A Tour of the Old Bon Jellico Neighborhood

The following is a narrative of the places and people in the Bon Jellico neighborhood as described in 2005/2006 by Velma Pemberton Decker, youngest child of Jim and Elizabeth Pemberton.

    “Let’s begin at the Briar Creek Baptist Church in Williamsburg (as of 2007, this church is located on Hwy. 92, approximately 500 feet east of Interstate 75 Exit 11) and take the railroad tracks to where it will join the road. (The railroad tracks to Bon Jellico were removed after the mines shutdown.)

    Preacher Wyatt lived across the road from the church. He had two daughters, Amy and Jane. Amy married Glenn Creekmore and they had a restaurant in town. Gus Fritts’ parents lived further up the tracks. Then there was the County Home; everyone called it the “Poor House’. (The County home was located on Hwy. 92 approximately one mile west of Interstate 75 Exit 11.) Ad White and his wife Bertha took care of the home and the old and helpless people. Their children were Elsa, Paul, Mary, Carrie, Howard, and Lawrence. Mary, Carry and I were good friends and I spent many nights with them. We would go to the Briar Creek Church, stop by the Wyatt’s, and go with Amy and Jane to hear their Dad give a great sermon. Mr. and Mrs. White had a trunk in the attic where they kept the smoking tobacco for the residents. Paul would take the hinges off the back of the trunk and get a sack of old North State or Bull Durham tobacco and papers. We would smoke on the way to school on Monday morning.

    Further up the tracks was Dave Patrick’s. There was a cattle guard on the tracks by his little house. It wasn’t far to where the road crossed the tracks. It was closer to walk the tracks to where Byrd Stanaford lived and he had a little store. We could go down a small hill, cross his walking bridge without walking across the trestle, which was so scary. The train didn’t go to Bon every day but when we walked across the trestle we felt scared that the train might come and there was no place to go and it was too high to jump off. We didn’t walk the trestle much—usually on a dare. I had a few nightmares about the trestle; I would be trying to get across because the train was coming and I couldn’t move my legs. It was a terrible dream.

    Mr. Stanaford owned a lot of property at the foot of that small mountain. The school was located up on the hill above his house. If we walked that way in the morning and it was early, we would stop to see if Whitney, his daughter, was ready to go to school. Whitney was a good friend. Her hair was golden blonde and very curly. I always envied her hair when her Mother was combing and brushing it. Her mother’s name was Cassie. I believe that Cassie and Bessie Martin were sisters. She had three older brothers: Curtis, Otis, and Francis. Francis was still at home and attending school when I was. Eventually, he married Gladys Hinkle. Otis and his wife didn’t live in the area but visited once in a while. Curtis, his wife Lula Mae and daughters Louise and Bea, lived around the foot of the hill from his Dad’s, past M. G. Lovitt’s. I always thought the Stanaford’s were rich; they had a housekeeper (May West). They were very nice people and I loved going there.

    A small hollow with several paths coming from Bon led to the schoolhouse. The branch of water running out of the mountain was easy to step across except when we had a lot of rain. Then we had to walk down by the Lovitt’s where there were boards and rocks to step across. The first path at the start of the hollow came from the highest row of houses and greatest distance from the mines. Jim Johnson lived up there. I only knew his son Richard; we were fighting buddies. Most of the people who lived up there moved in and out. I just remember Bob Jones, who had three lovely daughters. Sarah, the youngest, is the only name I can remember. The second path came from the main row of houses there were on the road coming from behind the commissary. Aline Kirklin lived there with her mother Mabel and father Luther.

