Memories of Murfreesboro, Tennessee from the 1960s and 1970s


Downtown Murfreesboro, Tennessee Image copylef...

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If you are from Murfressboro, Tennessee or from Rutherford County, see how many of these you can remember:

1. Cooper & Martin in Mercury Plaza Shopping Center

2. Going to the grocery store in Jackson Heights.

3. McCrory’s in Jackson Heights–does anyone remember the poster of The Beatles in the window?

4. Sullivan’s.

5. The barber shop and putt-putt golf in the basement of Jackson Heights.

6. Teenagers cruising in the 1970s at Jackson Heights.

7. The Tuesday-Wednesday flea market at Mercury Plaza.

8. Harvey’s at Mercury Plaza.

9. Going to Roses to get TV tubes tested.

10. The Santa Claus trailer outside the Roses.

11. The “rocking chair theater” behind Mercury Plaza–I took a field trip there in 1976 to see the musical “1776” and saw Stars Wars there when it came out in 1977.

12. Old men whittling on the Courthouse lawn.

13. Mr. Aubrey Weatherby, the blind candy salesman, inside the courthouse.

14. Commerce Union Bank.

15. The Rebel Maid.

16. Shoney’s Big Boy where the ladies would bring out the food to your car.

17. The Phillips 66 next to the Hardees on Broad Street.

18. The gas station (Texaco? American?) at the corner of Broad and Memorial.

19. Linebaugh Public Library in its old location where the Arts Center is today.

20. The old J. C. Penny where jeans were piled on tables.

21. Fred’s on the square–two stories, and classic novels there for a quarter.

22. Brown’s Shoe Store on the square with the Buster Brown sign and logo.

23. Mullins’ Jewelers on the square (which just moved last year).

24. Tip Top Barber shop (still there!).

25. A large JFG Coffee sign on West Main (?).

26. Byrn Motor Company–I worked there briefly on Saturdays one summer.

27. Flora’s Thrift Store on Church Street (or is it maple; in any case, near the current library near the square. I don’t remember the exact name, but I went there quite a bit with my grandparents).

28. The old IGA store on Memorial.

29. The Kroger store at the corner of Memorial and Clark.

30. Readmore Book Store–in “The Mall” and later in the Kroger shopping center on Northfield.

31. The health fair at The Mall of Murfreesboro in 1978.

32. General Electric.

33. International Paper Company.

34. The original Jackson Motel design with the large sign.

35. Firestone near the square (still there!).

36. Martin’s Drug Store on the square.

37. Goldstein’s on the square.

38. Clark’s department store.

39. Big K (the original company, not the brand now owned by K-Mart).

40. Lamb’s Restaurant and Truck Stop off the New Nashville Highway near Florence Road.

41. Pruitt’s Grocery at Florence and the New Nashville Highway.

42. Ole Taylor’s Candy Kitchen.

43. A little store where Yesteryear is today–I remember the penny mini-Tootsie Rolls back in the 1960s.

There are more places I remember, but I don’t remember their names. I hope this brings back some memories for folks from the Murfreesboro area–if anyone can name more places, you’re welcome to.

The Reality of Middle Age and Nostalgia for the Past

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IBM TypeWriter

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I’m in my upper 40s but do not subjectively feel that differently from the time I was in my 20s. Yet there is much evidence of increasing…. “maturity.” I know I’m older when:

-The first president I remember on television is Lyndon Johnson. The first president the students remember is Bill Clinton.

-I tell my students the first house I lived in as a child had no running water, an outside well, and an outhouse.  They stare at me. And stare.

-I find that women in their 30s, 40s, 50s, and even 60s are more attractive to me than women in their 20s.

-I remember my granddaddy telling me of days when there were still horses and buggies and blacksmith shops (as there were as late as the 1930s in parts of rural Tennessee). My granddaddy had met some veterans from the War Between the States. History touches me at every turn. For my students, there is no history before their birth–reality began with them.

-I remember using my first typewriter, a manual. My students do not know what a typewriter is.

-Before I was in college, my parents did not own a color TV.

-I worked getting up hay. Everyone who worked with me could speak English.

-In my childhood church hymns were the old 19th and early 20th century gospel songs such as “Sweet Bye and Bye,” “There’s a Great Day Coming,” and “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” We actually used hymn books. The notion that church should turn into chaos with contemporary music was foreign. Today…. God help us.

-No one was offended by someone calling them “sir” or “ma’am.” Today, in the bizarro world of academia, some people get bent out of shape by being addressed with these terms. Perhaps for these individuals we can find substitute terms such as “Yes, a..hole.”

