PUBLICATION 6 - 1972
He was a father, a teacher, an historian, a Sunday School teacher, a Mason, a friend - thus you might give a thumbnail sketch of Robert Melford Addington, son of Joseph Milton Addington, one of the many Joe's in the Addington lineage. His mother was Kerrenah Estil Quillen, and where the unusual name of Kerrenah came from I do not know.
Robert Melford Addington was born April 14, 1867, on Copper Ridge in Scott County, Virginia, in a log house which, so far as I know, is still standing. The usual pursuits of farming, hunting, fishing, berry picking, and exploring were carried on during his early boyhood. The only thing I recall most distinctly is a story about berry picking. He, in company with an aunt, went to pick blackberries. The aunt, he thought, had gone away as she did not respond to calls. He started to look for her and finally found her going around in a circle, said circle decreasing in circumference each time around. Upon closer approach and observation he discovered a snake and he realized his aunt was being charmed by it. He hurriedly killed the snake and his aunt then was able to talk although it is doubtful she was able to resume berrypicking.
Robert M's first wife was Nannie Jackson Nickels, my mother. The children born to there were: Otta Fay, Justin, Gus, Kermit, and James.
As to exploring, I recall his account of going into a cave on Sinking Creek near Dungannon with a man by the name of Porter. They had a lantern but the light went out and they had nothing dry on which to strike a match and they positively were down to their last match until one or the other remembered his trusty Barlow knife and fortunately this match did not go out. He described this cave as full of deep holes with water in it and did not believe he could ever have gotten out alive if the last match had gone out.
Skipping a presumably normal childhood, we come to his first experience as a teacher in 1884 at age 17 in a school sweetly named Sugar Grove. It was a crude and small building. Its exact location is unknown to me but within its walls individual instruction which is so much talked about today really took place. I have heard him say he left home before daylight and started teaching as soon as she arrived on a first come, first served basis; he left school barely in time to reach home before dark. I think the pay was about $20 per month.
In addition to the one-room Sugar Grove school he taught similar schools at Saratoga, Purchase, Mace Springs and Jesse's Mill.
He taught in the State Summer School at Bristol, 1896, and at the State Normal School in Big Stone Gap for seven consecutive summers, 1907 to 1913. Then for four years he was associate principal with L. G. Stevenson at Shoemaker College in Gate City. He was a member of the first Shoemaker faculty as a history teacher.
After his tenure at Shoemaker he served one year as principal of Collingwood Academy in Russell County. Then he was principal of the school at Nickelsville. During 1903-1904 he assumed the presidency of Gladeville College in Wise, Wise County. After that he returned to Nickelsville where he served until 1911. This was followed by eight years as principal of Fulkerson High School. In all he taught for thirty- three years.
In preparation for teaching he graduated from Greenwood High School in 1887. Then he attended Peabody Normal School in Nashville, Tennessee, where he was awarded as L. I. degree in 1890.
History was his teaching subject at the Normal schools. At Nickelsville and Maces Springs he was both principal and teacher and he operated what would be called a "tight" school. One of the rules he had a Maces Springs I can recall was that boys and girls were not to date each other over the weekend while school was in session. Relaxing of the rules was made for pie and ice cream suppers. I am not sure the aforementioned rule was strictly obeyed but if evidence was obtained of its violation the violators were punished. I think it also appropriate to mention that each day he opened school with a Bible reading, a short sermonette, and a prayer. In these sermonettes he preached against the evils of drinking whiskey. He told me he had tasted whiskey only once in his life.
I still come across former students of his who recall the teaching he did on moral issues aside from daily book lessons. May times he told me that any influence for good he might have had was attributed more to these chapel exercises than to the conduct of classes.
He was usually called Professor Addington. His second wife, Loula L. Daugherty, always called him Professor instead of Robert or Bob. She perhaps had started this while she had known him at the Greenwood Normal School.
