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Vara Sykes Wallace



Presenting – Vara Sykes Wallace

This is the story of a true Southern Lady, Vara Sykes Wallace.  It was first published in the newsletter of the “Grand Sykes-Sikes Association”, of which she is a member, later published in “The Tributaries”, Volume 7, issues #1,  #2, and #3..  As Mrs. Wallace has graciously shared her story of growing up in Tennessee with several groups, we are honored to reproduce her story again here, for the benefit of those who might be connected to her Sykes family, as well as for the benefit of others who are interested in details of everyday live as it was between 1915 and 1930.

The descendancy of this line is Arthur Sikes > James B. Sykes >James Franklin Sykes > Walton Dill Sykes > Vara Sykes Wallace.    Thus,  her story in her own words –

 The year 1993 marks my eighty-ninth birthday. These remembrances of my early days in Stewart County were as though it were yesterday. I remember my Grandfather and Grandmother Sykes as far back as I can remember anything. I was very young, even before school age, when I began spending several weeks with them each summer.   My Grandfather James Franklin “Pa” Sykes, and my Grandmother, Mary Wofford Sykes, were important and outstanding members of the community of Fort Henry, Tennessee in Stewart County. He owned a farm, and a very comfortable country home near the small village. The village of Fort Henry was located between the Cumberland and Tennessee Rivers where they came closest together — about ten miles apart. His farm was located about one and one-half miles from the Tennessee River where he cultivated corn in the river bottom fields.  My grandparents were staunch supporters of civic and Church affairs They attended and supported the St. Mary's Methodist Episcopal Church which was located in the Fort Henry village.  Grandfather was a leader and pillar of the Church.  Going to Church with them was my first remembrance of Church when I was very small.

 Pa had three brothers: Dr. Henry Sykes, and Dr. Arthur Sykes, who lived and practiced in Arkansas, and Elisha Sykes, who was in merchandising and lived in Missouri. Pa also had three sisters. Nella Sykes visited her brothers in Arkansas and, while there, met and married a Dr. Bell and brought him to Tennessee to meet her family.  I remember him well.  Erie Sykes married a Mr. Staveley.   I never knew her, but I knew and played with her son Floyd when he visited my Grandfather at Fort Henry.  I
loved him.  He was ten years my senior.  Aunt. Ulla married Bob Wofford  and reared a large family near Fort Henry.  We were very close with her and her children.  She was named for a Great Aunt, Lady Ulla Sykes, who, we were told, was Queen Victoria’s favorite Lady-in-Waiting, and the first white woman to cross the Sahara desert on business for the Crown.  Lady Ulla Sykes wrote several books of her exploits and they may be found in most major libraries.

 My father, Walton Dill (W.D.) Sykes, was the eldest of the five children.  At twenty-five years of age, he married Sallie Cleveland Ford.  They were both public school teachers for a few years, then he went into business, including merchandising, saw milling, farming, black smithing, and supplying all kinds of building materials to the surrounding country side.  He had a large staff of hired labor in these endeavors.  At the same time, he was an active member of the Masonic Lodge, a pillar of the Methodist Episcopal Church, and a leader and teacher in Sunday School.  He kept his hand in the educational functions of the county, including serving as Chairman of the Board of Education for twenty or so years.  He fathered fourteen children, including twelve by my mother and two by his second wife, Laura Patterson Henry.  W.D. reared and educated 12 of those children; two of them, a boy and a gird, having died in infancy (Sallie Cleveland Ford’s babies).  He was a man, and my mother was a lady, to be revered.  He was also a power in both county and federal politics.

 James and Mary Wofford Sykes second child was a daughter names Quinnie.  Quinnie’s first love (I do not know his name) died just before they were to be married.  She carried a broken heart for many years.  She then met a prosperous elderly merchant named John Jones and married him.  We always accused her, in a teasing way of course, of marrying “Mista Jones” (as she always called him) for his money!  We adored Uncle John.  They reared one son names John Wilmer.  Aunt Quinnie was a character in her own right.  With her little snuff box, and her little hickory tooth brush, and her rather shabby and worn purse, she was a figure of both love and fun to us.  I could go on and on about her intriguing personality.

