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Commentary: A Man From Boston

A while back I wrote a column in which I talked about an old country store and its gas pump, which required gas really to be pumped into a glass tank at its top by means of a handle on its side. A few days later I received some sketches in the mail with a note from a fellow. The sketches were very good. They depicted an old country store and the gas pump I’d described. He had grown up in the country as I had and we were only a few months apart in age.
A few weeks later, I got to meet him and visit a spell in his back-yard studio. His name is Joe Denton and he was born and has lived his whole life in Williamson County. Folks with these credentials are getting harder to find these days. He grew up on his family’s farm down in the Boston community.  He started to school at Theta in Maury County but soon transferred to Williamson County schools, graduating from Hillsboro High School.  That was back when the village still went by that name, instead of Leiper’s Fork.
Joe says that he was always able to draw most anything, a talent that just came naturally.  He’s only had one art course in his life. Back in the 1940s in magazines and newspapers, there would be an ad with a simple sketch and the words “Draw me – and win a free art course.”  
Of course, only one would win the course but, armed with the names and addresses of the other entrants, salesmen would go out and try to sell art lessons to the others. The salesman came to Joe’s family but $225 was a lot of money for them in those days.  
However, Joe had a bad case of asthma, so his father finally said,  “We might as well let him do it.  He ain’t gonna be worth much for anything else.”  So Joe took a correspondence course in Art and Design.
After high school he was hired on at the old Review Appeal, where from 1951 to 1960 he worked as a printer and an artist.  From there he went to Dixie Graphics in Nashville, retiring in 1997 after 37 years of graphic and artwork. However, Joe did not quit drawing.  His back-yard studio is filled with his work in oils and watercolor.  One even sports a ribbon won at a recent Williamson County Fair.
Harry Isaacs was one of Joe’s early mentors.  Harry was a Main Street businessman at the Lunn and Garner store who was known as “the Major of Main Street” in his later years.  In his spare time he did drawings for the Review Appeal, as well as professional sign painting.  Joe also began painting signs “on the side” and took over as Franklin’s sign painter after Harry retired.  You can still see some of Joe’s signs around town at some of the older businesses.
One of Joe’s fond memories of 1950’s Franklin is “election night on Main Street.”  The Review Appeal office was across the street and a few buildings toward the Square from the Franklin Theatre.  They would set up a slide projector, borrowed from the theatre, in a second floor window and project the running vote count on a white bed sheet hung on the building across the street.  Runners from the paper brought in periodic updates from the various polling sites.  Isaacs would also draw and project caricatures of the candidates.  
There would be a loudspeaker blaring music from a 78-RPM record player. There would be cheers when candidates pulled ahead in the tally. Couples would be dancing.
The special election in 1953 to decide whether Franklin would have package liquor stores is especially etched in Joe’s memory. 
It was the only item on the ballot. He has a full-page ad run by the “wets” castigating the “drys” over their mud-slinging tactics. The churches and bootleggers joined forces to defeat legal liquor, proving the adage that politics do indeed make strange bedfellows. 
A local minister, the main spokesman for the “drys,” antagonized so many people with his rhetoric that, for many, the vote was really against him.  The “wets” expected to lose and were surprised with the results.  Liquor was voted in. 
The minister soon left town to lead another church in another place. A few years later, a local businessman ran into him tending bar in a Western state, proving also that truth is often stranger than fiction.
Dr. Lucas G. (Luke) Boyd is the retired principal of Battle Ground Academy. He lives in Franklin and may be contacted at

Posted on: 11/24/2013


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