Has Lived in Same Community on Ridge All His Life and One House for Seventy-five Years



That man is of few years and full of sorrow is not the opinion of Francis Hughes, centenarian, of Flat Top precinct, in Hamilton county, who not only has the distinction of being the oldest voter, but, as far as known, the oldest native resident of this section, he having lived in the same community for 101 years and spent seventy-five years of that time in one house.

Flat Top is located on Walden’s ridge, eight miles from Soddy, and can only be reached by wagon or muleback.  The voting precinct was established a few months ago and Mr. Hughes was among the first to place his name on the registration book.  They are all republicans and boast that there isn’t a democrat in the precinct. 

It is the little hamlet where Mr. Hughes has spent the greater portion of his long life in an isolated community cut off from the march of progress and civilization, both on account of its inaccessibility and because of the wishes of the few inhabitants, who prefer solitude to the busy marts of life.  The family of Mr. Hughes and his few neighbors live in almost feudal manner.  The scenery and contour of the country reminds the visitor who accidentally happens on the unique settlement, of Exmoor of the wild and rugged country vividly described in “Lorna Doone.”

The hurrying rush of the world seems far removed and it is with wonder the visitor hears Mr. Hughes expound his views with regard to America’s attitude toward France in the recent debt controversy.  The centenarian believes the United States would do well to remember the manner in which France, through Lafayette, helped this country in its time of need, and advocates that leniency temper all decisions concerning the disagreement with regard to money obligations between the two nations.


Still Operating Blacksmith Shop.


Mr. Hughes was born within three miles of Flat Top on the Henry Bowman place.  “My old friends are all dead, and all my playmates anything like my age are gone, but I don’t ever want to die.”  He went over into Bledsoe county on March 7, 1851, to get his wife, who was Miss Margaret Duff, and brought her back to the house he had built for her, now called the “old home place.”  Recently Mr. Hughes left this home, where his fourteen children were born, nine girls and five boys, and took up residence with a son, Richard Hughes.


Centenarian Never Used Tobacco, but Did Take Liquor in Coffee When Brand Was Good –Operates Blacksmith Shop, Chops Wood and Rides Horse Every Day.


Each day, however, finds Mr. Hughes astride his horse, riding over to his old home and to his blacksmith shop, where he maintains an active business.  Time is not measured by months and years by the centenarian, but by the size of a tree, for he told a Times representative who called on him recently: “I have lived here long enough to plant this spruce and see it grown until it is now three feet thick.”

When Mr. Hughes was questioned regarding the reason for his long life, his humorous view of the world was demonstrated, as he said: “Well, it might be plenty of meal bread and potatoes, and on the other hand it might be the whisky I used to drink for breakfast,” and with a twinkle in his eye he deplored the present state of affairs, declaring only amateurs are making liquor now, and “it’s not Christian to drink it”.

Fella gave me a pint of the stuff a short time ago, and I brought it home,” said Mr. Hughes, “and in a few days it turned as white as milk.”

Tobacco is described by Mr. Hughes as a vile weed, and he declares he will not use it in any form.  “Took a chaw of tobaccer once,” he said, “and it made me sick.  Ain’t never had any use for it, and won’t tolerate ground to grow it.”

            Mr. Hughes declares he has never been sick in his life – “that is not to say sick, had a cold once or twice,” he explained.  “I’d live on and on if the Good Master would let me,” he said.


Graphically Describes Civil War Experiences.


            Civil war experience are graphically described by Mr. Hughes, who says he never fought on either side, but his family were “Yankees,” and he characterizes the Confederate soldiers as “rebels,” declaring they tried to hang his father and raided their barns and fields for food and fodder.  Whenever the Confederate army approached, members of the Hughes family would take the wagons into the various hollows near Flat Top and either hide under the vehicles or in them until the raiding party moved on.  Several of the brothers of Frank Hughes fought in the army and one was confined in the Andersonville prison for a long period and later died there.


