The Lost Cantaloupe Capital

Have you ever heard of the Cantaloupe Capital? Well, it is right here in Maury County. We call it “Culleoka.”

Farmers began growing cantaloupes by the acre here in 1907. The owner/operators of the Culleoka Produce Company, brothers Erastus J. and Hardie Park, pitched the idea to local farmers. Culleoka Produce Co. furnished the seeds and the farmers provided the land and care. Once the melons were ready for harvest, Culleoka Produce Company marketed and shipped the cantaloupes wherever they would fetch the highest price.

After the success of the first crop in 1907, farmers took on more seed and sowed more acreage. By the 1920s, the Culleoka Produce Company was shipping hundreds of carloads of cantaloupes out of the Pleasant Grove Depot annually. Half of the success was having a good, quality product. The other half was the marketing genius of Erastus Park.

Every cantaloupe that came through the Culleoka Produce Company was labeled with a sticker identifying it as a “Culleoka Cantaloupe.” It is not unusual to see the Dole and Chiquita stickers on produce purchased today, but it was unheard of in the early twentieth century. It is believed the Culleoka Produce Company was among the first ever to employ a produce sticker. (These “stamps” can still be found today and are treasured by Culleokans.)

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“Culleoka Cantaloupe” sticker from the collection of Adam Southern.

Erastus Park also made an agreement with the railroad, allowing the line to serve Culleoka Cantaloupes on the passenger cars while they were in season. He was sure that if a passenger tried one on the train, they would be sure to request one at their local market when they returned home. It must have worked, as the cantaloupes were shipped nation-wide.

Advertisements featuring Culleoka Cantaloupes have been found not only Nashville newspapers, but also those from North Carolina and Tampa, Florida. Newspaper accounts from the time report of carloads of cantaloupes being shipped to New York and California. And at least two different varieties were sold—Park’s Delight and the Culleoka Queen. The Culleoka Queen was known by its distinct “pink” or salmon-colored meat.

After some of the largest yields and profits the farmers of Culleoka had ever seen, Erastus Park died in 1928. Culleoka Produce Company continued to operate and the farmers still grew the cantaloupes, but without the driving force of Erastus Park, it was never the same. Farmers took fewer seeds each year and production fell. 1935 would be the last harvest processed and shipped through the Culleoka Produce Company.

In the years that followed, some farmers continued to grow cantaloupes, but it was on a much smaller scale. Today, it is just a sweet-tasting memory, as not even a seed remains…

Recently, a Tennessee Historical Commission marker was placed near the sites of the Culleoka Produce Company and the Pleasant Grove Depot. The marker was researched and submitted by Adam Southern. An official dedication will be held at a future date.

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The new “Culleoka Cantaloupes” marker placed on the corner of Culleoka Highway and Depot Street in Culleoka, Tennessee.

Maury native wrote cookbook

Most everyone has a dish they are known for or a restaurant they love to visit. To say we love eating good things is an understatement. This is nothing new. As a matter of fact, one Maury County native actually wrote an entire book of Good Things to Eat. This book, published in 1911 by Rufus Estes, was the first cookbook written by an African-American chef.

In the book, the author included a short sketch of his life. From this sketch, we learn Rufus Estes was born into slavery in Maury County in 1857. Estes was the name of Rufus’ master, a man named D. J. Estes. Rufus was held in bondage along with his mother and siblings—a family of seven boys and two girls.

1860 Slave Schedule

1860 Slave Schedule. D.J. Estes’ slaves begin at number 33.

During the Civil War, Rufus’ older brothers “ran off,” as he put it, and “joined the Yankees.” He lamented, “This left us little folks to bear the burdens. At the age of five I had to carry water from the spring about a quarter of a mile from the house, drive the cows to and from the pastures, mind the calves, gather chips, etc.” In these conditions, young Rufus toiled until 1867 when he and his mother moved to Nashville.

Two of Rufus’ brothers died during the war. The brothers are possibly George W. Esters and Robert Esters engraved under the U. S. Colored Troops (USCT) section of the Maury County War Memorial. Rufus wrote, “Two of my brothers were lost in the war, a fact that wrecked my mother’s health somewhat and I thought I could be of better service to her and prolong her life by getting work.”

His first jobs included milking cows and delivering meals to workers in the fields. He did these things until the age of sixteen when he found work in a Nashville restaurant and found his calling. He wrote, “I was employed in Nashville by a restaurant keeper named Hemphill. I worked there until I was twenty-one years of age.” The “Hemphill” Rufus worked for was Alexander Hemphill, the owner of a well-known restaurant on Church Street. According to newspapers accounts, Hempshill’s restaurant was sold in 1880 and a “new regime” began management in 1881. This may account for Rufus’ next move.

