“Miss Avva” takes us back to old Summerville
( This article was originally in the Summer 1994 quarterly . It is the reminisces of the then 91 year old “Miss Ava” about her early years in Summerville. It was was written as told to her friend Mrs. Bernice Johnson Crane in August 1994. )
I am Avva Wheeler Wells , was born June 20, 1903, and am the daughter of Arthur and Margaret L. Weathers Wheeler. I am going to talk about places and people of long ago and show some pictures that I hope everyone will enjoy. I have attempted to draw a map of Summerville at the turn of the century. It is so different from today, the 23rd day of August 1994.
When I was seven years old my grandparents, Thomas King and Phydella Rush Weathers moved from Sprite, Georgia, to my father’s farm on Lyerly Highway. Two years late they moved to Summerville. There were no houses for sale and only one to rent. It was one block south of the First Baptist Church and was known as the “old high house.” When you stood in the street on the west side of the church and looked south the house looked like it stood in the middle of the street.
Across the street from the high house on the right was a large yellow house where the Wilbanks lived. Mr. and Mrs. Wilbanks had several girls and one son Myers. Mr. Wilbanks was known as the “Watkins Man” ( sold Watkins products). Myers was nine years old when he saw me walking around in the yard at the old high house. When his father came home, he asked ” Dad, what can I do to earn a quarter?” ” Son, what do you want a quarter for?’ Myers answered, ‘I want to buy that pretty little girl at the high house a box of candy.” Mr. Wilbanks reached in his pocket for a quarter, handed it to Myers and told him he could clean the yard. A few limbs had fallen from the huge oak tree that stood in the yard near Martin Street. Myers went to town where he had seen this box of candy. He purchased it and came straight to the high house. My Aunt Alice met him at the door and handed her the candy saying, ” This is for the pretty little girl I saw in the yard.” My aunt thanked him. I had gone way out back to the barn where the two ducks were. Aunt Alice began teasing me when she gave me the candy. The next day I saw Myers in their yard. I went out in the yard and called him over and thanked him. I found out his name and told hime mine. The box of candy was about 6 1/2 inches square. It contained four pieces of candy. The middle was yellow with lemon taste, one pink that was strawberry, one was coconut and the other piece had a nut; all around around them were chocolate covered peanuts. The top had a picture of an old fashioned girl. She was beautiful. I kept the box for many years. Once when I returned from Florida, my box of keepsakes was gone.
One block north across from the Baptist Church , a house suddenly was available. Granddaddy bought it and moved in. Aunt Alice had graduated from Agnes Scott College in Decatur, Georgia. She was going to each at Pennville School, north of Summerville on the road to Trion. Grandaddy had been lucky, both houses had a barn where he could keep his white horse, “Ole John.” Aunt Alice drove back and forth to school in a buggy.
My parents decided it was time for me to to go to school. I had been taught at home. Aunt Alice asked her friend, Miss Grace King, to give me a test. Miss Grace said she would like me to be in her fifth grade class. So in the fall of 1913 I started school, spending school days with my grandparents and back to the farm on weekends.
Miss Grace had us draw maps real often. It was something I really like to do. My first one I painted with watercolors. Miss Grace hug it on the wall. In a few days she asked for another map. Later in the afternoon Grandmother asked me to run down to Grandpa Johnsons and get a loaf of bread. Myers mother had the same idea and I met him coming back. He asked me to draw his map. He had already sweetened me with candy, so how could I refuse? Then several others found out and asked me to do theirs. They were friends and I fixed the maps. Miss Grace asked them why their maps looked similar to mine. They all admitted that I had made their maps. She said something i’ll never forget and it came in so well when I taught school. She told them they must walk on their own two feet. They could not take me with them to do their work through life and to do their own work. I had asked Myers to color his with crayons. She told him he was improving. He turned and looked at me and grinned. Later I overheard her tell Aunt Alice about it and she said “that Wilbanks boy is so honest.”
