History Of Ethridge, Tennessee
Written By: Lloyd L. Brian
The first part of this history of Ethridge is about evenets that took place before the turn of the century, around 1880, and up until about 1914, and was related to me many years ago by elderly men that had lived here during that period, and also from writings of other people.
Ethridge had its beginning about three quarters of a mile south of the present city of Ethridge at what is known as the Hudson springs, or the Keplinker place. There was a flag stop on the railroad there and one store, owned by a man named Tucker. Tucker was a strong Republican, and since he was supporting a man by the name of Ethridge from east Tennessee who was running on the Republican ticket for governor, he decided to call the flag stop Ethridge in his honor. This was about 1886; the railroad was built in 1883.
From information submitted to me by Ms. Lucille Ethridge, 3412 Lamphier, Memphis, Tennessee, and according to HALBERT'S COAT OF ARMS, this was possibly Emerson Ethridge who was a lawyer and member of the Tennessee Legislature in 1845, and a member of congress from 1853 to 1861. He was the last and only Whig member of the 36th congress, according to the CONGRESSIONAL GLOBE. At the conclusion of the Civil War, he became a Republican, and from 1891-1894 was surveyor of customs for the city of Memphis.
People began migrating from the North to Tennessee during the 1880's buying and clearing land and building houses and making farms. Both of my grandfathers, Isaac Wesley Brian and George Gallimore, moved here from Ohio in 1885. Ethridge had no side track for unloading or loading, so they had to unload their belongings at Edan, a small switch two miles north of here. There Edan Smith, for whom the switch was named, loaded lumber from the thousand acres of virgin timber land he owned. Dirt roads, which were rough and stumpy, were laid out to the newly made farms. In the winter, these roads were impassable except by two-horse buggies or by horseback.
For several years the only market for cattle was at Campbellsville, where several hundred head were bought and fed out and then driven to Nashville and other markets. Large herds would be driven through Ethridge on their way to Campbellsville from Waynesboro and other points west. This was where the east-west road through Ethridge got the name Waynesboro and Campbellsville. We now call it the Red Hill Road. At this time the train was stopping at the Waynesboro and Campbellsville Road crossing to put off mail for Waynesboro which was carried there by Lige Staggs twice a week in a covered spring wagon. Staggs had a substitute by the name of Bruton who carried the mail by pack mule.
People began to build homes and businesses neat the Waynesboro and Campbellsville Road crssing, and a small community got started. The citizens decided to name the place "Hudson" for the Hudsons who had sold them their home sites. But about 1898 the railroad built a depot and loading switch here, and they named the place "Wayne Station" after the mail stop for Waynesboro. This name confused people who were coming to Ethridge, for they would go on down to the flag stop to get off. During this time E.W. (Farmer) Crews, a well known real estate man, had a real estate office at the crossroads two and one half miles west of Ethridge. As people were coming from everywhere to buy land around Ethridge, he would meet every train with his two-seated surries at Wayne Station only to find that some his customers had gotten off at the Ethridge flagstop further down the track. He finally persuaded the railroad to do away the flag stop and change the name of Wayne Station to Ethridge.
The name change was made in about 1904. By this time there was twenty-five or thirty homes and two stores here. The first house built here was built by Dan Foster, father of Mrs. J. E. Cunningham, (who lived past the century mark and was the H. A. Cunningham, former Lawrence County Trustee and county court clerk, and R. B. Cunningham who served as Ethridge Postmaster for thirty-eight years). My father, W. L. Brian, built a home here in 1893 in which I was born in 1905. That home is still here and in excellent shape. It has always been owned by people that have kept it well maintained.
