Remembering Rutherford: Fences tell of feuds, psych care and personalities

Greg Tucker, The Murfreesboro Post, March 22, 2017

The brick fence behind the 1935 Central High School football team in this picture was built by the adjacent landowner, a prosperous local contractor, to keep high school students off his property.

Even the fences tell tales in Rutherford County.

Devil’s fence

Virgil Pitts and Ellis Peyton, neighbors on Trimble Road in the eastern portion of Rutherford County in the 1940s, raised sheep.

Their respective sheep pastures shared a common fence, and for years they fumed and fussed at each other about maintenance of the fence and whose animals were running in which pasture. They could distinguish the animals since one farmer removed the tails, and the other didn’t.

Eventually, three ewes with tails were found on the wrong side of the rather porous fence, and their tails were cut. Before long the neighbor recognized his missing livestock

despite the missing tails. Sharp words and not-so-idle threats were exchanged, and the matter wound up in General Sessions Court.

The court was more concerned about the long-running “fence feud” than the status of three sheep. The judge apparently wanted to emphasize that folks would be a lot better off if they would get along and work together. He ordered each of the parties to build a new fence the length of their common property line and paralleling the existing fence at a distance of six feet. A sheriff’s deputy was detailed to confirm compliance with the order. This new fencing created a twelve foot “dead zone” straddling the length of the original fence.

The late Steve Blankenship, raised on a neighboring farm, remembers hearing that each of the mandated fences “cost more than the value of either herd.” Neighbors took to calling it a “devil’s fence.” A section of the triple fence can still be seen on the east side of West Trimble Road about 50 feet south of the 4978 mailbox.

High school pedestrian barrier

The first Central High School building in Murfreesboro was opened in 1919 next door to

the Maple Street home of James A. Moore, a wealthy builder reputed at the time to be

“the only infidel in Rutherford County,” according to the late C. B. Arnette. Whatever may have been his spiritual inclination, Moore didn’t like high school students walking across his property.

Moore bought the lot between Maple and Walnut Streets in or about the 1900s and demolished the wood frame home of John C. Spence, founder of the original cedar bucket factory in Murfreesboro, in order to build his own “modern” brick residence. Soon after classes began at the new high school site (now the Murfreesboro Housing Authority), Moore built a brick and stone wall along his southern and western boundaries. This masonry fence served as a visual screen, as well as a barrier to foot traffic.

The last remaining portion of Moore’s wall on Walnut Street was demolished in or about 2013 for construction of an office building. The three-story Moore home now houses the Kious, Rodgers, Barger, Holder and Kious law firm.

Window bars

In 1976 C. B. Arnette purchased from a scrap metal/junk dealer in Beech Grove a quantity of iron window barriers recently removed from the

This iron fence on the Lebanon Highway is made of the window barriers removed from the Veterans Administration psychiatric facility in the 1970s.

patient buildings at the Veterans Administration psychiatric hospital north of Murfreesboro.

The iron sections, each approximately 2’x4′ of ornamental iron, were used to protect the hospital windows and to prevent entry or exit when the windows were open. Specifically, they were to prevent psychiatric patients from falling or climbing out the windows. Apparently with the advent of “chemical restraints” (drugs), it was decided that the window barriers were no longer required. Gail Norton, who worked for many years as a VA nurse, remembers that removal of the iron barriers was a “policy decision” relating to public perception of the facility and its programs.

Joe Dill welded the sections into four-foot squares, which were joined to make a decorative iron fence across the 200-foot front of Arnette’s 15-acre residence on Lebanon Pike. The fence still stands at the corner of U. S. Highway 231 North and Cherry Lane.

Great Wall of Rutherford

Beulah Hughes was the most prominent partisan Republican in Rutherford County in the first half of the 20th century. She was a Tennessee delegate to several Republican National Conventions, serving in 1927 and 1931 as a delegate for Herbert Hoover. Her partisan loyalty earned her appointment as postmaster for Murfreesboro.

The Hughes home, east of Murfreesboro on what is now the Old Lascassas Pike, was sold to John T. Cunningham, a prosperous local optometrist, in the 1970s. The eye doctor’s politics were not notable, but neighbor Robert Stroop recalls Dr. Cunningham was fascinated by heavy equipment. “We were doing some building and excavation shortly after he moved into the neighborhood, and on some days he would stand at the fence and watch the heavy equipment work for an hour or more.”

Great Wall of Murfreesboro

Eventually Cunningham bought himself a backhoe, and for his birthday his wife gave him a Caterpillar DH dozer. He had no training or experience on the equipment, but enjoyed pushing and scraping dirt and rock around an old quarry on the back of his property. “One day we noticed that he had scraped and leveled a strip along the pike and down each side of his new house,” remembers Stroop.

Cunningham hired some of the Baxter clan. (Five or six generations of the Baxters have been master stone masons, including Ray Baxter who taught his sons the trade after being blinded and losing one hand in a dynamite accident.) Using stone gathered from all over the county, they built for the doctor the most imposing yard enclosure in the county. “I guess he also liked rocks,” muses his neighbor.

You can still see the wall just past the geographic center monument on Old Lascassas Pike.

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