Early Sparta Businesses


Donalson-Willadean Nursery

Mr. John F. Donalson was born in London, England in 1875. He came to American when he was 7 years old, and made on trip back home, early in his life. He found his way to Warsaw, looking for Indian relics, when he was twenty-one years old. He became friends with Mr. Dave Gibson, a farmer, who owned the farm known today as the Dean Richards Farm (which has been sold to some men in Warsaw for about $240,000). Mr. Gibson owned all the way to the river, and he got Mr. Donalson to start a nursery – a plantation of young trees on the field where later in World War II we had an airport – a landing and a training field. This should have been around 1898, and I believe it to have been the first nursery in the county. In was a success, for in 1909, Mr. Donalson came to Sparta, and bought the Lee Hunt farm. The railroad had cut this original farm in two, the house was on one side and the farm was on the other. This track of land was where Mr. Henry Brock came in 1811, and built the log house that stood down by the barn until it burned down in 1934. Mr. Lee Hunt got the tract of land from Saul Ellis, who was Mrs. Stallard’s grandfather. Leslie Minor said there were 70 acres in this tract.

Mr. Caddie Bickers said that he set the first tree in this nursery. It was about 1912 when Mr. Donalson got Nick Verberg from Holen [Holland?] to come over here and help him in the nursery. Leslie Minor was working for Mr. Donaldson at the time, and when Nick arrived at the depot, he could not speak English, so they put a tag on him. Leslie took Nick out to Mr. Hue [?] Lucas, where he was going to board. They had several girls, and they were going to tech him how to speak the English language. They did a real good job. At the time, Nick was wearing wooden shoes. He would take them off at the door; never wear them inside the house.

Then in 1919, Nick sent for his brother to come over. At the time, I was living at the hotel, and he came in on the No. 2 train from Louisville at about 4 a.m. Harry Scruggs was the porter at the hotel and met him at the depot. The brother could not speak English, so they had a tag on him, about 4 inches wide and six inches long.

Harry brought him back to the hotel, and his brother and Nick came and got him. We thought he was crazy at first, because he could not speak a word of English. Nick had a house built for him – Buck Kennedy lives ion the house now. Nick served in WWI, and after he came home he married Miss Nora Taylor. They had one boy, who was lost in WWII. Nora died in 1938. She was just 50 years old. Nick died in 1970, at age 76.

In 1925 Mr. Donalson got into financial trouble and had to sell the nursery to some men from Springfield, Ohio. They called it the Willadean Nursery, and in 1928, they got a boy by the name of Alving Kidwell, who raised tobacco in Trimble County. He came to Sparta to take over the nursery for this company. [Mr. Kidwell would go on the be a Kentucky State senator, and rise to be President Pro-tem of that body.]

Power Plant

Did you know that at one time Sparta had its own electricity plant? We did. It was some time in 1919 that some of the leading citizens got together and borrowed money and we had our own power plant. Of course, you had to have your own house wired. Where was this plant? It was behind where Fay Bickers now owns, only it was on Mr. Harry Carver’s land. Henry Bickers took care of it. He would start it up about five p.m. and run until midnight, when the light would go out. We had no street lights as we do now.

Picture shows, Movies, 1917

It was in late 1917 or early 1918 that Bro. W. J. Clark built the Garage and Picture Show Building. L. N. Bradley, from Warsaw, who had the show in Warsaw at the same time, rented it. He would come out to Sparta, every Wednesday and Saturday night and put on a show in the middle of the street. This was a great treat for the Sparta folks. John Samuel said it was just like being in Heaven. After electricity came, E. T. Wilson took over the show, and I ran the film for him. This lasted for several years, and then we had outdoor shows, put on by Ed Tom Bickers, and the merchants gave him so much a week for running the show. This made it free to the people. The last place where they showed the pictures was where the post office is now. We had lots of fun, and everybody was happy.

History of the Hotel in Sparta, 1865

The first hotel was the Kelly Hotel, and it was built around 1862. The first building on the Gallatin County side of the creek was the depot, ten we had a hotel and a store building, which was built on Railroad Street. Then we had the Sparta Hotel built. I have been told by John Samuel that man named Big Jim Samuel. (He married Kate Moore, and they had a daughter, Betty, who married a man named Nash.) Big Jim and his wife ran the Sparta Hotel, but in 1895, when the town burnt, the hotel burnt as well, and as far as I know they ran it until 1900, when he was killed on top of the hill. How he was killed, I do not know.

Scott Moore made application for a license to sell beer and whiskey, and they had a real good hotel. I lived there two years, before I married. When I was there it cost me $5 a week, but later on they raised it to $7.50 per week, for three meals a day and a room. There was a large front room where all the young people could meet and dance, play games, or just sit and talk. There was always a large crowd on the other side of the hall, where the men would play cards just for fun. People there I remember include Bill Davis, who ran the pump house for the L&N Railroad; Jeff McCune who never worked, but made his living as a gambler down on the creek; Willie Moor [sic], a retired farmer, and Scott’s brother; and Johnny Obrine [sic], who was the porter at the depot. There were lots more whose names I don’t remember.

In school terms all the teachers stayed at the hotel, and Mr. Donaldson, the nurseryman stayed there. All the drummers would stop there. This was back in the horse and buggy says when the drummers sold Home Comfort Cooking Stoves. The would sell a [railroad] car load, and when the car arrived, the ones who had bought them would come in a wagon and get their stove.

