For Release: March 28, 2012
Contact: Caneta Hankins, Center for Historic Preservation, 615-898-2947
PICKETT COUNTY FARMS JOIN RANKS OF STATE’S CENTURY FARMS PROGRAM
Whittenburg Farm and Riley Estate Recognized for Agricultural Contributions
MURFREESBORO— The Whittenburg Farm and the Riley Estate, located in Pickett County, have been designated as Tennessee Century Farms, reports Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms Program at the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU.
The Century Farms Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have owned and kept family land in continuous agricultural production for at least 100 years.
William Francis Williams acquired 468 acres five miles east of Byrdstown on Aug. 3, 1868. Here, he and his wife, Martha Campbell Williams, raised their six children and improved the land. To maintain their farm, the Williamses built a granary, corn crib and barn. They raised cattle, mules, hogs and chickens and grew corn, wheat and oats.
In 1916, their daughter Betty and her husband, Oplis Whittenburg, purchased 100 acres of the original farm for $400. They raised cattle, pigs and chickens while growing hay and corn. The Whittenburgs built two houses and also set aside acreage for Williams Chapel Church and Cemetery. Their daughter, Verda E. Whittenburg, inherited the farm when they died.
When Verda passed away in 1996, her cousin, Jean Beaty, inherited the family farm. Jean is another granddaughter of the founding couple, William and Martha Williams. Many of the original farm buildings and both houses remain on the farm. Jean has restored the two houses; one had been used to store hay and hang tobacco. Today, Jean and her son, Larry Beaty, live on the 83 acres that remain in the family. They grow hay and raise cattle with the help of their cousin, Larry Stone.
Joseph David Riley acquired 45 acres outside Byrdstown around 1898; however, the farm’s earliest legal documentation is for taxes paid for 1901. Joseph traded a black mare, with its saddle and bridle, for the farm. When he and Savannah Ellen Garrett married in 1898, Ellen brought her treadle sewing machine by mule from her home in northeast Pickett County to her new log home built by their families. From their property, where they raised three sons—Dewey Webster, James Elijah and Forrest McKinley—they witnessed World War I, survived the Great Depression and were able to maintain their land despite the building of Tennessee Valley Authority’s Dale Hollow Lake in 1942.
The Rileys’ farm provided for the needs of their family, and subsistence farmers, they engaged in a wide range of agricultural activities. Ellen is remembered as a strong woman who worked alongside Joseph. She harvested the wool from their sheep, carded it, and spun it into wool thread. To supplement the farm’s income, she produced items for sale, including feather mattresses and pillows, milk, butter, cream and wine.
Joseph and Ellen lived much as their parents had and did not make use of many of the modern conveniences that the 20th Century provided. Until the Rileys died in the mid-1960s, they continued to cook on a wood-burning stove; use buckets to carry water from a spring a thousand feet from the house and used electricity sparingly. In fact, they only had two light bulbs and a basic refrigerator.
In 1934, the Rileys deeded a portion of their land to Dewey Webster “Webb” Riley, their oldest son. Their second son, James Elijah, was deeded five acres on which he built his homestead; this land remains in the family and is owned by Elbert Riley and his wife. In 1963, Webb and his wife, Maggie Jane Melton Riley, were deeded the remaining acreage for a total of 40 acres.
Webb and Maggie continued to practice subsistence farming and supplemented their income by raising tobacco, beef cattle, dairy cows and a large poultry flock and producing molasses and honey. All of these were sold to or traded with neighbors at local and regional markets. Their children were Audrey Mae, Curtis Frank and Marvin Cordell. In their retirement, Webb and Maggie sold 15 acres and transferred ownership of their farm to Audrey.
Audrey Mae and her husband, Daniel Tompkins, had three children; Gregory, Douglas and Regina. Webb Riley continued to use the property and leased the land for tobacco, alfalfa and grazing purposes. In time, Audrey continued to lease the land as her father did and also sold about eight acres.
Maggie Riley passed away in 2005, and in 2009, the founder’s great-grandson, Gregory, and his wife, Deborah Sexton-Tompkins Riley, purchased 13 acres from Audrey.
Webb and Maggie’s 1930s house still stands, as well as the main stock barn, smokehouse, bee house, chicken house and a small tobacco barn. Each of these are in the process of renovation or recently were restored by Gregory and Deborah. The land produces hay, firewood, black walnuts and cedar fence posts in addition to several thousand board feet of timber.
Since 1984, the Center for Historic Preservation at MTSU has been a leader in the important work of documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farms Program.
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit www.tncenturyfarms.org. The Center for Historic Preservation also may be contacted at Box 80, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37132 or 615-898-2947.
• ATTENTION, MEDIA: To interview the farm’s owner or request jpegs of the farm for editorial use, please contact the CHP at 615-898-2947.
Celebrating its 100th anniversary and faithful to its roots as a teachers' college, MTSU continues as a top producer of teachers in Tennessee. Pride, Tradition and Excellence are the cornerstones of "Tennessee’s Best"! For MTSU news and information anytime, visit www.mtsunews.com.