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West Robbins Community History

photo: Myrtle Faye, Joan Elaine, Donald Ray and Daniel Wayne
"Gibson children", West Robbins, 1950's

Dan Gibson, author
Copyright 2002

I am attempting to write some of the history of the West Robbins community in Scott County, Tennessee. West Robbins is where I grew up in the 1950's and 60's and I have many fond memories of the general area. I don't have any documented facts about the community. I only have my memories and stories of my older family members and other families of West Robbins. I have been an active genealogist for several years. I know if our past is not recorded in some way many of it will be lost and forgotten in one or two generations. This is my small attempt to keep the history of one community and its people alive for future generations. How many of us have said, "I wished I had paid more attention when my grandparents were telling the story about ????."
Mr. Ferrell H. Elliott was an old man that lived next door to my family when I was a child in the 1950's and 60's. I remember him well. He was a tall man and always carried a walking cane. He had a handle bar mustache. His hair was grey with a few brown hairs sprinkled here and there. Ferrell was born July 11, 1877 in Scott County, TN. and died Dec. 20, 1964 in Scott County, TN. He was married Sept. 24, 1896 in Scott County, TN. to Tennessee M. "Tennie" Smith. They had no children. Tennie was born June 19, 1880 in Scott County, TN. and died Feb. 14, 1952 in Scott County, TN. They are buried at the Black Creek-Cross Roads Cemetery in Scott County, TN. Ferrell's parents were James Madison Elliott and Sarah Ellis. We are related to Mr. Elliott through my mother's side with the connection to the Ellis family. James Madison Elliott may have come from Scotland. (source: L.D.S. site)
I have heard Mr. Elliott and others say the first family to settle in what is now known as West Robbins was the "Ott" family. All the information on the Ott family is based on the stories I have heard from Mr. Elliott and the older members of the West Robbins community. I don't have much information on this family. It was said they were of German descent and owned much land. Mr. Ott built his family a fine home and it was in a style different than most homes of the area. I don't have any confirm data but I feel the Ott family had settled this area in the late 1800's. Apparently Mr. Ott decided to create a community. He began selling small parcels of land to families wanting to settle there. He also donated land for the West Robbins Missionary Baptist Church and the West Robbins School to be built.
These are some of the surnames of families that have deep roots in the community and called West Robbins home. Some of the names were told to me by older people of the community. The families were Ott, Elliott, Newport, Willoughby, Bowling, Foster, York, Moore, Lowe, Lawson, Smithers, Whalen, Jones, Hamby, Norris, Lewallen, Wright, Ellis, Morris, Griffith, Calhoun, Davis, Partin, Sexton and Gibson. Many of these surnames can be found in West Robbins today with two and three generations of the same family still calling the West Robbins community home.
West Robbins is situated on top of the Cumberland Plateau. A lady has told me while doing a study of West Robbins the reason they named the community West Robbins is because of Robbins. West Robbins lies west of the Robbins community and thus got its name. Every road leading out of the community descends to a lower elevation. I have heard many of the older people say where they thought the boundaries of the community were in the 1950's. There were no signs announcing you were entering West Robbins. Most people knew you were in the West Robbins community at the Morris Foster curve. This curve is located on the West Robbins Road traveling from the direction of Elgin. Morris Foster and his family lived in the first house after the curve. There is a small road which turns right a few feet before you reached the Foster home. This road comes to a fork with both forks leading to family homes.
Continuing on the West Robbins Road families had built their homes on each side of the road. Another small road turned right off the main road. This short road made a half circle and came back to the West Robbins Road. This road became known as the Ida Wright Road because the Wright family was the only family which lived on this road.
A little farther down the West Robbins Road there are two smaller roads. One turns right and the other left. The right one comes to the edge of the plateau where it descends down into Black Creek. In the 1950's this hill was referred to as the Zeke Lowe Hill and it marked the boundary of West Robbins on this side. A few families lived on this road. Many years ago families in West Robbins could take this road into Robbins. It connected to the Black Creek Road which ran into highway 27 at Robbins.
