As northern Marshall County began to fill out its rural areas with people, there was a family named Tatum whose members were among the first settlers in an area a couple of miles north-northwest of Briensburg.
No one seems to know why or how, but the community that grew up there took its name from that family.
“It must have been way back,” said Bill Smith, who grew up in Tatumsville and whose memories extend back to the 1930s.
Tatumsville in those days consisted of “a country store and six or seven houses,” Smith said.
“It’s not a new community,” he said. “It was founded way back in a time when not everybody had a farm, but had a little piece of land that they farmed.”
Smith, 71, now lives near Reidland in McCracken County. His grandfather was one of the few who did own a large acreage, three parcels of land situated around the intersection of Highway 1422 (Tatumsville Highway) and the Briensburg-Tatumsville Road.
Those who lived there in the 1930s and early 1940s included brothers Rollie and Elbert Higgins, Miss Lucy Ledford, two sets of Franklins and the Collins and Lindsey families, Smith said, naming them from memory with little hesitation.
Smith’s cousin, Tom Powell, also remembers the community.
“I remember going with Dad [Sherman Powell] and him showing me places where they used to bale hay that are now underwater,” he said, referring to bottom lands east of Tatumsville that were covered by the waters of Kentucky Lake.
Powell, who lives in Clarksville, Tenn., also remembers listening to his uncle, Guthrie Smith, tell stories about the community. If he were interrupted during the telling of a tale, Powell said, Smith would wait patiently and then resume his storytelling at the precise point at which the interruption occurred.
“I used to love to listen to him,” Powell said.
“He grew up in that community,” Smith said of Guthrie Smith, his father.
Smith remembers the drought of the 1930s, the era that most dramatically affected Texas, Oklahoma and other Great Plains states to the north but which also extended into this area.
“My grandfather supplied water to people from an underground aquifer,” he said. The source was discovered in bottom land on the north side of Tatumsville when the Smiths would dig post holes which would fill up with water. They dug a cistern, which he said never went dry, not even during that drought.
Unlike many rural communities, Tatumsville proper – the area in the immediate vicinity of the intersection – does not have a church. Bethel Baptist, a little over a mile east of the intersection, is the closest house of worship. Some residents also attended services at churches in Briensburg and other nearby locales.
But there was once a church, with a Methodist congregation, just west of the intersection. The building was also used as a school, and later became the residence of the Smith family.
“That’s where I was born,” Smith said.
In addition to that school, there were the Bailey and Stice schools, both of them one-room facilities, all of them long-gone to consolidation in the growth since the late 1940s and the opening of Kentucky Lake.
The lake, along with its sister Lake Barkley and the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area, have brought change to most of the western and northern areas of Marshall County. Tatumsville, while not strictly a part of the development that caters to tourism and recreation, has been affected as well.
Melvin Mann, formerly a commercial fisherman, moved to Marshall County from Caruthersville, Mo., in 1967 and started a wholesale and retail fish market. The business, now in its 46th year, is a fixture in Tatumsville.
“I came down here because it looked like there were a lot of people fishing here, looked like there was a lot of work,” Mann said. “But when I got here, nobody was hiring. So I built this little building.”
The concrete block structure has been expanded and several outbuildings added. The Manns buy their product from area fishermen and process it for sale to distributors and restaurants, and on a smaller scale, to individual retail customers.
Allen Mann, son of Melvin and Martha, now works with his parents in running the market. Brother Barry is a commercial fisherman. He won last year’s Carp Madness tournament for Asian carp.
Some 95 percent of the business is wholesale. Varieties include catfish, buffalo, some spoonbill or paddle fish, and now Asian carp.
Allen Mann remembers growing up in Tatumsville in the 1960s and the old mechanical gasoline pumps at Ozella Higgins’ store.
“Back in the day, she kept a coffee can with change in it on top of the pump,” he said. “So, after hours, if you wanted to buy gas, you helped yourself and made your own change.
“She claims the can was never short over 30 or 40 years. People would sometimes borrow from it, and pay it back. But then one day, it was gone.”
And the gasoline-on-the-honor-system was gone with the can of money.
The Smiths were among many who migrated to Detroit when American industry geared up to manufacture the machines that were used to win World War II. They left Tatumsville in 1943.
Bill Smith says he ended up staying with his grandparents because of a shortage of housing in Michigan. His parents stayed on for several years after the war to continue working in the auto industry, first at the Hudson Motor Car Co. plant and later at Chrysler Corp. and General Motors facilities.
But they came home to Tatumsville.
Smith said of his father, “He couldn’t wait to get back. He loved that farm.”