Cookeville, Tennessee “Thrift and Vision”

This week’s stop in our 1940’s Tour of the Upper Cumberlands is Cookeville, Tennessee.  The March of Progress publication dedicates a whopping eighteen pages to the town and I am fascinated by the information it shares as well as what seems omitted.

I never tend to think of myself as an historian.  Yet, I am quite eager to preserve the history of the plateau region and I suppose that qualifies for the title.  Recently, I’ve been troubled by a trend in America to revise our history.  As we study the past, there are things that we applaud and things that we mourn – but they are both history. 

I confess that in reviewing the “March of Progress” story about Monterey last week, I purposely omitted a racial observation by the publication’s author.  Undoubtedly in 1940 many towns were quick to promote their “abundant supply of native, white, efficient labor.”  However, in the context of this blog and our focus on commemorating Appalachian history, I felt that element was out of place.  When I began working on the Cookeville story and found that amid details about the brand new City Hall and a National Guard Amory which cost $60,000, the African American population was noted as residing “just outside the corporate limits”.

Now, here on the plateau, we have never been at the center of civil rights movements or thankfully the unrest some of our nation has seen of late.  While I know that prejudice exists on the mountain, I never saw first-hand any unkindness based on race or religion and I am awfully thankful for my own ignorance in this area.  Perhaps some of you readers who may have a better grasp on 1940’s history in America can comment and help us understand why the author would have even mentioned this separate community.  We’ve seen that a lot of the articles in this booklet are geared toward recruiting business and industry, but there is no indication given here that the residents of “Bush Town”  are offered for any particular type of labor.  Surely they would have been a part of the larger labor pool for new businesses locating in Cookeville.   He does note that the races are “economically indispensable to each other” but doesn’t elaborate any further. 

Ironically, the author seems to see no inequality in his statement for in the next paragraph he notes the phenomenal growth of Cookeville “due to a spirit of courage and cooperation”.  Then the following section opens with, “Out of the chaos, penury and prejudice which characterized the years following the tragedy of the Civil War…”  I suppose it is possible that he held no particular bias and is simply reporting the factof where “resides the colored population” and that they do have “their own schools, churches and community life”.  This is one of the challenges of reading a historical document with modern eyes.

In 1940, Cookeville was the proud home of Tennessee Polytechnical Institute, and there is a beautiful two page spread dedicated to the school.  Surprisingly, after the detailed account of Baxter Seminary, the information here is simply a nine point summary with a list of departments within the school.

Ellen Dee Webb, First woman to solo a plane in Putnam County.  Note that she appears to be wearing a parachute.

Ellen Dee Webb, First woman to solo a plane in Putnam County.  Note that she appears to be wearing a parachute.

Separately, the article notes that the institute has contracted with the federal government to train pilots with the head of the mathematics department serving as coordinator to the Tennessee Flying Service.  At the time of publication, twelve students have already received private certificates and another class has started with an unknown enrollment.  They have trained one woman, and she is pictured with the caption “The heroine of the air.”  Miss Ellen Dee Webb of Richard City, Tennessee was the first woman to solo an airplane in Putnam County.

Sometimes in reading an old periodical, the advertisements can teach as much as the text.  The Cookeville article seems to have a lot more ads than the other towns we’ve visited.  On in particular was fascinating to me; Hotel Shanks is pictured and its location is noted as West Main Street, opposite the depot.  I don’t believe that building is standing today, at least not if the Cookeville Depot Museum is located where the train depot was in 1940.

One of the Terry Brothers who owned a dry goods store on the square

One of the Terry Brothers who owned a dry goods store on the square

Finally, I’m going to include two horse pictures.  It seems there were some fans of the Tennessee Walking Horse at work on this booklet for we’ve seen similar pictures before.  The president and vice president of The First National Bank were of the Wilhite family, and Miss Sara Elizabeth WIlhite is pictured driving a fine example of the breed.


Monterey, Tennessee “Where cool breezes blow in the sultry summer”

We’ve previously visited Monterey, Tennessee a few times on this blog – and I’ve no doubt we will stop by again sometime.  Based on the amount of information given in the March of Progress book, this is a major stop on our Tour of the Upper Cumberlands.  The article integrates information about the whole Upper Cumberland area and seems to indicate that Monterey was at the heart of the march.

