By: Verna (Cook) Weatherly
"Minot and Linda Austin in 1887 or 1888 built the stage station along State Highway 7, and old road that leads to Austin. They purchased the townsite and built a hotel, boarding house and store. Austin may have had a population of about 50 people, and had at least two saloons, which catered t miners, especially in the winter months."
In 1905, the Sumpter Valley Railroad laid tracks into Austin. A new sawmill was built, which operated until Batesville was established in 1919.
When early western townspeople built their stores, they were forced to cut corners. False fronts were constructed sometimes, to make the building look taller or to give the appearance of an entire second floor, making the merchant look more stable and prosperous. Large signs were hung on the false fronts, advertising their wares. Most of he early buildings were unpainted, giving the town a dreary look. Wide wooden raised walks were built to protect the residents from mud and dust.
Our Bates - Austin school was built halfway between the Austin house and he town of Austin. It was approximately 1945 when our third and fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Markle, took us on an outing from the school at Austin. She lined us up single file along the left side of the road, which ran along the back of the school. We had brought a few pennies each from home, and we planned to make a purchase. We had never before walked as a class from the school to Austin, and we were excited. The weather was very beautiful and warm, as we paraded single file around the big curve of the road. On the left of the road, the train tracks were a few feet below us.
As we started down the long incline into Austin, we could see the General Store on our side of the road. This store was probably built the latter part of the last century. Gas pumps could bee seen in the front of a garage next door and several old buildings behind. This may have been the only stores still in operation.
From a distance you could see the roof had been covered with rusted, waffled tin sheeting. The building was made of unpainted lumber, with gabled roof, and false front. The town had seen better days. The mill was gone, and only a few houses remained.
As we stepped up on the porch of the store, the old boards rattled and squeaked as we walked. Crossing the threshold of the door, you entered a semi-dark room. The back door and windows let in light, making many of the interior furnishings into dark silhouettes. It took us a moment to adjust our eyes. The air was cool and musty; you could smell leather and tobacco.
A potbellied stove was to our left, with an array of wooden chairs circled around. General stores wee social gather places of townspeople, where yarns and gossip were told, and dreams shared.
The store was old, but it carried many useful goods for everyday needs. Along both sides of the room were long wooden counters. A few barrels were sitting on the floor in front of these counters. There were shelves of different items, such as roll your own "Bull Durham," - a tobacco my grandfather smoked. Brightly covered tins of chewing tobacco, a few books, kerosene cans, coffee and flour by the sack, glass lamps, canning jars, candy bars, etc.
Across the back of he room was an old sink, and above it a yellowed, smoky mirror with a large crack on one side. We walked over to the merchant, a slight figure, who seemed very accommodating, and we expressed our desired purchase. He smiled and motioned for us to look to our left, in one of the barrels. Turning around, we saw what we had come for. Heaped high in the large barrel was pink Bubble gum. This was the first store, in the area, to carry this new item.
Each in turn picket out two or three lumps of bubble gum, handed the merchant a few pennies, and filed out the store, to walk back to school. We soon placed the gum in our mouths and I found it had a stiffness about it, along with a very strange taste, but after a few minutes we were beginning to learn to blow bubbles and we felt it was well worth the walk.
Bates was our playground. Growing up in the forties and fifties, my sister, twin aunts, and I did not need fancy toys or plush parks to have a wonderful time. We had Bates. We had the creek, the board sidewalks, the front porch and steps, the hill, the "bushes," the "flat," the snow piles, lumber stacks. We thought we had everything!
The "creek" was a great place to wade barefoot on a hot summer day, as long as mother didn't not catch us, and we did not see any crawdads lying on the bottom. The periwinkles were fine, but the crawdads were to be avoided at all costs. We knew they might pinch our toes. In those days, one could see through the clear water to the bottom of the creek, so we didn't have to worry much.