We were going to have a county fair in the courthouse in October. Our fifth grade had the front room on the right. Miss Grace asked me to draw a product map of Georgia, so Aunt Alice bought me a white linen window shade to put it on. I made it about three feet tall. I drew different products all over it and painted it with my water colors. A few I cut from magazine and pasted on. Time was getting near “Fair Days”. Governor John M. Slayton had been invited to make a speech at one o’clock in the courthouse. He toured the rooms. Miss Grace was showing him the fifth grade display when he came to my map. He said, “I want this map.” She said, “Well Governor you may have it .” She was thrilled. She met some of my classmates outside the room and told them to find me for her. I was soon there. She said, “Avva, the governor is going to make a speech and I want you there. He wants your map and I gave it to him.” I went back to Grandmother’s, ran all the way, and told her and Aunt Alice I had to be there.
It was a beautiful fall day- the sun was so bright. I was bathed and dressed in a dress I did not like. In a few minutes I was sitting on the front seat. When he finished his speech he asked, “Would the little girl who drew the product map come forward?” I got up and went onto the stage that was fixed for him. He glared down at me and I felt so uncomfortable. I had on this “ole dress” I did not like and I was very small for my age. Suddenly he smiled and sat down. He sat me on his knee. I had been told to put on a big smile and I tried. He leaned down and kissed me and bragged on my map. I relaxed and told him I had enjoyed drawing maps of different countries for my teacher. He said ” You must like her..” I said, ” Oh, yes she’s real nice.” Then he took my hand and placed a five dollar bill in it. I told him thank you and hugged his neck,. The crowd started clapping. He took the map to Atlanta and hung it in his office.
Then a strange thing happened. In 1920, after Christmas Grandmother had the flu and then pneumonia. Mother and Daddy moved Grandmother and Grandaddy down to the farm on Lyerly Road. Alice had married Rev. B.G. Smith and moved to Florida. It was a sunshiny day. I went to the mailbox for the mail and sat down on the porch to look at something when a Ford car came down the road and got stuck. Roads were all dirt roads in the county then and many had chert put on them. There were ruts the wheels traveled in. Granddaddy heard the noise the car was making so he went down and told them he would get his horse and pull them out. He went to the fence and and called ” Ole John” and pulled the car out. The man and woman began to tell him there were from someplace up north and were touring the south. They told him they went by the capitol and saw a product map made by a Chattooga girl and that was why they were here. Grandaddy was smiling very broadly. He did not say anything to them but turned and called me down to the road. When I got to him he asked me if I knew Governor Slayton. I said, “Of course Grandaddy, don’t you remember he bought my product map when I was ten yours old.” He was still grinning and told me these people saw it in his office. They were on their way to Gadsden, Alabama. The man took out his wallet to pay grandaddy who told him there was not charge. The man was insistent and put a dollar in his pocket. Back then people would work all day for fifty cents.
In the fifth and sixth grades the schoolhouse was on the north side of town later known as Taylor Institute, later A.C. Carter and North Summerville Elementary School. When I left my grandparents home to go to school I would cross the street, go down in front of the First Baptist Church where there is now a street, then only a ditch and alley way. On the south side was a very small two stable barn with double doors opening on the the street. One p.m. when I was going down that street a boy’s hand reached out and tried to grab me. I saw who he was and I ran real fast. After that I went down the middle of the road or across the street!
Some mornings when I went to school in front of the barber shop would be drummers sitting up high and places in front of them to put their feet. Smith McCutheons was short. He had a brother, tall with long legs called “Pick.” Smith was called “Smitty.” He had gotten a polishing cloth and some paste shoe polish. He would give these drummers a shoe shine. Drummers were men who came to town on the train to sell something to the stores. They would spend the night at the Mattox House or Hale Hotel. When Smitty finished shining the drummers shoes they would get Smitty to dance. He was so cute dancing and he really did a good job. The drummers would throw pennies on the walk , and while dancing he would pick them up. I would stand and watch. When there was no more money to pick up he would stop, go to the next drummer , start fixing his shoes and whistling a tune as his rag went across the tow of the man’s shoe. I would go on to school.