 James’s and Mary’s third child was a daughter named Lillian.  She was a petite, lovely girl of thirteen when she ran away with her young school teacher to get married.  She and the school teacher, Lloyd Wofford, reared a daughter and two sons names Onyce, Clyde and Cecil.  They lived in Arkansas.  James’s and Mary’s fourth child was a son, Louie Allison.  He married Minnie Spiceland and they reared a daughter named Mary Lucille and two sons, Cleo Dale and L. A.  Uncle Louie was a traveling salesman, and an insurance dealer.  I remember him best as being the first man to bring an automobile (a Model T Ford) to our neighborhood, and for his singing and guitar picking.  I have memories of him and    my father being very close.  In fact, they worked together as employer and employee for many years.    The baby of James Franklin’s family was born late in their life.  His name was Harold, and was ??? (Print obliterated on photocopy) years older than I.   I could tell many stores about him if time and space permitted.  He married Marie Ables, and they lived in Dover.  I adored her.  They reared a daughter, Norma Jean, and two sons, Harold, Jr. “Jun” and Earl Ward.

 James Franklin retired at age fifty, sold his farm at Fort Henry, and bought a home at Tharpe, Tennessee, close to my father and Uncles Louie and Harold.  He and his three sons lived in a stone’s throw of each other during my “growing up” years.  They carried on a pleasant and social life together.  My father was chief of the clan, and his home was the center of family social activities.  Although J. F. had retired, he was never inactive.  He cultivated gardens and an extensive fruit orchard, raised hogs and, at 80 years of age he was seen running around a baseball diamond.  He walked ever day, as did my father, W. D., throughout his life.  When J. F. retired at age 50 he was considered a wealthy man.  My grandfather was a very successful farmer and mule trader.  He was extremely knowledgeable about mules and horse stock.  It was his expertise that prompted my father to acquire a breeding stud named "Dudley Patch," the most famous Kentucky Trotter.  Dudley was a Morgan horse. My father also had another Kentucky Derby horse named "Joe" that was being trained for racing.

 My father carried on a widespread and active life through his tenure here on earth He never accumulated great wealth.  He made lots of money, and was considered wealthy by his contemporaries.  He gave his money to the poor, and the need people around him, to his Church, to the upgrading of education in his county, and to good living conditions for his large family.  My father also nurtured our interest in Church all through my early years.

 Our lives differed from the people living around us, most of whom were in our father’s employ on one of his farms, or around his mill yards, or in his merchandising establishment.  Even his own brothers worked for him; Harold as a clerk in his store and Louie as the best oxen driver in the county which, at that time, was considered an accomplishment.  My father owned and operated as many as ten to twenty yoke of oxen around his several saw mill operations.  The oxen were the only means of moving heavy loads before the automotive age arrived.

 Our country home in Tharpe, Tennessee was an impressive, attractive and very comfortable house located in a wide valley, surrounded by about 225 acres of high, timber-clad hills and creek bottom farmland through which a clear spring fed rock bottom stream flowed.  The stream was close by the house, and we spent many happy, care free hours swimming, fishing, and collecting geese and ducks eggs from the creek bed.  My mother kept a large flock of geese and ducks, and they found the clear blue waters of the stream inviting.

 The home that we grew up in had belonged to a Dr. Scarborough.  It was a large, rambling house with four large limestone fireplaces, very large rooms with high ceilings and a front portico.  An office was across the road in line with the front yard gate.   When W. D. bought the country house he immediately set about renovating it.  He had beautiful hardwood finished floors installed in every room downstairs, with Brussels throw rugs, and he tore away the little front portico and has a wrap-around porch built all around the house.  On the front porch he installed sixteen or eighteen rounded columns and banisters.  The house was originally gray, but he had it painted white with sky blue porch and ceilings.  The rooms were newly papered and wainscoted, and the house seemed brand new when we moved into it.

Photo

 Dr. Scarborough’s office was never changed.  It was used as a school room for we children until we grew up.  Then it was used for sleeping quarters for the boys, the itinerant employees, relatives, and whoever.  There were always extra people to be housed and fed, and W. D. never ever turned anyone away.

