Interviewed by Logan Wilson
July 14, 2014
WILSON: My name is Logan Wilson. Today is the fourteenth of July, 2014. I’m interviewing Mrs. Margie Jones at her home in Groesbeck, Texas. This interview is sponsored by the Limestone County Historical Commission and is part of the Footprints of Times Past project. I appreciate Mrs. Jones’s time and her contribution to our project. The next voice you will hear will be that of Mrs. Jones. (moves microphone toward Mrs. Jones)
JONES: I am Marjorie Easterling Jones and was born in Personville, Texas, in 1923, to Bertha Lee Baker Easterling and Willy J. Easterling. [Jones note: I was the oldest of six children.] I spent the first twenty-eight or twenty-nine years of my life there. My father bought fourteen acres for $750 with a house, barn, milk shed, chicken house in about 1932. He was a World War I veteran and he got a bonus from the government, and that is what he bought the house with. And I lived, as I say, my first twenty-eight or twenty-nine years of my life there.
What I’ve heard from the older people and what has been researched that I have heard and read is that Personville was settled about 1853 when B. D. Person [Benjamin D. Person] moved his family to a sandy farm plot. More families followed and the area was named Personville. The post office was established in September of 1858 with William F. Person as its first postmaster. By 1880, a store was opened by Dr. Glass and J. F. Boyd [John Frank Boyd], followed later by W. R. Merrill and T. H. Beaver’s business. There were two physicians, Dr. Glass and Dr. Shell. John Glass was the justice of the peace and Joe Worsley brought the mail from Mexia to Personville every day.
In 1904, the Trinity Brazos and River—Brazos Valley [Trinity and Brazos Valley Railway Company] built a railroad that ran from Mexia to Navasota. It [the Mexia-Nelleva Cutoff] was used to ship sand and cordwood, timber, and cotton bales, as well as it carried passengers. The large depot had a loading dock where the men would place the bales of cotton and other things for shipping. It made regular stops at Personville, but it was a night to remember. After a very wet year the rains came and washed out the trestle. A trestle was a bridge with the rails across it that went over Big Creek, and it was washed out. It was just south of Mexia, and that night it didn’t have a scheduled stop at Personville. To stop the train from crashing into the Big Creek, Bill Kennedy and Hiram Ethridge took kerosene lanterns and waved them in front of the train as it came through by the Personville depot. It stopped just in time, saving not only the train crew but also probably the lives of the passengers. In 1933 or ’34, the railroad system had finished its usefulness and was taken up by the railroad company. The roadbed is now [State] Highway 39 and it’s well traveled, as many work at the locations or at other endings of it. After the railroad was built, Personville grew with four general stores, a bank, a lumberyard, a telephone exchange, a hotel, tin shop, a drugstore, and millinery shop.
In 1916, a fire broke out in the Rohus store. It was fanned by a high wind and it soon spread through all of the business district. The town burned all night and nothing was left standing. Many had no insurance. Some had enough money or enough [re]sources to rebuild, but the community lost more than it ever regained, except for the good memories that they had that was left of the town.
I suppose some of my earliest memories of Personville was since the railroad was not far from where we lived, hoboes would get off the train as it slowed to a stop at the depot, or sometimes they were just put off by the workers because this was during the Depression and few had money or jobs. They would come to our yard gate to ask for food. Mama always gave them something. The Depression was bad, bad for everybody.
About that time in the middle twenties, Personville consisted, to my knowledge, of a bank, a lumberyard, a post office, drugstore, barbershop, a gristmill, a ladies’ club, a blacksmith shop, two merchandise stores, a school, and a church. The gin tank was a large tank that was used by the gin to help with its ginning cotton, and that is where all the young people went swimming.
Now the church is the only thing that’s left standing and there is a historical marker. We had only one building for a church. In 1913, Hill and Maggie Glass sold an acre of land to the Baptist and Methodist churches for $100 to build a church. One weekend the Baptists were to have church, and the other belonged to the Methodists. Once the church was built, they had church on Saturday night, Sunday, and Sunday night, and it was attended by most of the people in town. During the summer, several denominations would hold weeklong revivals. At time, we would have gospel singing in the afternoon or all-day singings on some Sundays. All were well attended. Christmas, we had a large Christmas tree and a program given by the children of the church. We had no electricity, so we used Coleman lanterns for light and had paper fans that usually had advertisement on them and were donated by different businesses.
