The world of “yesterday” did not have a convenience store on every corner, nor a super grocery store, or even a fast food restaurant! Today, most people take these places for granted and only shop for the present, whereas our ancestors had to obtain supplies to last until their next trip to the mercantile, which might have been several months or more. I wonder what our lives would be like if we only shopped once a month or less often. Of course, we do not have to consider that, because of our lifestyle and the abundance of retail shops and grocery stores. However, in the day of our ancestors, their food was “home grown” and not picked up at a local grocery store.
According to information from Amanda Neal Wheelock’s Reminisscences of Rhea Springs, Tennessee and History of Rhea County compiled by Bettye Broyles, there were a number of businesses in the settlement of Rhea Springs. The Zeigler family lived there quite a while, and Mr. Zeigler ran a blacksmith shop that was situated in the place where the office of John R. Neal later stood; Tallent’s Blacksmith Shop was also another business in that area. In addition, there was a livery stable located between the black sulphur spring and the church, which was patronized by hotel guests and traveling salesmen.
Store owners who were listed in the History of Rhea County included the following: Joseph Peters, Sam Dickey, Leuty and Shirley, A.C. Day, J.C. Abernathy, Captain Burton Leuty, Chapman Wasson, Wheeler Gross, W.F. Chattin and George Steinecipher. Also, the store house originally owned and operated by Dr. J.C. Abernathy had a bowling alley, barber shop and gamblers resort located in it during the successful days of the hotel.
From the information provided by Amanda Wheelock, we are told that there were once seven saloons in the Rhea Springs area. One was where her father’s office (John R. Neal) would later be located; another in the building where the hotel barn was, another was in Day’s store house, one was with a barber shop opposite Chapman Wasson’s house, an additional one was the hotel bar and two were down in what was afterwards called negro town. Wheelock also states that the four-mile law put these saloons out of business, and that they moved to the incorporated towns. (The Four-Mile Law was Senate Bill Number 1, which was passed in Tennessee in 1909; this bill made it illegal to sell or consume alcoholic beverages within a four-mile radius of any public or private school, whether it was in session or not.)
Two newspapers were published during the 1880’s: the Rhea Springs News by Wiley W. Neal (this later moved to Spring City), and the Buttonbuster by the Broyles Printing Company, which was run by John W. Broyles.
Captain James Howe bought one-half interest in a mill on Piney around 1870, then later bought the other half interest. Mr. Chapman Wasson bought the mill next and ran it along with his store. Later, this was owned by Dock Smith; Captain Burton Leuty had a mill near Wolf Creek, with Caleb McCuistion and George Steinecipher also owning mills in later years. The mill in those days was a very important industry to the town because it furnished the meal and flour for each family.
During the early 1900’s, telephone service was established by the Rhea Springs Telephone Service. The line ran from Spring City through Rhea Springs and to the Iron Hill area, and consisted of the hand-cranked party-line telephones.
Postmasters who served the office at Sulphur Springs and Rhea Springs from 1935 to 1941 include the following: Moses R. Thompson, Alexander M. Galbraith, Ira D. Broyles, Archibald Gilbert, William A. Witten, James W. Vernon, Edward E. Wasson, Pleasant E. Evans, Addison C. Day, B.W. Sienly, Addison C. Day, Edward Pyott, John A. Abernathy, James H. Monday, James Howe, James H. Galbreath, Robert F. Brown, Chapman Wasson, James H. Pearlon, John W. Broyles, Addison M. Broyles, Chapman Wasson, Herbert B. Payne and Maurine Dome Wasson.
Rhea Springs not only had seasonal inhabitants, but due to the fact that it was also a “real” town, its people had needs, and those needs required year-round businesses. It is interesting to find pictures and information for some of those establishments and their owners; and it is from that knowledge that we are able to construct a portrait of life during the existence of the town of Rhea Springs. Remember to learn from the past in order to live in the present and prepare for the future.