Growing up in Skaggston

Skaggston Elementary in the 1960s
Skaggston Elementary in the 1960s

Knox County Law Director Richard “Bud” Armstrong grew up in the Skaggston area and attended the elementary school there. From there, he went to Carter High School and graduated from UT. He received a Doctorate in Education from Columbia University and graduated from the Nashville School of Law.

Armstrong served TVA for 32 years as an Environmental Scientist, served as a Knox County Commissioner, and has been active in the East Tennessee Historical Society and various business and professional organizations.

The Knoxville Focus asked him to recall growing up in Skaggston:

Growing up in The Skaggston community was a wonderful experience. The community was made up of blue collar families. Most people worked in the zinc mines, at the industrial park or at the knitting mill. Also, many of the families had small farms to subsidize their incomes.

As children, we went to the Skaggston Elementary School. It consisted of grades one through eight. Those of us who lived within a mile radius of the school had to walk to and from school each day. The route from my house included about a half-mile walk along Rutledge Pike (Bloody Highway 11W).  It was never an issue as to whether we were too young or irresponsible to take such a journey — it was just expected of us to do. The older children assisted the younger along the way and we all arrived safely each and every day whether in rain, shine, snow or sleet. As the old saying goes, we walked to school up hill in the snow both ways. We were taught how to behave on our way to school and the dangers associated with the highway were not an issue.

We were taught the basic subjects – reading, writing and arithmetic, as they say, — along with history, geography, languages and such. I had wonderful teachers. They were concerned that each and every student mastered the basic skills. There was Mrs. Birley who taught us how to read. Mrs. Foster, Mrs. Gibson, and Mrs. Hodge who drilled us through the math experience. So many memories! I just thank each and everyone who you loved us and taught us to become successful in life with the skills needed for lifelong learning.

After school we would stop at Kender’s Store located at the end of Roseberry Road and Rutledge Pike. The store was a wooden structure consisting of two rooms. One room was for feed and another was used for groceries. It was really small. There was a great wooden and glass candy case inside that we all would stop and dream over. We generally didn’t have any money so dreaming was all we could do. Outside on the porch was a coke box loaded with all flavors of cokes – Coca Cola, RC, Dr. Pepper, Nehi (orange and grape), Yahoo (chocolate) and much more. Occasionally, I would gather enough coke bottles to buy a coke or Moon Pie, but those were rare occasions. I would often be a bottle or two short of getting enough money for both a coke, or dope as it was often referred to, and a Moon Pie. Mr. Whitman, Neil to the grownups, was the owner of the store, and he would often let me have both anyway. We became great friends. I could also sweep out the store during the summer days and get money for such luxuries as a coke, Moon Pie or a Baby Ruth candy bar.

Mr. Whitman and I became such good friends that we became hunting partners. He was the only person that my mother would let me go hunting with. He taught me many things about hunting and life as well. There were many people throughout the community who influenced our lives.

There was a baseball field behind the store. To reach it, we had to walk across a wooden bridge at the end of the store to cross Roseberry Creek. We would play baseball from early morning until nearly dark during the summer. Skaggston had a formal baseball league at that time. Each community in East Knox County had a community team that made up the league -Thorngrove, Trentville, Three Points, Mascot and Skaggston — to name a few. There were several levels of teams. They ranged from minor league, little league, Babe Ruth League to the Connie Mack League. Each community generally had most of the levels for each age group. Life was great and times were simple for us kids. Work and play were the concerns of the day.

During the hot summer days, we all would walk up Roseberry Road to the swinging bridge that crossed Roseberry Creek. There at that location was the Red Eye hole where we all fished. When the fish wouldn’t bite, we would go “skinning dipping” to cure the heat of the day. Nothing was complicated or lost.

We all had chores to do around the house, farm or odd jobs. I put up hay, worked tobacco from bed to barn, planted corn, pumpkins and gardens. I also worked at Norton’s Barbershop sweeping floors and shining shoes. We were driving tractors and farm trucks at an early age. Being in the country, not much was said if we ran up the road to the next field so long as we were working. Everyone had a role to play. All my friends worked at something.

We have all grown up today. Most have left Skaggston moving elsewhere to raise our own families in their “Skaggstons.” Becoming doctors, lawyers, teachers and such. It all started here in Skaggston.

The old store no longer stands today. The store has been replaced with a new East Knox Elementary School. The old baseball park has shifted its location, but is still behind Roseberry Creek (no wooden bridge needed now). The school burned and no longer stands — except in our memories. Time passes by but Skaggston still stands as a great community to raise a family.

 

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