When I was in the seventh grade we were moved into the new school,1915. Miss Kathryn Henry was our teacher. The two story school still stands. I graduated on the stage in the auditorium in 1920. There were 5 of us.
When I was very young until 10 years old, I was in my glory when daddy and I went to town. We traveled up the Lyerly Highway until we reached where the high school is now and the road began to go through south Summerville, the mill village. The first house on the left was the Kellett house. We travelled past many houses, no stores, When we passed the Moyers Tan yard on the right above the alley trail we found Mr. Moyers pretty home.
Next was the J.W. Pitts house and next his store. His daughter Miss Annie taught music. We would turn right on alley street which is now East Georgia Avenue. There was a large hackberry tree, then hitching posts with iron rings pushed through holes in the posts. I cant remember how many but there were five or six posts. The posts were put very deep in the ground and tamped very firmly to keep some horse or mule from pulling them up when hitched.
We walked up the street. The building on the corner I think was empty. Next was a wire fence with a wooden gate. Sitting way back was the Maxey house–the children there were C.W. (Jumbo) Frank, Bessie and Faye. Every time we would go up the street we would find Mrs. Maxey standing inside the gate leaning on it. Her arms would be crossed on the plank near the top. She would always say, “Arthur, stop and talk a spell.” Daddy would tip his hat and say “Good morning.” It was always morning when we went to town. She was always sweet and friendly and nice to me. Daddy left as soon as he could without being rude. – he would never be unkind to anyone. Next house I can remember was the Myers house-kin of Graves Myers Jr. Wire fences with gates in the center were in front of every house. Next was Colonel Wesley Shropshire’s office. As we went up the street after I made the product map, I heard him calling “Arthur,Arthur”. So I told daddy Mr. Shropshire wanted him. We turned and went back to meet him. He put his hand on my shoulder and said ,”Young lady, this is Cuz Wes and you say Cuz Beulah and Cuz Hattie.” I smiled and told him okay but I was embarrassed. He had in his hand a huge roll of clippings that Governor Slayton had sent to him as they were friends The clippings were what many newspapers had said about my map. I would still have them but they disappeared in my box of keepsakes I mentioned earlier. Cuz Wes’ office door was right on the edge of the street. When I looked in as we passed all I could see was books. The north wall of his office was very close to or the same wall as the next large building, Hiles and Martin Store. Their door was at the north end of the store building right next to the street. I enjoyed going in there so much! I would slide my hand down the edge of the wood counter. It was very slick and daddy had taught me the beauty of wood. On one end of the counter was a large roll of wrapping paper on an iron stand and a piece that came all the way across. Mr. Martin and Mr. Hiles would pull the paper out then life a wee bit and cut it across the iron bar very smoothly. Then he would reach over and pull a thread from a very large ball of twine that was placed in an iron frame and across an iron bar that was sharp and would cut the thread. He would tie the thread around the package he had rolled up. As I grew larger, I did not watch the paper rolling and tying. I would take off to the back where Miss Lois McWhorter made and decorated hats. She always seemed so glad to see me–made me feel so good. I enjoyed watching her very much and learned how to make my doll hats and years later my own hats. I have some I made a few years back.
Next, sitting way back, fences in front ,were two houses. General Cochran’s house, His wife was a Hancock before they married. Their children were Ruth and Hill. Next was Mr. Brownfield’s He was such a nice man. I can’t remember his wife or family. He always seems so glad to see Daddy and was always so nice to me. Once when we met, he told Daddy about a trip a trip he had just returned from. It had something to do with wheat. He pulled an ornament out of his pocket and said,” Here, Avva, I brought you this.” It was a bunch of wheat, tied in the middle –tin painted gold. I still have it.
