Walkin’ Around The Square by James Hunter

Saturday, May 7, 2016, Overton County and the surrounding area lost one of it’s most valued historians with the passing of James Bryan Hunter, age 83. A founding member of the Overton County Historical Society, James spent the majority of his adult life studying genealogy and the history of the Upper Cumberland. He often wrote articles and stories for the local newspapers, and in his honor and memory, the Overton County Historical Society has complied a booklet containing many of his writings. Copies are available for the purchase price of $20.00 per copy. It is with the permission of the OCHS, the following article written by James is shared here. He titled it “Walking Around The Square.”

“If you should ask anyone under forty how many times they walked around the courthouse square Saturday, you will almost certainly get a blank stare. But that used to be a valid question for Overton Countians. Just a reminder for those of us old enough to remember and for these younger, let me tell you how it was. I never knew whether the practice was unique to Livingston, or if it were wide spread, but I do know it was an important part of our social life when I was a youngster. The mass media of communication had not bloomed yet, and if you can imagine taking away electricity, paved roads, running water, telephones, and the accessories that go with these amenities, you realize we didn’t have much then in the way of social outlet. The only telephones and electricity were in town. The only way people who had heard about television were Buck Rogers’ comic fans. Most families had wind up phonographs with records of Jimmy Rogers and Deford Bailey. Some few families had battery powered radios that they saved for Saturday nights when the have not neighbors gathered in to hear the Grand Ole Opry which climaxed with some fellow named Roy Acuff singing “The Great Speckled Bird.” I can’t speak for towns people as to the importance of walking around the square, they very likely didn’t do that themselves, but they just watched us, and we were the nearest thing to tourists they had. After working five days a week on the farm, we “country bumpkins” felt it was our absolute right to go to town on Saturday. We would walk in from the outlying communities eager to see other people. About half the people would walk around the square in one direction, the other half in the other direction, that way we could see and grin at half the people. Periodically, we would reverse directions and thus see and grin at the other half. Occasionally, we would see people who had been away and we hadn’t seen for a long time, but mostly, it was people we hadn’t seen since last Saturday. And the sights we saw. I always got a thrill at first sight of the old cannon chained down in the courthouse yard. It was such an awesome machine plainly not suited for anything but destruction. It gave me a proud sense of security to know it was ours, and in my mind, I felt that any outsiders would think twice before bothering our county. Then there was the fish pool in the courthouse yard with water plants and the grand gold fish lurking in its murky depths. A special treat we looked forward to was the Qualls boys taking Dr. M.J. Qualls’ herd of black Aberdeen Angus cattle to water. The blooded herd imported from the British Isles I believe would fill the square as they passed by led by the patriarch bull, old Idler. Everyone would stand in rapt attention watching them. Those were just the ordinary Saturdays. During other “Big Days” like the 4th of July, election day and such, the square took on a new dimension and excitement ran high. Decorations would be up. Bush Taylor’s radio shop would have a P.A. system going with music and announcements, helping find lost kids, or announcing an occasional loose mule that had slipped its bridle. The square would be lined with tubs of lemonade for sale with real chunks of ice bought from the ice plant. In the often suffocating heat, you could smell the lemonade and feel the cool vapors hit your face if you walked close to the lemonade tubs. My first memories of walking to the 4th weren’t too pleasant, as I remember the five mile walk into town, the all day grueling march around town with the prospect of walking home in the afternoon was a bit much for the preschooler. I remember once asking the group I was with why we had to walk to town on the 4th. I remember the response from the others was quick vehement. I wasn’t satisfied and when I persisted in asking why people acted the way they did on the 4th of July, someone said, “Silly, don’t you know that was when the Negroes were freed?” That was explanation enough for me for a while. I changed and became more conforming as I got older. I remember one 4th the adults in the family elected to stay home and pick blackberries rather than take us to town. It was a sore disappointment to us kids, and when later that day our milk cow fell over a bank and crippled herself, we averred that calamity had been sent on us for not going to the 4th. Election was different. It was a little too serious to be much fun. Candidates hoping for votes would have vehicles out all over the county hauling folks to the polls. Nearly anybody could get a ride on election day if the roads weren’t too muddy. People took their politics seriously. Usually somebody got their throat cut for badmouthing someone else’s favorite candidate. Sometimes it got pretty rough. My grandmother said, “The election grounds were no place for a lady.” As I grew up, walking around the square became more important, and I competed with my friends on the number of rounds I made hoping for a record. As grade school days wound down to an end, and I began to acquire new interests, you know I never knew how pretty girls could be till I saw them walking around the square at Livingston. At this late date, many of my contemporaries might deny feeling the way I did about circling the square, but I had lots of company. It was almost universal with country folks. I know it sounds silly now, especially to the young and sophisticated, but it was important and let the record show we did it. It is a forgotten tradition, but once it was an institution. It filled a need, a hunger for human association. I wouldn’t recommend it now with all the other thing to do, it wouldn’t get far. But let it be said … if you ever walked around the square on Saturday night, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”

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