By Aleigha Johnson
Current photos by Kayleigh Johnson
Locust Grove, a quaint southern town, filled with small town shops and restaurants. But, what lies beneath its southern charm and its small-town feel? What lies beneath the walls of the remaining historic structures?
True history is found by digging deeper, by listening to the stories of the ones who grew up here, by taking the time to truly care about town history and seeking the answers.
I had the pleasure of sitting down with Kathy Engeman, a resident of Locust Grove, member of Locust Grove Main Street, and founder of The Locust Grove Heritage Foundation to discuss the history of the town. Engeman stated she established The Locust Grove Heritage Foundation “primarily to preserve the history of families and to preserve the history of things that were done.”
According to Engeman, her family moved to Locust Grove in 1945 when she was only three years old. After spending the majority of her childhood on her family’s farm, she left in 1960 to attend college. Though she left Locust Grove serval times, Engeman always found her way back to the charming southern town. “When you are raised on a farm and you actually work on that farm you always feel a tie to the soil, it’s just something that is ingrained in you from childhood,” Engeman said. She now owns the house she grew up in and part of the farmland that was originally her grandfather’s.
Engeman’s family’s legacy in Locust Grove has carried on throughout generations. Her grandfather was the town doctor, up until 1945 when he became ill. He owned a quaint practice in Locust Grove and assisted the townspeople in their medical needs, whether they came into his practice or he made a house call.
Throughout Engeman’s adolescence, there were only a few businesses in the town, she mentioned two grocery stores, a drug store, and a bank. However, Engeman stated, “the economy of this area was agriculture and most of it was cotton.” One of Engeman’s favorite shops resided on her family’s farm, the blacksmith shop. Engeman was always intrigued by the process the metal would undergo.
As I talked with Engeman about her early town memories she spoke about how she attended elementary school in the building that is currently known as city hall. Interesting enough, the building was originally Locust Grove Institute, which was where Engeman’s father continued his education. According to Engeman, “The depression came along and money wasn’t available and students couldn’t go and it folded.” Therefore, the institute later became Locust Grove Elementary.
Because the building was not intended to be an elementary school, Engeman remembers students being sent to the stairs when they were in trouble. However, attending elementary in the old Institute building did have its conveniences as it allowed the school to dismiss and head over to the Baptist church next door when there was an event going on.
Being that the school was right across from the railroad tracks, Engeman and her classmates were filled with fascination when the train passed through town. She recalls all the students racing to the ball field in excitement to wave at the man riding the caboose. Imagine seeing children lining the front lawn of city hall to wave at the passing train.
In addition to the train excitement, upper elementary and junior high found excitement in heading to “Shoebootie’s” a couple nights a week. According to Engeman, the man who repaired shoes allowed the children to play pool, bowl, listen to the jukebox, and rent books. “Shoebootie” charged about ten cents to bowl or rent books. However, when a child returned a book he gave them ten cents back.
Throughout the course of her life, Engeman has seen the town undergo many changes. She mentioned how Locust Grove’s stores no longer smell like they did many years ago and their appearance has changed as well. Though the storefronts have changed, Engeman still recognizes what once remained when she ventures behind the shops. According to Engeman, to get a true feel for what the town was like years ago, one must walk down Cleveland Street.
Though the town has seen many changes since Engeman was a child, she finds positivity in the changes as it has increased the growth of the town’s businesses. As Engeman said, “You can’t go back; you have to go forward.”
While historic structures undergo many changes and may not last forever, the stories of what once remained can carry on throughout generations if we are simply willing to listen.