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New Deal Art in Tennessee

New Deal Art in Tennessee

‘In the pines, in the pines, where the sun never shines…’
by April Jackson

(This is an article sent to me by April Jackson about a stand of old pine trees in rural West Tennessee planted by the WPA and recently destroyed.
It points out the urgent need we have to identify, document, and preserve this heritage before it disappears)

This old melody seems the proper introduction. The dense pines that once marked the location of Pine Grove Motel came down last month. The towering pines, along with the straight line of bungalows, were a familiar sight to motorists who frequently traveled the few miles between Gibson and Humboldt on U.S. Highway 79. By late last week, the pines were gone, and with them, most of the bungalows of one of this area’s oldest inns, the Pine Grove Motel. Sixty-three pines, many rising 75-feet into the sky were taken from the one-acre lot. Coincidently, the largest ones were 63 years old, planted in 1939 by the Work Progress Administration (WPA).

The WPA was created in 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration to help provide economic relief to the citizens of the United States who were suffering through the Great Depression. Reba and Louis Burrough bought the Pine Grove and the adjoining residence in 1969. Until 1989, they operated the motel. The Burroughs purchased Pine Grove from the late Idell Couch. She had bought the land after leaving her family’s farm outside of Milan in the late 1930′s when the Milan Arsenal was first formed and took in several farms there. Mrs. Couch took the government’s money for the farm and invested in the motel property. She ran the motel for 29 years after opening it in 1940.

According to what Couch related to the Burroughs, the WPA planted the trees in 1939 and they were very small when she built the seven cottages in 1940. “She said ‘she’ built the cottages,” recalled Reba Burrough. The 10-ft. by 12-ft. buildings were constructed of solid wood, lots of it taken from ammunition shell boxes used at the arsenal. Mrs. Burrough said the cottages were very sturdy. The wood was so hard and tough, it was difficult to drive a nail for curtains, she said. Pine Grove Motel was in its heyday in the early 1940′s, as it was one of the very few lodging stops in this area. It featured no electricity and no bathrooms, but did offer travelers the warmth of a pot-bellied stove, a soft bed to sleep in and a slop bucket. For all these amenities and appointments, customers paid 50-cents a night.

By 1969, when the Burroughs bought Pine Grove, the cost for lodging had gone up to $6 a night. Of course by then electricity and bathrooms with running water had been added. When it closed in 1989, the going rate for the night was $10. The famous and notorious might have lodged at Pine Grove, noted Mr. Burrough. “But they were the ones that didn’t want to be known,” he chuckled. Vacationers and carnival people enjoyed the Pine Grove through the years. Lots of locals, too, came in taxicabs to visit the secluded and shady Pine Grove Motel. Secret lovers found privacy there, old rumors reveal. Mrs. Burroughs says the ice storms of recent years in part prompted their decision to have the trees and cottages taken down. “It was a nightmare,” she said, “listening to them pop and crack. I just could imagine them falling on the highway.”

There are some skinny pines still standing on one side of the property. And a couple of cottages survive. One is Mr. Burrough’s shop now. Another is used for storage. A mobile home will soon be moved to the location. And the former site of the Pine Grove Motel will become a lawn, a bright sunny lawn. “We’ll keep it mowed,” Mrs. Burrough said.

Article Copyright The Chronicle, Humboldt, Tennessee