The road turning left goes about a mile and half and ends at the bottom of the hill where the Sexton family lived. This road also has three, smaller roads which lead to family homes. Some of the older people would refer to the land around the Sexton home as the head of Skull Creek. There is a cemetery in the woods in this area. I remember in the 1950's going there with my dad, Herstle (Buck) Gibson and George York, an older member of the community. The forest had pretty much taken over the graves. There were several head stones with some dating back to the 1800's. Mr. York, Dad and I tried to clean the cemetery up as much as we could. I remember Mr. York saying most of the people buried there did not have any living relatives in the area to take care of the graves.
The oldest house standing in West Robbins is the Tippy Newport place. It is on the right side of this same road before you go over the hill to the Sexton home place. Everyone in the community referred to this home as the "Tippy" place. It is a beautiful, old log home with a front porch and a fireplace with a stone chimney. I don't know for sure but I think it was built in the late 1800's. I do know that nobody was living in the cabin when I was a child in the 1950's. A local boy was hired by a member of the Newport family that lived away from Scott County to cut the grass each summer. Sometimes the West Robbins School would take us children on a field trip to the "Tippy" place. We would walk to the home and have our lunch and play games at the edge of the woods next to the Newport land. This would be a treat for us children. The Tippy Newport place looked as if it was frozen in time of a by gone era. I am told a lady in Knoxville, Tennessee owns the place and it is still looked after with much care.
Ovie York the wife of George York told the story about a man that lived in West Robbins when she was very young. His name was Doc Ellis and some people would spell in Dock. Either spelling he was also a doctor who mostly practiced with herbs but he may have had some medical training too. Ovie York said Doc Ellis had great knowledge of herbs and how to use them to treat people. There was a little valley in front of George and Ovie York's home and it had a wooded area which met the West Robbins Road. Ovie said Doc Ellis showed her just how many herbs you could find in an area that size. Doc Ellis tended to the residents of West Robbins. He also taught Ovie York how to deliver babies. She delivered so many babies that the state of Tennessee deed of live birth certificate was sent to her. When she would deliver a baby she would fill out the birth certificate and send it to the State of Tennessee for Vital Records.
Back on the West Robbins Road in the 1950's you would pass by the West Robbins School and the West Robbins Missionary Baptist Church on the right. The school is gone now but there is a new church standing where the old one had been. A few more houses down the road and you reached the end of the West Robbins community. If you continued down the road you would reach a steep hill everyone called the Fannie Lewallen Hill. At the bottom of the hill is the community of Cross Roads. The boundaries of West Robbins are not written in stone. The one's I have mention were considered the boundaries of West Robbins by most families in the 1950's.
The earlier settlers decided to build a church on the land donated by the Ott family. Farrell Elliott was one of the original charter members for the West Robbins Missionary Baptist Church. I have been told by a former resident of West Robbins that a Walter Smithers was also one of the charter members. The information I received is the West Robbins Missionary Baptist Church was first held in the home of Ida Wright. The 'church' was later moved to its present location.
Mr. Elliott's home and land joined the church ground. The church was a one room building made of lumber. I remember this building well. It had a high ceiling with windows on each side of the building. A pot bellied stove sat in the middle of the church with an extra long stovepipe extending through the roof of the church. The church was very hot during the Summer and very cold in the Winter unless you sat very close to the old stove! There were three kerosene lamps on each side of the building. They were connected to the walls and each lamp had a round, shinny reflector on the back. These help to create more light from the lamps. These lamps were still there when my family and I attended church during the 1950's and 60's even though the building had electricity by then. I was told there was a larger lamp at one time which hang from the high ceiling a few feet above the pulpit. The inside of the church was painted white. The pulpit was on a raised platform which stretch across the width of the church. The Church Covenant and the Ten Commandments were each framed separately and placed on the wall. The piano was on the right of the church. A table which held a water bucket and dipper was on the left of the church. Everyone would drink from the same dipper. The church had hard, wooden benches. These benches had one narrow long board which was the back of the bench. The floors were wooden planks with no paint. The church had a small porch with one step at the entrance. There were two outhouses some distance behind the church. The one on the left was for females and the one on the right was for males. The church also sported a bell tower with a steeple. The large bell had a rope connected to it which came through the ceiling of the church. The loop at the end of the rope was tethered on a large nail in the wall. Someone would pull the heavy rope and ring the bell at the beginning of each church service. The ringing of the bell could be heard through out the community. It was also common back then to ring the church bell day or night if anyone died in the community. I was ask to do this once when Rev. Ezekiel Lowe died. Mr. Lowe's daughter Eva ask me to go and ring the church bell when Mr. Lowe died late one night. It was custom to toll the bell once for each year of the person's life. The door to the church was never locked in those days.
