|“Lascassas/ Fifteen miles from no where/ How I long to go there/ Take be back to Lascassas.”
Pearcy’s General Store was one of many local businesses in Lascassas. Lascassas is best known for the popular monthly Fish Fry staged by the Lascassas Volunteer Fire Department. (Photo by D. Whittle)
The above lyrics about an unincorporated Rutherford County community came from an impromptu-arranged song during national broadcasts, perhaps during the Lascassas village’s heyday era.
Briefly in the 1950s, Lascassas, a mere village, was known more widely than Rutherford County capitol city Murfreesboro due to the “Arthur Godfrey Show” on television and radio.
The late Rufus Jarman, a Lascassas native, who was a reporter with The New York Times, had landed on the Godfrey show as a producer and frequent guest.
When Jarman would return to Lascassas from New York on visits to see his sister, Alice Jarman Penuel, he always made a stop to catch latest gossip at Ben Brown’s Grocery, a legendary family owned country store that spanned five generations from 1936 to 2006.
Godfrey frequently asked him about Lascassas and events happening at the grocery store, where area farmers would gather in the early morning around the coal-fired heating stove.
Godfrey and Jarman would talk about such things as the price of a bologna sandwich at Brown’s Grocery, which hog farmer produced the most tasty country-cured ham, and who were the winners of the latest area horse shows.
Alice Penuel was more famous in Tennessee than Jarman because she carried the television title of “Miss Martha White” when she would appear on Nashville’s television show the “Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs Country Music Show.” She also performed cooking demonstrations for Martha White flour products throughout Middle Tennessee.
Lascassas resident Hooper Penuel said he recalls his aunt appearing on TV with Grand Ole Opry icons Flatt and Scruggs.
“Lester Flatt, when it came time to do a commercial, would refer to Aunt Alice, the spokeswoman for Martha White flour products based in nearby Lebanon,” Hooper Penuel said. “Mr. Flatt would say something like, ‘It’s time for a commercial. Let’s go back in the kitchen and see what Miss Alice is cooking up for us today.’ It would be something from the stove involving Martha White brand products.”
In that era, Alice Penuel, was referred to by local Lascassas residents as “Miss Martha White,” described lifelong resident Linda McCrary Brown.
The legends of Lascassas are numerous, which includes a story from Jarman’s childhood spent on the 400-acre historic Jarman Farm, reportedly purchased from Indians back in the late-1700s. That acreage on Cainsville Pike, otherwise known as State Route 266, remains in the Jarman family today.
Prior to her death, Alice Penuel shared how her studious, book-reading brother was left in charge of keeping birds out of the family’s cherry tree orchid located in the yard near their farm house.
“Rufus was always getting in trouble for reading books, and not tending to chores on the farm,” she recalled. “This particular day, my brother had the task of keeping birds out of the cherry tree, after our parents warned him not to be reading books, instead of watching for birds in the tree.”
“I’ve heard this boyhood story all my life,” Linda Brown confirmed. “Being an obviously smart little boy, the day he was left to safeguard the ripening cherries on the tree, he fashioned a rope to his rocking chair on the porch, attached to a bell and hung in the cherry tree. That way, he could read one of his favorite books and rock back and forth. As he rocked back and forth, it would ring the bell that kept the birds out of the cherry tree.”
No wonder Jarman was destined for greatness as a famous writer and producer in the Big Apple.
Meanwhile, Alice Penuel wed her childhood sweetheart, J.D.
Smyrna resident Hilda Stuart, whose son Marty Stuart was appearing on the show with Scruggs and Flatt at the time, said she remembers working on a project with Alice Penuel.
“When Marty was 12 or 13 in the early 1970s, they asked him what dessert he liked best, made with Martha White products,” Hilda Stuart shared. “‘Miss Martha White’ called me from her kitchen and asked for the recipe to my apple sauce cake. She tested the recipe, and ended up putting it on the back of Martha White flour for a brief period of time. I still have some of those old Martha White sacks with my recipe on them.”
Although the grocery store is now closed, the legends surrounding the family remain popular with Lascassas residents.
The legacy of Ben Brown’s Grocery
When prominent farmer Ernest Brown built the store for his son Ben Brown and his wife, Peggy, the store became a community business icon where hundreds of area residents gathered and traded daily.
The Lascassas community was stricken with grief in 1981, when Ben and Peggy Brown died within minutes of one another.
“Grandmother Peggy was hospitalized with a heart condition, when Grandfather Brown was stricken with a stroke back at the store,” described Melinda “Mo” Brown Black, who is the daughter of Linda and Ben “Buddy” Brown Jr. “When they advised Grandmother that Grandfather Ben was brain dead, she collapsed there in the hospital, and they passed away within 30 minutes of one another.”
Hundreds of cars and families lined up along Lascassas Pike in March 1981 at nearby Milton Cemetery during the double-funeral the couple.
“People came from miles around for our grandparents’ funeral,” Mo Brown said.
At that point, Buddy and Linda Brown then took over operations of the legendary country store.
Mo Brown got her nickname from customers as she and her brother, Ernie, a farmer, grew up in the store that closed in 2006. She still operates a catering business at the now remodeled store building, where private family reunions and wedding socials are held.
More than one famous person came out of Lascassas.
For example, Hollywood actor John Pickard, whose son and descendants still reside in Rutherford County, was born in Lascassas.
He left his boyhood village to become famous on national television in the 1950s, when he filled the lead role of Capt. Shank Adams in the syndicated “Boots and Saddles” TV series.
He had roles in many western movies and TV shows, including “Wagon Train,” “Gunsmoke,” “The Rifleman” and “Rawhide.”
In 1969, he appeared with John Wayne in the iconic “True Grit” movie. His final on-screen role was on the “Simon & Simon” detective TV series in 1987.
On Aug. 4, 1993, Pickard was killed by a bull at age 80 on the family farm in Rutherford County. The bull had been rented from a Smyrna family to breed livestock on Pickard’s farm.
Today, Lascassas is best known for the popular monthly Fish Fry staged by the Lascassas Volunteer Fire Department.
Those volunteer firefighters hold a regionally popular, monthly fundraising fish fry that attracts hundreds of families from a five-county Middle Tennessee region.
“We don’t miss the Lascassas Fish Fry,” Smyrna resident Ken Salyers said.
His wife, Rita Salyers, agreed.
“It’s the best community fish fry in the country,” she said.