By VIRGINIA and DICK LAWLOR
The tall, square, two-story dwelling at the end of Waters Street in Watertown, sits like an ancient matriarch, fanned and sheltered by the waving branches of majestic trees. It watches with calm eyes as you approach as though it were wondering which of its children were returning for a visit. It is a house which has been filling up with memories for the pioneer Waters family since it was built in 1844 by Wilson Lawrence Waters.
One of the more beautiful memories was the 50th Wedding Anniversary of its builder and his wife on Dec. 17, 1894, when the mansion was ablaze with light and old-fashioned bouquets from Mrs. Waters’ garden supplied every room with wild and beautiful color.
A faded little booklet, a cherished possession of great-granddaughter, Christine Teasley, includes a nostalgic poem written for the occasion by Mr. Waters’ brother, the Reverend James Waters, which gives an intimate and endearing word picture of the family and festivities in connection with that memorable wedding day. James was only 8 years old when his brother married but he recalls in fine detail the meat and dessert portions of that wedding feast, which consisted of turkeys, chicken pies, cherry cobblers, custard pies, and cakes with icing!
Little wonder that the neighbors turned out to honor Mr. Wilson Lawrence Waters on this important occasion; he was virtually and admittedly “Mr. Watertown.” In its earliest days the whole town was on his 400 acre farm. His store supplied the needs of the community and from it he sold the first turning plow in Wilson County. In 1845 the Post Office was moved to his store and the Three Forks designation was dropped in favor of Waters’ Town, later combined into one word, Watertown, in honor of Mr. Waters.
He also built and operated a water-powered grist mill and saw mill. He was the leading spirit in getting the old stagecoach road (Walden Ridge Road) replaced by the Lebanon-Sparta turnpike, and acted as President. But perhaps his greatest accomplishment for Watertown was his securing a route through the town for the Nashville and Knoxville Railroad (later, a part of the Tennessee Central system). This proved a heady tonic for the community and occasioned a spurt of economic and population growth. He lifted the first shovel of dirt before a large gathering of citizens in 1887. He was also the man who drove the last spike at Smithville.
This listing of accomplishments, however, gives only one view of the man. A yellowed and age-mutilated clipping describes Mr. Waters as “up to his eyes in business.” And that was true; but Mr. Waters was also the possessor of psychic powers. He was aware of his gift of prophesying the future of his dreams, so he kept a Dream Book wherein happenings and events were recounted which eventually took place in the manner he had foreseen in his dreams. A Peabody student used the book as a basis for what must have been a most interesting thesis.
The Wilson County History reports that while Mr. Waters was in the legislature in 1865, he made a stirring appeal requesting that colored persons be tried in the same way that whites were. His ability to project into the future was not limited to dreams; his appeal was rejected but his idea was sound and prophetic, and even though its time had not yet arrived-arrive it most assuredly would, as Waters full well knew.
Like grandmother, like granddaughter! An equally festive and beautiful occasion was the 50th Wedding Anniversary of Wilson Lawrence Waters’ granddaughter, the charming Christine Phillips Forrester and her husband, Robert L. Forrester, which was celebrated at a brilliant reception given by the Forrester children. In a newspaper interview Christine said that her life had been “so full and wonderful” that it was hard to believe that so many years had rolled by; and when she read the invitations being sent out, she said, “a little pepper got in my eyes.”
This time the reception rooms of the ancestral home were decorated with arrangements of gold flowers and the banquet table in the dining room was centered with jonquils and forsythia in an antique cut-glass punch bowl, a wedding gift of 50 years ago. Christine’s lovely bridal gown was worn by her eldest grandson’s wife. All the family—tall, handsome people beautifully gowned and groomed-were assisting in greeting and serving guests. All of them happy to be together.
But all the memories were not so joyous; the old home and its occupants were not strangers to sorrow. Only a handful of months after their Golden Anniversary festivities in 1964, Robert L. Forrester lay dying. For over a half century he had practiced law at the Tennessee bar; he had been honored with the State Presidency of the Exchange Club; had served 18 years on the State Board of Education; and was a faithful member of the Masonic Lodge. He was an old-school gallant, a lover-husband who was a shield and protector for his bride for all the brief 50 years, supporting and encouraging her activities whether it was directing the First Baptist Church choir, becoming Department President of the American Legion Auxiliary, or Board Member of the National Federation of Music Clubs. And all the family felt a deep pride when Christine was elected Tennessee Mother of the Year in I 962.
Christine and Bob had given four sons to serve in World War II. That fateful day when the heart-reaking news that one of these, Robert L. Forrester, Jr., a Captain in the, Air Force, had ben killed in a plane crash in the Galapagos Islands (1942), the old house started filling up with neighbors and friends and loved ones and the branches of the tall trees swept the ground as though they, too, were bowed in grief.
Recent happy news (July, 1975) concerns another son of the house, Eugene, a West Point graduate, who is now Major General Forrester, Commander of Army Recruiting Command at Ft. Sheridan, Illinois.
With Bob’s passing, Christine set about dividing her things, moving to Nashville to be nearer to all of her children, and of necessity selling the old home. As the key was turned in the lock for the last time by the hand of a Waters’ descendant, the house stood square and silent with its windows looking wistfully down Waters Street – it had caught the character of its occupants-like them, it, too, would endure with quiet dignity whatever came its way.