Memories of Center Hill

By PATRICK R. NELSON
6240 Stillwell Beckett Road, Oxford, OH 45056

I found parts of an old letter sent to my mother some years ago by a cousin. The letter describes some of the family history from White County. The first four pages of the letter are missing. Page 5 has a small map of Arkansas with Center Hill and Searcy marked.

In 1902 Joseph Mack Sullivan, a widower with seven children, moved to a farm near Center Hill, Arkansas. They built a new farmhouse and every Sunday they drove into town to attend the Baptist Church. There, Joseph Mack Sullivan met, courted and married LouElla Tennessee Norman Kellum, a widow with a four-year-old daughter Edna.

Ella and the child had been living with her parents, William and Nancy Norman, since the death of her husband and son in a tornado. Ella and Edna were accepted warmly into the Sullivan family and in a few years there were three baby girls.

These were happy times for the family. Grampa Norman was a gentleman farmer with a fine horse and carriage and the contract to deliver mail on the rural route. Five of the Normansí 11 children were living at home. They also shared their home with Granny Newton, Grandpa Norman's mother. In 1911 Lucille's mother was again expecting and the pregnancy was complicated.

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George, born 9-5-1882 (d. 2-8-1968), Jess, born 8-12-1886 (d. 12-26-1917), Ira, born 6-29-1888 (d. ), Nora, born 12-15-1893 (d. 7-30-1966), Lena, born 5-1-1895 (d. 7-11-1965), Mattie, b. 3-3-1897 (d.), Jack, born 4-2-1899 (d. 6-2-1958)

 

Edna, born 6-30-1899 [This is my grandmother.]

This page has an inserted, handwritten note on it, apparently from Lucille (Lottie Lucilee, b. 2-17-1907, Edna's half sister): "Paul Tanner Sullilvan, son of Littleton Isbell Sullivan & Mary Hamilton Calver, was born Sept. 30, 1838 and died Feb, 14, 1881. He married Margaret Caroline Bell in 1857 (exact date not known). Joseph Mack Sullivan was born on March 28, 1858 at Coldwater, Tate Co., Miss. He died
June 16, 1916, Center Hill, White Co., Ark."

Alice Irene, born 11-2-1905, Lottie Lucille, born February 17, 1907, Florence Belle, born 6-23-1909

 

Page 7 has another insert, this one typed, apparently of Lucille's memories: "My only memories of her [Granny Newton] are of a tiny, white-haired lady in a black dress always sitting in a small oak rocker
that was lifted into the wagon on Sunday mornings with her sitting in it and was lifted out and carried into the church the same way. Frequently, the preacher was her oldest grandson, my uncle George Norman...
My other memory of Granny was the stories she told of the Civil War when she was left alone on the farm with three small children when her husband went to fight with the confederacy. Bands of roving soldiers or
possibly marauders often came by the farm and ordered her to cook meals for them. Silver, money and

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The baby was stillborn and Ella, 39, also died. Lucille was four. Shortly after the death of his wife, Lucille's father bought a larger farm which they called the Sparrow Place. During those early school years, Lucille attended a one-room frame schoolhouse.

(Lucilles' memories typed): "There were double doors in the front and a large log flattened out by a board on top for a doorstep. There was a bell on top of the roof which the teacher rang at the end of recess and at the beginning of the school day. The boys lined up on one side and the girls lined up on the other side to march in. The bell ringer got too enthusiastic on day and the bell turned over and became loosened and came crashing down to the ground, barely missing the small boy. At the end of recess all the students rushed into the well house and one of the first to arrive would send a long tin bailer down into the water and when it was filled would wind up a windless to pull it back up and empty it into a bucket that had two dippers from which everyone drank.
Inside the schoolhouse were rough homemade desks that seated two pupils. There was a large wood-burning stove about four feet long in the center. It had a big drum on top and an open center to hold the heat. In cold weather as many students as possible sat around the stove. The classes ranged from first grade through sixth. The teacher took the class that was reciting up on a stage in front of the room. Sometimes one of the older pupils taught the younger ones. It was a favorite trick of some of the older pupils to toss notes through the hole in the drum to someone at the other side of the stove. Sometimes one would stick in the drum and scorch and it would give off a bad smell.

"One day while class was in session as usual there was suddenly a horrible noise, a pounding and rumbling on the roof. There was a stampede for the door with the teacher leading the way and she jumped out the door with a big leap. It was soon discovered that bricks were falling off the old chimney and sliding down the roof. The school situation wasn't easy for the young women teachers who usually were just out of normal school. One day the teacher decided that Florence was creating a disturbance and told her to go stand in the corner. Florence didn't want to stand in the corner, laid her head down on the desk and started to cry. The teacher picked up her switch that she kept handy and came down to the desk that I occupied with Florence and threatened her with the switch. Then she looked around the room and saw Jack half out of his seat and headed toward her.

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other valuables had to be buried underground in order to keep them from being stolen."

Another typed insert: "The new home was much more attractive than the old one mostly due to the
huge oak and cedar trees surrounding it. The large barn was across the road and the cow lot was just south of the yard. There was a covered well house with an adjoining shelter where the clothes washing was done. There was a large black iron kettle nearby. Fires were built under it and the white clothes were boiled in it. The girls used homemade lye soap that was a combination of lye made by running water through a hopper filled with wood ashes, and grease. Nuts and fruits grew wild in many places. There was a creek just back of the cow lot that was a favorite spot for us to play. We arranged playhouses in the nearby woods with tree stumps for tables and wild grape vines for swings. We had horses, cows, geese, chickens, hogs, two good dogs and a pet squirrel in a cage. In the spring the breast feathers were plucked from the geese to renew our feather beds. It was a job of the younger girls to catch the geese and sometimes we got a good flogging in the process. The geese didn't like goose picking time any better than we did."

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She decided Florence didn't need to stand in the corner. But if the older kids felt protective of us we also felt protective of them. One day at recess my brother Jack got into a wrestling match with Bud Hall and Bud soon had him pinned down to the ground and I decided Jack needed help. So I picked up a baseball bat and walked over and gave Bud a couple of bumps on the head. He looked up very surprised and all the older kids watching burst out laughing. I got so embarrassed that I sat down and cried.

"One day when Dr. Barker had been called out from Center Hill to see Papa, Nora decided he should pull one of my baby teeth. I protested long and loudly and Dr. Barker said he would take me for a ride in his new Ford Roadster if I would let him pull the tooth. This was the first car I had ever seen and of course I couldn't turn down that offer so I stopped crying and out came the tooth on his first pull. And then when I ran out to the car there was little sister Florence all ready to take a ride without having had her tooth pulled. I thought that was a terrible injustice."

The Sparrow Place had a mill for extracting sorghum juice from sorghum cane, and a setup for cooking sorghum molasses. Lucille's Papa spent hours at this task, cooking sorghum not only for his family but also for neighbors and friends. Unfortunately, they all paid him back in molasses instead of cash and the Sullivan family had to eat a lot of sorghum during the year. Sorghum making was usually a hot, tiring job and eventually Papa's health failed. He died June 16, 1916, with all the family present, after making Nora promise to take care of the three young girls. George was appointed legal guardian. Nora always kept her promise, even refusing to marry so she could look after the family.
Some of Ella's sisters wanted to split up Irene, Lucille and Florence and give them new homes but Nora would not hear of it.

Grandpa Norman was driving the mail route himself and was killed in a tragic train accident. There were some legal hassles over what would have been Ella's share of his estate. All of this upset George, who decided to move the family out of Arkansas.