A ‘Worthy’ woman from Corryton

Beth KinnaneGibbs/Corryton, Our Town Stories

I saw an interesting footnote at the end of an obituary from 1964: “She will be buried in the family cemetery near her home in the cow pasture.” I’m not talking about the family cemetery part.

The cow pasture referenced is the Chamberlain-Little homeplace on Circle Road in Corryton on the northeastern edge of Knox County near the Grainger County line. Situated at the foot of House Mountain, the property lies along Flat Creek. Good spot to raise cattle.

The dearly departed in question was Ara Jane Worthington Love Little, Worthy for short. She died in April of 1964, just five months shy of her 95th birthday. It astonished me how history can contract sometimes. Worthy was born in the immediate wake of the Civil War, just three years after Tennessee was admitted back into the Union. She lived to see the invention of automobiles and airplanes, two world wars, the first manned space flight and the assassinations of three U. S. presidents. She died the year before I was born.

Worthy Little (Photo credit: unknown)

Now, Worthy wasn’t the only person blessed with long and active years to see such things. But she was a standout in her own way. For one, she was the only daughter among the five children of Frank Armstrong Little and Margaret Chamberlain Little. For another, she never married. At the truly spinsterish age of 30, according to the norms of that time, she graduated from one of the first nursing school programs in the state at Erlanger Hospital in Chattanooga.

The class of 1908 alumnae spent years working in Chattanooga and Florida. Locally, she often assisted renowned surgeon Albert Kern M.D. (son of Peter, famous for a bakery) on many of his private-duty cases. She was known for riding side-saddle to come to the aid of her charges “through dark, cold and rain time and again.” She worked for 45 years before hanging up her saddle and stethoscope at the age of 75. At the time of her death, she still lived on and owned the farm where she was born.

I first came across Worthy while flipping through a thin little history book put together by much loved Central High School history teacher Nannie Lee Hicks, Historic Treasure Spots of Knox County, Tennessee (see the late Dr. Jim Tumblin’s story about Hicks here). Not even 100 pages long, her brief stories of old homes around the county are accompanied by pictures taken mostly by her students at Central.

The farm had come to Worthy through her mother’s family, the Chamberlains. Worthy’s grandfather, Ninian Chamberlain, built the first section of the large white farm house in 1816. The original land grant of 1,000 acres was to Ninian’s father, Jeremiah, as payment for his services in the Revolutionary War from North Carolina. Jeremiah eventually settled in Grainger County and was buried in the Chamberlain Cemetery in May Spring. His resting place was relocated to the Martha Sunderland Cemetery in Hamblen County as the original was in the path of the soon to be rising Cherokee Lake.

The Chamberlain-Little House still stands on the old farm near the family cemetery on private property.

Beth Kinnane writes a history feature for KnoxTNToday.com. It’s published each Tuesday and is one of our best-read features.

Sources: Knoxville News Sentinel Digital Archives, Knox County Library Digital Archives, Historic Treasure Spots of Knox County, Tennessee by Nannie Lee Hicks

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