My Great Aunt Dora Etta (Zachary) Calhoun lived in the West Robbins community in the 1950's. Aunt Dora was a Pentecostal minister for many, many years and is well known in Scott County and surrounding area's. She pastored a small Pentecostal Church for awhile by her home. She lived on the left of the road going toward the Zeke Lowe Hill.
Another church formed in the 1970's is the Church of God of Prophecies. It is located on the West Robbins Road. The church was first housed in the old Miss Morris's store building but now has a new building. The present pastor is Lee Spence.
The West Robbins School was built in the center of the community. The land for the school joined the land where the church was erected. The three room block building I attended in the late 1950's and early 60's was not the first West Robbins School. My mother Etta (Willoughby) Gibson was born May 26, 1923. She and her siblings attended this school. My mother's parents Bruce and Ethel (Zachary) Willoughby and their family lived in the Black Creek community a few miles from West Robbins. The Willoughby children attended the West Robbins School and also the Black Creek School. I have heard my mother recall many fond memories while attending both schools.
My mother and Aunt Hester said the 'old' West Robbins School was a one room, wooden building. The primmer through grade eight were taught in the one room. The teachers they remembered during this time were Eva Hughett and Nora West. Nora's husband John would also teach at the school from time to time. Most of the children would bring their own lunch from home but a few children living close to the school would go home for lunch.
The old school was torn down and the new three room school made out of block was built on the same location. Children still walked to school just like their parents did before them. I do know children from the Concord and Cross Roads communities would walk the few miles to attend the West Robbins School. These are my memories of the school in the late 1950's and early 1960's.
The school was a large rectangular building with three rooms and the larger room being in the middle. This room was called the "big room" by the students and housed the upper grades six through eight. The floor of the school was all wood. Each room and halls had the large "schoolhouse" globe lights. The outside of the building was painted white. The only windows on the front of the school were in the big room. These were very large and tall window's. The other two rooms had the same large window's on each side of the building. There were no windows on the back of the building. The room on the left side of the building was the smallest. A small portion of the room was partitioned off to be used as a kitchen. I do know the kitchen was never in use during the years I attended school. Like my mother and her siblings we also brought our lunch to school. The school had four doors. Two doors were on the front of the building. One on each side of the big room. Entering these doors were short hallways through the width of the building and exiting through identical doors on the back of the building. Each room had doors entering from these hallways. Large concrete steps led up to each door of the school with sunk in porches with identical, small roofs. Each school room had a coal stove for heat. The school yard in front was a large area. There was an area to play baseball plus room for other activities at the same time. There were also yards on each side of the building for children to play. The yard behind the school was not as large at the front. There were three small, wooden buildings sat far back from the school and spread very far apart. The middle building was the larger of the three and it was the coal house. The older boys would fill the coal buckets and carry them into the school during the winter months. The girl's outhouse was on the left of the coal house and the outhouse for the boys on the right.
I have many fond memories of going to the West Robbins School during the late 1950's and part of the 1960's. The teachers I remember during this time were Miss Ozee Lewallen and Miss Thelma Terry. Mae Storey from Glen Mary also taught at the school before the 1950's. Delma Storey Jones was a teacher at the school from 1948 to 1953. She taught grades 3, 4, and 5. All the teachers at the West Robbins School were dedicated teachers. They had a huge influence on all the children. Each teacher had a desk and on each desk rest a handbell. The teachers would ring these handbells to signal when school started, morning recess, lunch, and when afternoon recess had ended. If the teacher needed to get a student's attention on the playground she would also ring her handbell.
