By Eldon Roark¹ - October 19, 1941
TRIP TO DANCYVILLE
The most hospitable man I've met recently is Isaac Bradley Dancy, of Dancyville, Tennessee. He'll go to any lengths to show off his town and entertain a visitor even if it means alarming the whole countryside.
Dancyville was named for Mr. Dancy's grandfather, Isaac Dancy, in a most unusual way, and Mr. Dancy has lived his entire 75 years right there. He loves the place and he is an authority on Dancyville history and lore. He also runs a gristmill, has charge of the cemetery, teaches a Sunday School class and reads more than anybody in town.
I met Mr. Dancy when I went to Dancyville to interview the six-fingered Negro family. I was in the general store of Clark Brothers and was asking R.J. Clark about the town. "That old gentleman, out front reading, can tell you more than anybody," he said. "That's Mr. Dancy, the town was named after his grandfather, come on, I'd like for you to meet him. He reads your column everyday."
So I met Mr. Dancy, a jolly, ruddy faced man with blue eyes and a gray mustache, and we talked. Yes, Dancyville was an old town, one of the oldest in West Tennessee. Why, some of the graves in the cemetery went back to 1792.
" And the first Female School in Tennessee was in Dancyville." "What was the name of it I asked?" And Mr. Dancy thought and thought and couldn't think of it. About that time G.W. Cook, another veteran citizen came by. "George, what was the name of the female school?" Mr. Dancy asked. "You remember it - in the upstairs of that old lodge building." Mr. Cook remembered it alright - yep they certainly did have the first female school - but he couldn't think of it either.
CHURCH OF HAND-HEWN TIMBER
Mr. Dancy especially wanted me to see the Methodist Church, just over the hill, that's where he teaches Sunday School, the building is over 100 years old, made of hand-hewn, hand sawed timber, cut right on the grounds. As we got in my car to drive over a lady came running up. Could Mr. Dancy come over to the Parsonage? The men were getting ready to wire it for electric lights and they wanted him to show them where to put them.(TVA is coming into town) "Be over in a few minutes", said Mr. Dancy and we drove on.
The old church is just a white frame building, 40 by 60 feet but it really is beautiful in it's simplicity and it's old-timey atmosphere. Its timbers are apparently as solid as the day they were placed there. The weather boarding, Mr. Dancy explained, was cut with old sash saws. A log would be placed over a huge pit, one man would get down in the pit and work one end of the saw and the other man on the saw would be above the pit. Up and down they would work the saw, and in time off would come another long plank.
VERITABLE PICTURE OF ANTIQUITY
We went inside the church and I found the same old-timey atmosphere that I found on the exterior. It's true, the original plaster ceiling has been covered with sawmill ceiling but otherwise the picture is one of antiquity: the plain brown benches, the 20 foot ceiling, the hanging coal-oil lamps and the bell rope hanging just inside the entrance.
I like churches with bells. I like to hear them ring. Takes me back to my boyhood. I mentioned that to Mr. Dancy. "Does your bell still work?" I asked. "Why sure" he said. Then to prove it he stepped over to the rope and started yanking it. "Clang-Clong!Clang-Clong!" The big bell rang out. It could easily be heard all over town and beyond. I got scared. I was afraid we might get arrested for turning in a false alarm. In my home town, you see, when a church bell rang in the middle of a week day afternoon, it meant a fire or something terrible had happened. Mr. Dancy, however, thought nothing of it and neither did the populace. At least they didn't come scurrying up the hill to see what in the world was the matter. So I guess it is alright for anybody to ring the bell if he feels like ringing a bell.
FAMILY GREW UP IN CHURCH
Mr. Dancy showed us where his Sunday School class sat and then he told us about his Grandfather Kerr, a very religious man. Yes, they had all grown up in the church. When grandfather Kerr got a little older he figured out a trick-method for kneeling in prayer but at the same time remain seated in his short-legged chair. Mr. Dancy demonstrated how he did it.
Grandfather Kerr would also lead prayer, but would keep his eyes open. Some of the brothers and sisters thought that was highly improper and once they jumped him about it. "Doesn't the Bible say watch as well as pray?" he asked. Yes, he was a character - Grandfather Kerr.
HOW THE TOWN WAS NAMED
The cemetery is across the road from the church and we strolled through it. We talked on and Mr. Dancy explained how the town happened to be named for his grandfather. One well to do citizen - Mr. Dancy thinks his name might have been McLemore, decided that he was going to open a store, that the community needed one. So he went to Saint Louis and bought a bill of goods. That was about 1832. "Now where do you live?" the wholesaler asked. "Where do you want the stuff shipped?" The new merchant hemmed and hawed. He lived in West Tennessee but the community didn't have a name. "Who are some of the families that live there?" the wholesaler asked. " well there are the Douglases, Browns, Carneys and the Dancys²." The wholesaler perked up at the mention of the name Dancy. That was catchy. He liked it - Dancy - Dancy - Dancyville. "Let's give your community a name right now." he said. "Let's call it Dancyville." So that's how the boxes were addressed - Dancyville, Tennessee - and sent by boat down the Mississippi and up the Hatchie River to Lowery's Landing. From there they were hauled by ox-cart to Dancyville.
HAS THE WOMEN DOWN PAT
As we started to the car, Mr. Dancy thought of the name of the first female school in Tennessee. "It was Dancyville Female School. We had two schools - one male and one female.
On the way back downtown, a distance of about two blocks, we stopped at Mr. Dancy's home and met Mrs. Dancy. A tall pleasant lady, with pretty white hair. And then Mr. Dancy said he reckoned he better go on to the Parsonage. "Those ladies don't really need me tho'." he said. "They don't want me to tell them where to put the lights. They just want to tell me where they are going to have them put."
¹This article appeared in the Memphis Press Scimiter, October 19, 1941, the column Strolling With Roark, by Eldon Roark. Mr. Roark wrote for the Press Scimiter for 46 years. His STROLLING column was the most popular human interest column in that part of the country. Mr. Roark died May 1, 1979, at age 82. The Memphis Press Scimiter ceased publication in the 1980's. The Memphis Press Scimiter was an afternoon paper and this writer delivered it, door to door, on the southeast side of Paris, Tennessee, circa 1947.
²Some authorities believe because Isaac Dancy was the town blacksmith, and only business, and had the Post Office in his home, this may have been a deciding factor in selecting his name.
Posted June 1999
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