Life on Mill Creek

by Robert Bryant

This is an excerpt from “Bryant, Sullivan, Gossett Family History” written by Robert Bryant.

Mill Creek and surrounding communities, such as Rock Valley on the east; Little Rock on the west; Wrigley, Lyle, and Bon Aqua to the North; Pinewood, Vernon, Nunnelly and Coble further west; and Little Lot, Hassel’s Creek and Lick Creek to the South and East, were bustling communities from the early 1900’s to the 1950’s. The Tennesse Products and Chemical Plant at Wrigley was the source of jobs for many of the men of the Mill Creek community, including my father. Most of the other families made their living by farming. The Little Rock Church of Christ, the Rocky Valley Church of Christ and the Wrigley Church of Christ were the prominent churches in the area; and there were also Elementary Schools located in each community. Some of the larger communities also had Junior Highs, which went thru the 10th grade. It seemed that life on Mill Creek always centered on church, family, work and school. In gathering information for this publication, I thought it fitting to include memories that family members have expressed about growing up on Mill Creek. Those memories were put together as part of a William Stephenson Sullivan family reunion in the early 1980’s at Montgomery Bell State Park in Dickson, TN; and were written by myself, my brother Deany, my Sisters Betty and Sue; and some of the brothers and sisters of my mother. Some of the detail may not be particulary interesting to many readers, but is included because it paints a clear picture of what it was like to grow up in a small rural community in the early to mid 1900’s. Following is the text of those memories as written:


(Robert was born in 1937, and with wife Sandra lives in Centerville, TN)

I was born the first son and third child of Clarence and Mary D. Sullivan Bryant on June 16, 1937 at Bluff Springs on Mill Creek. The day of my birth Mildred Temple Paris, daughter of Cliff and Stella Temple who lived just across the creek, and her husband Robert Paris came to visit. Mildred suggested to Mama and Daddy that they name me after her husband Robert and they did. My memories of growing up on Mill Creek are clear and it seems just like yesterday. Almost everything revolved around Church, Family, Work and School. During the week we worked and went to school; and on Sundays we went to church. During that period of my life World War II was fought and won, and the Yankees were winning baseball’s World Series. The first thing I remember hearing on the radio was a Yankee baseball game. Sometime in the 1940’s electricity and running water were installed in our house, allowing us to build an indoor bathroom. Betty finished high school in 1948 while Sue graduated in 1950. Deany was born in 1940 and started to school about 1946.

Thinking about those early years now, I don’t remember Mama or Daddy ever talking about the Depression and how it affected them. It must have been difficult, because all four of their children were born during that period of time. Betty (1931) and Sue (1932) were born in the early stages of it, while Deany (1940) and myself (1937) were born near the end of it. Perhaps I was too young to remember, but I can’t recall hearing anything said about it, even when I was older. Growing up on a place like Mill Creek in the 1940’s was a unique experience that kids raised in the city didn’t have. It taught me that you have to earn your way in life and nothing is given to you on a silver platter. And that’s the way it should be.


Daddy worked for Tennessee Products at Wrigley, and Mama worked at Southern Sportswear and later at Genesco in Centerville. We didn’t have much money , but were probably better off than many other families on the creek. They both worked hard and gave us all the things we really needed. Although we did a little farming, Daddy didn’t have much time to devote to it because of his other job. We raised a garden every year and had plenty of food from it. As teenagers, Deany and I often worked on Papa Sullivans and Uncle Bud Sullivan’s farms for $2.00 per day. We had a good team of mules to ride to the fields early in the morning, to the house at noon to eat, and back to the fields in the afternoon. The work included plowing, planting corn, picking corn and hauling hay. Picking corn was a hot job, very rough on the hands, and the person who got the “down row” was likely to have a stiff back as well. But from first hand experience I can tell you the hottest job had to be taking in hay. At that time some farmers were beginning to use hay bailers, but neither Papa Sullivan or Bud had one. We used pitchforks to throw the hay on the wagon, and from there it was taken to the barn to unload. A large “hay needle” was inserted into the hay to lift it up into the barn. At that point it was necessary for someone to be up in the loft to guide the hay into the back corner, and boy was it hot in that barn loft. My Aunt, Lois Sullivan Cude, has the old hay needle we used back then to lift the hay. At noon Mama Sullivan always had a good meal prepared for us. Most afternoons the weather was hot and humid, so after work Deany and I headed for the creek and the swimming hole. This served two purposes; cooling us off and at the same time giving us a good bath.