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The Tennessean, October 26, 1880

From Nashville, Rufus traveled to Chicago in 1881 and found employment at 77 Clark Street. He earned a salary of $10 per week at this position. Two years later, he would begin his career with the Pullman Car Company. It was during his fourteen years with Pullman that Rufus really made a name for himself as an outstanding chef. He wrote, “During the time I was in their [Pullman’s] service some of the most prominent people in the world traveled in the car assigned to me, as I was selected to handle all special parties.” These prominent people included Presidents Cleveland and Harrison and the famed singer Adelina Patti. (She also has a Maury County connection, but that’s for another time.)

Rufus’ friends persuaded him to compile all of his recipes and cooking methods. He published this compilation in 1911 under the title Good Things to Eat. Ten original copies are known to exist. Reprints are now available, titled Rufus Estes’ Good Things to Eat: The First Cookbook by an African-American Chef. For those interested, Duck River Books in historic downtown Columbia, Tennessee has copies available.

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By the 1930s, Rufus was living in Los Angeles, California. The 1930 US Census lists him as a widower with the occupation of cook in LA’s café industry. When he died in 1939, his passing went largely unnoticed, despite his significant contributions to culinary arts and Black History.

Luckily, modern cooks have rediscovered his work. A quick online search of “Rufus Estes” will produce many results from chefs and bloggers alike that have attempted dishes from his book of Good Things to Eat.

Born into slavery to become the first African American chef to author a cookbook, Rufus Estes’ story is another amazing story to add to the annals of Maury County’s history.

-Adam Southern

A Look at Lost Landmarks, Part One

Today, Maury County has an abundance of beautiful and historic sites. In fact, there is such an abundance of historic sites that Maury County has been dubbed the “Antebellum Homes Capital of Tennessee.” But, for all of the sites still standing, many more have been lost to the ages. Fires, neglect, mother nature, indifference, and “progress” have all played a role in the demise of local landmarks.

Unfortunately, this is only a partial listing of sites Columbia has lost:

Andrews School

The Columbia Conference College was established in 1850 by the Methodist Episcopal Church on the site of the old Columbia Female Seminary. The three-story brick structure known as Corinthian Hall was built shortly after the founding of the college, perhaps between 1851 and 1852.

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Postcard of “Andrews School,” the old Corinthian Hall, postmarked 1909.

The Columbia Conference College was a church-run girls school. There was already such a school in Columbia, the Columbia Female Institute operated by the Episcopal Church. When Rev. Smith founded the Athenaeum in 1852, that made three all-girl schools in Columbia. The Columbia Conference College could not compete and ceased to operate prior to the Civil War.

During the war, most of the buildings that comprised the campus of the school were burned. These were mostly frame structures. The brick building, Corinthian Hall, survived, and was used as a hospital during much of the war by both armies.

After the war, old Corinthian Hall stood abandoned on the east side of Columbia. Many folks claimed the building was haunted, as ghostly lights could be seen floating from window-to-window during the night. It was not ghosts, but something more terrifying, as the Ku Klux Klan was using this as a meeting place in the night.

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“Andrews School” postmarked 1906.

In 1873, two of Rev. Smith’s sons (William and Frank) purchased the property to start an all-male high school after their older brother, Robert, inherited the Athenaeum school for girls. The Smith Brothers sold their all-male school to the City of Columbia in 1881.

The city reopened the building as Andrews School. It was the city’s first public school.

Andrews School, the old Corinthian Hall, was demolished in 1988. All that remains of the school is the stone fence, erected around the property in 1896.

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The Andrews School site today. The Board of Education’s Maintenance Building is now on this site. The old stone fence remains.

 

 

James K. Polk’s Other Home

When the “Polk Home” is mentioned in Columbia, most folks think about the home on the southwest corner of West Seventh and High Street. This home was built by the President’s father, Samuel, in 1816.

There was another Polk Home, though. This other home was built by James K. Polk shortly after his marriage to Sarah Childress in 1824. Over the years the Polks called the place home, two Presidents were entertained there: Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren. This, too, was where James K. Polk lived when elected President.

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Postmarked in 1911, this postcard claims to be the “home of James K. Polk when elected President of the United States.”

But, what happened to this house? Well, what happened is disputed. Some claim the home was razed in 1872 by Dr. A L. Pillow. Others claim Dr. Pillow only remodeled and added to the home.