When my mother went to school at Personville, there were only ten grades and she said you were not counted absent if you missed a day to stay home and help with farming. Her sport was basketball, which was played outside. I went to grammar school through the seventh grade at Personville. They had already sent the high school to Donie in the early 1930s or late 1920s, where they went until the Fairoaks High School was built, and its first year in operation was 1936. We had only eleven grades, the eighth through the eleventh, and all in that area was consolidated and went to Fairoaks. I graduated in 1940. Some of the teachers I remember from Personville were Mr. Aman, Mr. Lucas, Mrs. May(??), Mr. Sheffield, Miss Vernie Ivy(??), Miss Ethel Kennedy, Mrs. Belle Howell, and Mr. and Mrs. O. T. [Onys Travis] Curlee. We played baseball and basketball; all outdoors, of course. We had outdoor bathrooms as there was still no rural electricity.
Most of the residents either had their own farm or worked for a farmer, or rented land from one of the farmers that had more than they could use. There was hardly any other jobs. My grandparents, Tom and Ida Baker, had a small farm, and with fond memories I remember the large old house with a big hall running through the center of it with the fireplaces on either side. It also had a large porch in front and in the back. There was also huckleberry bushes in the pasture, and we kids couldn’t wait for them to get ripe. And there was two pear trees that I climbed when I was small. The last one only died last year. Penny and Arnold Gray now own that, and that’s why I know about the pear trees still being there.
Gardening was a necessity for canning food for the winter. Sweet potatoes were put into dark places. If you had a storm cellar, that was the best place. Wild berries and plums were gathered in the spring and canned for fruit. Most also raised hogs for pork, which after it was killed and cut up was salted down in a large box and used for the winter meat. Chickens were also a necessity if you had eggs. You also raised them to eat. Most had one to three cows to milk twice a day for milk. Since there was no electricity, milk soured real fast and it was usually churned each day to make butter. I suppose that is why people who had these things had more food during the Depression.
Cotton, corn, and peanuts were the main crops. They were cultivated by mules pulling working farm equipment. A turning plow: a man would hold the handles of the plow pulled by one mule, walking behind. A buster was pulled in the same way. A planter: mostly they had ones that were ridden and were pulled by two mules. And then a cultivator to plow and cultivate to keep the weeds and grass down. Once the crop was up, a man also walked behind the cultivator holding the handles, and it was pulled by two mules. Since very little fertilizer was used, we had to thin the plants once the crop was up. Persons with a hoe would thin cotton to one hoe-length and chop weeds—all the weeds. And corn was thinned to a step. Usually, the farmer hired people to do this, and the farmer paid them usually a dollar a day. It wasn’t just an eight-hour day. It was usually from right after sunup to late in the afternoon.
