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Wheat lives on for those who called it home

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By Bonita Irwin, For Roane Newspapers
Homecomings are nothing new for the people who lived in the former Wheat community or attended the Wheat Schools.

This will be the 81st year of getting together.

On Oct. 7, the reunion will be at George Jones Baptist Church in what was known as Wheat. The program will begin at 11 a.m. with A.L. Turpin bringing the message.

Wheat no longer exists except in the hearts and minds of the ones who lived there.

The community was first known as Bald Hill because all the timber was cut to clear the land and build houses, churches and schools.

Robertson School was probably the first school in the area.

The first post office was established in 1838 in the area later to be called Wheat. In 1881, the name was changed from Bald Hill to Wheat, named after Frank Wheat, the first postmaster.

Soon this community had churches, blacksmith shops, general stores and conveniences that were necessary for pioneer life.

In the last half of the century, by 1870, provisions for land used by churches and schools would be tax free.

In 1877, Poplar Creek Seminary was established. Enrollment grew rapidly.

Wheat and the area around it were in stable condition. Many families moved into the area when parents learned of the possibility of higher education for their children.

Poplar Creek Seminary was the forerunner of Roane College by nine years. Roane College had received a charter in 1886 and was accredited by the state as a four-year college and qualified to give normal courses for a teaching degree.

The Rev. George Jones deeded 200 or more acres of land to the schools.

The community of Wheat was made up of three churches — Cumberland Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist. There was a Masonic hall, Eastern Star, three stores, a post office, high school and elementary school.

In 1908, the property was deeded to Roane County Board of Education. The Roane College building was used until the Wheat School was completed in 1916.

Soon after, the girls dormitory was built near the school. The boys dormitory was about a fourth mile from the girls dormitory; the boys went to the girls dormitory for their meals.

This brought students from other states to get their education. There was a number of students who took part in sports, as there was a good sports program in the school.

The principal of the school and family lived in the girls dormitory, and a cook was hired to take care of the meals.

Three former students from Wheat High School and Roane College were elected superintendent of Roane County Schools. J.F. Britton of Roane College retired in 1936 after serving 35 years. Edward Williams served from 1956-63 and again from 1966-78. Auduban Ladd served from 1963-66.

There are so many things to be said of the Wheat community. David Lilienthal, director of TVA, was guest speaker at the last banquet and said it best:

“The might of our country lies in cooperation effort of communities like yours, not the cities with great concentration of population.”

At the same banquet, the Knoxville Journal wrote, “The people of Wheat not only talk of cooperation; they put it into practice.”

The New York Times also carried an article of the accomplishments of the Wheat community.

It took everyone’s effort and love for their neighbors and striving to make their community a better place to live. That is why Wheat was called a model community.

In 1942, residents were notified that their homes and land would be taken by the federal government for war purposes.

By that time, many of Wheat’s young men had been called into service, as World War II was well under way. One hundred fifty-seven of Wheat’s young men were called up to sere their country. Nine of these gave their lives.

The government took 56,200 acres of this tranquil valley, and Wheat was part of it because it met military requirements for isolation. There was electric power, it was close to water, highways and near railroads.

Other communities affected were Scarboro and Robertsville.

Each year since 1932, there has been a homecoming for the Wheat alumni and friends and neighbors of the Wheat community. In 1947, permission was granted to meet at George Jones Church for the homecoming. On that first meeting, it was thought to be 1,000 or more in attendance.

These neighbors will meet again at the George Jones Church to visit with friends. Everyone is welcome to attend. A basket lunch will be at noon.

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 Bonita Irwin is a former Wheat community resident who still makes her home in Roane County.