In addition to working for Papa Sullivan and Bud, our work at home included tilling the ground for the farming and the garden; weeding the garden, harvesting the crops, cutting wood, feeding the chickens and hogs, carrying water from the spring and so many other things I can’t even think of now. Bringing water up the big hill from the spring wasn’t any fun, but the water was nice and cool right out of the hill. Back in those days, most of us probably drank out of the same dipper, with no worries about spreading germs. This was particulary true when drinking at the spring itself, because most of the time there would only be one container to use. When we did get sick with a cold, flu, etc it was often “on with the Mustard Plaster”, or “down with the Castor Oil”. Anyone who hasn’t experienced those treatments, doesn’t know what he/she has missed. Hog killing time was around Thanksgiving each year. I can still see daddy carving up the meat into hams, shoulders, ribs, etc., salting them down and getting them ready for the smoke house. Around July 4th every year was blackberry picking time, and there was always a good crop of them on our property. It was so hot that time of the year we usually left very early in the morning and got our buckets full before it got too hot. Of course chiggers, ticks and snakes had to be dealt with, but we managed to survive them. The work really seemed hard back then, but now I realize it wasn’t too bad. One of the benefits that came from it was good physical conditioning in my younger years.


Three of the earliest known schoolteachers on Mill Creek, long before my time, were Moses Thornton, George Ingram and Wesley Irwin. This was in the early 1800’s when the county was in the early stages of settlement. In all my research I haven’t seen anything that gives an indication of where the schools during that period were located, but I have a feeling they were in the same general vicinity as in my school days.

In 1943, I entered school at Little Rock in a small block building that had just been built. It could be made into two sections by closing curtains across the middle of the room. The school was located about a half mile down Mill Creek southwest of our home and sat next to the Little Rock Church of Christ. Betty and Sue finished the eighth grade there, while Deany and I attended there a few years before transferring to Wrigley. During the winter the school was heated by coal, but there was no air conditioning during hot months. One of the teachers in the 1940’s was Geneva McCoy Sullivan, the wife of uncle Emery “Bud” Sullivan. She was very strict, and when we did something wrong she punished us by paddling the palm of our hand with a ruler. Other teachers I can recall were Mildred Casey, Zelma Pennington, and Mrs McGahey. Betty told me that when she was in school, Alene Beasley Houston was a teacher there. And Aunt Ruth Sullivan Morton told me recently that Jewell Beasley, Alene’s sister, also taught there at one time and boarded in the Sullivan home. Ruth said Jewell helped her deliver milk to Wrigley.