So far as I know, he was never physically assaulted by any student, although I am sure he was threatened by politics on some occasions. In fact, I know of one move he was forced to make because someone was influential enough with the School Board members to get it done. That move, by the way, in later years was to be an excellent one in helping him get elected County Court Clerk as it widened his circle of friends, particularly in Fulkerson District. From my own personal knowledge I do not know of a single student who attended Fulkerson High School and later became involved in a serious criminal offense.
I might say, in regard to the teaching at Maces Springs, that without his knowledge of farming the years would have been much leaner. He bought a twenty-acre farm for about $2,000 in Poor Valley and in the area where the land was really poor - more suited to sedge grass. By judicious use of manure and fertilizer, planting peas and alfalfa to add legumes, etc., he built up one level piece of ground which produced a large part of our living. On this same piece of ground two of his sons won prizes for best corn at the county fair. He even grew his own peanuts. The only thing I thought he got short changed on was swapping the labor of himself and three sons to neighbors having only one son and many more acres of land. Ours was purely a farm for self-preservation and no tobacco was grown as the land could not be spared for that.
He was a Mason. At what stage of his life or where he became a member I do not know. I do know, however, that he and Wright S. Cox, an attorney, were credited with knowing more about Masonry and instructing more applicants for admission than any other two men in the county.
As to his teaching Sunday School, I can only verify the fact that from 1920 or thereabouts he taught a class at the Baptist Church of Gate City until he, for personal reasons, went to the Methodist Church and there he continued to teach as long as he was able. Despite his deep religious faith and knowledge I cannot remember his ever urging any of his children to join a church and my more mature consideration of this lends me to believe that he thought membership would be more lasting if entered into voluntarily and perhaps he may have felt that a good example would most surely have its effect.
Robert M. Addington is listed as the author of HISTORY OF SCOTT COUNTY, VIRGINIA. In addition, he wrote the following: A SYLLABUS OF SCOTT COUNTY HISTORY, OLD TIME SCHOOL IN SCOTT COUNTY, SCOTT COUNTY IN WAR TIMES and EXACT LOCATION OF WILDERNESS ROAD TO KENTUCKY.
To understand his interest in history presumably one would have to go back a long way and how it started would be anybody's guess. Suffice it to say that his eldest son was christened Justin Winsor, named after a noted historian. In fact, I believe his daughter's name, Otta Fay, was taken from something he had read.
On his meager earnings from teaching he started accumulating a library and it was accented with a majority of history books. I forgot to mention that my own name was originally Kermit Quentin, so named for Theodore Roosevelt's sons, but I didn't like the name Quentin so I changed it to Kermit Roosevelt.
W. D. Smith and John P. McConnell were two men who influenced my father to put into writing his knowledge of things historical. At the urging of Mr. Smith, he first produced a SYLLABUS OF SCOTT COUNTY, which was used in county schools. His, HISTORY OF OLD-TIME SCHOOLS IN SCOTT COUNTY was issued as a publication from Radford State College of which Dr. McConnell was president. It was distributed throughout the nation by the college. With these beginnings he was urged to write the History of Scott County and with his limited resources so far as money was concerned over a period of fifteen years he assembled from available sources as much information as he could. When information was needed from the Wisconsin State Library, the place where the original Draper Manuscripts reposed, it took money to get the photostats as there was no micro-filming then. If he wanted information from the Virginia State Library or from some county records he had to pay for that, too. So far as I know the only financial help given was about $100 from Dr. McConnell. Apologetically, he told me once that while he spent $3,000 for 2,000 copies of Scott County histories at the Kingsport Press, other people spent a like amount on golf, travel, etc. - because they liked such diversions. He was spending that much for something he liked, history.
I might mention that he often exchanged information with I. C. Coley who was most knowledgeable in the field of genealogy and I believe between them they could almost trace the roots and descendants of the majority of the families in Scott County. Albert Counts was another man who liked to talk history and genealogy with my father. In a more recent generation the late Charlie Baker used to stop by the house to talk history.
It was upon winning a scholarship by a competitive examination that he was able to go to the University of Nashville, which later became Peabody College. Here he became enamored with his professors and the abundance of materials to be found in the library. I think one might safely assume it was here that he became acquainted with his first encyclopedia, his first set of histories. In his library later he himself had a set of Greene's HISTORY OF ENGLAND and a set of the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITTANICA.
