Great Depression, Greater Love

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This story was written by Steve McCarter, who is the grandson of Grover Cleveland Langley. It is the product of months and months of research and countless interviews conducted. We hope that the life story of this incredible man inspires you to live every day with a love that is greater than fear.

The Beginning of Grover Cleveland Langley’s Family

It was June 18, 1911 when Grover Cleveland Langley married Etta Leora Loy in Loyston, Tennessee near where Big Ridge Park is now.  I suppose you could say that her family was part of the aristocracy of the area; her ancestors had a smelting foundry that they had built there 100 years earlier, and the town Loyston was named for her family.  The Langleys were relative newcomers, but they were landowners; they also owned and operated one of the two general stores in the area.  Grover and his father, William, were partners in the Langley and Son General Store, which was well located on Highway 61. At the time, Grover was buying a small farm just south of their store in Loyston—not too shabby for 19 years old.

pull quote 1Between 1912 and 1933, Grover and Etta had 12 children. Two died at birth, and two died before they were three. Lincoln was about three years old when he somehow simultaneously contracted measles, chicken-pox, and scarlet fever.  His body was covered with sores, and he was burning with fever.  The doctor came, but he gave the family no hope; there was nothing that would save the baby.  Etta prayed.  She lay on her face before God and begged Him to show her what to do.  She would not relent.  Finally, when she came out of the bedroom, she went to their store and brought back salve for the sores.  She bathed him continually with a cold cloth, made a pull quote 2potato broth of some sort to spoon feed him, treated him as best she could, and prayed.  The fever abated, and the sores healed.

On his next visit, the doctor asked Etta who the little red-headed boy playing the yard was.  It was Lincoln.  The extreme fever had left his mind simpler, but gentle, kind, and loving.  Lincoln was never able to leave home and live on his own, but was a happy and beloved part of the family until his death at 46 years old, in June of 1963.  The youngest member of their family, born in 1933, is my mother, Nancy Lou.

Growing Family and Fortune meets the Depression

Before the Roaring 20s were under way, Grover had paid off his little farm and bought out his father’s half of the store.  Grover Cleveland Langley was a powerful, barrel-chested man with a head for business, a hard-driving six-day-a-week, dawn-to-dusk work ethic, quick wit, and a real sense of humor to go with it.  It was his habit after dinner each evening to sit by the kerosene lamp and read scriptures and the newspaper before going to bed.  On Sundays he put on his suit and took the family to church.

For the next decade, Grover and Etta continued growing their family and fortune.  Grover kept up with events by reading the Knoxville newspaper and talking to other businessmen, vendors and associates.  He was likely among the first in the community to realize that the slowdown in the stock market  and eventual crash on October 29, 1929 (Black Tuesday) could have a real and possibly serious impact, even on sleepy little Loyston.

pull quote 3It did.

Heavy industry virtually came to a halt, and Loyston Foundry went with it.  Cash crop prices fell 60%, logging died along with plummeting lumber demand, and unemployment in the US rose to 25% (37% if farming was not figured in).  Profits and personal incomes for those who were still working fell dramatically.  Farmers and homeowners could still feed their families if they had no mortgages to pay, but that was rare.  The majority of the residents in Loyston were renters, tenant farmers, and foundry workers who were now laid off.  In those days, there was no government relief or unemployment compensation.

Good, hard-working people, friends, and neighbors were becoming destitute and hungry.

A Ledger Filled with IOU’s

Grover and Etta decided to keep the store open as long as possible.  They were debt free, had a moderate amount of cash saved, and could feed their family with their little farm.  For the next four years, they did just that.  By 1934, the store was being stocked more and more from their own crops and bartered goods, the store shelves held only the bare necessities, and virtually all the cash was gone.  The store ledgers were filled with IOU’s that Grover had known for three years could never be recovered.

Through all of this, no member of the Loyston Community was ever denied credit for food to feed their families.

Family Farm, Loyston, Buried Under the “Sea”

Loyston was on the brink of total collapse in 1933 when the Tennessee Valley Authority began buying out all the properties in the area to build Norris Dam and create Norris Lake.  They hired all the able-bodied men possible to clear land and build the dam.  In 1935, Grover and Etta, like everyone else, sold out and moved.  Loyston, today, is beneath the widest part of Norris Lake, known locally as the Loyston Sea.

The Langley family moved to a 50 acre farm in Corryton, Tennessee and started over.  For the next seven years, Grover, Etta, and family worked and saved everything possible.  Grover’s dream was to buy a big spread, farm, and raise cattle.  He would not rest until it was done except, of course, on Sundays when all he did was milk, feed, and do a little “ox pulling.”

The Dream Spread and the Manhattan Project

The church in Corryton was close and when the weather was nice the family walked.  The only exception was the baby, my mother, who got to ride home Sunday nights on her dad’s broad shoulders.  This lasted until one Sunday night when she went to sleep and peed down his back.  After that, she walked like everyone else.  In 1942, they had enough saved, along with selling the place in Corryton to buy a 285 acre farm in Anderson County with a river flowing through it.  There were three nice houses on it and a dairy barn with concreted floors and stalls, and the land was cleared and fenced.