Each year at Christmas someone cut a large cedar tree for the classroom. We didn’t exchange many gifts, but there usually was a good supply of apples and oranges; and it was a time we all looked forward to. Another annual school event was a picnic held somewhere in the community off school property, at which hot dog and marshmallows were roasted over an open fire. I can also remember cake walks being held there. Between the school building and the Little Rock Church of Christ Building was an outhouse used by the students. The thing I remember most about it was getting hurt while playing inside it. One of the boys daring feats was jumping from one of the seats and grabbing a rafter running across the top of the building. More than once I missed the rafter and hit the floor on my back. Playing marbles was a lot of fun, but baseball was my favorite. Seems like nearly everyone enjoyed the game and most kids, boys and girls alike, participated. The field was in front of the school building and was rough, with big rocks used for bases. The outfield was next to the church building, and many balls were banged off the front of it during our games. To get to school, we walked about half of a mile down Mill Creek, crossing it a couple of times along the way. It wasn’t unusual for the creek to dry up in the summer and freeze solid in the winter. Some of my fondest memories are of skating on the frozen water on the way to school. During the summer, movies were shown almost every week at the school and consisted mostly of westerns with stars such as Lone Ranger, Sunset Carson, Hopalong Cassidy and Lash Larue. During the 1940’s a large passenger plane crashed on a hillside a couple of miles down the creek from the school, killing all the people on board. The students at Little Rock Elementary were allowed to go down and view the wreckage from a distance. We didn’t know much about airplanes then and didn’t quite know what to make of the tragedy. The Dude Gordon family lived about a half mile up Mill Creek next to Highway 100 in the house where George Litton had priviously lived. The Gordon children, Thurman, Martha, Jean and Norman were about the same age as Deany and I, and we spent a lot of time playing with them, since they were the closest family with children our age. During our early years, Buford “Humpy” Litton and Emma Jane Temple Litton lived between our home and the Gordons. They had a son Paul and a daughter Devetta. Emma Jane was the daughter of Charlie Temple and Susie Gossett Temple.

In 1951 there was a huge ice storm that lasted several weeks and closed all the schools. Trees and power lines were down everywhere from the weight of ice, and the community was practically paralyzed. In 1977 snow and ice covered the ground during January; and school was out the entire month. The temperature never got above freezing for several weeks. There was another bad ice storm during the mid-1990’s that shut down just about everything for two or three weeks. Many residents in the East Hickman Community were without power for several weeks. The damage was greater than the 1951 storm because there were more power lines to fall and more people depended on electricity as their source of energy.