His work at the University of Nashville got for him an L. I. Degree, which, being translated, meant Licensed Instructor. A fellow student of his at the University of Nashville was Millard Horton, a fellow Scott Countian, who loved books so much that he practically flunked out since, according to my father, he would rather read than study. Evidently his work was satisfactory and had been accomplished by his own finance plus a scholarship as his father made no real money producing crops; tobacco was not sold then as now.
I have heard W. D. Smith say he bought his first dictionary by sale of rabbit skins at one cent each and no doubt saleable furs might have helped my dad.
My only memorable experience of him as an educator began with his principalship at Fulkerson High School in 1911. He taught all high school subjects but high school there went through only the ninth grade. Latin, math, history, English pretty well described the curriculum. Evidently, to keep from spoiling me my dad would never help me with my homework and I pointed out that he would help others but not his own son. He bent over backwards so no one could accuse him of preferential treatment. I recall that after one of my brothers had been called an s.o.b. the brother proceeded at school to punch said name- caller on the nose.
I have often wondered what my father's feelings were when he switched my brother hard for this offense. Patience was a virtue of his which might by some unknowing person have been labeled inaction. He was truly slow to anger but at the same time steadfast in purpose without anger. This is just a way of saying he meant what he said and one had better believe it, although the saying was not coupled with any direct threat. I can truly say that I never in my life heard him rant and rave as some do when angry.
His try for nomination for County Court Clerk, for a second time, was suggested to him first by J. P. Corns, the attorney and father of Dr. Corns. His opponent for the nomination was a seasoned veteran in politics, Floyd Richmond, who had been in office 14 years.
Papa's main theme in the campaign was that the office should be available for some other good Republican. The competition for delegates at the convention in 1919 was great and Papa won by a few votes. This, I would imagine, was about the last campaign made on horseback by a candidate in Scott County. My grandfather had a mare, Old Mag, which he lent to my father for the duration of the campaign. He would leave Maces Springs on a Monday morning and not return until the end of the week. Sometimes he left his horse at places where he might be able to catch a train, come home for the weekend and resume campaigning from that location the following week.
His opponent in the general election was a veteran of World War I and it took a vigorous campaign to win ans the sympathy for a veteran was most prevalent in 1919. This was where his long record as a teacher, a Sunday School teacher, and being a gentleman helped to win the election. One incident I recall in connection therewith was the help he received through having helped a man many years before while teaching at Purchase. A man by the name of W. Johnson had a cow which was being sold to satisfy a debt judgment. My father went to the sale and seeing that the man and his children were going to be deprived of the milk they needed, he bid on the cow and allowed the man to keep it. At that time he never had any idea that much an act would have a lot of influence on an election many years later. However, Mr. Johnson let it be known that this was the same man who performed this unselfish act and it helped a lot.
My father pledged that after a term of eight years as County Clerk he would not seek re-election nor would any of his family. However his son Gus as Deputy Clerk had made so many friends both Republican and Democrat than he was urged by leading Republicans to make the race as the leaders believed he could surely win and help the whole ticket. Their prediction proved correct as he was elected by a greater majority than any other candidate.
Papa became Deputy Clerk under his son in 1928 and served until shortly after the son's death on the 29th of February, 1932. To remove some of the political harshness in selecting a clerk to fill the vacancy created by death, overtures were made by Republican sources close to the Democratic Party to allow my father to continue as Deputy Clerk. As a matter of principle he refused to accept this appointment and thus ended about 45 years of public service - 33 years in the teaching profession and 12 years as County and Deputy Clerk.
Previously, mention was made of his writing the HISTORY OF SCOTT COUNTY. It was not so much the writing that was important but the research inherent in such a project to insure its historic accuracy if at all possible. For about 15 years he collected, read, studied, and copied materials for the book. During some of these years he labored at night under oil lamps as we did not have electricity. Even in the house in Gate City there were no wall outlets for sometime so the lighting there was about as bad as Maces Springs. What material was not written in long-hand was typed on an old Oliver typewriter with one finger on each hand doing the typing. Typing on this machine caused about as much exercise as the modern physical fitness program would produce.
