Water Valley Has Strong Pull For Natives
By Charles Cooper
Hello everyone, I hope you’re having a good week. It’s hard to believe that when this column comes out it will be March. It seems like only yesterday it was Christmas. I’ve heard that as we get older, time seems to fly and I really believe it.
It seems like a good time to repeat some of the “do you remember” things that are such an integral part of Water Valley.
Do you remember when George Wagner would stand outside his store when business was slow and watch people walk and drive by?
When Shine Tyson would drive his mint condition Ford pickup with panels on each side of the bed advertising the latest films at the Grand Theatre?
When Edwin Blackmur would sweep out the lobby of the hotel before going to the bank?
Ernie Aune shared an amusing story of a bond salesman seeing Mr. Blackmur sweeping, and asked him to carry his bags to his car. Mr. Blackmur obliged and the man gave him a quarter tip and he accepted it.
As Paul Harvey used to say, the rest of the story was that later in the day the salesman asked to speak to the President of the Mechanic’s Bank. Sitting in the chair was the man he had assumed to be the hotel porter.
I wonder if he made a sale?
When Coley Addington would be chauffeured to her shop in her antique Chevrolet? It was green and looked like it had just rolled off the showroom floor.
When Fred Kendrick walked from his home in the south part of town to the Bank of Water Valley every day for over 40 years?
When Mr. Turnage would make a U-turn at the Bank of Water Valley and park his Buick in front of the drug store?
When Turnage and Lowe’s drug stores both had curb service?
When the Harvey Ice House was across the railroad behind what is now Larson’s? The smallest block of ice was a nickel.
When it was almost impossible to drive down Central in the morning because of the milk trucks waiting their turn at the Kraft Cheese Plant?
When there was a water fountain on North Main across from the Park and another at the Grand Theatre? The water would be ice cold even on the hottest days of summer.
When Burney Crowell worked at the Standard Oil Station, across from the Methodist Church pumping gas, checking oil and wiping windshields with a crutch under his left arm from childhood polio. He also delivered packages for the Railway Express Company? In later years he was a distributor for the Commercial Appeal.
When Aaron Baddley, Sr. was an independent route man for Wonder Bread?
Water Valley has unfortunately been a good place to grow up and a place to return to upon retirement. There hasn’t been much in between for most young people, and they scattered all over the world.
Some of us have tried to stay but economic circumstances eventually forced us to look for greener pastures. This is no reflection on the Valley because a small town of less than four thousand population just simply didn’t have the available jobs to take care of the young people who graduated every year.
Still there is a pull from Water Valley that never seems to leave us. Since I started writing this column nine years ago, I have been amazed at the emails and letters that have come from all over the country. This speaks volumes about the pull that Water Valley has on us.
Businesses have come and gone and changed hands until now the oldest business still run by the same family is Turnage Drug Store. The business is 105 years old and operated by the fourth generation, and I have been privileged to know someone from each generation.
From about 1859 until the 1950s the railroad pulled many people to town. When the railroad shops were located in Water Valley, they employed nearly 1,000 people plus the “running men” – the enginemen, trainmen and section crews. The population was almost 10,000.
At that time they also had the largest twine mill in the country, which was good for cotton growers. After the twine mill burned and the railroad shops moved away, the population dwindled and in the 1930s Water Valley shipped more watermelons than any place in the country.
The Kraft Cheese Plant provided jobs and provided income for many small dairy farmers during the thirties and forties. After World War II, the City was able to get Rice-Stix to come to town, which later became Big Yank. A chicken processing plant and Holly Carburetor created jobs for many people, and shows that the City was trying to provide industry and jobs for the population.
I received a card today from Don McConnell who wrote about my columns on the Methodist Orphanage and I appreciate it. He also lives on Jones street, where I own a house. I appreciate the input and hope you will write again. All of your input is appreciated, so let me hear from you.
My email address is email@example.com or write me at P.O. Box 613189 Memphis, Tn 38101 and have a great week.