Each year, the Wilson County Fair honors an Old Timer who has made an impact on the community. This event is sponsored by Cracker Barrel and Wilson County Promotions. Clayton and Robbie Gray, Geneva and Carlton Thomas were selected as the Old Timers for the 2018 Wilson County Fair.
Clayton and Robbie were both raised on farms. Both attended Lebanon High School. They have been married for 63 years. Clayton met Robbie at church. The minute he saw her it was love at first sight. He knew that she was the girl for him. Together they raised two children, Terry and Pam. They have six grandchildren and 10 great-grand children. They attend Victory Baptist Church in Mt Juliet. They spend a lot of their time helping at their church. They helped establish Webb’s Chapel in Laguardo. Later they were asked to help start a church on Hobson Pike. Clayton has been on several Tennessee Baptist Disaster Relief missions. God has always come first in their lives.
During their marriage they have worn many hats. Besides raising two children and taking care of her home, Robbie also worked outside her home. She worked in County government for 30 years. She served in the tax assessor office and the trustee office. Later she owned and operated a clothing store called Robbie’s Fashion World.
When Clayton bought his farm, he had a goal of owning 100 beef cows. He met that goal but it was hard working a public job and trying to run a farm. He finally sold everything and moved to town. He worked for Ross Gear for 34 years. He has also served on several boards including Wilson Bank and Trust Community Board, Farm Bureau, Wilson County Promotions and the Laguardo Utility Water and Wastewater Authority. Both of them worked at the polls for the Election Commission for 32 years. Clayton said his fondest memory of the fair would be the time he spent working in Fiddlers Grove. He took care of the Grove during the fair, opening all the buildings, closing them at night and helping the volunteers in the Grove.
Carlton Thomas was raised in Whiteville, Tennessee. His father ran the local movie theater where Carlton, his twin sister, and older brother ran the projector and the concession stand. After the death of his father, his mother moved the family to Nashville to be close to her brother.
Geneva was raised on a cotton farm in Red Bay, Alabama, along with six siblings. After high school, she came to Nashville and lived with her brother while attending business school. Geneva’s friend was dating Carlton. She fixed Geneva up with a blind date. After the boys took the girls home, Carlton went to Geneva’s house and asked her out. The sparks flew. One year later they were married.
Since the beginning of their marriage they have had a passion for buying and restoring furniture. They have bought, restored and sold several homes. They have two children, Lisa and Carlton Thomas III. In 1976, they bought an old home in Lebanon. They lived in a mobile home for seven years while they reconstructed the log home. They did all of this while raising their family and working full time jobs for Tennessee Department of Transportation. They both worked there for 30 years until they retired in the early ’90s.
After Carlton and Geneva joined the Fair Board, they met with Randal Clemons and discussed the possibility of constructing a historical village for the fairgrounds. They were instrumental in making that come true. Geneva met with Dr. G. Frank Burns about the history of Wilson County. He told her Neddy Jacobs was the first settler. He also mentioned he played the fiddle. It was decided the Village should be called Fiddlers Grove. Geneva drew all the plans for the Grove. She took tree limbs and branches and laid out the streets and buildings that would be constructed. She found many of the buildings and got them donated to Fiddlers Grove. She wrote the history of each of the buildings. She was always available to give walking tours.
On April 17, 1991, the groundbreaking ceremony was held for Fiddlers Grove. The first building was the Cartmel Cabin. Soon to follow was the Forbes Cabin, the kitchen behind the Forbes Cabin and Dr. Fisher’s Office. Today there are more than 50 buildings in the Grove.
Wilson County Promotions is truly grateful for everything Carlton and Geneva have done for Fiddlers Grove.