When you drive through this community, you can’t help but notice the two churches – Olive United Methodist Church and Olive Missionary Baptist Church.
If you notice one, you have to notice the other, because the buildings are so close together, they’re almost on a single campus, right at the intersection of Highway 962 with Olive Hamlet Road in southeastern Marshall County.
“The way I hear it, at one time, about 1900 or maybe a little earlier, there was only one church here, the Methodist church,” said Rick Miller, the Methodist pastor. “There was a Baptist group who met with them and they shared the same preacher.”
The man who donated the lot on which the Methodist church was built eventually gave another lot to the Baptists so they could build their own church. So there they sit, as close as two peas in a pod.
The way the story goes, when they were sharing one building, the Baptists would all sit on one side of the sanctuary and the Methodists on the other, but as Miller said with a grin, “Sometimes history gets a little grainy.”
Likewise, the boundaries of the community are imprecise. From the intersection, Olive extends a couple of miles north to Holt Sawmill and farmland beyond. Roughly the same distance to the south is Aurora Highway, Old Highway 80, now State Route 402. Jonathan Creek lies about a mile due east, and Clarks River flows north toward Benton through a valley on the west side.
Olive and Fairdealing share a volunteer fire department, which is located in the Fairdealing community.
Long-time residents Wendell Norwood and Dink York have first-hand memories of Olive that go back to the late 1930s and early 1940s.
“When I was growing up, there was three grocery stores and two gristmills to grind corn,” said York. “My uncle ran the middle grocery and he turned it into an ice house. Boxed the walls inside and outside and poured sawdust between ‘em for insulation.”
There was also a blacksmith shop, Norwood said.
“My dad ran it for a while,” Norwood said, “and he also had a hammermill where he crushed corn.”
The mills were powered by small gasoline engines, Norwood said.
“Had a post office” at one point, Norwood said, but added, “That was back before my time.”
Both men remember an informal rural community with no governmental structure, where residents took care of themselves and each other.
“I think it was ’47 or ’48 before we got electricity,” York said. “We’d cool our milk by putting it in a bucket and lowering it down in the cistern.
“Later, my dad had a man come out to dig a well. He said, ‘How’re we gonna get all that dirt out of there? I’ve got to dig down deep,’ and my dad said, ‘I’ve got four boys and they’ll get it out.’
“He dug down 29 feet in one day. Had to go something like 54 feet, all with hand tools. It’s just unreal how much a fellow can do sometimes.”
Norwood and York attended classes at a two-room schoolhouse in the community. After they completed elementary grades, Norwood remembers a community resident with a car giving students rides to classes at Hardin High School, where Norwood graduated in 1952.
“The roads were all dirt or gravel, and you couldn’t hardly meet anybody without getting over in the ditch,” Norwood said. “If you went to visit anybody, you walked.”
Times have changed. There are no commercial establishments remaining in Olive, and the sawmill to the north is the only organized industry other than farming.
But the two churches, along with some families that have deep roots there, continue to provide Olive with an identity and a tangible presence and keep the community alive.