Despite what Dr. Pillow did, the people of Columbia continued to call this the home of President Polk. As a matter of fact, when Cordelia Pillow sold the home to Katherine Regen, the deed claimed this was “the old Polk home.”

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In addition to this evidence, in 1896, Caroline O. Nicholson alluded to the fact that this was James K. Polk’s Columbia home when writing her memoirs. The Century Review of Maury County in 1906 made no bones about it, stating that the Pillow Home was the past residence of the former President and First Lady. Postcards of the early 20th century were printed, as well, claiming this to the be the home of President Polk.

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Were all of these sources wrong? Did Dr. Pillow actually raze the home of a President in 1872? The newspaper accounts of 1872 state that he did. These articles created enough doubt and allowed the site to be razed in the 1960s. The vacant lot where the home once stood is now a parking lot for Oakes & Nichols Funeral Home.

The steps that once led from the sidewalk to the front porch can still be seen on West Seventh Street.

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The Bethel House Hotel

On the northwest corner of Garden and West Seventh Street once stood the finest hotel Columbia has ever known, the Bethell House. Built by William Decatur Bethell in 1882, the Bethell House Hotel was the crown jewel of Downtown Columbia. As part of the building, on the western side, was the Opera House, later known as the Princess Theatre.

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This three-story building featured stores, a theater, and a restaurant on the first floor. A grand ballroom was on the second floor, as was access to the private boxes of the Opera House. The third floor was made up entirely of guest rooms, of which there were sixty first-class ones throughout the hotel.

Horse-drawn omnibuses ran between the hotel and the train depot throughout the day, so that guests could go straight from the train to the hotel or vice-versa.

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In 1930, the Opera House became the Princess Theatre and would later be remodeled to take on a more Art Deco look inside. The hotel and Princess Theatre were truly the cultural hub of Downtown Columbia. Schools, dance classes, and local drama clubs all used the stage of the theater for their shows. Saturdays for most kids meant a day of movies and popcorn at the Princess.

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For some unknown reason, the last “l” from Bethell was dropped, so that the hotel became known as the Bethel House. Despite this change, the signs on top of the hotel were never changed. They retained the two-“l” spelling of Bethell until the end.

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That end came during the night of November 27, 1949. During this night and into the morning of November 28th, the Bethel House Hotel and Princess Theatre burned.

First Tennessee Bank and its parking lot now sit where the Bethel House once stood.

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Columbia Female Institute

The Episcopal Diocese began construction of their Columbia school in 1835. After several delays, Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith finished and opened the Columbia Female Institute in 1837.

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For 95 years, school was held in the castle-like building along West Seventh Street in Columbia. An advertising pamphlet from 1837 reads:

The general effect of the exterior is imposing, from its magnitude and its just proportions.

The selection and execution of the decorative parts of the façade exhibit the classical taste of the architects and their judicious adherence to the established principles of Gothic architecture. The front of the building—the exposure of which is towards the north—is one hundred and twenty feet long, including the Octagonal Towers at the corners, eleven feet in diameter, which rise one story above the building and terminate in turrets. The corners on the back side are finished with Martello towers, five feet in diameter, which rise above the parapet walls and are also turreted. The whole effect of the building is improved by its fine basement story (not shown at all in our engraving) which is separated from the first story by an elegant band of hewn stone, the material employed also in the flights of steps leading up into the porticos. The width of the porticos is twenty-one feet, and their projection from the front wall, fifteen feet—the front and side openings being pointed arches, and the massive piers with buttresses in front and on one side, terminating in elegant lanterns. The walls of the porticos and the whole of the façade are turreted…

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The Columbia Female Institute closed in 1932. After which, the building was used for a variety of purposes. It was being used as storage for the school system when it burned in 1959. On the night of Friday the 13th, March 1959, the school caught fire. It was a complete loss.

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An aerial photo showing the aftermath of the Columbia Female Institute Fire.

Today, Columbia Plaza shopping center and the U.S. Post Office sit on the site of the old girls school.

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If you’d like to read more about the school, visit: https://historicmaurycounty.com/2017/12/18/the-columbia-female-institute/ 

 

 

The Athenaeum Campus

Rev. Franklin Gillette Smith left the Columbia Female Institute in 1852 and started his own school. He named his school the Athenaeum.

This school was located literally next door to the Institute, just to the southeast.

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The large Athenaeum campus. The Columbia Female Institute was located where the key, or “Explanation” is on the map.

