Published on September 28, 2021

My sweet memories of growing up by Tennessee Colony

By Roy Edwards
The Bulletin

My childhood adventures mostly took place at Grandpa Ruffo’s farm about four miles SE of Tennessee Colony in Anderson County, Texas.

Tennessee Colony is about 12 miles NW of Palestine, at the intersection of County Roads 645, 321, and 324. The Colony’s population today, listed in the Roads of Texas Atlas, is 27.

The story of its origin, I was told, was that two Edwards brothers who survived “The War of Northern aggression,” but whose plantations and fields had been burned to the ground and with an unstable political future, decided to move west.

Together with friends and relatives, they formed a wagon train and left their homes behind. The train, however, split in mid-transit. One brother and followers stopped and founded Tennessee Colony, Mississippi. The balance of the train founded Tennessee Colony, Texas.

The Colony is a central location to several small farming communities as well as the cities of Palestine and Athens.

The crossroads became a stopping point for wagons moving goods throughout the area. Soon, there were two general merchandise country stores, multiple cotton gins, a couple of sawmills, stables, a wagon repair shop and several other cottage industries.

A large, well-kept cemetery, dating back to the 1860s, was created just northwest of the Colony. A lot of folks who moved away wanted to return to rest at the end of their lives with their ancestors, relatives, and friends.

The main attraction of the Colony was the swap and barter area in a large empty field near the crossroads. Farmers from up to 30 miles away brought their excess livestock and/or produce there to swap for the things they didn’t produce themselves.

By the 1880s, the Colony was thriving. Unfortunately, better roads, automobiles, trucks and rail traffic made the Colony less and less valuable. By the 1930s, it had become just another wide spot on an East Texas County Road.

My memories of the Colony were from the mid 1940s - 1950s. During that time, the Colony consisted of three dozen houses within two miles of the crossroads, a general store, a four-room school that doubled as a meeting hall, a two-story Masonic Lodge and a church.

The store was a magical place for a kid. There was a selection of tools, fishing tackle, fish bait, big jars of loose candy of every flavor and color, guns, ammo, a full meat counter with a band saw and a slicer, big wheels of cheese, comic books, magazines, canned goods, fresh eggs, livestock feed, 50-pound sacks of sugar, flour and cornmeal, pickles and crackers in wooden barrels. There were two gas pumps out front. All this was packed into an area no larger than a modern medium-sized convenience store.

The church was also different. On the first and third Sunday of each month, services were held by a hellfire and brimstone hard-shelled Baptist preacher. The second Sunday was led by a mellow Methodist Minister. The fourth Sunday was reserved for the pomp and ceremony of a Catholic priest. Most people in the area attended all the services, all month long.

A much-anticipated quarterly fifth Sunday was what everyone (especially the kids) waited for. There would be gospel singing, political speech making, games and other fun things. The big draw, however, was the “potluck dinner on the grounds.”

Every farm wife who came brought her signature dish. The food table was about 40 feet long and was filled with southern comfort food. Adults always went through the line first because when the kids were turned loose, it looked like Moses calling down a plague of locusts upon Egypt.

Before we left the farm, Grandpa Ruffo called all the grandkids together for a short speech that we heard enough times to ingrain it in our memories.

“On your second or following trips through the food line, if you see a dish which has not been disturbed, stop and put two spoons of whatever is there, on your plate,” he said. “You don’t have to eat it, but there is nothing more embarrassing to the woman who made that dish than to have no one sample it.”

Another event was the “tall tales” contest by the farmers in attendance. I wish I had recorded those whoppers. They would have made a great book.

Once I asked Grandpa Ruffo if those stories were lies.

He replied, “Son, this is Sunday, and we are on the grounds of the church. No one can tell a lie on Sunday on church property, unless he’s a preacher.”

(Write Roy in care of The Bulletin. Email: john.bulletin@gmail.com. Snail mail: The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton TX, 77516.)