In the days of tearing down historic sites, toppling historic statues and trying to rewrite history, it was so fulfilling to come together and dedicate the birthplace and boyhood home of Doctor Humphrey Bate, founder of The Possum Hunters and first String Band to broadcast, in 1925, on what was then called the “Hayride”, before the name was changed to “Grand Ole Opry” in 1927. We had a great turnout, with some of the Bate Family attending and telling stories of the great house. The Home was built in 1805, and has been restored, keeping the original interior intact. I spoke of the greatness of the early musicians, singers and square dancers that actually built the Grand Ole Opry into the powerhouse broadcast that it later became.
In the picture below, I am telling the story of Staley Walton, rhythm guitar player for the Possum Hunters, and first guitar to be heard on WSM and The Grand Ole Opry. I was pointing up the road to where Staley lived and died, in a little two-room shack back in the woods. I was also telling about Alcyone Bate, Doctor Bate’s daughter, who was the first female to appear on the new Opry show.
Sadly, you will find little mention in the Halls Of Country Music, of the ones that actually built the Grand Ole Opry with their love of the music…no pay…driving 50 miles in to Nashville from their homes in Castalian Spring, working the Friday Night Frolic, and the Saturday Opry for years with nothing but the crowds applause, then piling into the 1928 Packard touring car and driving across the Country on dirt and gravel roads to do shows in school houses and outdoor parks for 50 cent tickets and all the Song Books and pictures they could sell. Then rushing back to Nashville to do the weekend Opry. They are the Heroes of our Music…when love of the Music drove them, certainly not the 8 dollars a show that they finally started getting years later.
So, this old house is a historic site of huge significance to ones that appreciate where it all came from. Doctor Bate died in 1936, the year I was born, but Staley and Alcyone carried on the group until the 70’s.
Years ago, when I found the fallen in log cabin where Staley had lived and died, I found a letter in the rubble of the floor from Alcyone Bate to Staley, “Staley, I am trying to get you help from the Union and The Opry Trust Fund, to help with your sickness.” I don’t know if the help ever came…but, Staley died alone in his little cabin, the man who drove the rhythm on the Grand Ole Opry for nearly 50 years…was gone. Staley, a few of us have not forgotten…you were the first.
Note: Hawthorn Hill is the newest Tennessee State Historic Site, and is located east of Wynnewood State Historic site on Old Highway 25 in historic Castalian Springs , TN 37031
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