Ten days after the transaction, while they were packing up household items, farm equipment, and animals for the move, the United States Government informed him that it was buying the farm and all the other 68,000 acres in the area to build what we now call Oak Ridge.  The Manhattan Project was under way, and the Langley family was within days of being without a home.  Below is a copy of a notice similar to the one he received.


Another New Home

The best Grover could do on such short notice was a 160 acre farm in Rockford, Tennessee.  It had a main house, two small tenant houses, and a barn.  There was a nice spring-fed creek, but no river; the hill sides were rocky but the bottomland by the creek was nice and fertile.  He sold one tenant house and 30 acres to one of his daughters and her husband.  He let a poor family live in the other, ostensibly for helping on the farm.  The man had palsy, a wife, two small children, an invalid mother-in-law.  There was very little that he could do but, whatever he did, my grandfather always agreed that it was enough to cover the rent and a little money to buy what they could not get from the farm.

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The main house was a large two story white house with a full length covered front porch, a large back porch just off the kitchen, and a cistern just a few feet away. Drinking water was carried from the spring, which was hundreds of feet away, so the cistern was nice to have for bathing and washing water.  The smokehouse/woodshed was about 50 feet directly behind the house, and the outhouse was about 100 feet from the back porch on the west side discretely hidden behind a large ash pile.  I was born in that house in 1948, and lived there intermittently during the first few years of my life, along with some cousins whose mothers, like mine, had “come back home” while husbands were in the military during the Korean war.

“That’ll help keep your head cool!”

The snow was hard and ice crusted one especially cold winter morning in the late 1940s, on the farm in Rockford.  My dad, Tillman Lee McCarter decided to go rabbit hunting and asked Grover to come along.  He told my dad it was wasting valuable time; it was too cold, and rabbits wouldn’t be out yet. Dad went without him.  He returned a few hours later, half frozen, and empty handed.  He met my grandfather out by the woodshed bringing in a load of firewood.  “I told you that you wouldn’t get to shoot anything today,” Grover said.  My dad grabbed the hat off Grover’s head, threw it into the air and blasted several buckshot holes through it.  Dad then handed the aerated hat back to him and said, “That will help keep your head cool.” Grover donned the hat like nothing had happened and went back to work.

The next summer when it was time to put up honey, Grover put on his bee bonnet, handed Dad a bonnet, and said, “Come on, you can help me rob the bees.”  In the midst of robbing the angry bees, Dad yelled, “Grover, this bee bonnet has a hole in it and I am getting stung!”  Grover just kept working and said, “That will help keep your head cool.”

Amazed by the beauty of heaven

In 1951, after years of failing health, Etta became gravely ill.  Old Doc Ousley came, but the problem was her heart and it was far beyond his ability to treat her at home.  She was hospitalized for the next few months, without insurance, which pretty much no one had at that time, the cost was everything, including the farm.  Grover sold it with the agreement that he could stay on as a tenant farmer until his death.  Etta never fully recovered, but she returned home and resumed her matronly duties as household administrator and doting grandmother.  Over the next two years, however, she became increasingly frail. My Aunt Rushia moved in to pull quote 7help care for her in February of 1953.

April 18, 1953 was an exceptionally good day for Etta; she went to bed happier and feeling better than she had for a long time.  Grover told the family later that she kept him awake that night describing heaven, marveling in its beauty and wonder, and making him promise to come to her there.  The next morning was Sunday; she got out of bed, walked a few feet and collapsed.  A few short breaths later she was with her Lord.

“I didn’t keep the ledger”

One evening a year or two later a man brought his elderly father to see Grover.  I can’t remember much of the conversation, but part of what he said was, “Grover I am here to pay you, interest and all.  I know ‘hits been a long time but I aim to pay you what I owe.”  Apparently his son had found out from one of Grover’s sons where the Langley farm was and had come to settle debts made at the store in Loyston during the Depression.  Grover smiled and cupped his giant hand over the old man’s thin shoulder, thanked him, and said, “I didn’t keep the ledger, and if I had there would be no interest.  Don’t worry about it.”  The old man insisted he would not leave without paying, and eventually gave my grandfather some money.  Grover told him that it was plenty to cover the debt, thanked him again, and told him to consider it paid in full.

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My mother told me that this had happened off and on for years.  People to whom he had extended credit and fed their families during the Depression would find him and try to repay him.  He seldom took their money and never took interest.  He always told them he didn’t keep a ledger of depression time debts.

I talked with Myrtle, my oldest living aunt, about this in February of this year, 2013.  She laughed, leaned over toward me and cupped her hand by my ear like she was going to tell me some dark secret and said, “Daddy didn’t always tell the truth.  He had the ledger okay.  One of the boys found it in Daddy’s stuff after he died, and one of his kids still has it.”

This story was written by Steve McCarter, who is the grandson of Grover Cleveland Langley. It is the product of months and months of research and countless interviews conducted. We hope that the life story of this incredible man inspires you to live every day with a love that is greater than fear.
LOVE>FEAR is created and operated by Maryville Vineyard and exists to leverage the power of stories to initiate change in the world. We believe that the stories of LOVE>FEAR that we share on contain a powerful, life-changing message. Love is greater than fear, but more than that, we want to show how perfect love casts out fear. For more information on, please check out our about page. The time for LOVE>FEAR is now.


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