    Now we will go back to town (downtown Williamsburg), past J. B. Gatliff, Jr.’s colonial home, past the college, and many beautiful houses. J. B. Gatliff Sr.’s mansion was where Highway 25 (called the Dixie Highway) turned to go all the way to Florida, if you wanted to. Rocky Hollow Hill (currently South Tenth Street in Williamsburg) was just after this turn. It was always fun going down Rocky Hollow Hill but it was a little spooky too. Then there was a really sharp curve before getting to Jones’s house. My brother Red was riding with someone who had a convertible with some pumpkins for Halloween. They missed the curve and the car was turned over. They were not hurt and went to get help. Lizzy Alsip was walking by and saw the accident. A pumpkin was lying there and she thought it was my brother’s head because he had real red hair. She was hysterical.

    The main road continued straight on towards Bon Jellico. Dr. and Mrs. Stoncipher built a new home on the main road just west of Red Bird Road (the current North Eleventh Street in Williamsburg) and not far from the Gatliff’s. About a mile west on the main road (currently Main Street in Williamsburg) a road turns off to go to Beck’s Creek. On the left, Aunt Nan Creekmore lived in a very nice home with her son Bill. When she died, she left the house to her sister Emma Lovitt, and she took care of Bill for the rest of his life. Emma and her husband, Marsh, were wonderful people. They raised a big lovely family; there was Melt, Marie, Fred, Reba, Lawrence, Lewis Roy, Edgar, and Fay. My brother Mart married Reba; so I visited them a lot. Across the road from Aunt Nan’s, Martin’s lived up on a bluff. Bessie and her husband, Grant, had three children: Oscar, Hazel, and Howard. Hazel married Albert Bunch and they lived in Bon until it shut down. Up a little road was another big house higher up. When I was very small, Aunt Mandy Patrick, a sister to Susan Prewitt, lived there. Sarah Dean Anderson, her parents, and siblings lived there after Aunt Mandy died.

    Going up Beck’s Creek, I think Jim Chin lived on the left side of the road up on the bluff by Martins. I know Herman Click lived there. A road veered to the right and Uncle Jay Rose lived up there. A bit further was another house; I only knew Opal Smith and her brother (Raymond?). I don’t remember their parents. The kids went to Bon School. Up the road a piece, the Carns family had a big farm. Then on to Paul’s on the right and a road to the left was the Prewitt farm. Jim and Susie Prewitt had a nice big family; their children were Charles, Nell, Lawrence, Hobert, Clarence, Etress, Stella, Cylde, and Elmer. My sister Dessie married Clarence; so I spent some wonderful times there. They had a big log house. From there I didn’t know anyone, but I know when I spent the night and slept with Aunt Susie, I could hear the trucks shifting gears to climb the mountain road.

    Getting back to the main road, from Aunt Nan’s and the Martins, there was a small bridge crossing Briar Creek. A short distance further in a house just before where Dave Patrick lived, there was a man living there who had Jake leg and walked with two canes. The story goes that he got Jake leg from Mean Jake; I guess that was moonshine. Just before the railroad and road crossed, is where the Gus Fritts family built a nice home after the mines shut down. The road and railroad track ran side by side. From the crossing the house where Marsh Lovitt and his family lived could be seen on the left up a steep hill. (The Marsh Lovitt family later lived in Williamsburg near the college, just one street over from Main Street. I remember stopping to visit them going to or from town. When they lived there, Lawrence, Marsh’s son, was cleaning his gun and shot his hand off. He could still play basketball with one arm.)