-In my youth the Democratic Party was the conservative party in the South. Today the tables are turned.

-My favorite shows as a child were “The Red Skelton Show,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “The Beverly Hillbillies,” and the Bob Hope specials. Today I like “The Simpsons,” “Southpark,” “Family Guy” and “House.” I suppose something has been gained, but I also consider the simplicity and strong sense of right and wrong that has been lost.

-As a child one of my favorite things to do was go to the Sears on Lafayette Street in Nashville with my parents. We’d stop by my great-uncle’s Texaco on the way. Today that area is a wasteland.

-I remember the days that people would say “Merry Christmas” to perfect strangers near Christmas time at shopping centers.

-I remember when almost all store clerks were polite.

-I remember when the mini-tootsie rolls were a penny apiece.

-I remember when gas was under 30 cents a gallon.

-I remember when Cokes were a dime, and any store had RC Cola and Nehi Grape or Orange.

-I remember a rock building, a store, where old men would sit and talk.

-I remember the whittlers on the courthouse lawn in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.


Of course we’ve advanced in some ways–I am grateful for what contemporary medicine, for example, has done to help family members and friends. And I know we tend to idealize the past. But to me, a time when I could play outside as a child and not worry about a pervert kidnapping me or someone cursing at me from the highway was a better time. It was simpler, less hectic (at least in the rural south), and relativism had not yet poisoned the minds of most people. We may not be able to turn back the clock technologically, but if we could focus on family, friends, sitting on the porch shelling peas or beans and talking–all those wonderful, simple things that held people together–I believe the world would be a better place. The fact that this sounds sentimental reveals how far our society has sunk, but what sinks can rise once more. I am glad to be middle-aged since I can remember that simpler time in rural Tennessee. Thanks be to God for the small, precious things of life.

“Progress” and its Problems

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Rutherford County Courthouse in Murfreesboro

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I am originally from Smyrna, Tennessee, although I live in North Carolina now due to my university teaching job. Until I graduated from Smyrna High School in 1980, the town’s population was slightly over 5000. Murfreesboro, the county seat, had a population of around 30,000. Rutherford County’s population was small enough that anyone who drove to one of the grocery stores in Murfreesboro would find someone he knew. As a child, Granddaddy and I went to the courthouse in the center of the public square. Several old men would be sitting in the shade on benches, whittling cedar blocks. The odor of the shavings wafted through the air. The sense of order, of a continuity through change, was palpably present, even for a child. School also reflected that order; I had several of the graduates of Smyrna High in my classes through all twelve years of school.

Today the square remains, along with some of the shops that were there thirty years ago. The same barber I had gone to since fourth grade is still there–when I visit my parents once or twice a year, I make sure to stop by and get a haircut there. Thankfully the city leaders decided to keep the square occupied and in good condition. But the whittlers are gone. Years ago, someone had the bright idea to move the benches out of the shade. Perhaps the old men had died. Perhaps some “progressives” thought Murfreesboro was “too good” for the whittlers. But the worst changes are in the countryside. Scores of housing developments fill the county with “McMansions.” Historic homes, some dating back to the War Between the States, have been sold and torn down in the name of “progress.” When the Nissan plant moved into Smyrna shortly after I graduated from high school, it brought jobs, but it also brought a flood of job seekers who had not grown up in the community with its rich history and tradition. Smyrna has over 30,000 people; Murfreesboro over 80,000. It is more rare to see someone recognizable in stores. Traffic is worse than ever, and there are miles of land where only shopping centers exist. “Progress” had remade Rutherford County. I congratulate it on such success. And the sarcasm drips like acid.

Communities are organic structures that must have continuity within change to survive. The rapid growth that pleases the Orcs (excuse me, the developers) destroys the continuity of a community. Today I go to work in a military city, Fayetteville, North Carolina, near the mega-base, Fort Bragg. There is very little continuity here, and outside of a few neighborhoods people rarely know their neighbors. But the military is not the only force that harms local community; a rapid business expansion does, too. Murfreesboro lacks the home town feeling it used to have. And I would prefer Smyrna the way it used to be; it had its faults, but at least people knew each other. The social in-crowd may have turned their noses at country families like mine, but at least they’d speak to you if they saw you in town. Most of Smyrna is the same artificially created “community” that began with the suburban explosion after World War II. I almost cry when I consider the old trees pulled down, old graveyards moved–or perhaps worse–I hope not. Saruman and his orcs have overrun the town. A few natives (and expatriates like me) mourn the loss. The barbaric majority rejoices. Time only moves one direction–unfortunately.