Kids I went to school with and played with on Mill Creek

Thurman Gordon – Son of Dude and Johnnie Lee Gordon

Martha Gordon – Daughter of Dude and Johnnie Lee Gordon

Jean Gordon – Daughter of Dude and Johnnie Lee Gordon

Norman Gordon – Son of Dude and Johnnie Lee Gordon

Hubert McGahey – Son of Mort and Bessie McGahey

Paul Victory – Son of Claggett Victory

Hillard Tidwell

Roy Stone – Son of Sam Stone

Ray Edward Dotson – Son of George Dotson

J. W. Dotson – Son of George Dotson

Arnold Johnson – Son of Alene Johnson

Mary Lou Johnson – Daughter of Alene Johnson

Kenneth Williams – Son of Clarence Williams

Velma Victory – Daughter of Ellis “Bad Eye” Victory

Opal Victory – Daughter of Ellis “Bad Eye” Victory

Paul Staggs – Son of Lummy Staggs

Ralph Givens – Son of Lon Givens

Herbert Hooper – Son of Spike and Reppie Lankford Hooper

Earl Hooper – Son of Spike and Reppie Lankford Hooper

Froggy Hooper – Son of Spike and Reppie Lankford Hooper

Kids I went to school with in Wrigley

Preston Bradley – Son of Joe Bradley

Hugh Bradley – Son of Joe Bradley

Don Luckett – Son of Primm Luckett

Bobby Bass – Son of J. D. and Oma Moss Bass

Harold Choate _ Son of Vernie and Lula Skelton Choate

Pud Bentley – Son of C. W. and Mildred Ferguson Bentley

James “Hootie” Bentley – Son of C. W. and Mildred Ferguson Bentley

Paul Booker – Son of Opama Bell Booker

Charles Jackson – Son of Herschel and Gracey Bryant Jackson

Billy Vaughn – Son of Grover and Nola Vaughn

Paul Vaughn – Son of Grover and Nola Vaughn

Junior Vaughn – Son of Grover and Nola Vaughn

Ray Estes – Son of Rusty Estes

Curtis Thornton

Nadine Thornton

Wayne Epps – Son of Willie Epps

Delman Ray Gray

Geraldine Griffin – Daughter of Hubert “Pop Eye” Griffin

Marjorie Griffin – Daughter of Hubert “Pop Eye” Griffin

Nina Jo Bentley

Jack Bentley

Marie Martin – Daughter of Jim Martin

Patty Martin – Daughter of Frank Martin

Patsy Bass – Daughter of J. D. and Oma Moss Bass

Christine Hudspeth – Daughter of L. C. Hudspeth

Don England – Son of Hubert “Pug” and Georgia Bryant England

Norman England – Son of Hubert “Pug” and Georgia Bryant England

Johnny Greer – Son of John Greer

Dutch Dile – Son of Fred Dile

Ralph Bass – Son of Chester Bass

Martha Bass – Son of Chester Bass

Charles Thompson – Son of William Thompson

Teachers at Wrigley included: Jesse Wright, Principal, Mr. G. O. Milam (Principal following Jesse Wright), Mrs G. O. Milam, Mrs J. J. Weatherspoon, and Claudie Luther, wife of Bryan Luther. When I was in school at Wrigley, basketball was played on an outside dirt court. A Gym was built a few years later, but both it and the old school have since been demolished. The school was located on a hill just southwest of where the methodist community cemetery now stands and Northeast of the Wrigley Church of Christ. The Louis P. Thompson’s grocery store was beside the road just east of the cemetery. Next to the grocery Louis’s son William Thompson operated a barbershop. The Wrigley commisary was located on the hill just above the Tennessee Products Plant, and just across the road from the Bon Air Hotel. Buster Bentley operated another grocery store at the top of the Wrigley hill leading down to Highway 100. Lacy Lyell ran a grocery on Hwy 100 where the northern end of Wrigley Road intersects the highway. The Wrigley Church of Christ stood high on a hill just across a hollow from Bentley’s grocery. The Ball Park, which still stands, was built in the 1940’s right in the middle of Wrigley on top of a cinder pile from the plant. This is the land that my great grandfather, Rueben Bryant, farmed during the latter part of the 1800’s. South of the Wrigley Plant going toward Little Rock, was a bottom land area thru which the black, polluted water from the plant flowed. This area was known affectionately as “Black Bottom”. Some Diles families and the Lummy Staggs family lived in this area.

Hickman County High School

During my high school days, the school was located on a hill overlooking Duck River, a couple of blocks off the town square, next to the old Fairview Acadamy. About 1955 a new gymnasium was built on the site, replacing the small one that had been there for many years. In 1976, when I was chairman of the School Board, a new high school facility including a gymnasium and football stadium was constructed about 3 or 4 miles north of town and a quarter mile or so East of Highway 100. A new baseball field was added a few years later. When Sue and Betty attemded school a Mr. Edwards was the Principal. By the time I arrived, he had been replaced by Mr. Wilton Roberts. Some of my classmates there were Britt James, Jean Bryant, Becky Jones, Carolyn Stephenson, Sarah Walker, Martha Huddleston, Margaret Mitchell, (daughter of former sheriff Guill Mitchell), Ruth Gossett, Billy Bowen, Phillip Daugherty, Barbara Aydelott, Eleanor Aydelott, Jimmy Harber, Peggy Brown, Joy Coleman, Helen Parham, Charles Thompson and many others. Teachers included Marc Nickells, Sarah Jones Tiller, Mrs Pearl Field, Mrs Cora Moore, Mrs Emma Nicks, Mr. T. J. Rogers, Mr. Brown Breece, Mr R. E. Bruner, Mr Cecil (Coach), Mrs Grady Carouthers and Farris Harmon.

All of the high school kids from Wrigley gathered each morning in the Commissary to wait for the school bus, driven by Mr. Wes Primn, to pick them up for the daily trip to Centerville. Back in those days the bus route didn’t include every little side road. Lots of kids had to walk a considerable distance to catch the bus. I walked from our home up Mill Creek Road to Highway 100 every morning and back every afternoon. Many times I would walk all the way on up to the Wrigley Commissary and to wait for the bus with all the Wrigley kids. It picked us up between 7:00 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. in the morning, and brought us home about 3:30 p.m. in the afternoon.

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