The most prominent building on the Athenaeum campus was the Study Hall. This white building was fronted on two sides (north and south) by four-columned porticoes.

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When the Smith family sold the campus to the City of Columbia in 1904, the city retained the old Study Hall building as a public school.

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Later, in 1915, the city would tear down this building to build the first Central High School on this location.

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Just to the west of where Central High School was built, the Tennessee Children’s Home was erected in 1909. This building would be razed in the 1930s to build Whitthorne Middle School.

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On the most southeastern portion of the old Athenaeum campus, King’s Daughters Hospital would be built. The King’s Daughters school is now on this location.

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The are several homes on the Athenaeum’s historic campus today. King’s Daughters School and the Maury County Board of Education are also on the property today. Thanks to these two entities, the property continues to have ties to education, a distinction held since 1852.

The rectory of the Athenaeum remains as a historic site and museum.

-Adam Southern

 

Most of the images in this post are postcards from the collection of Adam Southern. If you’d like to see more, consider a copy of his new book, Greetings from Maury County, Tennessee

 

Lt. James C. Wooten of Maury

This Sunday on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the world will celebrate the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day, the end of the Great War.

At the Maury County Library in Columbia, a selection of books are on display to commemorate the First World War Centenary. The public is encouraged to check out a book or two concerning the conflict thought at the time to be the “war to end all wars.” A unique look at the war can be had by reading Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation by Ann Bausum.

Also at the library are artifacts from the life of local hero Lt. James C. Wooten.

James Council Wooten, II was born in Columbia on August 7, 1896. He was named for his grandfather, the first James Council Wooten, who had served as a Confederate colonel during the War Between the States. Young Wooten’s father, John, was a merchant and owned Maury Dry Goods. His mother, Emma, was of the prominent Hughes family of Maury County.

Being of a prominent family and having means, James C. Wooten, II was afforded the best education his parents could give him. His early education began at the Columbia Female Institute. (NOTE: It was not unusual for young boys to attend the Institute—the grammar school, or lower grades, were open to both boys and girls from Columbia.) Following the Institute, he attended Columbia Military Academy.

His friends, of which he had many, called him Jim or Jimmy and, by all accounts, he was a very bright young man. These accounts must have been true, as he finished his coursework at C.M.A. and entered the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland at just age 16. While in the academy, “he had been upon a cruise in French waters as a midshipman of junior grade and witnessed the entrance of France’s men into the struggle with Germany.”[1] Jim Wooten would have joined the fight then and there had he been allowed.[2]

In 1914, at the request of his parents, Wooten left the naval academy with an honorable discharge and entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Then, as with now, MIT only took the best and brightest minds. Jim Wooten fit the bill. In addition to his course work, he was involved with the Tech Show Ballet, on the editorial staff, and was on the tug-of-war and wrestling teams. But, when the United States entered World War I, Wooten put his studies aside and volunteered for the army.

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Wooten finished training and was sent to Fortress Monroe in August 1917 as a second lieutenant of the coastal artillery. On the sixth of September, he, along with 2,000 other officers, sailed from New York to France. There, he would volunteer for the aviation service. Except for the month of training he received in France, Lt. Wooten was in service on the front lines.

Flying above the lines as an aerial photographer, he won the admiration of his brothers in arms and citations for gallantry from his commanders.

The Daily Herald printed some of his exploits. On August 13, 1918 (twelve days after his death), the headlines read, “Columbian Out after Pictures Got a German.” In the article, a letter written on July 7th by Lt. Wooten to his parents is printed in its entirety. In the letter, he tells the exciting tale of his latest flight into enemy air with his pilot, Tom:

I sighted 3 Huns coming in, yelled to turn to the left as one dived at us. Tom pulled a quick one and I put my guns on. All 3 immediately beat it without firing. We turned and I snapped another string [aerial photos]. We turned and began as first time. I had head down, snapping about the middle of last string of pictures, having cautioned Tom to watch direction of 3 others, when he yelled “Look out right!” And, gee whizz, there were 7 of them. I yelled “turn left and run!” He yelled “Oh boy!”

… All seven opened up. Well folks, the feeling was over in a second, but I thought we had done the greatest duty and began firing under tail wires, as tail was in way—a bit dangerous but necessary. My guns jammed and, as I managed to jerk them loose, I yelled, “Climb, tail in way!” We climbed and I had wonderful shooting. Picked out 2 in center very close together, left slightly ahead, and let loose. One of right we down into nose dive giving out smoke and the others all turned and went into big cloud, unfortunately. I continued to fire into cloud. The Boche use them to cover themselves. Wish that cloud hadn’t been there.

