It’s ‘Historic’ Benton Station!

Landmark gets distinction thanks to ‘Bear’ donation

By BRIAN GRAVES brian.graves@clevelandbanner.com
Posted 6/1/17

There is no one who now comes from Benton Station, Tennessee.

They all come from Historic Benton Station, Tennessee.

It was the designation of that community as a Tennessee historic …

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It’s ‘Historic’ Benton Station!

Landmark gets distinction thanks to ‘Bear’ donation

Posted

There is no one who now comes from Benton Station, Tennessee.

They all come from Historic Benton Station, Tennessee.

It was the designation of that community as a Tennessee historic landmark that brought them out Wednesday to celebrate and remember.

All of this is linked to one man — William Hinton Lawson.

Better known as “Bear,” it was in the early 1900s when the donation of land on his farm allowed the L&N Railroad to bring railroad service to the area, thereby transforming it into a bustling area of commerce.

The Benton Station Bridge was renamed in his honor during a January ceremony.

Wednesday’s event recognized the historic significance of Lawson’s extraordinary gift of foresight.

With the approval of the Tennessee Historic Commission, a new state marker was unveiled with what seemed like everyone from Polk County in attendance.

But, at its core, it was the residents and friends of Benton Station whose hearts swelled with pride as the significance of their community in Tennessee history was formally noted.

It seemed proper, as County Executive Hoyt Firestone noted, to give the Lord proper thanks for the day.

It was in fact “Bear” Lawson who provided the seed money to establish Benton Station Baptist Church, which is located within sight of the new marker.

“A society grows great when men plant trees under whose shade they know they will never sit,” said LaRonda Cochran before beginning the morning’s prayer. “More than 100 years ago, ‘Bear’ Lawson was planting trees which would provide shade for future generations. He made investments in and around his farm that would affect the lives of those who came after him.”

Firestone said the recent revelations of history piqued his interest in some of the names of places around the county.

“Benton Station was the result of a railway station being established here,” he said. “But, the name is not what is important. It’s the character of the people that live in it — such as civic responsibility, generosity and the love of our neighbors. That is established strongly in the Benton Station community.”

Firestone said he had not been fully knowledgeable about the history of Benton Station to the level he has over the last few months.

“If it wasn’t for Allan Jones, I probably would not have known,” Firestone said.

It was Jones’ attempt to trace his ancestors which brought to his attention the story of “Bear” Lawson, and Jones’ foundation which spearheaded the move for the historic designation.

There is no Tennessee celebration complete without bluegrass, and a band made up of Phil Lea, Larry Guy, Buddy McClary, Doug Purdy and Ralph Jones twanged out a musical number with special lyrics framed around Benton Station and some of its memorable citizens and places.

State Sen. Mike Bell (R-Riceville) said he had been to numerous historical marker events, “but there has never been a crowd that approached this.”

“I credit that to two things,” Bell said. “One is how much you love your community. It’s evident.”

Bell said the other is for the work Jones has done through his foundation to get the designation secured.

“History does not define us, but it does make us a little more aware of who we are and where we came from,” Bell said. “You have a special place here and now you have a marker to recognize that.”

Jones noted the 100th anniversary of the birth of John F. Kennedy was recognized only a few days ago.

“John Kennedy was a man who made a difference,” Jones said of our 35th president. “He envisioned taking a man to the moon and bringing him back again. Today, we’re here to honor another man that made a difference, ‘Bear’ Lawson.’”

“The contribution ‘Bear’ Lawson made has been overlooked,” he added. “This might be the most historic situation in Polk County. If that railroad track had gone where it was originally scheduled to go, the town of Benton might not be here today.”

Edward Lea, who once ran the depot, spoke of about what the event meant to him.

“I want to thank ‘Bear’ Lawson, who I did not have the pleasure of knowing because he had passed away before I came on the scene,” Lea said.

Lea expressed gratitude to Lawson for contributing his farm to what became part of Benton Station.

“Second, I want to thank the L&N Railroad for supplying employment for seven families — probably the largest employer at that time,” Lea said.

After Lea’s remarks, everyone filed over to the site of the new marker and watched “Bear” Lawson’s two great-great-great-grandchildren, Emily and Eli Lane, do the honors.

After the ceremony, everyone ended the morning with a barbecue dinner in the fellowship hall of Benton Station Baptist Church — the same church which “Bear” Lawson helped to establish, located near the “Bear” Lawson Bridge and in the community which his actions helped to establish so many years ago.

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