It was early morning and Steve Johnson was driving around the loop that borders the small town of Lebanon, TN.  Lebanon is the town where he was born.


He had his driver’s side window down and the cool air from the morning breeze felt good on his face.  He looked ahead and saw the bright yellow sun beginning to come over the horizon.


He wondered what would come before him that would need his attention today.  “How things had changed over the years,” he thought, “I bet Dad never had any idea Lebanon would turn out like this.”


He did have decisions that were weighing on his mind that had to be made, but the timing needed to be right.  He could not rush into them for fear that it would upset not only the family, but the community as well.


Steve wondered, “How could he do it?”  He had already met with Jeff Warner, their bank attorney, and had his advice.  He knew he was within his rights to move as he saw fit, but could he do this.


Lebanon, Tennessee is located on the eastern outskirts of Nashville, or as some like to call Nashville – ‘Music City’.  Lying out there remotely separated from the bright lights of Nashville, Lebanon was the epitome of country living.  Hills and valleys, trees and lakes encompassed most of the town and laid the ground work for the beautiful serene setting.


 The local politicians and real estate developers claimed Lebanon would someday present the opportunity for an overnight growth of new people.  They claimed, “People would want to get away from Nashville with crowded streets and the constant wail of sirens.


Not to mention the hustle and bustle attitude of folks in the big city.  Already, the streets were encumbered with tourists, both in cars and charter buses, who came seeking the majesty of the country music venues.”


There was a constant uproar at the council meetings in Lebanon from those that wanted to prepare for the newcomers and the ones who wanted to keep things as they were.  “After all, why prepare,” they argued when the town still had fields of corn and tobacco within the city limits.”


Due to the economic downturn under President Obama; money was something that very few had in the early 2000s.  They had cows, pigs, and chickens.


The men hunted regularly and especially in the early fall for deer and squirrels.  Squirrels were always plentiful and many nights tables were graced with the little yard cats that tasted like chicken.


Deer meat or venison, as it was called, had to be prepared a certain way to make it suitable for eating.  Few had problems accomplishing the task after a few trial and errors.  Many times before you got it right, the venison was thrown out to the dogs.  And they seldom wanted to eat it either.  Grandmothers straightened out the new wives on the preparation process.


Fishing was not only a source of food, but one of the most popular past times.  You could always come away with a nice mess of catfish and every wife knew how to cook fish.  Of course the house would smell like fish for a week afterwards, but that was a small price to pay.


To sit down with a platter of fried catfish, homemade biscuits and catsup.  Along with a big glass of fresh buttermilk, was a meal fit for a king.


The concerns of the community were decided by the men on the fishing banks.  They had several special fishing holes on the Cumberland River just north of town.


Politicians were selected or dismissed based on the pros and cons of their policy positions.  Everyone had an opinion.


There was not a problem that could not be solved while catching fish.  Plus you get to have a great catfish dinner as well.


Lebanon was more of a community than a town.  In the early 1800s, neighbors joined together from time to time to help each other.  They would gather to butcher a steer.  Everyone shared in the meat.


The men butchered and quartered the animals for their steaks while the women ground the left over beef into hamburger meat.  The hides were sent to a rendering plant for leather products.


And the best time to ‘skin a pig’ was usually after the first mild cold spell.  It was a real community gathering.  The pork cuts were saved in whole quarters, large hams, and bacon slabs.


The pig intestines were stuffed with ground pork mixed with spices that made a great breakfast sausage.  Usually one man had the secret on properly mixing the spices with the right amount of pork to have the sausage in a mild, regular or hot blend.


In the early 1900s, they stored the quarter cuts and the large hams along with the bacon slabs in a small building called a ‘smoke house’.  They kept a continual smoking fire just hot enough to cure the meat.  They would retrieve a portion when needed for cooking and family meals.


Moving into the early 1900s, Lebanon had become sophisticated to know about professional meat processing facilities for pork and beef but there were still a small number of people of the community who would not give up the old habits.


During the Great Depression in the United States in the 1920s through to 1930s, it was the fortitude of the people like those in Lebanon that allowed them to fare better than most of the country.  While the cities were without food; work; and shelter; those in the country found little change in their lives.


The folks were accustomed to providing for their families off the land.  If they did not have it, they just did without it.  Since no one had anything anyway, it was not known that they did not have it – thus they did not miss it.


It was on the verge of this philosophy that the town of Lebanon survived and became a thriving farm community in the early 1900s.  Live and help others live served as the motto of the day.


But by the mid 1900s, Lebanon began to have growing pains.  Folks began seeking services provided for them that others could get in larger towns especially like Nashville.  They wanted doctors, hospitals, law enforcement, fire departments, banks, and grocery stores.