They put some holes in our ship, shot up our motor. We did our darnedest with our altitude to make the Allied field in a long straight line, but couldn’t make a good field, hit an invisible ditch and tore up, cutting my nose and the back of my head and hurting my old ankle again. We both hollered “OK,” unhooked our belts and crawled out. Doc came up in ambulance but we laughed and ran it away. Tom wasn’t hurt but let the Doc tie up my head after stopping the blood and cutting off some hair. My head is a funny sight now, as the hair I shaved off on top hasn’t grown back and I’ve got another streak behind. Now don’t worry. Any of us old ones who wish can go on Repose now, or I can get leave if things don’t go badly with us, but I want to wait until later.

He closed the letter with:

I wouldn’t write so much about all this for fear of worrying you, but by the time you receive this, I will be safe on leave.

Lots of love to all, from you devoted boy.[3]

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Portrait of Lt. James C. Wooten painted from a previous photograph. This portrait is now at the Maury County Archives. (Photo courtesy of the Maury County Archives.)

That leave would never come. William Fry, a Maury County soldier, wrote his father and included information about of Lt. Wooten’s death on August 1, 1918. Another letter arrived in Columbia a few days later from Wooten’s comrade, Lt. W. L. McNutty, and recounted his fallen friend’s final moments.

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Lt. Wooten was John and Emma’s only child. Grief-stricken, the mother sought to memorialize her son in a way that would benefit the community. Mrs. Wooten was a member of the Student’s Club. This club founded Columbia’s first library in 1902. She knew that the library lacked a children’s section, so in 1919 she created the Lt. James C. Wooten Memorial Children’s Library in her son’s name. Along with the collection, she purchased child-sized furniture and started an endowment to ensure new books were purchased for the children’s library every year. That fund is still active and generates revenue to purchase children’s material annually.

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Mrs. Emma Wooten in the children’s section of the Maury County Library when it was located inside of the Memorial Building. This children’s section was created in memory of her son. 

Lt. Wooten’s remains rested in France until 1921 when the family was finally able to bring their son home. John and Emma actually traveled to France the year before to visit the original grave site. In May 1921, he was interred in Rose Hill Cemetery. On his cross-shaped marker, his citation from the French government is inscribed.

-Adam Southern

 

References:

[1] Moore, John Trotwood. Tennessee, The Volunteer State, p 823

[2] Ibid

[3] The Daily Herald, August 13, 1918

Dimple of the Universe

The “Dimple of the Universe” is one of Columbia and Maury County’s oldest nicknames. While most of us have heard the saying before, not many know its origins.

John Trotwood Moore penned the phrase, “Dimple of the Universe.” It first appeared in his book, Songs and Stories from Tennessee. The book, re-printed in Philadelphia in 1903, drew national attention and was reviewed in several newspapers, including the Boston Globe. The first sentence of the introduction (titled the “Basin of Tennessee”) reads, “The Middle Basin is the dimple of the Universe.”

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John Trotwood Moore was born in Alabama and moved to Maury County in 1885. He found fame as a storyteller, poet, and horse racing correspondent. He also found a love for recording local history. He became the Tennessee State Librarian & Archivist in 1919.

What Trotwood referred to as the “Middle Basin” is the Nashville Basin of Tennessee—sometimes called the Central Basin. This area is very similar to the Bluegrass Region in Kentucky, which is why Middle Tennessee—especially the southern part—was sometimes called Tennessee’s Blue-Grass Region. (Until just a few years ago, Tennessee’s regional library in Columbia was still called the Blue Grass Regional Library, a throwback to the area’s past identity.)

John Trotwood Moore may have been writing about all of Middle Tennessee, but Maury County folks read between the lines. Many of the stories in the book were local tales Moore had learned from living in the county. When he called the Middle Basin the “Dimple of the Universe,” the people of Maury County knew he was talking about their home.

A Tennessean article written in 1904 called Maury “the garden spot of the Dimple of the Universe.” Even Columbia Military Academy used the slogan in their advertising in the early part of the twentieth century. But, Columbia and Maury County were not the only places using the slogan. Remember—that nickname applied to pretty much all of the mid-state; Nashville, Fayetteville, Pulaski and other communities proudly claimed the title, too.

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1909 CMA ad using “Dimple of the Universe”

The Dimple of the Universe was about to be pinpointed, though, and by an unlikely source.

