Editor’s Note — The following story concerns one of the “movers and shakers” in Scott County history — Claiborn Cross — who was also known throughout most of his adult life as simply C. Cross. He was a hard-working and successful businessman as well as a visionary who took an active role in both the economic and civic development of the Town of Oneida. Much of what is written here is taken from a biographical sketch of Cross written by his granddaughter, Ruth Massey Thompson, for inclusion in the book Scott County, Tennessee and its Families, as well as from information found in several other Scott County Historical Society publications. It was originally written by Paul Roy.
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When Claiborn Cross was just five years old, his father, Larkin W. Cross, was captured and executed by a group of marauding Rebel soldiers in the Buffalo Creek area of Scott County.
The date was November 7, 1862. Lark, as he was known, was not an enemy soldier or spy for the Union forces, but merely a 37-year-old farmer going about his business — a man with Union sympathies, no doubt, but one of scores of local residents who just wanted to be left alone. To his misfortune, on that fateful day, he just happened to be walking along the road with Ransom Vanover, a private in the Second Tennessee Mounted Infantry (Union), who was home on furlough.
The two men were taken into custody, given a mock trial, and hanged in an apple tree at the side of the road.
That was but one of many such atrocities which impacted the people of Scott County during the Civil War, and it undoubtedly had a profound impact on young Claiborn, his five other siblings, and his mother, Henrietta (Rittie) Duncan Cross.
Little more is known of C. Cross’s early life and education, except what can be found in public records, such as the censuses. Claib was 13 when the 1870 census was taken, living on his mother’s farm, with his occupation listed as “farm hand.”
Ten years later, in the 1880 census, we find a young man (age listed as 21), married to the former Connie Barron, 18, whom he had wed on April 11, 1880. His occupation was listed as the operator of a saloon. In the 1900 census, Claiborn and Connie are listed with a daughter, Eva, age 18, and he was listed as a merchant.
His occupation in 1880 as that of a “saloon keeper” may or may not have been C. Cross’s first business venture, but it was apparently an early step toward his becoming one of a handful of Scott Countians who took advantage of the coming of the railroad and invested in business ventures during the first big “boom” the county was to experience since its establishment in 1849.
The coming of the railroad also signaled the true birth of the lumber and coal industries in Scott County, for with rail service, the exportation of these local resources was, for the first time, readily available. The county’s lumber and coal “depot,” if you will, was Oneida — where Claib Cross and other progressive men set up shop. At that particular time in the county’s history, the community was known as Pine Creek, and the railroad station was called Oneida.
If you know your local history, particularly during the rapid growth of Oneida in the late 1800s and early 1900s, you’ll also be aware of the fact that the name C. Cross began to appear in key roles of commercial, industrial and civic life in Oneida and Scott County.
The saloon he operated, soon expanded into a general store and hotel, to take advantage of the growth of the town and the influx of visitors. That business venture — the Hotel Cross, which would remain a family business into the 1970s — actually began as a partnership between Cross and the Jamestown, New York businessmen Shaver & Hall, and apparently expanded from a similar partnership he had with them in the stave and lumber business in the Verdun area of the community.
According to his granddaughter, Ruth Massey Thompson, Claib Cross “was a civic minded man who believed Oneida should be incorporated with paved streets, sidewalks, a good water supply with sewer system, etc.”
Mrs. Thompson, who was the wife of the late Dr. Milford Thompson, continues her summation of the life of her grandfather by writing: “His belief was fervent enough that in 1920 he had a concrete sidewalk put on both sides of Bank Street where he lived. In 1928 he had a brick street laid. The driveway to the barn is still used. He believed that gas and oil existed in quantity in Scott County and did explorations. A gas well remains behind the old ‘homeplace’ home site. He believed a young town should have churches to which he donated land. He organized the First National Bank and became its first president. He later developed Oneida Bank & Trust Company and was president until its death. Perhaps his first priority was education. After an intense struggle, the Oneida Independent School District was established with C. Cross as first chairman of the board. He loved good cattle and horses and mules. He always kept Jersey cows, some prize horses and mules in his barn, which were usually for sale or trade.”
Mrs. Thompson goes on to say that Claiborn and Connie Barron Cross had one child, a daughter named Eva.
“She was educated at Huntsville Academy, Jamestown, New York High School, University of New York and Bowling Green Business College. She married Robert Clark Massey and they had one child, Ruth Cross Massey, who married Dr. Milford Thompson. They were the parents of two sons — Robert Milford and Thomas Scott. Bob married Deborah Kay Laxton. They have three daughters —Wendy, Amy and Amanda … Scott married Cythia Mae Fannin and they have one daughter, Lindy.”
In her biography of her grandfather, Ruth Thompson states that he organized and was the first president of First National Bank. Actually, C. Cross helped organize and was the first president of Scott County Bank — the forerunner of First National. This was the first bank in Scott County and was established in 1904. The incorporation charter was filed by C. Cross, G.W. King, S.B. Anderson, O.H. Anderson, T.K. Williams and W.B. Boyd. Cross served as president of the bank, E.G. Foster was vice president and W.C. Anderson, cashier. That bank, which was state chartered, changed its designation to a nationally chartered bank and changed its name to The Scott County National Bank, and, eventually, First National Bank. C. Cross resigned his position with the bank on September 27, 1913, some six years before the name changed to First National.
Within 10 years, however, Cross was back in the banking business as he established the Oneida Bank & Trust Co., which, coincidentally, was housed in the same building that the first (Scott County Bank) had used at the corner of Bank and Depot Streets. He served as that bank’s president from its founding in 1923 until his death. Ironically, 100 years after Scott County Bank was established, that same property housed a branch of Peoples Bank of the South (headquartered in neighboring Campbell County) and the branch manager and vice president of the bank was C. Cross’s great-grandson, Scott Thompson. The branch closed last year.
Connie Barron Cross was born on March 5, 1862, and died at the age of 77 on April 3, 1939. C. Cross died at the age of 89 on June 9, 1946. Both are buried in the Cross Family Cemetery on what was once the C. Cross farm on Bank Street in Oneida. His daughter and son-in-law, as well as his granddaughter, Ruth, and her husband, Dr. Milford Thompson, are also buried there.