In the 1920’s, folks of the Brackett Town valley would walk across Vein Mountain to take the Peavine Railroad, a steam locomotive and narrow gauge rail that went from Old Fort to Spartanburg, SC. (The railroad depot museum in Old Fort tells the story well.) When the textile mills opened up in Rutherford County, “people would take the train down and board at someone’s home and then come back for the weekend.” Henry rode the train to visit Lela Lawing when they were courting, and after they were married in 1927 and settled in the Sprouse Home, Lela took that same train to visit her family in Spindale. But her brother John lived down the road. (Eckenrod’s Studio on Court Street had a recent exhibit at MAACA with old photos of the county including the trains.)Then came the age of the automobile for the working man, and train travel had competition in this sprawling country.
But in this neighborhood, folks walked to church. Henry may have been taken to the Methodist Church in Dysartsville by his mother, Miz Nor, but his new family would worship over the hill at the Macedonia Baptist Church established in 1887. And he was buried there in the Sprouse family plot in 2002 next to his wife Lela Lawing Sprouse (who died in 1987) near his Uncle Charlie Sprouse (who died in 1926), and his sister Maggie Sprouse Arrowood, (who died in 1929).
Maggie’s oldest boy, John Wilson Arrowood, died at age 13 in 1932. Six months later his father’s second wife Hessie Lewis lost her new twins and died the following month. Her husband, Tom Arrowood, who died in 1963, is buried next to his first wife Maggie behind his son John. And among the other families with deep roots in the community. The Gallions, the Radfords, the Connors, the Lewises, the Rhoms, the Lawings, the Arrowoods. Roots that sought eternal values and not worldly goods.
By 1928, downtown Marion, NC, “had all the necessities, including a new courthouse, several hotels and banks, two movie theaters, print shops, drug stores, hardware stores, plumbing, auto repair shops, feed stores and numerous specialty shops.” (“Walking Tour of Historic Downtown Marion”)
And in 1928, Henry Sprouse had a son, Earl Brice Sprouse. “I was the oldest,” said Brice, “and Ann came along the next year.” JJ Sprouse built the mill and the blacksmith shop before he built the cabin on the creek for himself and Miz Nor. “Granddaddy didn’t want rugrats running around the house. But I remember him takin’ me by the hand and leading me over there to visit.”
In 1930, the year his grandson Larry was born, JJ Sprouse moved into the kind of house his family would have had in the old country of Scotland. The Scotch-Irish brogue still colored his speech. (Nora and sister Mavis travelled there years later and saw the prototype.) It was a shelter over two tunnels burrowed into the Brackett Town creek bank. One had an outside entrance, and JJ would find respite there from the hot summer sun. He furnished it with a cot and a miner’s lamp for his afternoon breaks. There was another tunnel that could be entered from the kitchen area. This was his refrigerator, especially for dairy products.
Brice remembers when his grandpa would get up at the crack of day and go over to the mill and work an hour or two. He called it “runnin’ the water down.” The dam would be full, and he’d use that water up grinding corn, or whatever had to be done, and he’d come back home and eat breakfast and fill an hour or two and go back. Well, in that early morning time, I always went with him. “At the house I had the run of the place, do what I wanted to do, go where I wanted to go, and minute we opened that mill door and walked in, he took me by the hand, and he never turned me loose.” Brice didn’t understand back then. “There were so many things there for a little boy to get ground up in, and he knew I wouldn’t be still.”
“There was a little lower level where the cornmeal poured out, and then up a set of ten steps there was an upper level where all the machinery was running and grinding. And I’ve seen him go up there and pour two, three bushels of corn in that hopper and then go down where the cornmeal came through a chute that comes out of the wall, and you put your sacks on and tie them to catch the cornmeal. He’d rap the box to vibrate and make the cornmeal slide down. And I was always trying to get loose, beggin’ to get loose, but he never did. Minute we got up the road a few feet, he’d turn my hand loose, and I could run along in front. In that mill he’d never let me go because he knew what would happen. I’d be ground up. Cornmeal made out of me.” Brice didn’t mention the activities enjoyed in the other buildings. In addition to the grist mill and the sawmill, there was a shingle mill, a threshing house, and a cider press.
JJ used his own corn at the mill. For family and for sale, for people, horses and cows. And a lot of the neighbors brought their corn to the mill, and paid him to grind it. “He had a little square wooden box about the size of a shoe box that was his measure. Two scoops per bushel. He kept two scoops. If you brought five bushels to the mill to be ground, to put into the hopper, he took out ten scoops. That was his toll. And he sold that. I remember running into that box after the mill was closed down, and that thing was worn down where he scooped and wore the sides off it. The nails were perfectly polished.” (In this land of plenty today, we would go to Walmart and buy a new one.)