Life in the mid-1800s, 150 years ago, was very different from today. Bartlett was a small community of about 100 people. There were many large tracts of land surrounding Bartlett that grew cotton and soybeans.
Most residents of Bartlett also had gardens where they grew vegetables and fruits that they enjoyed during the spring and summer months and preserved for the fall and winter. Meats such as poultry, beef and pork were processed by curing. The three main ways of curing were drying, smoking and salting. Each method drew moisture out of foods to prevent spoiling.
Fruits and vegetables could be dried by being placed out in the sun or near a heat source. Meat products could be preserved through salting or smoking.
Every family member contributed to the production and preparation of meals. Men and boys worked outdoors, working the crops in the fields, feeding the livestock and hunting. Women and girls worked mainly in the kitchen and fed the smaller livestock.
The fall of the year was the time to butcher animals. Families came together with their neighbors to share the workload and the meat. Pork was the staple meat in the Southeast until the 1940s. Hogs proved more manageable than their larger counterparts, cows, and the taste of pork also improved with curing. Neighbors also used this time to catch up, sharing news and gossip. What began as a chore turned into a social event. This was also true at harvest time. Neighbors pitched in to bring in crops, after which everyone would celebrate with feasts, bonfires and dancing.
A typical day began very early. Women got up early to build the fire in the hearth, which provided the center of home life and family activity. There were also fireplaces in most of the rooms in the home to provide heat.
Preparing meals included grinding up spices, such as cinnamon and nutmeg, and seasonings, like salt and pepper, with mortars and pestles. Milk had to be brought in from the family cow, and cream and butter had to be made from it. Eggs had to be gathered from the henhouse. Meal preparation back then had many more steps than it does now, but families usually ate three daily meals as we do today. Breakfast was first thing in the morning, and the main meal was called dinner and served in the early afternoon. Supper was a smaller meal eaten in the evening.
The day-to-day lives of men and women were quite clearly divided during the 1800s. People were expected to perform specific duties and fulfill certain roles in order to ensure that home and community functioned smoothly. For men this usually meant working outdoors and participating in town functions. Women were more restricted in their activities. Most of their work was done in and around the home. Sewing, spinning, cooking, cleaning and gardening were tasks done by most working-class women. Marriage and children were expected for the majority of women as they provided a degree of security and social status.
Most children on farms worked alongside the grownups. Boys’ tasks might include cutting, splitting or carrying wood for the fireplace, tending the animals, working in the gardens or fields and hunting and fishing to provide food for the family. Girls would spend their days collecting eggs, churning butter, cleaning, doing laundry, sewing clothes for the family, caring for younger brothers and sisters and helping elderly family members.
Children learned to read, write and do math at home or in a simple one-room schoolhouse where there was one teacher for all grades. They usually went to school only a few months of the year as they were needed to help at home. The teacher was typically a single woman and she could be as young as 14 or 15 years old. Often the teacher did not live in the community and would live with a local family during the school year. These schools were prevalent in Shelby County and were often only a few miles apart as students had to walk to school. Before the late 1850s there may have been a school or two in this area, but there is no record of them. After 1858, Bartlett fared a little better with its schools. That year Professor John Rousseau, a schoolmaster from LaGrange Synodical College, and his wife, Anna, opened a boarding school at their residence, the Anchorage. It was on Stage Road, just west of Shelby Street. The school was named the Bartlett Academy and it was co-educational. In 1871 the Rousseaus decided to move, and they closed the school, sold their home and land, and moved to Clarksville.
In 1860 the Rev. John Shelton, a Methodist minister, organized a private school for teenage girls in a frame meetinghouse where the Methodists met. It was called Bartlett Chapel, and it was on Sycamore View Road. Shelton was both minister and schoolmaster at Bartlett Chapel, and the school was open through the Civil War until the Sheltons moved to Kentucky.
Professor J.T. Norcom, reportedly from Memphis and “a finished scholar and experienced teacher,” opened the Masonic Collegiate Institute, a private school for boys, in January 1868. He held classes in the Masonic Hall at the northwest corner of Sycamore View and Woodlawn Road. At some point unknown, he closed the school.
In the mid-1880s John and George Neuhardt, the latter a graduate of Oberlin Business College in Ohio, came to Bartlett. When the Bartlett Courthouse was vacated, several Masonic leaders, the school commissioners of Civil District 7 and a few private citizens combined their efforts and chartered the Bartlett School for Boys and Girls to be held in the old courthouse. They were awarded the charter and the Neuhardts and Miss Lizzie Pope were employed as instructors in the school, which was actually called the Bartlett Training Institute but was usually called Courthouse School. The Training Institute, supported partially by public funds, lasted until the late 1880s, when the Neuhardts left, leaving instruction of local youth to truly local teachers.
See a continuation of this topic in next week’s column.
Written by Suzanne Griffith Coleman, special to the Express.