But in 1926, old age slipped up on them and we had new faces in charge of the Sparta Hotel. Who? Mr. And Mrs. Tom O’Connor, and their lovely daughter Emma Louise. This was about the time a young man from Louisville came to Sparta to take over the nursery that Donalson had sold to some men in Springfield, Ohio. His name was Alvin Kidwell, and of course he made his home at the hotel, until July 23, 1934, for in this time he had found himself a helpmate, a very pretty schoolteacher named Josephine Graham. Alvin Kidwell passed away at age 80, leaving Josephine alone, as they had no children.

The O'Connor’s did not stay too long at the hotel. Mother got sick and they went back to the farm to live the rest of their lives, so in the spring of 1932, new faces took over: the McCormack’s, Ed Russell’s mother and father. Things went well for a long time and now Mr. And Mrs. B. Judy took it over, and still ran it as a hotel.

The Judy’s sold to a Mr. Taylor from Dry Ridge. He made a tavern out of it. Taylor got married to Dailey Adams’ sister, which did not last long. Taylor sold to Mrs. Jamerson [?] and Leon, her son. Then Mrs. Jamerson sold to Mrs. Breadon [?] and a Mr. Harvey. Then the Jamersons got it back, and sold it to a Mr. Banks who in turn sold it to Leon Jamerson and his wife. Leon sold it to Mr. And Mrs. Deatz and family. They sold it to John Poe and wife. Mr. Poe sold it to Brownie Booth, for a reported price of $22,000 plus the stock. This was August 20, 1973, and this finishes accounting for about 100 years of the hotel’s ownership.

Mrs. Jamerson died March 1, 1976 in the rest home at Woodspoint, and is buried at Jonesville.

Clover Farm Store

Mr. And Mrs. C. N. Varble, with Mr. And Mrs. Leslie Minor, bought the Clover Farm Store on January 10, 1933, for the sum of $1,600. That was the walk-out price. Geroldine Farrow and her brother Gipson were running the store for Perry Weldon. It was not long before we bought out Mr. And Mrs. Minor, and now we are still running the place, though a little older, and a little slower. Most of our first customers have gone on to meet their maker. We still have one customer who has been faithful, with thousands more over the years. I have loved them all. As I think back over the years in the store, and have watched the children grow up and start families of their own, then children, and grandchildren, I wonder how much longer God will let me live and enjoy my friends. I have tried in my feeble way to be a friend to man, both great and small. By the side of the road, I have turned away but very few. I have tried to make my word my bond, but sometimes it hurts.

I had one lady who bought her groceries by the day, others every 2 or 3 days, some by the week. Back in the thirties, they bought by the six months, and a few by the year. Of course, things were different back then. Good flour was on special at .39 for 24 pounds. A two-pound can of coffee was a quarter. Heavy side bacon was a nickel a pound. Two cans of salmon were a quarter, and peanuts were on sale one Christmas for a nickel for a quart. I had one customer who bought four cents worth of black pepper; another bought 80 pounds of coffee and 8 barrels of flour – which meant 64 bags at 24 pounds per bag. The last time I bought black pepper in bulk, I got it from The Elmer Scott Co. in Madison, Indiana. I bought two barrels, which were three hundred pounds apiece. The best I can remember, it cost .16 per pound and we sold it for .25 per pound. Today, black pepper sells for 65 cents for 4 ounces. I’m writing this on September 21, 1974, and sugar is on the rise. This week the price went to 5 pounds for $2.35; in WWII it was $35 for a hundred pounds.

Some of the people who worked in the store, in no particular order, were: Nadine O’Connor Coates (24 years), Agnes Young, George Young, Mary Catherine Clark, Margaret Noel, Catherine Bell carver, Martin Abbott Carver, Francis Harris, Johnny Tackett, Wayne Samuel, Jimmy Grimes, John Moore, Juanita Moore, Tommy Varble, Paul Stewart, Howard Forsyth, Johnny v. Moore, Velma Wilson, Dick Moore, Stewart Varble, Myrtle Berkley, Phyllis Berkley, Jewell Estes Furnish, Judith Carroll Thomas, Linda Sue Noel, Phyllis Diane Green, Tonya Jo Moore, Karen Sue Lafferty, and Anna Noel.

We had hard times and good times, ups and downs, ins and outs, but by the grace of God, and the goodness of people we are still able to go. Back in the late 1930’s and all the way through the forties and fifties, we would stay open until 11, or midnight, on Saturday night, but after television got in all of the homes, now we close about 7 p.m. We used to have many of the women come and spend the day. On Saturday, there would be as many as 8 or 10, just sitting around and visiting with each other, but after the good roads, and lots of supermarkets, things have changed in the last few years.

In 1933, when we started the store, we bought groceries from the Elmcer Scott Company. Then in 1954 the Scott Company went out of business, and we had to buy from Barber and Company, but the Madison tornado hit them on April 4, 1974 and we went with Laurel of London, Kentucky.

L. A. Grant & Son

L. A. Grant & Son started the sore here on this corner in 1881, as far as I can find out. I have been told that the first building was just the small square where the meat department is now. Then later, the shed part was added. Mr. and Mrs. Grant separated in the later years of their marriage