Chapter 38: Outside Union Mills

Back in Chapter 31 of the Nanney Saga, I posted a photo of Nanney siblings, children of Col. Amous and Tempe Nanney. One of the men in the photo taken around 1927 was Martin Lee Nanney who was an Uncle to my friends Wade and Mary Glenn whose help I rely on to gather family information.

Not all of the Nanneys stayed close to Union Mills. Some moved fifteen miles away!

Martin Lee and his wife Alice Lela were parents of cousin Vivian Nanney McDonald whose life with Kenneth T. McDonald of Spindale was described in a newspaper article. The headline was “It was a Simpler, More Natural Time–in Frog Level”, written by Virginia Rucker for the Dailey Courier in November of 1993. This was the Oakland community south of Rutherfordton, and the McDonald property is now the site of the Isothermal Community College.

Down on the farm

Down on the farm

K.T. talked about life back in the day when he was a sexton for the church built on land given by his mother’s family and named in her honor. Ken “kept the fire, swept the church and rang the bell.” “My dad ran his store, farmed, had a blacksmith shop where he shod horses, sharpened plows, and he drove around the county in his buggy selling lightning rods.” And buying and selling real estate. He was a natural, buying 100 acres, selling the timber off to pay for it and then selling the property to somebody looking for a homesite. “Dad would cut cordwood, sell it to the Florence Mill or Frog Level gin for $3 a cord. He’d cut oak trees into lengths with a cross-cut saw, take them to Pearl Champion at the crossing, where Murray’s is now, and get 25 cents apiece for them.”

Back before the state of Georgia was called the “Peach State,” K.T.’s dad raised Elberta peaches and would “ship them in crates to sell in Georgia.” His dad was quite the entrepreneur. He would listen in on their four-party telephone line to find out what the competition “was selling eggs for so he’d know how much to charge at his store.”

“Once a week, he’d go to the ice plant in Spindale, get a 300 pound block of ice for $1, break it in two and take it home. He had his own ice tongs, and he’d put it in the ice box, put papers over it so the air wouldn’t melt the ice when he opened the box. It’d keep for a week.” This article mentioned that the McDonalds were “well-to-do” but lived with the frugal attitude born of experience that emphasized everything was saved, darned, patched, or re-used.

In 1898,Wakins Products chose Winona MN on the Mississippi as its second home

In 1898,Wakins Products chose Winona MN on the Mississippi as its second home

“Like most rural families, we raised most everything we ate, except things like sugar, salt, flavoring, coffee.” And they bought from the travelling salesmen from Watkins, which incidentally is from Winona, MN. (I saw their headquarters in 2014 when I was visiting my old stomping grounds.) There were also travelling salesmen from Fuller Brush in the NC area, and Singer sent around travelling sewing machine repairmen. No malls to attract the masses.

“Cornshuckings were shared with neighbors. Dad would pile the corn up in front of our barn, the men would come and do the shucking and the ladies would cook the meal.” And they’d move on to the next place when it was time. “The threshers would come and thresh the wheat; they’d spend the night in the barn. We slept on straw-ticks, homemade mattresses, made the day after threshing, when we dumped the old straw out of the mattress, washed it and refilled with fresh straw.”



“We didn’t have a key to the house so when Dad bought the first radio, an Atwater Kent, people would come into the house whenever they wanted to and listen to the radio.” “Our first car was a Dort, next was a Studebaker from M.Y. Tate in Rutherfordton. The touring cars were open and it was 1929 before we had our first sedan with glass windows.”

“As a boy, Ken (KT) remembers taking dried peach seeds to Rutherfordton to sell to Levy’s store, The kernel was used in medicine.” Sometimes they would just roam around, pick a few apples to eat, or potatoes or a watermelon. “It wasn’t stealing, it was just helping ourselves.” Right.

McDonald attended elementary school at Frog Level six months at a time.  In 1930, McDonald enrolled at Central High where he met Vivian Nanney, whose daddy was a carpenter. “He wasn’t employed by the mill so we couldn’t live in a mill house.” “We lived on the ‘lower end’ of town and had no paved streets, no electricity and no indoor toilets. In 1923 we moved to Pleasant Street and even then it wasn’t paved.”

KT and Vivian married in 1934. They rented a house for $12 a month, no water and no indoor plumbing. Ken worked at Stonecutter Mills for 41 years, and they lived in the country, careful to stick to a budget. “Sometimes, we’d buy chickens for $1 each, then put a sign in our yard and sell them for $1.25.” Just like his dad! Later they bought two lots for $150, borrowed $1500 and built a house at Frog Level. In 1945 they sold that house to buy the Tan Harris house two doors from Grindstaff’s. (Have I mentioned the local tendency to describe a location in terms of an old description? That only makes sense to other long time residents. So sorry.)

Their Methodist Church was operated with the same frugality. The congregation cultivated a “Lord’s Acre” where they raised cotton. “Vivian and I would pick cotton with members and the church sold it to raise money.”

Through perseverance and the Lord’s blessing, KT and Vivian raised three children who recognized the importance of education. Son Russell retired as a school principal, and at the time of the article daughter Nancy Nichols was a principal of Forrest Hunt Elementary School, and daughter Sybil was supervisor of four schools in Tennessee.

I included this segment to show the reoccurring emphasis on education in the Nanney family. But not everybody stayed around Nanney Town. Some took their talents out of this world.


Copyright 2015 Georgia Wilson

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