If we did not feel like playing in or near the water in back of the house, we could go to the front and play on the sidewalks. The board sidewalks were especially fun. We could entertain ourselves for hours out there. Just walking so as not to step on a crack and "break our mother's back" was a time-filling challenge. The old boards were great for writing on with chalk, for hop-scotch, of course. We could also jump rope or just sit and watch the neighbors. Although, if toys were played with on the sidewalk, careful attention had to be given to keep them from falling between the cracks. A lot of coins and other small treasures were lost down those board sidewalk cracks. Mom taught us to be literal penny pinchers when carrying money in our hands in those days.
Also, at the front of the house, there was the front porch with several steps leading up to it. The porch and steps were the perfect place to play with our dolls or sit with the grownups on warm summer evenings. Dad, Mom, Grandma, Grandpa, aunts, uncles, cousins, brothers, friends, and neighbors would congregate there to visit, tell stories, and solves he town's and nation's problems. We children felt so secure and knew we were an important part of the adult's world. Not only was the front porch and steps complete with splinters, a good place for playing and visiting, but the immense sky with wondrously brilliant stars could be viewed and contemplated from that vantage point. In Bates, when nighttime came, it got dark, really dark, and the stars were extra bright. I could gaze at them and experience the tranquil feeling of being part of the awesome universe, right on my own front porch.
When we were allowed to leave the area surrounding our house, we often climbed "the hill." The hill was across the river at the end of the rows of houses, and we had to cross the big bridge to get to it. We had to be sure no log trucks were coming when we crossed the bridge. Climbing the hill was not my favorite thing to do. However, my sister and the twins liked to do it, so I tagged along. It was usually dry and dusty, and sometimes garter snakes appeared along our path. Going up was not much of a problem for me. However, going down was. I was always unsure of my abilities to stay upright on a downhill descent, so I very carefully chose each spot to set my feet. Only with my sister's constant prodding with a small limb from a tree was I able to reach the road at the bottom within a reasonable length of time. I always felt a sense of accomplishment after climbing "the hill" and getting back home without falling and injuring myself, or letting a snake panic me. Therefore, I was thankful for my sister's encouragement to keep going and not stand in one place, fearing to take another step (a useful lesson in my life).
Another place away from our house that we children sometimes liked to play, if we felt really adventurous, was down in the willow trees at the far end of the street where the sidewalk was built up off the ground a few feet, and one could hide under the walk or in the willows. We did not play there very often, as our mother had warned us to "stay out of the bushes!" (The place was known as "the bushes."). However, every once in awhile, we had to try to find out what was so bad down there. We found it a good place to hide from anyone or anything that might come after us, except Mom. Although sternly admonished not to go there again, the mystery and lure of "the bushes" were sometimes too much for young girls to resist. To this day I do not know why those willow trees were supposed to be off limits to us. Nothing so bad ever happened to us there, except when our mother found us.
Perhaps one of the most interesting places in town was what we called "the flat." The flat was that paved area between the store and the houses across from the store. It was wider than a regular street and was big enough for baseball games, wobbling around on stilts, or playing kick-the-can. Of course, these activities did not take place until the store closed at five o'clock and there were few cars to interrupt the fun. Sometimes in winter, the edge of the flat was used as a place to pile plowed snow. Bates got lots of snow, and the piles got very high. Our mother complained about the piles of snow blocking the view from our front window or causing us to need to keep a path shoveled through the piles to get out of our yard, but we though they were great fun. We could climb on them, use them for forts, and have ready access to a bountiful supply of snowball material. Throwing snowballs was fun. That is, it was fun if our older brothers and their friends were no where around. Their snowballs were too hard and they could accurately hit a target, which was often me.
The edge of the flat in front of our house was also used from time to time in the summer as a place to store stacks of lumber from the mill. The lumber piles were my favorite place. There was just enough room between the stacks to get through, like little pathways through a maze. One could get lost in there, and the pleasant smell of the freshly cut lumber, being able to look up at a clear blue sky, and the stillness within those confines gave me a feeling of peace and solitude that I have seldom experienced anywhere else on earth. All year around "the flat" was a special place.