In 1914, a lady in Boston wrote a letter addressed only to “The Poet, The Dimple of the Universe.” The letter found its way to the “dead letter office” in Washington. As it happened, a lady with Maury County ties worked in the dead letter office and knew exactly what to do. She directed the letter to Columbia, Tennessee and John Trotwood Moore.

Just as with Miracle on 34th Street, if the Post Office can declare Kris Kringle as Santa Claus, it can also recognize Columbia, Tennessee as THE Dimple of the Universe. The best part is the postal services has not only done this once, but twice.

Again, in 1939, a letter addressed to the “Dimple of the Universe” found its way into the mail. The Kingsport Times reported:

The dimple of the universe isn’t recorded as such on the map, but Postmaster Woodruff Booth [Knoxville] believes a letter sent here possibly was intended for Columbia, Tenn.

The letter was addressed to Miss Mary Virginia Webster, Dimple of the Universe, Tenn. It was from the Sigma Alpha Epsilon House at the University of Alabama.

Columbia and Maury County, of which Columbia is the county seat, often are called “the Dimple of the Universe.”

If it is good enough for the U.S. Postal Service, it’s good enough for me.

Welcome to the Dimple of the Universe—Columbia, Tennessee!

-Adam Southern

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A cast aluminum car tag from the 1950s. These are very rare today.

A Stroll Among the Stones

During this month of baseball playoffs, college football rivalries, and ghost stories, the urge to stroll through local cemeteries is the strongest it will get all year.

While there are many beautiful and historic cemeteries in Maury County, perhaps none are better to stroll through than Rose Hill in Columbia. Founded in 1853 on land sold by city mayor Meredith Helm, Rose Hill replaced Greenwood as Columbia’s city cemetery.

In Rose Hill are the graves of soldiers, statesmen, and many other lauded individuals. The famous here range from a famous horse racer to a legendary stock car driver. The majority of the graves, however, belong to decent, hardworking people that helped build Columbia from the ground up. For most, their stories will never be fully known or told.

Rose Hill, unlike many other cemeteries in the county, was planned and platted. Popular at this time were “garden cemeteries.” This movement made cemeteries more like city parks than unorganized repositories for the dead. Rose Hill, for example, is laid out into blocks with drives through each section. Flowering trees and evergreens can be seen throughout.

With its many drives, Rose Hill is perfect for a stroll and what really catches the attention of visitors are the monuments. During the Victorian-era, ornate monuments were constructed for graves in Rose Hill. The best of these were ordered from the Muldoon Monument Co. of Louisville, Kentucky.

Muldoon Monuments:

The Muldoon Monument Co. was founded in 1854 by Michael Muldoon. The earliest monuments from Muldoon in Rose Hill are in the Mayes family plot and are signed “Muldoon, Bullett, & Co.” Charles Bullett was a French sculptor who supervised the production of monuments in the firm’s workshop in Carrara, Italy. The monuments of Lou and Ella Mayes were made by this firm in the 1860s.

 

Another marker in the same plot is for Lena Mayes Childress and her daughter. Lena was a sibling to Lou and Ella Mayes. This monument—and those to Lou and Ella—have no dates on them, only their ages at death. Using her death date, Lena passed away between 1872 and 1873. Lena’s monument is a fine example of an extravagant late-Victorian marker.

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Grave of Lena Mayes Childress & her daughter

There are two other fine monuments in this family plot, but no markings could be found to identify the makers. Muldoon is still in business today under the name Muldoon Memorials. Their website reads, “The test of our vistion is as simple as a trip to the cemetery. Find a memorial that impresses or inspires you and nine times out of ten, it was built by Muldoon.” Given those odds, it is fair to say Muldoon is responsible for the other two monuments in the Mayes plot.

Outside of the Mayes plot, there are other fine examples of Muldoon’s work in Rose Hill, including:

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William John Andrews, Jr. monument, circa 1887

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John William Dunnington monument, circa 1882

But, perhaps the premier Muldoon monument in Rose Hill Cemetery is the one located in the Confederate Section. This monument was designed in 1881 by George W. Kendall of the Muldoon Monument Co. and was delivered to Columbia by rail in 1882 when it was dedicated. An 1888 Tennessean article exclaims Muldoon & Co “have designed and built fourteen Confederate monuments. One of the best pieces of art is the “Lost Cause,” erected at Rose Hill, Columbia, Tenn., which is said to be perfect in all its proportions.” This monument features a Confederate soldier standing at funeral parade rest atop a pedestal that features inverted cannon barrels.