Next was Cleghorn’s store. It was a large store on the corner. We went into the front door and before my legs got too long, Mr Cleghorn (who I called Grandpa Cleghorn) would pick me up and carry me around the store. When I was five and beginning to make doll dresses. I saw a piece of calico that was yellow with tiny red flowers. I pointed to it and told him I wanted a piece for my doll. I showed him on my arm how long it was , so he cut off a piece for me. I handed him a nickel that was tied in the corner of my handkerchief. He took and we both said thank you. I was so proud to have a piece all my own. I
had been given unwanted scraps. When we started to leave Daddy found out I had bought cloth. Daddy offered to pay for it. Grandpa Cleghorn smiled real big and said,”Avva paid me.” I said “yes, Daddy I gave him my nickel.” Daddy took out some change to give him more but he would not take it. Up on the counter at the front of the store was a cabinet with several sides. it was pretty wood and had drawers. It contained thread. I always wanted it. I can’t remember where I was or how old when the store closed. On the left and back end of the store were groceries. Grandpa Cleghorn’s sons, John Jr. and Cicero, were always over int he grocery department. (Grandpa Cleghorn is the second one on the right standing in the Old Soldiers Reunion photograph below)
Behind the store was the Back of Commerce. Mr. N.K. Bitting was president of it. I remembered hearing Jim Adams who farmed for Daddy tell something about people going to the bank and borrowing money. I had seen a Kodak over and Arrington Drugs (editor note., Arrington became Summerville Drug in 1909 and managed by J.R.Jackson) ( corner Washington and Commerce). Several weeks passed, when one afternoon I was coming from school and had reached the Hollis a Hinton Grocery Department in the back of the store. I looked across the street and saw Mr. Bitting standing outside the door. Suddenly I count not stand it any longer. I really wanted the Kodak badly. I walked over and said,”Mr. Bitting, I want to borrow $5.00.” He asked what for. I told him about the Kodak. Mother and Daddy gave me money every week to buy pencils and tablets and candy. ” I’ll pay you all I can every Monday.” He reached in pocket and pulled out $5.00. I was so happy .
I marched right over to the drug store and handed Mr. Jackson the five dollar bill and said, “Mr. Jim, I’ve come for that Kodak Ive been looking at.” He reached on the shelf and got it and put a roll of film in it. I told him I was going to pay Mr. Bitting every Monday all I could. He had asked me where I got the money. He was standing in the door and saw me cross the street. It was a long time before I knew he had give me the film to go in it.. Every Monday I went by the bank and paid Mr Bitting. I had a piece of paper and wrote on every week how much I paid. I wrote it in front of Mr. Bitting. Sometime, I paid only 25 cents and sometimes 35 and one time 50 cents. He didn’t get an interest. It was a couple of year before I studied about interest. Mr. Bitting was such a nice man.
We crossed the greet from Cleghorn’s store to Hollis and Hinton’s large two story store. There was one house between Mr. Dick Hinton’s and Grandmother’s. Their children were W.E. and Dixie. We were friends. I remember Mother taking me in the store to get new shoes. Mother kept talking about my big feet. All of a sudden, Mr. Hinton looked at Mother and said rather sternly,” It takes a big foot to hold up a big brain.” Mother didn’t say another word. Mr. Hinton asked me how the shoe felt. He measured and cautioned me about having plenty of length, not to let my toe touch the end. In the back was the grocery store. The side door opened on East Washington. On the north side was a millinery shop. I remember going in to hunt Foy Barry, the sales lady and found a woman who worked there picking up feathers and ribbons and ornaments. Some customer’s little boy had really played havoc with the hats. He had pulled the feathers from every felt and velvet hat in the department. I got a needle and thread and helped sew them back on.
Next was the Summerville News office. Mr. Espy ran and owned it. As soon as David was large enough he helped. David married Lucille Gamble. The newspaper is run by the Espy family to this day. Tom Brown dental office was next and next to his office was Ira Henderson Jewelry and Watch Repair Shop. His office was always filled with clocks to repair. Mr.Henderson’s family lived behind the Presbyterian Church on West Washington.
