By RUTH MORGAN
Steele’s Mill (Adaton) is a small but important part of Oktibbeha County’s past and present. It is located about six miles west of Starkville on Highway 182. It has had many names through the years such as Steele’s Mill, Aderton, and Adaton. In the early years, it was known as Steele’s Mill. James Robert Steele built a lumber mill and gin there about 1852. He moved here from Steelville near Big Creek in the western part of the county. He and his son, Robert A. Steele operated the mill and gin until about 1892. The Steele family owned the land where the mill and gin were located until it was sold in 1920 to Ethel Jones.
John Easterwood built a gin on the Self Creek Road about 1893 just back of the Christopher store. A few years later he sold it to J. R. Christopher who operated the gin until cotton became scarce. He also had a sawmill just west of the gin, which was later owned and operated by his son, John Christopher. Of course, the gins and lumber mills were run by steam engines, and in early years the logs were hauled to the mill on wagons pulled by oxen as late as 1910.
In 1899 D. H. Steele, son of Robert Steele opened a general merchandise store directly in front of Christopher’s store on Highway 82. Across the road was another general store run by J. O. Thomas until about 1916.
A United States Post Office was set up in the Thomas store about 1870 and given the name Adaton. When Congress voted to have rural mail delivery, the post office was closed and the mail delivered by a big buggy with a top pulled by two stout horses over the dirt roads that often in winter were almost impassable. Mr. Ike Linderman, who lived in Starkville, was the mail carrier for many years. A gravel or “rock” road was built about 1910, which greatly improved country living.
Cotton was the main money crop from the earliest days until about 1912 when the advent of the boll weevil greatly curtailed production. Corn was another very important crop because it was necessary to provide feed for the horses and mules that were used to plow the fields and to provide transportation for the family. Corn was also used to fatten the hogs that were butchered every winter to provide meat for the year. Corn was used to feed the chickens, turkeys, geese and guinea fowls grown to provide eggs and meat. Corn was also used for bread, hominy, and grits. Shelling corn by hand or maybe on a corn sheller and taking to the local gristmill was a weekly or bi-weekly chore that often fell to a teenage son.
Many farmers cultivated small patches of ribbon cane or sorghum to be made into molasses, another staple item of food. There were two or three molasses mills in the community. A faithful gentle mule or horse was used to provide the power to turn the mill to grind the cane for its juice to be cooked in a big oblong vat or pan set up nearby. The juice was stirred with a big wooden paddle and watched carefully until it reached the proper consistency. Some large families had molasses barrels or hogsheads that they filled with the molasses and kept in the “smokehouse” where the cured meat was kept.
Sweet potatoes were another staple crop necessary in feeding a family far from a grocery store. They were stored in special little houses covered with dirt to prevent freezing. Almost every farmer had an orchard of peach, apple and pear trees along with grape arbors or vines and fig trees.
After the arrival of the boll weevil more and more farmers turned their efforts to milk production for a livelihood. By 1918, many of the families in the Adaton community were milking a small herd of cows from 10 to 15 to 20 and separating the milk in a hand turned separator often set up on a back porch or small separator house. The cream was delivered to the A&M Creamery located where the ROTC (Middleton) building is at MSU. They also bought the farmers’ eggs.
Some of the “old timers” that lived in Adaton around 1900 and before were the Jim Clardy family with nine children, the J. R. Christopher family with thirteen, the R. E. Josey family with ten, the Jim Harris family with nine, the Bill Lewis family with six, the Fred Arnold family with eight. Other family names included Clarke, Edwards, Petty, Jones, Allen, Fulton, Hull, Fondren, Yeates, Ruffin, Steele, Thomas, Connell, Baker and Critz. They all lived within a three-mile radius of the stores and churches. Today many of these names cannot be found in the Adaton Community.
The first school at Steele’s Mill was built about 1876 on land given by Robert Steele and his mother Charlotte Steele. The building was about a hundred yards just north of the Adaton Methodist Church.
About 1900, a larger two-teacher school was built on land given by the Steele family. The new school was located a few hundred feet west of the Christopher store. A well was dug to provide water. The school patrons cut and hauled wood for the two heaters.
The first teacher at the new school was Miss Lennie Richey of Starkville, a graduate of the Sellers Institute located in Starkville on land where the Borden Plant was later built. With Miss Richey’s knowledge of music, art and literature she greatly enriched the lives and minds of the students. There was a chapel period every morning when she read from the Bible, two songs were sung, and the Lord’s Prayer said in unison.
A “concert” was given every year until enough money was secured to buy a small bookcase and enough books to fill it for the children to select from on Friday afternoon. Some of the books remembered were The Little Colonel series, the Little Women series, Elsie Dinsmore series and Black Beauty. Drawing lessons and the Palmer method of writing were taught to all of the students one day each week. Miss Richey was paid $40 a month with $8 going for her board.