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Postcard of the “Lost Cause” monument in the Confederate Section, postmarked 1908

An ad for Muldoon Monument Co. from the back of an early Confederate Veteran magazine lists the Columbia monument as one of the company’s works. Ironically, also on the list is the Gen. Patrick Cleburne monument in Helena, Arkansas. Gen. Cleburne was buried in Rose Hill Cemetery after the Battle of Franklin where he fell. He was later removed to St. John’s graveyard and, once again, removed to Helena, Arkansas

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Ad from Confederate Veteran magazine

Local Stonecutters:

One of the earliest stonecutters of note in the county was W. Bland. His work, for the most part, went unsigned. One tombstone identified as his work is that of Ed Voss. A short article from the February 3, 1871 Columbia Herald and Mail reads:

“One of the first companies that went from this county at the outbreak of the late War Between the States (and the last to come back,) was called the ‘Maury Greys,’ under Capt., no Col., Looney. Some time since, one of its members Ed. W. Voss, died in the vicinity, and the remaining soldiers of the company in this place erected a tombstone or monument over his remains at Rose Hill Cemetery. The work was done by Mr. Bland.”

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Grave of Ed. Voss in Rose Hill Cemetery, tombstone by W. Bland

What happened to Mr. Bland is unknown, save for the fact that William Shirley took over his shop in 1871.

William Shirley was perhaps the most prolific local stonecutter. Born in England in 1826, Shirley arrived in the United States at age 16 and married his first wife in New York at age 22. His first child was born in Maury County in 1851. The first found mention of William Shirley as a stonecutter is as a partner in the firm of Shirley & Shane in Nashville. This partnership produced many beautiful monuments in the 1860s, including that of James Hodge in Rose Hill.

 

In 1869, William Shirley and J. P. Shane dissolved their partnership and the next year found William Shirley in yet another partnership, this time with T. J. Canterbury. This firm was based out of Columbia, but this partnership, too, dissolved in 1871.

 

 

That same year, William Shirley took over W. Bland’s old shop and began his own marble works. He had several sons under his employment, including William N. “Bill” Shirley. “Bill” Shirley shared his father’s occupation as a stonecutter and mason. The two would also marry the same woman, but that’s a story for another time. Young Bill Shirley would go on to cut all of the limestone for the Columbia Arsenal buildings and is credited with discovering phosphate in Maury County. Despite the millions of dollars other people made from his discovery, Bill Shirley died a pauper and was buried in Rose Hill without a tombstone.

Many marvelous monuments in Rose Hill are engraved “Wm. Shirley.” These are more than likely the work of the elder William Shirley or, at least, were produced in old-man Shirley’s marble factory under his name.

 

His old partner, T. J. Canterbury also did a lot of work in Rose Hill during the 1870s. The Columbia Herald and Mail reported in their “Around Town” column on March 31, 1871, “Wm. Shirley says he has a $600 monument for Mrs. Sowell to go over her husband at Rose Hill.” The next sentence reads, “Mr. T. J. Canterbury sold in one hour last Monday over $2,000 worth of monuments.”

 

People were just dying to get those monuments!

Monuments in Rose Hill are not limited to Muldoon, Bland, Canterbury, and Shirley. Messrs. S. P. Payne, Hill, Arthur McPhee, and Gracy were all active stonecutters in Columbia after the Civil War. Still, other stones were transported to Columbia from Nashville, St. Louis, and similar large markets. W. M. Dean Marble Co. in Columbia also did a large amount of monument work around the turn of the century until relocating to Nashville in 1940. When Dean left Columbia, the art of stonecutting left, too. All we are left with today are the works these true artisans left behind, still standing ever-vigilant in Rose Hill.

The history and beauty of Rose Hill Cemetery are unsurpassed. Do yourself a favor and stroll among the stones. At the end of your stroll, you might just be able to pick out which ones are Muldoon or Columbia made.

-Adam Southern

Columbia’s Musical Past

Recently, I was asked about the history of Columbia’s music scene. This question, I admit, took a great deal of thought. Naturally, old-time string bands came to mind. I could just see Jim Skinner on the banjo, Curtis Lentz sawing the fiddle, and the Hedrick boys picking guitars at a square dance on any given Saturday night in Columbia in the 1940s and 50s.

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Jim Skinner plays the banjo while Curtis Lentz fiddles.

However, I was to learn that Columbia has given birth to a variety of musicians of varied genres.

