by Jay Winfield Darby

The Leader, Nov. 9, 1939

It was a beautiful day, October 13, 1891, when I came up here, from Brighton, to help John McGuire and Jim Wilson in the Barber shop. The County Fair was on and quite a crowd was expected and it came.

The fair was quite a success. It was held at the new fairgrounds on the east side of the Mason road, across from the flowing well, which was not discovered until some years later.

The main feature of the fair was the races. Popular among the horse track horses were Dan R., William R., and Hookerbill. A prominent driver was our own J.S. Ruffin, who afterwards drove “Dyersburg” on the big circuit and became a friend of that prince of drivers, ”The silent man from Tennessee,” “Pop” Gears.  

Flippin on Bench

Circuit Court followed the fair and lasted three weeks. It was presided over by Judge Flippin and prominent members of the bar were Captain Simonton, Colonel Sanford, Harry Young, Mr. Smitheal, Colonel Baptist, Peyton J. Smith and others. Judge Baptist was a very small boy and didn’t come up to town much.

Covington was a good town then, but there have been some improvements. The streets were all dirt, even the square. Not even any gravel was spread until several years later.

We were a little short, too, on public utilities. Water was furnished from Town Spring and a well in the courthouse yard and many private wells. I don’t know how many bathtubs the town had, but I would be safe in saying that they were scarce.

Street lights were few and far between. About a dozen in all were located on each corner of the square and on the corners one block each way from the square.

Gasoline lights

Fred Smith, who was night policeman, would take his wheelbarrow and go down to the calaboose, late in the afternoon, and fill a small can of gasoline for each street lamp. These he would turn topside down in the street lamps.

These were supposed to burn until midnight. Some of them would and some would not, depending on how well they were regulated.

There was no gasoline in town for sale. Fred Smith’s barrel, which he kept at the calaboose was the only source. It is somewhat different now.

There was one telephone in town, at the office of McFadden livery stable. From there you could get Mason and then Memphis and – maybe – somewhere else and maybe you couldn’t get anywhere else.

The physical aspect of the town has also changed some. The Haney Field was then a cotton field. Garland avenue section was also a cotton patch. The Boyce addition and Park street sections were not yet opened up. Nothing on the southwest corner of the square but the Bernard building.

From there west was blank and also south to the Old Baptist church. The west side of the square was almost vacant.

Elevated walks

Sidewalks on the north side of the square and down to near the Matthews property occupied back by Baxter Lumber Co., were away up above the street level. The walk in front of the grammar school, then the Holmes Female Seminary, was so high off the ground and so many trees were between it and the street that it was considered a dangerous place to pass late at night.

These plank walks all over town served a double purpose. The top was for folks to walk on, and the underside was a path for rats, snakes, and other varmints.

The churches of that day were about on a level with other things. The Methodist Church where I went mostly, and where many of my best friends were then and are yet, worshipped in the old building.

Brother Ridgeway’s choir sat in the pulpit near the preacher. Brother Grant T. Sullivan led the flock and called for the signing of “To the Work, to the Work” every time he could. He was one of the best pastors that town ever had.

The Presbyterians worshipped in the old church and dear old Doctor Ewing was pastor, Mr. George D. Holmes was a prominent member.

Few Baptists

The Baptists worshipped in the old building, and pastors came and went so often that I don’t know who was on just at that time. With just 39 members, it didn’t matter so much anyway.

As to the other churches, I don’t remember, except that they were all here except the central Christian Church and the Associated Reform Presbyterian.

The doctoring was done by Dr. Gillespie and Dr. Sanford, with some help from Dr. Walter Maley, Dr. W. L. Barrett, Dr. Hill, and maybe some others. Once in a great while a patient was sent down to the Presbyterian Home Hospital in Memphis. That was about our only hospital.

Society at that time was looked after by Will Shelton, Walter McFadden, Bill Hamilton, Barrett Calhoun, James Tipton, Bayne Leslie, Herbert Hamilton, Ike Lowenhaupt, Sam Montgomery, Arthur Taylor, Reese Boyce, Will Rogan, Alex Smith and others.

Some of the old men about town at that time were Dr. L. Hill, Sr., S.P. Bernard, Ebenezer Payne, Dick Barrett, Grandpa Jacket and many more.

Yes, Covington was a good town then, but not a big one. I think we had to wait until 1900 for this census to give us 1087 population.

Few fancy groceries

The stores at that time kept good, honest stocks. The groceries were not cluttered up with fresh fruits and vegetables all the year round. Just a stock of bananas now and then and some apples and some fancy candy, oranges, raisins and nuts for Christmas. We didn’t know that grapefruit were good to eat then, and sure enough they were not. Kinney & Wortham had lots of fun selling them for big oranges.

We didn’t have our dirt streets cluttered up with laundry wagons either – not even an agency in town. Aunt Nancy Yates did up most of the stiff bosom shirts for the society boys because she could make the neck bands stand up so the collars would fit.

Among the many social events of about that time to attract special attention were the marriage of our young attorney W. A. Owen to Miss Claudia McFadden and a little later, the marriage of our junior editor of The Leader, Joe Simonton to Miss Mary Alice Allison.

But this is enough for a young man to remember. The editor has suggested that I had better write about what I have forgotten and if I write again, it will be about the things I have forgotten since 1891.

The years have been good years. They take one back through the yellow fever, white hot political days when there was a financier of international proportions on every corner.

No Votes Sold

We didn’t sell our votes then. A man would be ashamed to offer to sell his vote. A poor man could run for office then with as much chance of being elected as a rich man. Men like Will Lynn, Joe Talley, Buck Misenheimer, Jet Reeves and George Pennel didn’t have to insult voters by offering to pay them for their votes.

We didn’t have baseball games on Sunday either. The old citizens wouldn’t have stood for it.

But I am remembering too much. I must submit, however, that it is fine to have lived through so much and still be a young man.

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