In his mid twenties, W. D. Sykes bought the home in Tharpe, and surrounding land, and the businesses which consisted of the store, blacksmith shop, coffin shop, and a three story combination flour-feed-grist mill.   The store was the largest country store between the rivers in Stewart County.  It was actually a department store, consisting of such diverse items as groceries; men’s ready-to-wear (hats, shoes, shirt, socks, ties, underwear for both dress and work wear); ladies ready to wear (hats, shoes, hose, lingerie, gloves, corsets, hair nets, purses, and even some jewelry); and dry goods consisting of shelves of bolts of
materials from calico and gingham to silks, satins, and crepes; all kinds of threads, quilting, crocheting, and tatting items, thimbles, needles and some embroidering supplies.   A candy show case was available for sweets, among with a ten cent counter, a soda jerk fountain, and non-prescription drug and medicine counter.  In one corner of the store, beside the front entrance, the Post Office was located with the name of Tharpe, Tennessee above the window.  In the back of the store in one corner was his office where the secretary and head clerk had desks.  Upstairs there were several rooms where the Oddfellows, Modern Woodman, The Rebecca and Masonic Lodges met on various Saturday evenings.  My father kept a variety of string musical instrument in the store, and Saturday night was usually livened by any musicians who happened along.  He also had the first phonograph that had been seen by the people in the area.  It was a drawing card at the store in the very early 1920s.  A side room housed, at one end, sorghum barrels, salt and salt port, and large containers of staples.  At the other end were all kinds of McCormick and Deere farm machinery and tools, and kerosene.

 The blacksmith shop was where horse and mule stock and working oxen were shod.  The shop also mended farming machinery, keeping it in good working conditions for the cultivation of fields.  W. D. also established the first steam driven mill between the rivers in 1914.  I remember very well the day it was brought from the steamboat landing and the method by which it was moved over the two miles to the mill site.  He had cross ties from his saw mill yard laid at close intervals on which the
huge locomotive were hauled by open yolk to the mill complex.  The saw mill business which was added, incorporated a lumber plainer which came into good use later on.  W. D. Sykes sawed, dressed or planed the lumber that built the first Stewart County High School at Dover.  He delivered and gave the lumber.    When Public School ended in February or March, we were entered in our own school, and kept there with a governess until mid June.  Any neighbor who felt able to pay the tuition fee was welcome to send their children to our well-equipped school.   We used to tease our mother and father by saying, “you kept us in school to keep us from being underfoot.”  There were ten of us: myself, William Franklin, Walton Dill Jr. “Jack”, Hazel Irene, Mary Lucille, Sarah Rebecca, Arthur Ford, Helen Virginia, Robbie Arbell, and Blane Wofford.

 As early as I can remember, we had, as children, the best available equipment for playing games.  In the winter, of course, we went to school every weekday.  On Saturday we always had a wide range of activities; a farm-wagon-size sleigh, built on the Mill Yard by one of the Mill hands.  We had a gentle old horse named Joe to ride or drive.  My brother Frank always did the driving and bossing.  Then each of us had a sled of our own, also built by some mill hand, which we could pull to the top of the long hill that ended behind the house.  We rode down into a woven wire fence on moonlight nights when the snow was deep and icy slick.  What fun!

 There were the long winter evenings gathered around a roaring log fire in Mama's room.  It was then that she read the Bible with us and told us stories, especially of the early history of our family background.  Christmas in my days was an exciting and spiritual event, not a commercial extravaganza.  In summer we had a play buggy and our horse Old Joe to pull it all over the country side with every kid who desired to hang on to it.  We  had a ball diamond on the side lawn, and a series of deep blue
swimming holes up and down the creek.  We had a large double lawn swing under a wide spreading maple tree in the front yard.  Whey my two brothers and I were very young, we had a pony with a red bridle and saddle, and a small replica of a farm wagon and harness to which we hitched and drove a large Billy Goat!