Take Charles Hunter, for example. Hunter was born in Columbia in 1876. Blind at birth, Hunter was sent to the Nashville School for the Blind where he was taught a trade—how to tune pianos. After completing his training, he was employed by French Piano Company in Nashville. It was here, many think, that Charles Hunter explored his love of music and began composing ditties on pianos between jobs. Later these ditties would become full Ragtime compositions.

The “Music” entry in the Tennessee Encyclopedia reads, “Most Tennessee ragtime composers came from the mid-state and created compositions so distinctive and numerous that some historians speak of a ‘Nashville style’ in early ragtime. Perhaps the most prolific and well known was Columbia native Charles Hunter…”

His first “hit” was Tickled to Death (1899). This tune was so popular that it was made into a Victrola record. Subsequent works were Possum and Taters (1900) and Just Ask Me (1902).

Charles Hunter

About the time that Just Ask Me was release, Hunter moved to St. Louis, Missouri. In a new city, his fame as a composer had preceded him. He was welcomed with open arms into the nightclubs of St. Louis’ red light district, where Hunter seemed to relish his fame. The late nights, cigarettes, and liquor weakened Hunter’s system and his body was stricken with tuberculosis. He died January 23, 1906, a few months shy of his thirtieth birthday. He is buried in the Knights of Phyias plot in St. Louis’ Bellefontaine Cemetery.

Another group of Columbia natives were the Miller brothers: Flournoy, Irvin, and Quintard. These men (Flournoy and Irvin, especially) left an indelible mark on the world of show business.

Flournoy (F. E.) Miller, according to New York Public Library, was an “actor, comedian, playwright, lyricist and producer.” Born in Columbia in 1889, Flournoy went to Fisk University with childhood chum Aubrey Lyles. There, the two formed the duo act of Miller & Lyles and found success on the vaudeville circuit.

This duo would take their success all the way to New York City. In 1915, the duo starred in the first major all-black musical comedy, Darkydom. Then, in 1921, the two, along with Eubie Blake and Noble Sissle, wrote and produced Shuffle Along—the first Broadway musical produced entirely by African Americans. The show had a three-year run on Broadway.

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Flournoy Miller (top center) and Aubrey Lyles (bottom center) along with Blake and Sissle. Together, the four would write Shuffle Along. Photo courtesy of American Theatre.

The duo would continue to produce musical and comical acts until the death of Lyles in 1932, at which time Miller teamed up with comedian Mantan Moreland. The two would appear in Harlem on the Prairie in 1936. It was the first all-black western. Miller would also go on to write for the Amos and Andy television show. (He and Lyles had performed and wrote for the radio version of the show during their time as a duo.)

Flournoy Miller’s professional portfolio was extensive—much of it groundbreaking. He definitely helped pave the way for others to follow. As did his brother, Irvin C. Miller.

Floyd J. Calvin wrote in the February 12, 1927 Pittsburgh Courier, “Irvin Colloden Miller was born in Columbia, Tenn. He graduated from Fisk University at Nashville in 1904, played left halfback on the Fisk football team, played baseball, basketball, was [a] boxer and runner.” By the time of this 1927 article, Irvin C. Miller had written and produced several musical comedies for the stage, some of them very popular. Still a comedian, Miller told the reporter, “The only two things I still use from my athletic training is my running and boxing. When I do big talk, if my boxing can’t back me up, my running can.”

His 1923 show Dinah was extremely popular. This show introduced the Black Bottom Dance that swept the Jazz Age dance halls and found its way into society balls.

But it was his Ziegfeld Follies-inspired show Brown Skin Models that really put Irvin C. Miller on the map. This show would run, updated annually, for thirty years. All the while, during the tenure of Brown Skin Models, he was producing new work and would have several shows touring the nation at any given time.

Irvin C. Miller would pass away at the age of 91 in 1975. His younger brother, Flournoy E. Miller, proceeded him in death in 1971. In 1979 Flournoy E. Miller was posthumously nominated for a Tony Award for his lyrical contributions to “Eubie!”

This is, by no means, Columbia’s complete music history. Let’s just call it the intro.

-Adam Southern

 

References & Suggested Reading:

Calvin, Floyd J. “Irvin C. Miller Writes on Problems of Theatre.” The Pittsburgh Courier, 12 Feb. 1937, p 2.

“Flournoy Miller Collection.” New York Public Library Archives & Manuscripts, http://archives.nypl.org/scm/20858.

Wolfe, Charles K. “Music.” Tennessee Encyclopedia, Tennessee Historical Society, 2017, http://tennesseeencyclopdiea.net/entries/music/.