enough to help his father build their first cabin in this neighborhood.  Mr. Thatch married Elizabeth Igou, daughter of John Igou, Esquire, of this place, and raised a large family of children.  He went to California in 1853 and endured many hardships on his trip.  He stayed two years and returned to his wife and six children not so poor as when he went away.  He was a very quiet, taciturn man, yet he was a jolly man and loved a joke as well as any one I ever saw.  He was a lover of a good horse and always kept good ones.  He was a successful farmer and blacksmith.  He would do the neighbors’ blacksmithing and if he did not pay for it he would never ask him for it.  He was regular in attendance at Church, always ready to help with the finances of the same, but would never talk, pray, sing, or take any public part.  He was a man of great firmness, and anything he said meant something with those who knew him.  He lost his wife, my mother, in the year 1885, and he never appeared like himself anymore.  He lived four years after the death of his wife and went home to join her in paradise.


Gabriel North is a son of George North, of this section.  Mr. North lives about two miles from Lebanon in the northwest corner of the section I am describing.  Mr. North is a very ambitious man and is one of the best farmers in the section.  He is regular in attendance at church and always ready to help with its finances.  In fact, he is one of the main standbys,  Mr. North is able in prayer and is the class leader at Lebanon.  He gave liberally toward building the church and is worth a great deal in Sunday school.  We need more such men as Gabriel.  Mr. North married Jane Bell and has a large family, all girls but one.  Mr. North is about fifty-six years old.


W.P. McSpadden is a son of Stewart McSpadden and was raised in this section.  He married a lady by the name of Smith and they had one son born to them whose name was Kindry.  Kindry died when a young man about twenty-three years of age.  Soon after Kindry’s birth, Mrs. McSpadden departed this life leaving her husband a young widower.  He then married Evaline Kelley and raised a large family of children, several of whom are dead.  Mr. McSpadden lives near Lebanon and is a genial, whole-souled man of about sixty.  He helped very liberally in the erection of both the church and schoolhouse at Lebanon.  Mr. McSpadden is a nice farmer and a splendid mechanic.  He can make most anything of iron or wood.


James W. McCarty lives near Lebanon.  He was born and raised in Bradley County, but not in this section.  His father died when he was a small boy so his mother had to take

the place of both father and mother to him.  Mr. McCarty married Mary Rector and has a large family of children.  His wife died about four years ago leaving an infant girl, but he has had a family of nice girls, two or three grown, they have got along very well.  Mr. McCarty has a corn mill over where Robert’s tub mill stood.  He is about fifty years of age.