Gleason, Tennessee: Clay Mining and Music
By Virginia Vaughan
From Weakley County, Tennessee
sign on the edge of Gleason’s city limits reads “Welcome to Gleason:
Ball Clay Mining Center of the Nation.” Weakley County’s deposit of
the finest quality of ball clay, which is used for china, porcelain
and pottery, is shipped all over the world.
The first clay that
was dug was in 1926, from a testing on the W. R. Crawford farm, two
miles west of Gleason. A tenant on the farm discovered the deposit
quite by accident while building a fence. A spring on the side of a
bluff contained traces of clay and the owner had the mineral examined.
Some of the richest veins of clay in the area were discovered in a
20-acre plot. The Bell Clay Company started operations immediately
with 25 men working pond scoops and horses to remove the overburden of
dirt and debris. Holes were dug with hand augers, dynamite placed
within exploded and then workers dug the clay out with picks and
shovels. Afterwards, the clay was loaded on wagons or trucks and
hauled to the railroad to be shipped all over the world.
Mr. Kelly finch
discovered clay on his land in 1927. He was digging a square,
wood-curbed well to water his livestock when he hit clay and had
difficulty digging further. He was an inquisitive man, and to satisfy
his questions, he drilled test holes to find the extent of the mineral
on his farm. Finding suitable clay, he proceeded to open a mine with
eight teams of two mules to a pond scoop.
Soon after, he started
to Zanesville, Ohio, with a suitcase full of clay samples for testing.
The train porter, a former employee of Spinks Clay Company, picked up
Finch’s heavy suitcase and when finding the contents to be clay,
suggested that Finch go to Cincinnati, home of the famous Rockwood
Pottery. When he arrived in Cincinnati, his clay was tested and found
to be of superior quality. The company suggested that he contact H. C.
Spinks Clay Company of Newport, Ky. and Henry County, Tenn., to
commercially mine the clay. Finch did this on his return home to
Weakley County and, in 1930, H.C. Spinks, father of Harriet Spinks
Carothers, leased land from Finch. Although the Finch property is not
presently mined, the Carothers family, who control Spinks Clay Company
today, has continued to expand the industry throughout the area.
Gordon Stoker, of the
famed Jordanaires, was the first musical celebrity from Gleason. The
quartet was on the Grand Ole Opry for many years and traveled and sang
background music for Elvis Presley for 15 years. They appeared in
movies, on television and had many recordings to their credit. The
quartet provided vocal background on many hit albums for such stars as
Marty Robbins, Tom Jones, Kenny Rogers, Tammy Wynette, Tennessee Ernie
Ford and many others.
Mike Snider is another
Gleason native who has become famous in the field of music. In 1983,
he won the National Banjo Competition in Winfield, Kansas. The
following year Gordon Stoker heard Mike play and managed to get him an
invitation to play on the Grand Ole Opry. When Mike appeared in
January of 1984, all of the town of Gleason was there to hear and
applaud, thanks to the 1,500 free tickets sent to Gleason by the
Opry’s manager Hal Durham.
Mike Snider became
famous in a short time, appearing with Roy Clark, Roy Acuff, Minnie
Pearl and many other celebrities. He was on the Hee Haw show until it
closed and played in Opryland during the week until it shut down.
Currently, he is on
the Grand Ole Opry on weekends and occasionally makes tours of the
United States. He has a home in Nashville, but most of his free time
is spent with his family on a farm near Gleason. Behind his house is
an airstrip and hangar for his two planes that he uses to commute to
David Godwin, a former mayor of Gleason, gives Mike credit for many
good things that have happened to Gleason within the past two years.
Source: The Weakley
County Press (Provided to Gleason Online by Joyce Wray).