 All of this, combined with the extensive fields and forests over which we were free to roam and play made for a richer childhood than that of sitting in front of a television every spare moment.    The big showboats used to tie up at Sykes Riverboat Landing during summer vacation.  They brought wonderful live stage plays to the Land Between the Rivers.  Among them, the classics and good novels, such as "Trait of the Lonesome Pine" "Tempest" and "Sunshine" and "David Copperfield, and many others.  My father never charged a fee for -the use of his landing.  Therefore, we always had complimentary tickets to all the shows.  We could hear the calliope music several miles away about mid afternoon.  People would come far and near as soon as the sound of the calliope bounced from hill to hill.  They came by horseback, buggy, farm wagon, and shanks mare.  Once or twice a year my father would commission a roving movie company to bring their show to Tharpe.   He would give them a Location beside his store, and we would always have free tickets.  Everyone from around came to the tent movies.

One summer he commissioned the Hague Circus to come and set up their tents and animal cages in his pasture field across the creek from the mills and store.  They had elephants, giraffes, horses, and ponies, and of course the big cats and lions.  They also erected the big tent with clowns, and acrobatic and equestrian stunts.  They were there for three days, and people who never had access to a circus, both adults and children, came from far and wide.  It was a gala three day event with the entertainment, and dad's businesses reaped bumper sales from the crowds.

 W. D. Sykes organized and managed the Tharpe baseball team, primarily including his employees.  The team was supplied with all the necessary equipment, and he scheduled games for them with the country teams far and wide.  Having been a teacher in his early years, and having married one of his pupils who was also a teacher, W. D. Sykes was intensely interested in progressive education.  Being a close friend-and associate of the Commissioner of Education for Tennessee, he had an inside track.  He,  with another individual, Mr. Bill Pugh of Stewart County, was directly responsible for getting the school term lengthened from five to eight months, and finally to nine months.  Being Chairman of the Board of Education also helped.

 A strong leader in the politics of Stewart County and the State, his friends included Governor Austin Peay.  W. D. was approached at various times by some of the leading politicians of the era, soliciting him for public office.  Among them were Joseph W. Byrnes and Cordett Hull, with whom he maintained a close friendship, and he entertained them at the country estate in Tharpe.  It once was said of him by a leading University President: “W. D. Sykes is definitely presidential material."  He was listed in the 1926 edition of "Who's Who in the South."   My father never accepted any of the political overtures made to him.  He once told me that the reason was that his family was too large to move around, he did not wish to be away from them, and his businesses were all that he cared to look after.  He said that he would gladly lend his political expertise to me if it were solicited.

 Our Town Home was, and still stands, in the Stewart County seat of Dover, now owned by Drs. Walton T. Wilford and D. Sykes Wilford, sons of my sister Rebecca Sykes Wilford, and grandsons of W. D. Sykes.  It is located on Church Street, across from the entrance to the National Cemetery, on the property that also houses the old Dover water tower.  The Country Home at Tharpe was destroyed when the U. S. Federal Park Service incorporated the Tharpe area in the Land Between the Lakes National Park.  I would be remiss if I did not list some of the things he and my mother did to make life interesting
and comfortable for their large family.  First, he furnished my mother with ample help, so that she had time for her children.  She read the Bible with us, took tons walks through the forest and surrounding countryside, teaching us the names and species of the trees and plants.  She went fishing in the creek with us, and always fried the fat little perch when we caught them.  She told us stories and taught us about our wonderful family heritage.  She had a philosophy of goodness about life and of people and taught us to appreciate them, and she taught us about God and His love.  Her mother-in-law once said to me  "if there's such a thing as Angels in this world, your mother is one of them." She was beautiful inside and out!

  Although my mother always had a cook, she always looked after the food that went on the table, and she was, herself, a superb cook. Though she had a gardener, she loved to plant and tend her own little kitchen and flower garden. Though she had a seamstress, she was a fine seamstress, and could  embroider beautifully.  She was also artistic and musical,  instructing me at an early age to sing and play her square grand piano.  Sallie Cleveland Ford Sykes was a school teacher when my father married her, arid was proclaimed the loveliest young lady in the County by those who remembered her.