The book gives Monterey twelve pages, compared to two or three for most other towns.  And with good reason; in 1940 Monterey had reinvented herself after her years as a resort and rail town, she was growing up into an industrial player. 

Monterey is certainly in a geographically unique position, sitting about 100 miles from three of Tennessee’s four major cities:  Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga.  Of course this triangle was formed prior to the interstate highway system when US Highway 70 was the key thoroughfare.  The railroad was still the primary mode of transportation, especially for manufactured goods.  The Tennessee Central had built their “terminal shops” in town and branch lines had been built to the coal fields that encircled Monterey.  At the time The March was written, there were four manufacturing plants as well as “several rough lumber mills” in operation in town and in its immediate vicinity. 

There was still one hotel – I believe that would have been The Imperial, which I’ve written about here.  In fact, the author of this article also mentions Monterey’s resort-town history.  Much is said about the natural beauty of the area and great recreational possibilities, indicating this would still be a worthwhile vacation destination.  There are several beautiful aerial photos of Lake Monterey with an inviting and poetic description included. 

With all of the progress reported, we are then given an appeal for factories and processing plants to be located there. 

Should the modern industrial needs not be found, there is a great mention given to the crafts in the Upper Cumberlands.  Pictures depict weaving, quilting, and knitting and text asserts that “the production of usable and saleable crafts is just another resource awaiting development” 

I’ve told you many times that these blog articles usually spring up from my research for other writing.  Even if you aren’t familiar with the mountain, reading Replacing Ann will shed great light on the importance Monterey plays in my writing.  For many years, it was the place to go to catch a train, see a doctor or do all sort so of business.  Even if Monterey isn’t the primary setting of my novels, the characters will almost always pay a visit for one reason or another.

Baxter, Tennessee “The City of Goodwill”

This week’s stop in our tour of the Upper Cumberlands is Baxter, Tennessee.  Dubbed “The City of Goodwill,” The March of Progress publication devoted three pages and eight beautiful black and white photographs to the city of Baxter, Tennessee.    

Located along the Tennessee Central rail line, it is described as a “convenient trade center” and said to ship hardwood and pulp wood products as well as poultry and dairy products, corn, tobacco and livestock. 

The city offers greetings and a welcome to “kindly folk out on the plains, to other thousands in metropolitan communities, North, South, East and West.”  The article seems to reach out specifically to people who have their roots in the Upper Cumberlands in hopes those people would return to enjoy the traditional hospitality and natural beauty of the Baxter area.  Or, perhaps this welcome is issued to folks with no attachment to the area and an offer for them to make it home. 

Unlike the articles for many of the towns in this booklet, this welcome is the only recruiting hint in the article.  While the natural beauty and fertile land are touted, it is in the education offered there that the most emphasis is placed.

Baxter Seminary was established by the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1908.  At the time of our tour, the school was thriving with enrollment of boys and girls from a large area.  The Seminary dedicated itself to vocational training not necessarily of church leaders as the name would lead you to think, but for “good citizenship and public service.”

I am not personally very familiar with the Baxter area and I was fascinated to read about this school.  At, I found a “History of Baxter Seminary”.  From that document, it seems that there was a traditional seminary program in addition to the high school and collegiate studies.  The basis of all the programs seems two-fold:  Christian values and self-help. 

There were many opportunities for tuition to be waived and it seems that all of the students had to work.  Much of the building projects were completed by the students, in fact there is a drawing of a stained-glass window depicting children pulling a plow which broke ground for the first building on the campus. 

Baxter Seminary was sold to the county in 1959 and reopened as Upperman High School. The high school is still open although it was relocated in 1976.

Gainsboro, Tennessee: “The Switzerland of the Upper Cumberlands”

The March of Progress tags the Jackson county seat as “The Switzerland of the Upper Cumberlands.”  As the pattern has been with these town titles, there is no explanation for the name and I can’t help but wonder if the typical 1940’s reader would have immediately understood them.  Comparing Gainsboro to Switzerland the main commonality is the mountain terrain.  However, with mean elevations of ranging from 968 to 7,021 feet the Cumberland Mountains surrounding Gainsboro seem a bit squat.  Still, Switzerland’s geography does seem more indicative of this middle Tennessee town than do its renowned neutrality, four official languages or cultural diversity. 