They liked water, sewer, trash, and utility services provided for their homes.  But many lost sight of the expense and the loss of family traditions experienced with these changes.


Walter Johnson was born shortly after the turn of the 20th century to parents who had very little, but the house was filled with love.  While others had problems making ends meet, Walter’s parents had a garden that filled their table every day.


Walter’s dad worked from ‘can to can’t’ and from ‘sun up to sun down.’  Odessa (called Dessie) Olson Johnson, his wife, canned and preserved the vegetables from the garden for the winter.  Gracious in character, Walter and Dessie shared their bountiful supply from their garden with the community.


Walter had inherited his dad’s work ethic.  Like his dad, he was very conscientious about his work, his reputation, and the family name.


Never did he let a day go by that he did not accomplish what he set out to do.  He never met anyone that was a stranger and he was quick to speak to all with whom he came in contact.  He was held in high regard by all who knew him.


Walter was 20 when he met Dessie at a church ice cream social.  One of the members had a cave where they kept large ice blocks and on occasion – they would get together after the Sunday evening preaching service and break out the hand-cranked wooden ice cream barrels.


The women would mix the raw cow’s milk and eggs with vanilla, sugar, and flour while the men broke up the ice.  The creamy mixture would be put in the canister connected to a crank that had a stationary dasher inside.


Ice would be added to the barrels mixed with salt – which preserved the temperature right at freezing – and they began to crank the canister.  The canister turned clockwise and the dasher was designed to stay stationary.  It scrapped the inside of the canister thoroughly with its wood blades.


As the canister turned clockwise, it moved the creamery mixture past the dasher in a reverse horizontal upward motion turning it over and over.  One of the joys for the children was licking the dasher after the ice cream was formed.


  The young boys would take turns sitting on the ice cream barrel so that the wooden barrel would not turn over with the torque of the cranking motion.  As the cream began to freeze, the turning of the canister by the crank became harder and harder.  Soon it could not be turned anymore and the ice cream was done.


It was thought that Americans consumed 3 gallons of homemade ice cream each year per person, but in Lebanon it was more like 10 gallons especially for Walter.  He loved it.


Walter was one who loved to investigate how things worked and see if he could perfect it.  But in all his attempts in making it better; the evidence proved the ice cream mixer still remains today as it was in the early 1800s with the exception that the crank is run by electricity.  He could never improve on the ice cream freezer.


Walter Johnson, a young man with a vision for his community, began to expand his horizons beyond his little family and the surrounding areas.  He wanted the best for them and the best could not be limited to farming and his little house.


He began to look around to see how he could help Lebanon and prosper his family as well.  The effects of the depression of the late 1920s were beginning to wane in the late 1930s.


Walter wanted Lebanon to become a society that met the needs of its citizens.  As he studied the area and talked with his friends around the fishing hole, he determined that one of the first services the town needed was a bank.


With his wife Dessie, he started a local bank in the Lebanon community.  Knowing Walter and Dessie was all that anyone needed to have faith and trust in the new banking establishment.  Walter named it the Community Bank of Lebanon, Tennessee as a statement that it belonged to the people of Lebanon.


The town was proud to have a bank.  The entire surrounding community supported it.  And Walter was proud to have established the bank.


In the early years of banking, banks depended upon the integrity of the owner or board of directors to make sure their deposits were secure.  Trust was a primary factor in the success or failure of a bank.  “If you could not trust your banker, who could you trust” was the thought of the day.


All accounts both personal and commercial were protected by the bank or more specifically by the owner of the bank.  Banking had not yet formed the federal insurance corporation to protect banks.


Walter’s wife, Dessie, was a constant companion with him at the bank.  She was in on every decision including each employee that was hired by the bank.


She was there to greet the first customers who came in every morning and the last to bid farewell the last customer as they left the bank in the evening.


Dessie oversaw all the inside work of the tellers of the bank.  Many days, she and Walter worked long hours after the close of the bank making sure that every ‘i’ was dotted and every ‘t’ was crossed.


The business of banking with Walter and Dessie did not take a back seat.  It was first and foremost in their minds continually


Walter had a unique ability to size up people.  He could tell you if a farmer was going to make it by just the way the man walked into the bank.


He watched the natural forces of nature and the economy.  He seemed to know when the heavy rains or no rains were going to present a threat to the success of farming.


Walter relied heavily on the old Farmers' Almanac for weather reports.  The publication had been in print since the early 1800s and that was good enough for him.


In the early days loans primarily consisted of farm loans.  Folks wanting to buy land or to build homes or barns accounted for most of the banking business in Lebanon.  The need was there and the bank helped the little community to grow and succeed.



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