Special to the Tribune-Courier
For most, Hardin is just a sign you pass heading south to Murray. It’s hard to imagine it as a bustling railroad city, but for many years Hardin was a flourishing community.
Located eight miles south of Benton and two miles east of old Wadesboro, the town of Hardin was founded on the land of Hardin Irvan which came to bear his name. As a stop on the Paducah, Tennessee and Alabama Railway, Hardin was platted out in June 1891 with three streets running north and south and four streets running east and west. The town consisted of nine blocks and 132 lots with an abundance of good farming land adjoining the town.
Mostly thanks to the railroad, the town grew steadily and by 1894 there were 292 citizens. The first resident was a man named Shemwell who lived in a covered wagon while building his one room home and photography studio. Several establishments were soon built including a school, four grocery stores, five general stores, a blacksmith shop, a barber shop, tobacco warehouse, two sawmills, two doctors, a funeral home, a jail and a hardware store. The town had a hotel and Priss McCalley, one of the few black residents, worked for many years as a cook at the hotel. When electricity became available, Hardin had the first power plant in the county.
“Hardin was an old railroad town and many of the men, including my dad, worked on the the railroad,” said Hardin’s favorite son, Judge/Executive Mike Miller.
“The railroad station was where the old Hardin library is now. Hardin was a thriving place back then,” recalled Ella Lee, who along with her husband ran Lee’s Country Hams in Hardin. “My husband’s father, Albert Lee, started Lee’s County Hams. We ran the place from 1956 until we sold it in 1987,” said Lee. “My husband and I worked there plus we had three employees.”
Hardin became home to three churches: Hardin Baptist Church, Hardin Church of Christ and Hardin Methodist Church. Hardin Baptist and Hardin Church of Christ continue to thrive today, while Hardin Methodist has since merged with the Dexter United Methodist Church, just across the Calloway County line.
The Bank of Hardin was formed in the early 1900s and served the citizens until the Great Depression forced its closure. It also set the scene for one of Marshall County’s most famous unsolved mysteries. In August 1930, Irby Hurt, a janitor at the bank, was murdered after an apparent robbery. His body was not found until three months later. His murder was never solved leaving Hardin residents speculating on the events to this day.
The Hardin Herald was the first newspaper in town until a fire destroyed their building in 1908. The Marshall County Enterprise began publication in 1913 when the Hardin Commerce Club decided another weekly newspaper was needed. L.E. Dodd served as Editor until L.C. Sparks purchased the paper in 1916. The paper ceased publication in the 1930s.
Hardin had its own high school and graded school until the consolidation efforts of the 1950s and 60s.
“Our mascot was the Eagle, and Cleo Hendon was our principal,” Miller recalled. “Some of the teachers I had were Ruth York, Gus Harrison, Wilma Pace and Katie Conder.”
“Basketball was a big thing in Hardin,’ Miller said. “We used to hear stories about the 1941 Hardin basketball team.” Hardin was expected to win the state tournament that year, but on the night of the semi-finals game, two of the star players come down with the mumps.
Bobbie Barnett also remembers stories about the ‘41 team. “They ended up getting beat by only one point in the semi-final game by the team that went on to win the championship. Everyone said that was Hardin’s year to win it, but it didn’t happen,” Barnett said.
Those who grew up in Hardin during it’s peak have fond memories of their hometown.
“I have often said I wish every kid had an opportunity to grow up in Hardin during the time I did,” Miller said.
“The main thing about growing up in Hardin was freedom. We always had someone to play with,” said Grant Black, a life-long Hardin resident and former owner of the family-operated Black’s Grocery/Hardin General Store. “When the street lights came on you knew to come home. We had a creek and there was always someome to get up a ballgame with.”
“When I grew up, no one locked their doors, everyone in our little town looked out for each other, and I knew everyone in every house on every street in our community,” Miller said.
Over the years, Hardin has also been home to several restaurants including the Pig and Whistle, the Country Crossroads and the Four Way Freeze (now Four Seasons Restaurant).
“When my husband and I were dating, we used to meet at the Pig and Whistle, as did everyone else,” Lee said. “It was the big place to go.” The Pig and Whistle eventually burned down.
“When I was old enough to go to work, I worked at the Four Way Freeze as a carhop,” said Miller. “When I started, I was paid 50 cents an hour and hamburgers were 20 cents, cheeseburgers were a quarter, French fries were 15 cents and we had nickel and dime fountain Cokes.”
As the years passed, the little town of Hardin slowly began to fade away. The Hardin Days festival, which at one time was only rivaled by Tater Day in this area, stopped entirely and the business boom came to an end. However, Hardin is still home to two restaurants, a library, a jewelry store, a barber shop, post office, a mechanic garage, a plumbing supply store and a Dollar General Store.
Though Miller doesn’t live in Hardin anymore, the place still holds a special place in his heart.
“Altough Hardin has changed and many of my old friends have gone on, Hardin will always be my home,” Miller said. “As I have told my wife and sons many times, when I die just plant me on the hill overlooking Hardin and I will be just fine.”