after the depot was built and the name changed from Wayne Station to Ethridge, the town grew very rapidly in 1914. At the time the population was about four hundred. Many businesses flourished: five grocery stores, run by S. H. Massey and Son, Fite and Kirk (Tom Fite and George Kirk), O. H. Lentz, A. L. Fleeman, and Henry Dawes: two drug stores, owned by Dr. W.F. Kellogg and Dr. N.C. Felton; a meat market run by John Lutts; two livery stables, one belonged to John Black and the other to Jack Hayes; tow blacksmith shops, run by John Escue and Tom Gunselman; two barber shops run by Lay Brothers (John and Walter) and T. B. Pettibone; one machine shop run by Charlie Clark; one flour mill belonging to I.M. (Mose) Brian and Charlie Ray; one lumber finishing mill, the W.W. Lumber Co., run by George Williamson and Wilkinson; a tire pump factory run by Eugene M. Gant; a hotel and boarding house belonging to Aunt Maggie Williamson; a bank with F.M. Lincoln as cashier; a post office with Leo Newman as Postmaster; an ice cream parlor and drink stand run by Edd Hare. Ethridge also had two medical doctors, Dr. W.F. Kellogg and Dr. Dan Crews; one lawyer, A.M. (Weed) Oehman; and one undertaker, Frank Newman, who used a horse-drawn hearse.
The main industry around Ethridge, however, was the lumber business. There were four sawmills within hearing distance of Ethridge and many more farther out. There as large virgin timber everywhere. Lumber from all of these mills was hauled here and loaded on railroad cars. There was also a lot of chestnut dyewood and a lot of phosphate wood loaded here.
Pens and loading ramps for livestock were finally built here, and many hogs, cattle, and sheep were driven here and loaded on cars for shipment to northern and eastern markets. Just before Lent season, several carloads of chickens would be loaded here. Also shipped from Ethridge were carloads of watermelons and cantalopes. Ethridge had a cantalope association here from 1907 until 1913, and all cantalopes were shipped through this association. Each farmer would contract fro so many acres of cantalopes which, when harvested, were graded and crated right on the farm and then hauled to the cantalope shed beside the railroad, to be loaded in cars fro shipment to large cities. Then in about 1914, cotton began to take over as the farming crop, and cantalope raising died out (in the same way that soy beans has replaced cotton now).
Roads were still one of the big problems at this time. There were roads laid out everywhere, but no system for working them. A law was passed where every man of voting age had to give five days of work each year on the roads, and if he owned a team of mules or horsed, he had to work his team five days also. However, since few people had everything to work with, not much work was accomplished. Even our present Highway 43 was a dirt road up until 1916 or 1917 when it was graded with teams and wheeler-scoops and then chirted. About five trucks were used to haul chirt, one grader to level it down, and a roller was used to pack it. There were no paved roads anywhere then. I very well remember going to Lawrenceburg in a wagon and getting stuck in the mud on north Military Avenue. Usually two or more wagons would travel together so that they could pull each other out if one got stuck in the mud.
People from all out through the country would come to Ethridge in buggies and wagons to do their trading, especially on Saturdays when the town would be full. Many would leave their horsed in livery stables and catch the eleven o'clock train to Lawrenceburg, returning at three in the afternoon. At that time we had two passenger trains every day, and passenger train business was really good before the advent of the automobile. On Saturdays there would be so many passengers going to Lawrenceburg and back that the conductor wouldn't have time to take up tickets, so he would lock the door at the back of each coach and then take the tickets as the passengers came out of the front. A person could also catch the train north at seven in the morning for Nashville had have four hours there to tend to business before catching one back to Ethridge, arriving at eight that evening.
About 1916 the automobile began to appear on the scene, and the pump factory got on the boom. At one time there were fifty or sixty men working there. This lasted for several years until free air a garages and extra tires became available, killing the tire pump business completely. As automobiles got more plentiful, things began to change. Better roads were built, and people would drive to other places to trade. Businesses in Ethridge folded up one by one.
World War I started, and the population began to shift. Although we were involved in the war less than two years, those persons who left Ethridge to work in factories making war materials had settled elsewhere, staying where they were after the war ended.
Business was good for the next ten or eleven years until the stock market crash in 1929. then all at once over night everybody was out of work (and I mean everybody!). after a few months some people got work at fifty cents per day and were glad to get it. There were literally hundreds of people begging for work at this fifty cents a day. Of course, the price of everything also dropped to almost nothing. You could buy more then for that fifty cents than you could buy now for five or six dollars. Those that had a little money were hanging on to it, and if you had the money, you could build a good house for five or six hundred dollars. These bad times lasted about six years before business got better.
My father and I had been in the construction business for about three years when the crash hit. we, of course, weren't expecting it since times had been reasonably good up until that time, and we had several jobs already started. However, we were only permitted to finish a very few of them. For the next three years about all a person could do was plant a garden and try to raise his own food. Work was available on some farms for a day or two at fifty cents but farm produce was used for pay since the farmers had no money.
