Memories of Mohawk Valley

The log cabin home where Mary Jane Richardson and her children once lived still stands today in Mohawk Valley.  The property is owned today by Steve Daniels.


Recently I obtained a copy of a book written by Wilma Beason Nevans of Celina entitled "Memories of Ashburn’s Creek." In her book, Mrs. Nevans describes life growing up on Ashburn Creek, an area that lies in Clay, Overton, and Pickett counties. It makes for some very interesting reading. Even though the days described in her book were only some 60 plus years ago, the changes that have taken place since then are almost unbelievable. There was no electricity, no running water in homes, very few automobiles, no modern conveniences we today not only make use of on a daily basis, but most of them are just taken for granted.

The setting for this week's story isn’t too far, as the crow flies, from where Mrs. Nevans grew up. It is known as Mohawk Valley and is located near Taylors Crossroads in Overton County. The family I'm writing about is the Richardsons who lived on and farmed some 40 acres there. Here is their story as told to me by one of the daughters, Lorene Richardson Combee.

When Andrew Harrison Richardson and Mary Jane Conner Richardson began their life together, I'm sure they had no idea how hard some of the days that lay ahead would be, especially Mary Jane. It was in a two room log cabin with a big stone fireplace in Mohawk Valley that their family would grow to include five children whose names are R.D. (who died in 2006), J.B., Christene, Gene, and Lorene. On one side of the cabin, a small lean-to served as the kitchen. The cabin had a loft where the boys slept. Just a few feet from the front door, a prong of Ashburn Creek begins and continues on for miles through fields of a number of other property owners making its way to Dale Hollow Lake. The setting for a log cabin couldn't possibly be more picturesque or peaceful.

When Lorene, the youngest of the five children, was only nine months old, the Richardson family moved to Florida. Her father had family there. After a short period of only six months, Mr. Richardson became very sick. No one knew for sure just exactly what was wrong with him. Some thought he could possibly have tuberculosis, but when no one else in the family came down with it, that diagnosis was wondered about. Whatever disease he suffered from, after an illness of only three months, Mr. Richardson passed away. At the time of his death, he was only 30 years old and his wife, Mary Jane, was 32. Following the death of her husband, Mary Jane took her children, the oldest of which was only 8 and the youngest just 18 months, back to Tennessee by way of a train. After arriving back at Taylors Crossroads, the Richardson family moved in with John and Annie Bell Conner, Mary Jane's parents. When the boys got old enough to help with the raising of crops and other farm work, Mary Jane and her children returned to their home on the creek. John Conner, the children's grandfather, along with some of Mary Jane's brothers, helped as much as they could with the raising of her children. The uncle Lorene felt closest to was her mother's brother, Hoy Conner.

The Richardson children attended school at Lone Maple. Even though the walk from their house to the school was a pretty good distance, they had short cuts they took through the woods and across the fields. As they walked, they often met up with other friends and classmates who were also on the way to school. Lorene told me she enjoyed attending school at Lone Maple very much. Teachers she remembers having taught there were Dora Maynord, Ardean Coleman, and Audrey Holman. Friends she grew up with were Donna Sells Jolley, Aletha Stover Gunnels, Amelia (Melia) Stover Hanahan, Maxine Sells Bowers, Margaret Dennis Colson, and Jackie Jolly Winningham. Some of her favorite memories included nights she spent in the home of Donna Sells Jolley. Lorene described Donna's parents, Lonzo and Eva Sells, as being lots of fun. They played games with the children on the nights Lorene stayed there. She recalled how Eva Sells could make the best bread pudding she ever ate. Her classmate, Aletha Stover Gunnels, helped Lorene a lot with reading. Aletha and Amelia Stover are sisters and two of the children of Virgil and Ethel (Sells) Stover. The Stover home was another place Lorene spent several nights in.


Mary Jane Richardson and her five children pose near the log cabin in Mohawk Valley where they lived for many years.  The cabin still stands today as a reminder of the children's childhood days spent there on a prong of Ashburn Creek.


Pictured out back of the Lone Maple school near Taylors Crossroads is the 1948 5th through 8th grade classes.  Front row:  Linus Dennis; Troy Daniels; Raymond Sells; Odell Leach; Clauis Bilbrey.  Second row:  Margaret Dennis Colson; Omagene Winningham Garrett; Lyndel Winningham Arney; Amelia (Melia) Stover Hanahan; Lorene Richardson Combee; Donna Sells Jolley; Aletha Stover Gunnels.  Third row:  Mrs. Dora Maynord, teacher; Joyce Wright Denny; Eugene Bilbrey; William Sells; and James Garrett.  Photo courtsey of Lorene Richardson Combee.The car shown in the background belonged to Ardean Keisling Coleman, wife of Bill Coleman, who taught the lower grades at Lone Maple."


A typical day in the life of the Richardson children included feeding the animals, milking the cow, working the garden during the summer months, and washing clothes. Lorene told me they also had time to play, and lots of days, they walked to the homes of nearby aunts and uncles and also to the home of their grandparents to visit a while. The Richardson family depended on a garden for a good part of their food. The first thing they had to eat out of the garden every year would be onions, mustard, and lettuce. They made a salad out of these three ingredients, and bacon grease would be poured over the top. This is still a favorite for many people who grow gardens even today. The family always canned beans, tomatoes, corn, and made kraut. Raising a garden and putting up vegetables is something Lorene continues to do today.

Living right beside a creek and a spring was not only convenient for a source of water, but provided a lot of fun during the summer months. The Richardson kids would wade the creek looking for crawfish, and when the back waters got high, this always brought a type of fish called suckers up the creek. Having a creek so close by made the chore of washing clothes quite a bit easier.

Lorene's memories of Christmas on the creek were like most everyone else in the neighborhood. Sometimes a cedar tree would be decorated with strings of popcorn. Gifts for Christmas were usually an apple, an orange, a banana, and some candy in a stocking. At school, names would be drawn, and most of the time, the gifts exchanged would be a tablet, or a pencil, or maybe a new pair of socks.

After the Richardson boys had grown up and moved away from the creek, R.D. and Gene settled once more in Florida. After going there to visit in 1953, their mother decided it was time for the rest of the family move to Florida again as well. J. B. Richardson, who had served in the Korean war, had just gotten out of service by then. At that point in her life, Mary Jane suffered with arthritis and was told by her doctors that the Florida climate would be much better for her.

Lorene married in 1957 and has lived since then in Polk City, Florida with her husband A.D. Combee, a fifth generation of the Combee family of Polk County, Florida. They have three daughters, Pamela, Penny, and Nina, and one son, Hugh. Looking back on her life in Mohawk Valley, Lorene has this to say: "It was a hard life, but everyone back then had a hard life, so you didn't know any different. I loved the woods and the creek where I lived. I liked the friendly people and the slow pace of life."

Days spent on Ashburn Creek in Mohawk Valley are now just memories for the Richardson family. The small cabin that provided shelter for a young widowed mother and her five small children still stands today in that peaceful setting. Even after all these years, the cabin remains in fairly good condition. The present owner hopes to be able to restore it someday. When looking at the cabin around twilight, it is very easy to picture a light from a coal oil lamp in the window, smoke rising from the fireplace chimney, and to hear the sound of children’s voices off in the distance. In spite of what must have seemed like an overwhelming task of raising five children after losing her husband when she was only 32, Mary Jane Richardson was quite successful in this endeavor. I'm very glad, with the help of Lorene, to have had the opportunity to share some of these memories.