The first marriage of Mr. Addington to Nannie Jackson Nickels was ended by her death at age 33. To this union five children were born - one girl, the eldest, and four boys. The forebears of Mr. Addington were John G. Nickels and Lou Hartsock Nickels and the town of Nickelsville received its name from these early inhabitants. The second marriage was to Loula Liberia Dougherty of Snowflake, VA. There were no children by this marriage.
Some memorable experiences were:
1. Riding the first train to Bristol upon completion of the South and Western Railroad.
2. Teaching at college level in Shoemaker College.
3. Delivering address at Scott County's Bicentennial in 1914. He told me one time he was not particularly proud of the introduction as the introducer said he was "a man who had eaten the most apple butter of any man in Scott County" an allusion to the school lunches he had when in school and in his carrying lunches while teaching for 33 years.
4. Meeting Dr. Pusey from Chicago who made a trip down to go over the Wilderness Road. I shall not soon forget that they hired a car and Dr. Pusey gave the driver $20 for the day and to me that was an exorbitant sum. It was during this trip that plans were made to erect a marker at the Block House on Holston River. W. D. Morison, Sr. took this stone from in front of our house on the main street of Gate City, carved it to suit the purpose, installed it and attached the marker. Dr. Pusey paid the whole cost of the project.
5. Two friendships
quality - that
of Dr. John P. McConnell and W. D. Smith. Just how and
between each began I do not know. One thing can be
that is there was no political alliance. Dr.
McConnell, president of
State College, was a Democrat as was Mr. Smith. All
had been in normals
together and evidently this association was largely
when Mr. Smith was being tried for lack of allegiance
to the Democratic
party my father was called as a witness. On the
witness stand he was
whether or not Mr. Smith had voted for him, a
Republican. He replied by
citing a conversation he had with Mr. Smith in which
Smith said, "Bob,
I must tell you that I did not vote for you." Dr.
McConnell would write
my father often, reminding him of some incident of
interest, and always
encouraging him to keep up the work on the history. I
would say he
more letters from him than any other person. He also
wanted papa to
writing biographical sketches of some of the prominent
families in the
county and even sent a check to get him started.
However, the check was
returned as Papa did not want at that period of life
to start such an
NOTES: The late Dr. J. J. Kelly, Jr., for many years superintendent of Wise County Schools, told me, L. F. Addington, president of the Historical Society of Southwest Virginia, a humorous incident which happened at Gladeville College while he, Dr. Kelly, was a student during R. M. Addington's presidency.
"In those days," said Dr. Kelly, "cows ran at large in and around the town of Wise. One of their favorite places for gathering was in the shade of some trees behind the schoolhouse. Most of them wore bells, and their continual clattering as they fought off flies disturbed the decorum of the classroom. When the noise became unbearable Professor Addington would say, "One of you boys run out and drive off the cows." I was always willing and ready to go.
"One day a group of boys hatched up a scheme to fool the professor. So, one afternoon after school was out the boys took a cowbell to the school building and hunt it to a bush near the cows' favorite gathering place.
"They tied a cord to the bell's top and one of the group crawled under the floor and extended the other end of the cord up through a knot hole in the floor.
"The cord was fastened to a cork which was placed into the knot hole.
"Next day when study began and Professor Addington was talking, a boy who sat over the cork would reach down, lift the cork up and jerk the cord, thus jangling the cowbell outside.
"Hearing the noise the professor said to me, 'Jack, will you got out and drive the cows away?'
"I went and returned saying, 'No cows out there.'
" The boy at the cork jerked it vigorously again. This time the professor himself went out to investigate. Soon he returned with a big grin on his face. He said, 'Boys, who can think up a prank like that ought to go far in books.' He turned the matter aside, not once trying to find out who the boys were that would likely go far in books. But since the school was in such an uproar he suspended classes for the day."
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