Mr. Ike Kennedy was the commissioner for many years. He lived there, right at the center of town. And Wes Lansford had a carbide light system installed, which is the only one I ever heard of. Artie Oakes was postmaster and druggist for years, and Otis Sharp had a barber chair in the back of his drugstore. The men gathered then in back of the store and played dominoes when they didn’t have to work, after the crops were laid by, or in the dead wintertime. Played dominoes and gossiped. Levi Greer carried the rural mail, and at one time for a short time Henrie Belle Crider had a dance hall. (laughs) The only telephone I know about was at the Wilburn house—the Wilburn home. And when someone called there, Mrs. Wilburn would always go to whoever they had called and give them the message that they wanted them to have. So that is—then—
Some of the people who I remember living there—and I’m sure I’m going to miss some because my memory at ninety years old is not as good as it used to be. There was Mr. Ezell, Maggie and Hill Glass, Callie and Elmer Baker, Ethel and Bill Kennedy, Dee/D. Worthy(??), the Robinsons, May/Mae(??) and Kenny Hudnall. And these all had families, usually one to several children. Very few just had one child. Mrs. Edna Patton, Mr. Jake [and] Mrs. Ettie Hudson, the Jeff Thomases, Arthur and Norine Little, Clint Jones, Etta and Henry Wilburn, Berty and Walker Eubanks, Betty(??) and John Easterling, Tom Reynolds, the McCoslins, Josh and Henrie Belle Crider, the Culpeppers, Levi Greer, Jodie and Agrippa Burleson, the Durats(??), Mrs. Mila Sharp, George and Beulah Sims, Mrs. Donie and Mr. Leonard Hardison and the Tom MacLarens(??) and the Samfords, the Rambos and the Walkers, the Wes Lansfords, Wes Oakes [Thomas Wesley Oakes], Tom and Ida Baker, Chester Easterling, Sadie and Muton Rogers, the Brocks and Wilsons, O. B. Ethridges, the Moores, Johnny and Tavey Burton(??), the Webbs, the Browns, Jesse Grim and his mother, Mr. Rob and Mrs. Sally(??) Rand, the Barges and the Henry Easterlings, Doyle and Mary Haney, the Bartees, Mr. Ike [and] Mrs. Callie Kennedy, Don and Justine/Chestine(??) Kennedy, the Parsons, the Fergusons, the Amans, the Harringtons. [Jones note: Also Bud Rogers, the Foleys, the Thompsons, the Lucases, the Arnold Easterlings, Gaynor Easterling, the Owenses, the Bozemans, the Simses, and the Ainsworths.] And I’m sure there were more but I simply don’t remember.
Living there now and then is—there’s no comparison. There are no farmers. Several have large ranches or—not large, but they have ranches in the area. Several people live there now. They’ve built homes in the country in Personville, and they live and work in other locations and go to school in either Groesbeck or Mexia, and go to church in neighboring communities. Any advice I would give to young people today is get a good education. Keep your mind on what you want for the future, be compassionate, and help others. When you help others, you help yourself more than you realize. Thank you.
WILSON: Thank you, Mrs. Jones. You did a great job of telling us about Personville. I do appreciate that.
JONES: I just—I had to write it down because, you see, you get dates wrong. And, as I say, now my head don’t work like it used to.
WILSON: Well, bless your heart, you’ve done a great job with this.
JONES: You did turn it off.
WILSON: No, I didn’t turn it off because I got a question. I have one more question. (Jones laughs) One time you told me about an area that y’all called Spunky.
WILSON: Remember that? Tell us about Spunky.
JONES: Spunky is a portion of Personville that the Burlesons, the Hardisons, the Moores, the Browns, and the Webbs, the Harringtons all lived in that area. And I’d have no idea why it was ever called Spunky, but we always called it Spunky. But it was a portion of Personville.
WILSON: And there was a lake there that they used to drive their mules in?
JONES: Sellers Lake. Okay. On the weekends during the summertime, the people—a lot—in fact, everybody that could—would take their wagons. Of course, wagons back then was your mode of transportation. They would get their quilts and their washpots and their food and all go to Sellers Lake for the weekend, usually from Friday on through till Sunday. The men—of course, they put their washpots out to cook the fish they’d catch. The men would take their mules and get in the Sellers Lake and muddy it, just go back and forth and back and forth in the lake until it was real muddy, and the fish would come to the top of the water. They would catch those fish and then have a fish fry. We stayed all night. You didn’t—and on one end of the lake, the young people could swim, you know. Of course, I wasn’t going to let everybody outdo me, so I almost drowned and I’ve never liked going swimming since. (both laugh) But we spent the night and cooked the fish, and that was something that happened practically every summer. And I think Bob Crider—I’m not sure Sellers Lake is still there, but Bob Crider owns that area now as a part of his ranch.
WILSON: Well, that’s a very interesting story. It wasn’t a community; it was just an area that was called Spunky.
JONES: Yeah, it wasn’t a community. Personville is considered that. You know, it was considered a portion of Personville. But it was about—probably a mile and a half from the school, down the same road that the school was on.
WILSON: Yeah. Well, that—I always thought that was an interesting story.
JONES: (laughs) It was so much fun for everyone. Of course, you carried your quilts and spent the night outside. You had no mosquito repellant back then.
end of interview