My father and I had a little money we had made in the construction business, and we owned a store building. So we decided to go in the grocery business. We knew things couldn't get any cheaper, so we contacted the J. S. Sloan Grocery Co. in Columbia who sent a salesman (called a drummer at that time) down to take a order for the opening stock. We ordered about everything in the book in the grocery line. This order was delivered the next day, November 8, 1932, the very day that President Roosevelt was elected for the first term. When the truck backed up to the building and the driver opened the doors, we saw that the truck was completely filled. It took us three days to price everything and put it on the shelves, and when we finished we had a well-stocked store. I almost hesitate to say what that truckload of merchandise cost at that time because it is unbelievable: the total cost was $92.50.
At the time a person could buy more than they could carry for three dollars. For the next two or three years, some of our prices were: 25 lbs. of flour --35cents, 6 lbs. sugar 25 cents; 6 lbs. of almost all kinds of dried beans--25 cents; 2 lbs. coffee--25 cents; bread--5 cents a loaf; milk--6 cents per quart; both kinds of potatoes-- 1 cent per lb. or 35 cents per bushel. We bought eggs for 4 cents a dozen and sold them for 5 cents.
We were still in the construction business, so I let my father run the store and I ran the construction work. Construction began to pick up some after Roosevelt took office, but it was very tough for the nest three or four years. President Roosevelt got the W P A started, and men could get three days of work per week at a dollar twnry-five per day. They would clean out ditches and build roads and using picks, shovels, and wheelbarrows, made cuts and fills. I had a truck and would haul thirty men out to where they would be working each morning, about five miles, and go get them in the afternoon for 10 cents per day each.
In 1934, while everything was still cheap, I decided to build my home. I figured the finish lumber I needed and went to Cherokee, Alabama, where there was a large mill. I brought back 6,230 feet of finishing lumber. This is another one of those unbelievable: I gave a check for $58.85 for the load. I paid $5.00 per thousand feet for number two lumber, $10.oo for number one, and $11.00 for B grade and better.
From 1936 on, up until World War II, everything started getting on a firm base. Labor went up to $2.50 per day and most everyone had work. Materials went up at first but then settled down and stayed at the same price. At that time you could figure a job and depend on getting your materials at that price, but when the war got in full swing, the government stopped all construction work expect army camps and other buildings pertaining to the war. All other business was very good during the war and has remained that way since.
Ethridge, as have most other small places, turned into residential town where people live and drive to to work in other cities. We have people living here and working in Lawrenceburg, Pulaski, Mt. Pleasant, Columbia, Waynesboro, Hohenwald, Florence and other places. Our population at this time is the highest that it has ever been.
Ethridge was incorporated on July 1st, 1973, and is now operated under the commission form of government. The population at that time was 546. The first and present commissioners are Doris Venable, Mayor; Bryson Keeter, Vice Mayor; and L.L. Brian, Commissioner. Since we incorporated much progress has been made. We have paved 2 1/2 miles of street with hot mix. We have built a bridge across the creek on the lower road leading from highway 43 into Ethridge. We have bought a road grader and a truck. We haul all garage free for those living within the city limits. We have a beautiful city hall.
Since we incorporated, there have been twenty-five new homes built here, and others are in the building and planning stages. There are less than twenty people living here now that were living here in 1916. Less than one-fourth of the homes that were here in 1916 are still here. However, we have many more homes here now than we had then. Only three od the business buildings that were here in 1916 are still here, and only one of them is still in use as a house of business (formerly the bank; now the city hall). the other two have been converted in to houses ( formerly Charlie Calrk Machine Shop directly across the road from the post office). We now have only three grocery stores, one machine shop, one garage, one broom factory, a feed mill, a post office, and a burial association and funeral home. There are six different church groups meeting in Ethridge.
Ethridge has always had a low crime rate. Most of the crime that has been committed here was by people from other places. The other major crime ever committed here was a bank robbery in 1929 or 1930 by men from Dyersburg, Tennessee. There has never been a murder committed in Ethridge.
We trust that this history of Ethridge will be of some value to people who may be living here in 2076.
Thanks to George Brian, son of L. L. Brian for giving permission to add this History of Ethridge, Tennessee