Some of the assistant teachers were Miss Roxie Clardy, Miss Minnie Lee Harris, Miss Genevieve Clardy and Miss Ida Harrell. When Miss Richey left to teach in the Water Valley School, Mr. and Mrs. Clifton Montcrief of Starkville were the next teachers. The two-teacher school was in operation until about 1914 when it was consolidated with the Starkville Public School, which later became Overstreet Elementary School. The children traveled to school in mule-pulled wagons that had been covered and fitted with seats the length of the wagons.
The first church at Steele’s Mill (Adaton) was organized in 1878 according to an old church register of the Adaton United Methodist church. Some of the ones instrumental in organizing the church were Mr. and Mrs. S. F. Felder, Mr. Jake Lewis, Mr. John Easterwood, Mrs. C. T. Lewis and Mrs. Charlotte Steele.
From 1856 until the church was officially organized in 1878, five or six ministers gave a number of years of service in an old cookhouse near the location of the present church. The first church was built in 1880 on land given by Robert Steele and his mother Mrs. Charlotte Steele for a church and cemetery. The church was called Steele’s Chapel for many years. This church was used until a larger one was built in 1909 at the same location and served until the present brick building was erected in 1963. Jimmy L. Hollingsworth, pastor, led the first services in the new church on December 1, 1963.
The minister for forty years or more came only once a month, on the third Sunday morning. In the early years he was known as a circuit rider for he always served several churches. By the year 1917 the minister at Steele’s Chapel served five churches – Steele’s Chapel (Adaton), Longview, Smyrna, Pugh’s Mill and Bevill’s Hill. The Smyrna church was discontinued in 1949. In 1950 the Pheba and Cedar Bluff churches were placed on another circuit. In 1964 Bevill Hill was assigned to the Louisville charge, leaving Adaton, Pugh’s Mill and Longview together.
A Sunday School was organized at Steele’s Chapel in 1900 with Mr. J. O. Thomas as the superintendent and adult teacher for many years. Mrs. Thomas taught the small children and Mrs. Bessie Steele taught the youth.
For many years, the minister lived in Starkville in a parsonage located on McKinley Street and later moved to a better one on North Jackson, according to the recollection of several Starkville residents. A parsonage was built in Longview about 1915 which was a more central location for the five churches.
The Josey Creek Baptist Church located on Highway 82 West was organized in 1886. The church had its origin in a brush arbor which was located just across the road from the present building. They purchased from a white congregation the Josey Creek Church. This church got its name from the Josey’s who were early settlers in the community. The church was very small with outside shutters for windows. Reverend Jim Moye was the first pastor.
In 1908, the congregation saw a need for a larger church. The old church was torn down and a new one built. Ten years later it was burned to the ground. With heavy and desponded hearts they had to start all over again. This was a great responsibility because few if any members were landowners. Mr. Spencer Austin (contractor) was the only one paid. The men of the church and the community donated the labor.
The church was remodeled in 1979 with Rufus Nicks. Jr. serving as contractor. This included not only bricking the church but also adding two more classrooms, a pastor study, enlargement of the kitchen, and central air and heat. In 1989 the parking lot was paved, a trailways type bus purchased and a children’s ministry added.
In April 1995 the church rallied together to build a new church. They gave it the title, “The Nehemiah Project.” The groundbreaking service was held in June 1998. Sammie Hill of Columbus, MS was the contractor. On June 27, 1999, they marched into their new church with a Victory March.
Adaton Baptist Church was organized following a worship service held on June 17, 1923. The church had 23 charter members, including two INCLUDEPICTURE “http://adaton.org/image/medium/16187.jpg” \* MERGEFORMATINET who professed faith in Christ during that first worship service. Services were conducted twice a month by J.D. Ray, who also served as pastor of First Baptist Church in Starkville. Brother Ray would serve faithfully as Adaton’s pastor for more than ten years.
The church grew steadily over the following decades. The church facilities were erected on the old Greensboro Road (what is now Christopher Road) in the Adaton community. When old Highway 82 (current Highway 182) was constructed in the 1950’s, the church sanctuary did an “about face” so as to face the new state highway. The current fellowship hall was built in 1986, while the present auditorium was completed in 1992.
As Starkville continues to grow westward, Adaton has been transformed from a community made up almost entirely of farmers and is taking on more of a suburban feel.
Notes from the late Ruth Steele Arnold state that the first church was a frame building which was built in 1923. About six year later it was bricked and a parsonage was built in the back of the church. The rapid growth of the church soon called for a larger church. In 1958, a handsome brick building was erected. A fellowship hall, kitchen and Sunday School rooms were added about 1977. The small first parsonage served as a nursery for the small children.
Much information contained in this article came from notes written in 1983 by John Robert Arnold’s mother, the late Mrs. Ruth Steele Arnold and church histories.