Flat Top Section Home of Wild Life When Hughes Was Young and Indians Often Visited Community


Large number of wild animals, such as bear, deer, turkey and wolves, inhabited the country around Flat Top when Mr. Hughes was a child and a young man.  Cherokee Indians from Georgia frequently came to that section of the country to hunt and to trade with the settlers before they were taken to the reservation west of the Mississippi river.  The Indians from Georgia had one bad habit which made the obnoxious to the inhabitants of Flat Top.  Whenever they killed a deer they stripped the hide from the animal and left the carcass, taking only such meat as the hunters wished to eat at that time.

Enormous rattlesnakes of great age infested the country around Flat Top when Mr. Hughes was a youngster.  He stated he had killed tow of these snakes, each measuring five feet, but most of them were about six inches long.  May copperheads were also found and killed.

            Now that owners of expensive automobiles brag about diving to Nashville from Chattanooga in four house and certain number of minutes, the announcement that the trip to the capital from Flat Top required twelve days when Mr. Hughes was a boy is received with almost incredulous silence.  The journey was considered an exciting adventure in those days and was made only at long intervals, or when illness or death made the perilous undertaking necessary.

            Commenting on the change in conditions after the Civil war, Mr. Hughes seemed to think the women folds had the hardest time.  Prior to the war the women could do nothing for themselves when they went to town.  A negro had to carry them to the buggy, put them in it, drive them to their destination, carry their bundles from the different stores to the buggy and bring them safely home again.  However, after the conflict the women had to walk to town, and assist in carrying home such articles as the men could not hold in their arms.

            Mr. Hughes is the father of fourteen children, all of whom are dead except four girls and two boys; he has thirty-two grandchildren, eighty-five great grandchildren, and twelve great-great-grandchildren. 

            Mr. Hughes is not a church man.  When his father and mother first settled in that section of the country it was entirely isolated from all forms of civilization, churches, being unheard of, therefore he never entered into its fellowship.  All of his children, he stated, had embraced the Methodist faith.


Customs Hark Back to Revolutionary Days.


The conditions prevailing throughout the country during the Revolutionary days maintain in large measure on Flat Top.  From the wool of sheep raised on the farms thread is carded and spun and then knitted into stocking and sweaters, which are proudly displayed by various members of the family.  The old distaff and spinning wheel used by Margaret Duff Hughes when she made the clothes for her firstborn, about three-quarters of a century ago, are still in use by some of her daughters, although the entire family is not dressed in homespun today, as is the case when she came a bride to Flat Top.



Mr. Hughes’ one hobby is horses.  In all his long and active life he has never permitted a day to pass without taking a horseback ride.  His energy would put many a younger man to shame, for in addition to managing his blacksmith shop, he splits enough wood to supply the family of his son, with whom he now resides.

            Several members of his family have lived to more than ripe old age, Mr. Hughes stated.  His grandmother died at the age of 105 and one sister lived to be 110.  He expressed the hope he would live many more years on Flat Top, where it is peaceful and quiet.

            Only once during his long life has the seclusion of his home been threatened.  About seventeen years ago a company from Pennsylvania came to the mountain to cut timber.  They put up a sawmill, brought a gang of woodsmen and started to work.  In order to provide living quarters for the workmen a large number of wooden shacks were erected, the ruins of which are still standing.  Demonstrating the fact that nothing changes in the little community the section where the wood cutting operations took place is designed (sic) as “out at Pennsylvania.”

            When a Times staff photographer arrived at Flat Top it was evident the invisible messengers of the mountains had traveled ahead and warm welcome was waiting for the visitors.  A bountiful dinner had been prepared and the stranger was invited to partake of the meal before any question was permitted as to the business which brought the guest to the remote district.

            While Mr. Hughes did not seem to have a philosophy of life other than to live clean and at peace with his neighbors, it is to his credit that he raised a large family of law-abiding citizens who have never, insofar as can be ascertained, brought dishonor upon the name he bears.  Mr. Hughes declared he had never been drunk in his life, never used tobacco in any form and ate only healthy food.  He also is a great believer in staying out doors as much as possible and takes plenty of exercise through hard work.
The Chattanooga Times: Chattanooga, Tenn., Sunday, August 8, 1926


Submitted by Connie Lisenby