In the 1960's consolidation came to Scott County. The West Robbins School was closed and the students were bused to Robbins Elementary School in the nearby town of Robbins. The era of the one and three room schools had ended. Students and teachers of these schools have only their memories!
A lady by the name of Mary Morris lived in a two story house located next to the West Robbins School. This house was the only two story house in West Robbins. She owned and operated a 'General Store' across the road from her house. The store building was made of concrete blocks and had a large concrete porch. This store served the community for many years. I remember as a very small child in the 1950's what I could buy with a dime. A 'pop' was six cents, a big candy bar was three cents and a penny for a piece of bubble gum. I remember sitting on Miss Morris's store porch many times enjoying my feast for only a dime! I remember well when Miss Morris closed her store. It was a big lost to the community.
My dad, Herstle (Buck) Norman Gibson, owned a small garage in West Robbins in the 1950's. He was a mechanic by trade. Many people would bring their cars for dad to work on. This small business adventure blossomed. My parents decided to remodel the old garage and turn it into a 'country store'. The store had one large window in the front and dad added a concrete porch. Dad installed a gas pump next to the road and they were in business! The store was called West Robbins Grocery Store. This store thrived for many years. The store building was up the road from our house at that time. Our house consisted of one large room dad had built. Later, dad with the help of friends and a big loggin' truck, moved our house and connected it to the back of the store building. He added nice boards as siding to the structure and painted it white. Adding a new roof the building was vastly improved. At this time our store was the only store for families of West Robbins and some of the surrounding communities. I have many fond memories of this time. The small parking area and the front porch became a gathering place for local people to visit while shopping and filling up their vehicles with gas. News was told and retold here as people came and went.
The store carried everything from can goods, dry goods, tobacco, ice cream and everything in between. A bologna and cheese sandwich was a favorite people would buy and eat at the store. People could watch as mom or dad would take out the huge roll of bologna and the five pound block of cheese and create a large sandwich for you. During the summer months you could also have two thick slices of fresh tomato from our garden and onions on your sandwich. You had your choice of Mayo or mustard. Top that off with a large dill pickle from the pickle jar, a bag of lay's potato chips and you had a nice lunch anytime! For desert the favorite was a dip or two of ice cream. The store had a large freezer with several lids you could raise up. Under each lid was a five gallon bucket of ice cream. You had your choice of several flavors.
This is one of my favorite stories my mother would tell about the store. A little boy from the community came in to buy an ice cream cone. He placed his nickle on the counter and said he wanted a dip of chocolate and asked my mother if "Buck" was there. Mom said no that he would be back a little later. The little boy picked up his nickle and said I'll come back later when Buck is here because he gives you a bigger dip! Mom always said dad was famous for loading the ice cream on the cones and they probably didn't make much of a profit on the ice cream!
The West Robbins Road during the 1950's was a gravel road. During the dry, summer months dust became a problem. Traffic was not heavy on the road but when a car did go by a cloud of dust would follow. Dad would mop oil on the wooden floor of the store. He would sprinkle sawdust over the oil. This would help combat the dust problem. He would repeat the oil and sawdust mixture every so often.
During this time is when Mr Ferrell H. Elliott died. He left his home and land to my mother Etta (Willoughby) Gibson. The Elliott land joined my parent's land. We lived in the old Elliott home place for a few years before it was destroyed by fire. We barely escaped one winter night and lost everything we owned except the store. We lived in the one large room behind the store. Later dad added four more rooms and we had a complete home plus a store!
I hope you have enjoyed my little bit of history of the West Robbins community. My parent's store and home, Miss Morris's store and home, West Robbins School and the old West Robbins Missionary Baptist Church building are all gone now. I recently drove through the community very slowly. Out of the corner of my eye I could almost see the people and places of my childhood home many years ago!

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