 My father always acquired and maintained the best, and most modern means of travel for us.  Before automobiles, he maintained two single buggies and a horse to put I them, a surrey and two big brown horses named Bob and Pud to pull it in double harness, and several saddle houses.  We could always command a farm wagon and team and a drive for hay rides.   My father owned and maintained a Licensed Cumberland River steamboat Landing on his River Bottom farm.  Steamboats tied up to Sykes Landing to load all kinds of produce and live stock, and unloaded merchandise for his store and for the ountryside.  There were stock pens and a house where farmers could station their animals and wares until the boat arrived.  It was also the main means of travel since there was no railroad in Stewart County.

 When automobiles were introduced, he bought a large seven passenger car - a Graham Paige - for the family.  At the same time he bought a small one-seated Chevrolet Roadster for business trips.  We older children (my brothers Frank and "Jack") learned to drive with it.  Later on he bought a Model T Ford to use around the logging woods.  Because it sat high off the ground he could travel the logging roads more without problems.

 When I was fourteen years old in 1918 the United States was drawn into the First World War.  It ended, and the Mad Twenties followed.  My brother Frank and I graduated and went away to college:  I to Peabody College in Nashville to pursue a musical, education at eighteen, and Frank to the University of Tennessee to pursue a medical education which he did not want and never finished. The mad 20s and, later, the Great Depression of the Thirties followed.  W. D Sykes never gave up.  He, as many others, lost a great deal but kept right on striving, and kept his family together.  He died in 1959, and it is said that he
had the largest funeral to have been seen in the town of Murray, Kentucky to that date.  My brother Frank was reprimanded by citizens of Stewart County for not bring him to Dover to lie in state so that people whom he had always befriended employed, and protected could walk by his bier in respect.  Some say that when he left the Land Between the Rivers it died.  Now, the area in which we lived is a national park, inhabited by varied species of wild Life, including deer, bear, coyote, buffalo, and even gray and red wolf.  Walton Dill, Sykes, Sr. is held in reverence by his children, grandchildren, and all those whose lives he touched in the first half of the twentieth century.  He was a man greater than life itself!

Thanks again to Vara Sykes Wallace for sharing this story of her childhood memories with the wonderful details of a great family of the South.


This notice was published in Volume 13, #1, January, 2004

Happy Birthday and Happy Anniversary!

Vara Sykes Wallace has recently celebrated both her 99th birthday and 77 years of marriage to Roy James Wallace.  We send our congratulations to Vara and Roy on this wonderful milestone and wish them the best of the year to come.

The home in which Vara grew up in Dover, TN is now operated as the W. D. Sykes Historical Museum by the Stewart County Historical Society.  Conley L. Sikes Sr., of Evansville, IN (5th generation in the Southern Arthur Sykes line), recently wrote about attending the annual Grand Sykes/Sikes Reunion at Paris Landing and he sent information about the home including a photo of Conley and Bobby Sikes.  Thanks to Conley for this information.

We published Vara's obituary in Volume 13, #2, April, 2004

Vara Wallace, 99, Clarksville, died Friday, Feb. 27, 2004, at Gateway Medical Center, Clarksville.

The graveside funeral was held February 29 at Stewart County Memorial Gardens, Dover, with the Rev. Keith Sherwood officiating.  Burial was in Stewart County Memorial Gardens.  Anglin Funeral Home, Dover, was in charge of arrangements.

She was born Nov. 20, 1904, in Tharpe, daughter of Walton Dill and Sallie Ford Sykes.
  
Mrs. Wallace was an educator, a member of the Retired Teachers Association and a Methodist.
   
Survivors include her husband, Roy James Wallace; five sons, Don Wallace, Carlin, Nev., Jeff Wallace, Corona, Calif., and Jim Wallace, Lew Wallace and Mike Wallace, all of Clarksville; a daughter, Billifrank Wallace, Clarksville; two brothers, Blane Sykes, St. George Utah, and Pat Sykes, San Jose, Calif.; two sisters, Helen Patridge, Hueytown, Ala., and Rebecca Wilford, Clarksville; 13 grandchildren; and 10 great grandchildren.
   
Memorials may be made to Madison St. United Methodist Church, Clarksville.




Copyright 1997 - Present   including form and content by The Sikes/Sykes Families Association.
Material or data obtained from these pages may be used only when credit is given to The Sikes/Sykes Families Association.
This Web Site was created for The Sikes/Sykes Families Association by Diane Scannell.
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