It would be my guess that if you listed your occupation as cobbler, most people today would not be certain what you did. However, back in the day, before we lived in such a “throw-away” society, the cobbler literally kept the shoes on our feet!
Such was Mr. Ewing Parker who owned a shoe repair shop on Main Street nearly 50 years. Even in the years I remember, going into Mr. Parker’s shoe shop was rather like stepping back in time. The small shop was dark and had the smell of leather.
Mr. Parker was a quiet, unassuming man with a dry wit. On one of my last conversations with him, I apologized for not having been into his shop in a while. His reply was, “Well, you would just let a fella starve to death, wouldn’t you!” I was determined to find more shoes to repair!
The location of Mr. Parker’s shop is now a walk-way between the Envy Restaurant and Steve Austin’s Music Shop. Back in the day when Mr. Parker was on Main Street he was in-between Bessie Mae Reddick’s Portland Dry Goods store and Fred and Elizabeth Brizendine’s Food Center.
It was a busy place and Mr. Parker had plenty of folks bringing their shoes in to be re-soled or repaired in some way. We didn’t just throw them away and buy more until we had to!
He was born Ewing Wiley Parker Jan. 27, 1902 to Edward Harrison and Beulah Belle Smith Parker in rural Robertson County. A younger brother, Herbert was born in 1907. In 1920 their address was listed as Nashville Pike. In 1927, Ewing married Dorothy Lois Hornberger from Adams, Tenn. and they soon rented a small house on South Russell Street in Portland where he started his career.
Don’t know where he learned his craft, as many in his day he only completed the eighth-grade. However, starting out with his own shop, he and Lois were able to purchase a home on Portland Boulevard before 1935.
The 1940 Census revealed they had a son, Wiley Winston Parker and they were also caring for an aged uncle, Tom Hornberger in their home.
One of the many changes brought to Portland by the urban renewal of the early 1970s was the removal of a couple of small business locations on Main Street for the creation of the walkways. This included Mr. Parker’s Shoe Repair Shop on the south side and Williams’ Jewelers on the north.
With Mr. Parker’s advancing age he opened a small shop next to his home on Portland Boulevard where he continued as long as he was able. His loyal customers did their best to help “keep him from starving!”
Mr. Parker died in 1993; his wife, Lois, had been gone since 1966. They are both buried in Maple Hill Cemetery. Their only son, Wiley Winston Parker graduated from Sumner County High School in 1948, joined the Marines and served during the Korean War.
Records show he had lived in North Carolina but apparently came home in his father’s last years and worked for a time at Kirby Building Systems. Wiley Winston Parker died in 2011 in Bristol, Va. where, apparently, most of his adult life was spent.
Johnnie Freedle is a member of the Highland Rim Historical Society.