Bill Baxter’s Polk Folks
Article Author: By Marian Bailey Presswood Polk County Historian
Bill Baxter’s Polk Folks
By Marian Bailey Presswood
Polk County Historian
At the recent Alumni Banquet I happened to be seated next to James’ pretty cousin Jeannie Maynor Baxter and husband Bill, who have made their home down in Marion County for fifty years now. But as all of you already know, both their roots are deep in Polk County soil. However, as far as I remember (which isn’t very far these days) I have never had occasion to research the Baxter and related family, so being the nosy person that I am, I thought this a good time to do so. And especially since both Bill and Jeannie told me how much they were enjoying the heritage articles, so I owe them - right?
As county historian, I try my best to represent people from all sections of the county, not just where I live in Benton. But the ‘lower end’ (South Polk) might as well be China, for I was never down that way growing up, and know practically nothing about the people first hand, so I just have to dig in the records, and call around and ask.
We’ll start with Bill and work backwards, but I’ll sure have to shorten his part for he has so many accomplishments and honors that it would take the whole paper to mention them. There was a write-up back a year or so ago when he was inducted into the Polk Alumni Hall of Fame, so you could dig that out and read that he and Jeannie have two daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren. I especially liked the short bio in the TSSAA Hall of Fame Newsletter when he was also inducted into that prestigious group back in 2002. It gave his education credentials and his early coaching and teaching career info, stating that he became the principal of Marion County High School in 1977 and remained there for 19 years! Then it said, “As an administrator Bill impacted many lives wherever he went. He was one of the most respected people to ever work as a principal, teacher, coach, in the Sequatchie Valley. When Bill spoke, everyone listened. He spent over 47 years playing, coaching, teaching and working in administration in the state of Tennessee!” Does he make Polk County proud - or what?
Bill was the son of Harle Baxter, born 26 April 1918 and died 25 October 1992. Harle was married to Ruby Headrick( daughter of Will and Blanche Spivey Headrick) and they had another son, Dave, and a daughter, Linda who married Henry Longley. Dave followed in his big brother’s footsteps, in fact quite literally, because he got the job of coaching at Marion County when Bill left for the administrative position. Linda and Henry live just off Hwy 64 on the way to Cleveland, and they graciously invited me into their beautiful home and showed me family pictures including their two daughters and five Grands. I thank them for sharing the one of Floyd and Nola, and the one of Bill, Dave and Linda.
Moving back another generation, Harle was the son of James Floyd (1891-1920) and Nola Bivens Baxter (daughter of March Bivens and Tilda Hayes) who married in Bradley County 20 May 1917. Besides Harle, they also had a daughter, Pauline, who married J. P. Brackett and was killed in an automobile accident in 1951 along with several others on their way to work in Dalton.
Floyd was working with the East Tennessee Power Company when he registered for the draft in 1917. He died in a tragic accident there at the age of 29, so Bill never had the opportunity to meet or get to know his grandfather. However, his grandmother Nola lived until 1972, so he would have known her well.
The October 14, 1920 Polk News account of the accident when Floyd was killed reads: “Floyd Baxter, Ernest Lea and Charlie Vest, electricians at the hydro plant of Tennessee Power Company, six miles south of here were fatally burned about 6:45 o’clock yesterday morning as a result of an explosion caused by pulling one of the switches of the wrong transformer. There was some sort of trouble in the transformer #2 and the current had been cut off and the young men went to pull the transformer to fix it. But in place of pulling the dead transformer, they pulled #3, which was alive. When the switch was pulled it arched and caused the explosion. The switch that caused the explosion was a 50,000 horsepower electric switch and the explosion caused the envelopment of the room with burning oil and electric current.”
It went on to say that ambulances from Chattanooga were rushed to the scene but Vest died while enroute, Baxter expired a few moments after reaching the hospital, and Lea only lived a few hours. What a price it cost to have the convenience of electricity in our homes today - and we never once think of all the tragedies that accompanied getting it here. There were several other explosions, electrocutions, and accidents of various kinds that took lives of our Polk County folks working around Parksville.
To push the lineage a bit further back, James Floyd was the son of John A. Baxter and Callie Triplett, daughter of Nelson and Martha Triplett. He was a grandson of James and Sarah B. Baxter. Most Baxter researchers trace them back to the Revolutionary War Patriot, William (1760-1852) an immigrant from Ireland, that Salome Chable writes about. After they came from the Carolinas, the whole kit ‘n caboodle from John A. on were born and raised just across the Polk line in Doogan, Murray County, Georgia. We usually claim most of the residents of the Alaculsey Valley as ‘ours’ anyway, the Fouts, Kendricks, Oneals, Shields, etc.
Bill and his brother, Dave, have purchased the old Baxter homeplace there in the Alaculsey Valley on Jack’s River, so how appropriate is that to go full circle from his great great great grandpa to him as owners of the same piece of land. I know Bill must feel a bit like Moses - that he’s walking on Holy Ground.
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