The telephone company sat back off the street with two large magnolia trees in the front. All the other buildings were on the edge of the street. Mrs. Vashti Lowe was the telephone operator. She was Colonel Clovis Rivers’ sister. Her son was Rivers Lowe. I used to run in and visit her. Next was Dr. Selman’s office, another dentist. Dr. Jack Bryant’s big house was on the corner. He was single. His two sisters, Miss Allie Bryant and Mrs. Anna Bolling and her daughter Naomi lived with him. Naomi was one of my best friends. Out mothers sat together at the First Baptist Church when we were babies. Naomi married Mid Allen. First National Banks stands where Dr. Bryants house was.
First Street was on the north of the house going east and west. The land went down and Cleghorn’s beautiful spring flowed across the road. When animals crossed the branch they would always stop to drink. On the other side was a small hill. It is hard to believe it is so changed. I remember when I was about 18, Sam Pollock took me to Trion to a picture show to see “Rip Van Winkle.” When we came out we found the ground wet. Sam was driving a Ford. He owned the Ford place on West Washington street, formerly the livery stable. He ran into the Cleghorn branch before he realized it was up. He had bought me a box of candy. We ate a piece before going into the show. I put the box on the floor in the back. When the water cam into the car, I reached by the side of the front seat and saved the candy! Sam pushed the gas pedal hard and up the hill we went in a hurry. We were both scared for the car had begun to wash down the branch. We were lucky Sam was an extra nice person and and good driver.
Across the street from Dr. Bryant’s was a small building. Someone started a bottling company. My grandfather was given a small pencil sharpener that was shaped like a Coca-Cola bottle. He gave it to me when I was ten or eleven. I still have it. I have drawn a map showing the businesses on Commerce Street as I remember them. Coming down Commerce street, and auto store was next, then the Post Office, Next was J.H. Shumate’s store, the picture show, next Espy and Allen Hardware. Mr. Espy had a son, Duke, and Mrs. Gordon Allen had a son, Gordon. From Arrington Drugs ( JacksonDrug )we cross West Washington to the courthouse.
At the Court House, Uncle John Rush was Clerk of the Court and my Grandfather Weathers was custodian. He kept the clock wound and he let me go with him several times to wind it. The ladders were very straight up and the rungs not as close as they should have been. I never fell and neither did Grandaddy. He was 75 or 76 then. He died in Dade City, Florida at almost 100 years old. Next was Garrett’s Grocery Store where McGinnis drug Store is today. Charles and Walter Garrett owned it and worked there. Walter was a friend of my Aunt Alice Weathers. I cannot remember what was in the next building but the next was a market owned by Mr. Pless. He hired a Mr. Bush to work there. Mr. Bush and family were Germans and could not speak much English.
Murphy Jewelry Store was next, their daughter Cleo worked there some. The Barber shop where the drummers got their shoes shined was next, the Shoe Shop was next. The Humphries house was next. ( Their daughter was Corrie Maye) The house was later moved behind Victor Wheelers Dime and Grocery Store on the corner of Commerce and Georgia Ave. On the east side is the alley where the hitching posts mentioned earlier were located. Grandpa Johnson’s Bread store where he baked the bread was on the corner. He was Mrs. Virginia Barkley’s great grandfather. The next house I don’t remember who lived there. Next was Dr. Fred Hall’s house and the next house on the corner of Commerce and Martin was Mr. Wilson’s house ( he had a daughter Eleanor). Mr. Martin’s house is on the other corner. He was part owner of Hiles and Martin and his daughter was Miss Essie.
I have shared with you my childhood coming to Summerville to go to school, living with my grandparents during the week, going home to the farm on weekends and all the friends that touched my life on Commerce and Union Streets. All the streets were chert throughout the city. I want to honor the teachers who touched my life during those school years; Miss Grace King, Miss Susie Blalock, Miss Kathryn Henry, Miss Minnie Henry and Dr. Wyatt Ransom.