    Just past the Marsh Lovitt house came the Byrd (Bird?) Stanaford store and it was just a short distance to the road leading to the Bon Jellico camp. Turning right off the main road and to the immediate right was the one room schoolhouse where the early Bon kids started their education. There was a road from the little school that went under the trestle to the Melt (M. G.) Lovitts, the Stanafords and the Big School House that was on the hill. The road crossed Briar Creek again and climbed Apple Tree Hill. Just after crossing the creek and across the tracks was Melt Lovitt’s house. It was down below the hill with a small branch running through the yard into Briar Creek. We used to cut through their yard to go to school and they never yelled at us. Later on in years, I have wondered if that annoyed them. The road and railroad were side by side but the railroad went through a deep cut and the road went up Apple Tree Hill. At the top of the hill was a large gate that went to the Hinkle house. Past the garden and a well with good water there was another fence around the house. Mae and Kay Hinkle had a great family. There was Mary and Martha (twins), Nanny, Gladys, Pearline, Johnny, and Eugene. We had great times together. After the mines shut down, we lived in the Hinkle house until we moved to Brummit. The Hinkles went to High Splint, Kentucky in Harlan County near Evarts. Further along the road at the bottom of a small hill was Dr. Stonecipher’s office. Then came the garages and down a slope were the big gates going into the company barn. We (the Jim Pemberton family) lived past the barn.

    The creek that ran back of our (Jim Pemberton) house was full of mine water, which was iron and lots of other minerals that filtered out of the waste that was dumped above the powerhouse. That was called the slate dump. Sometimes the combustion would cause it to start burning down below the surface. No one dared walk on the slate dump for fear of falling in. I remember someone lost their cow because it wandered onto the dump and fell in. But along the edge of the dump in the spring when a lot of families were searching for wild greens, we would find poke greens that were just coming up. At that stage it was like spears of asparagus. There were many kinds of wild greens, and our mothers knew them all. Once when we were up there picking greens, I saw a black snake. I was so scared of snakes, I started to run and then I realized I was chasing the snake. Also, I was too close to the edge of the dump. Mom made me stay along side of her the rest of the time we were there.

    Between the barn, pasture, and powerhouse there were several houses. I only knew the Kilby family well enough to call friends. I knew Carrie and Otis and always felt sad that they lost their father. There were several houses up the hollow past the powerhouse but I only remember the Stanfields, Joe Robinsson, and Browns. Grover Brown and Leona Brown; their family included Guy, Othella, and Buster, Grover, and Leona.

    Back to the crossing in the right side of the tracks: by the crossing was the Elliot Nunley family. Uncle Elliot had a lot of tall tales to tell and some of us kids would go sit on his porch and listen to his stories. He had a very nice flower garden. I know Susie Green was a Nunley and there was also John, Lula Mae (married a Mr. Halfacre) and Pauline. Bill and Susie Green lived nearby with their children Nola, Willie Belle, Bernetta, Nanny Mae, Dorothy, Carroll and Johnny. Nola was Betty Sue Schaff’s (Baumgardner) mom; Willie Belle had a daughter Ida Marie, who lived with Bill and Susie. The Woolum family lived above the Greens. To the left of the Nunley and Green houses up on the mountain were several miners’ homes; I only knew the Wallace family.

    Back to the crossing: there was a lane to the right of the Nunley’s that went to the Bunion F. Brown (Poppa) home and they were a very fine family. Mattie took care of Poppa and her younger siblings Paul, Bernice, Freda, and Nancy. I have fond memories of them. Mattie and Mrs. Stout were close neighbors in Bon and prior to Bon in East Tennessee; they were great friends.

    Across the path from the B. F. Brown’s was the home of James and Tennie Stout. Mrs. Stout was a hard working woman and a great mother to a large family: Tom, Dick, Harry, Monroe, Gibbs, Louise, Betty, Boots, and Willene. Beyond the Stout front gate along the road and path toward the schoolhouse was the Dewey Bunch family, the community pump at the commissary, and Dr. Stonecipher’s where the Gus Fritts family lived after Dr. Stonecipher moved to town. Next were Mrs. Thomas’s house and the Earl Lovitt house. Red and Grace Pemberton lived in the Lovitt house across the road from where the Tom Smith family lived. The Smith family moved to Savoy and the Ken Bishop family lived there. After they moved to town, the Stout’s lived there until the mines closed. Past that house were the West’s and Lewis Bunch. The Alsips, Curtis Stanafords, Laddermilks (Laudermilk?), and Melt Lovitts lived down the hollow.

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