The article is careful to note that this is an area safe from tornadoes.  I found that very interesting and it made me do a little research.  Sure enough, the Tornado History Project maps the EF scale and location of tornadoes since 1950; it shows no tornado activity in Gainsboro, although her neighbors in every direction have been hit. 

The 1930 census showed 1000 people living in the city limits; the 1940 March of Progress publication indicated a 2 percent increase.  The 2010 census reflected a change that an awful lot of small town America has experienced since then and it showed a population of only 962.

None of the articles in the booklet credit an author, nor does the book indicate contributors other than an initial notation: “compiled and edited by Dr. William Baxter Boyd.”  However, the Gainsboro article notes 3 men with the final one being “Mr. John L. McCawley, Mayor of Gainsboro, President of the Upper Cumberland Chamber of Commerce, President of the McCawley motor Company, an active civic worker, and a most enthusiastic leader of the Cumberland River Development Project.”

There is an additional 2 page article on J. Mack Draper, including pictures of his home and cattle, and a prized saddle horse ridden by the book’s editor, Dr. Boyd.  This second article opens with a genealogy of the Draper family going back to the middle of the Seventeenth Century in Wales.  Mr. Draper does seem to be an Upper Cumberland success story as it reports he received only an eighth grade education and inherited none of his fortune.  Yet in 1940, he owned a business with $750,000 revenue and the pictures do show a nice home and impressive herd of mules. 

"Prince Cumberland" Owned by J. Mack Draper Ridden by Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd

"Prince Cumberland"
Owned by J. Mack Draper
Ridden by Dr. Willis Baxter Boyd

Mr. Draper seems to have been involved in many different business interests, not the least of which was his farm.  And from his success, the article springboards to the benefits of nature and that “an over-mechanized age is affecting negatively the finer sentiments and the more delicate reactions of people physically and spiritually.” 

Livingston, Tennessee A City Surrounded by Beauty

As we continue our 1940’s tour of the Upper Cumberlands, today we’ll make a stop in Livingston, Tennessee.  For those of us native to the plateau, Livingston is distinctly “under the mountain”.  The nearest movie theatre to Jamestown, it was a frequent destination for young people.  Unfortunately, that theatre closed and with it some of the Livingston traffic surely turned another direction.  However, in 1940, hopes were high for the little town on Highway 52.

The 1940 census counted 1,527 people within the city limits of Overton County’s county seat.  It was strategically located with state highways leading directly to Celina, Jamestown, Cookeville and Byrdstown.  There was also a planned highway that would be designated Cordell Hull Parkway and would lead to Monterey. 

The March of Progress publication reports Livingston had, “nine different manufacturing and processing establishments in active operation; seventeen retail stores supplying the town and the country around; two drugstores, and an up-to-date hospital; the town enjoys the services of four hotels and five cafes… nine courteous filling stations and auto repair shops.”  The city was served by nine public utility agencies. 

Overton County Farmer in 1940. Can anyone identify the implement he's using?  Please leave a comment if you recognize it. My best guess is a planter

Overton County Farmer in 1940.
Can anyone identify the implement he's using?  Please leave a comment if you recognize it.
My best guess is a planter

Notice the pictures that were offered to represent Overton County.  The town shot shows off a line of 1930’s era automobiles.  The rural shot shows farm machinery pulled by an early tractor, with a second man required to ride on the implement.  I’ve mentioned several times on the blog how long horses and mules were still utilized in our rural communities.  In fact, I’ve just recently had an opportunity to visit with a World War II veteran who confirmed that at the time he was drafted, his father still did not have a car.  And, his grandfather actually never drove despite living until 1976.  So, I can’t help but wonder if the pictures were very carefully framed if not actually staged.  Of course, this being a promotional publication, we would certainly want to show the most progressive side of every community. 

The rich natural resources of Overton County are not touted quite so loudly as in some of the other communities.  Crawford was part of the Wilder-Davidson mining complex; while the operation was declining somewhat by the end of the 1930’s, it is surprising that this community is only mentioned in a long list of the rural communities of Overton County.  The Dale Hollow Reservoir wouldn’t be completed for a few years after this article was written and probably its recreational asset was not fully understood. 

The article is summarized with an invitation to tourists and industrialists alike.  Hospitality, friendship, willing and anxious laborers are presented as the best reasons to visit or relocate to Livingston, Tennessee.