Thursday, July 28, 2011

Weekend in the mountains

We spent this past weekend at a Bed & Breakfast in the mountains of western North Carolina. Lodging was in a circa 1866 farm house, which was full of interest for a little girl:
And with a two-year-old in tow and as tour guide, the working farm began to look a lot like a petting zoo. There was a young Highland bull to be fed slices of bread,
Lambs to be given bottles,
Hens to pet,
and a Great Pyrenees puppy that demanded attention.
What more could one ask for?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Zebulon Vance

Zeb Vance is one of those larger-than-life figures of American history, much like Davy Crockett or Daniel Boone, yet he is not well known outside of his home state of North Carolina. Perhaps it's because Walt Disney never made a movie about him. He was a lawyer, Colonel in the Confederate Army, three-term Governor of North Carolina, U.S. Congressman, and was elected to four terms in the U.S. Senate. While all that speaks of success, what made him larger than life was his life-long tie to and empathy for the people who inhabited the mountain coves of western North Carolina. For more than 30 years he was their face in the circles of power.
Perhaps that tie stemmed from his roots, now interpreted at his birthplace farm along Reems Creek near Weaverville, North Carolina. The reconstructed pioneer farm speaks of wealth built from primitive materials with hand labor in an isolated, yet beautiful, mountain cove.
The main house, built of dressed logs, was reconstructed around the original chimney. The chimney is brick, instead of the stone that might be expected and which was used in the farm's subordinate buildings. That alone speaks of a certain level of acquired wealth.
There is a spring house a short distance away. It would protect the family's source of water from an accumulation of leaves and other detritus, as well as possibly serving as a refrigerator for short-term storage of perishables, such as fresh milk. In front of the spring house are two large, iron kettles. Water was heated in these no doubt for washing clothes, and even for dipping hog carcasses to aid in hair removal.
Everyday tools are on display, such as this drawhorse, maul, and froe, which were used to rive wooden shingles or shakes for roofing.
Not all of the hand labor was done by the family, however, as evidenced by this reconstructed slave cabin located below and away from the family compound.

The house contains period furnishings (1795-1840) and a modern visitor center houses exhibits outlining the life and career of Governor Vance, along with traditional southern Appalachian crafts. Outbuildings include a tool house, loom house, smokehouse, and corn crib, in addition to the spring house and slave cabin shown above. Admission is free, but the site is closed on Sundays, Mondays, and most major holidays.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Jonesborough, Tennessee

We last visited Jonesborough in December and we've been wanting to go back for a longer stay. Jonesborough is Tennessee's oldest town, home to the National Storytelling Festival, and just generally a fun place to visit. Founded in 1779 to be the county seat of the newly-formed Washington County of North Carolina, the residents soon became disenchanted with the state's distant leadership. They set out to form their own state. The State of Franklin was born in 1784 and functioned until 1788 without ever being recognized by the United States Congress. North Carolina reclaimed the territory in 1788, but it subsequently was included in the boundaries of Tennessee when it attained statehood in 1796.

These fine 19th Century cottages sit across a park with bandstand from the mansions on the hillside.

The downtown functions as seat of government, business district, and tourist attraction.

This is one view from the offices of Dr. Bill Kennedy, orthopedic surgeon and preservationist. The former bank building looks out on the 1797 Chester Inn. Wouldn't it be fun to go to work and have that to look at?

The 1864 Salt House was built to store and distribute salt during the Civil War. Salt was in short supply during the war and the community raised the funds to buy a shipment, which they then resold to themselves. The building has been repurposed many times since; as a Masonic Hall, a grocery, a post office, and a restaurant. It was vacant again when we visited.

The "Mail Pouch Building" was built in 1889 and housed a saloon until 1904. The advertising mural was painted in 1902, but was hidden from view for many years after another building was put up next to it. That building was demolished in the 1960s and its space now contains a parking lot. I really need to get back early on a Sunday morning and get a picture when no cars block the view.

Jonesborough is in upper east Tennessee in the space formed between Interstate Highways 81 and 26 with the Blue Ridge Mountains. Limestone, the birthplace of Davy Crockett, is nearby, as is Johnson City, home of East Tennessee State University. Bristol, Tennessee/Virginia, site of the first-ever country music recording sessions, is not far. Also nearby is Erwin, Tennessee, where in 1916 they executed Mary, a circus elephant that had been convicted of killing her trainer and sentenced to hang. It took a railroad crane to get the job done. You can't make this stuff up, folks. There are pictures!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Cumberland Gap

(National Park Service mural)

The Cumberland Gap played an important role in European settlement of what is now the State of Kentucky.  As settlers moved into the interior from the east, they encountered parallel mountain ranges that trended roughly south west to north east. The first, the Blue Ridge, had several points where rivers had cut through, notably the Roanoke. These passages opened to a large valley striated with low, parallel ridges. Once across the Ridge and Valley Province, the westward march was then blocked by the Cumberlands. 

(National Park Service)
Dr. Thomas Walker, surveying for the Loyal Land Company, came upon and named Cumberland Gap in 1750. Cumberland Gap is a 1600 ft. pass through a mountain that ranges locally from 2200 to 2500 feet elevation, and had been used first as a game trail, and then as a trail for Native American hunting or war parties. Acting on behalf of the Transylvania Land Company, Daniel Boone widened the trail across the gap, and he and others guided settlers into the Kentucky interior. The National Park Service estimates that between 200,000 and 300,000 people immigrated through the gap in the years 1780-1810.

The National Park Service now operates Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, in which they interpret the history, nature, and culture of the area. Comprising 24,000 acres, and extending some 16 miles along Cumberland Mountain, the park contains almost 85 miles of hiking trails. Thanks to a tunnel that now carries traffic through the mountain, U.S. highway 25E has been moved out of the gap and the gap has been restored to more natural conditions, allowing hikers to follow in the steps of all those 18th century pioneers.

For those who love rugged mountain terrain, there is much to enjoy.

The Pinnacle Overlook (2440 ft.) looks down on the gap and the town of Cumberland Gap, Tennessee.

The town of Middlesboro, Kentucky, sits in an ancient meteorite crater at the other end of the gap. The horizontal lines on the ridges to the north are the scars of former "strip" coal mines.

The gap was considered to be of strategic importance during the Civil War, and changed hands 4 times before the armies concluded it would be easier to just go around the gap than to defend it. Both Union and Confederate earth-work forts are preserved. The early 20th century Hensley Settlement interprets life in a remote, mountain location.

Click here to visit the National Park Service's excellent web site. And go see for yourself sometime soon.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

A little housekeeping

A reader asked me to identify the churches and related photos used in the Sunday Morning posts. I have gone back and done so in the comments section of each post, and I will try to do the same with new posts as I do them

I find church buildings interesting, especially the small, rural churches of Appalachia. Our region is firmly in the Bible Belt, but churches tend to be independent and idiosyncratic. The architecture of their buildings reflects their builders. On a broader scale, architectural trends are clearly responsive to fashion, so that it is often possible to "ball-park" the age of a structure by the style and elements that are incorporated.

The names that appear on the buildings and signs out front of churches frequently reflect a genealogy of congregational disputes and separations. At other times they reflect some particular theological point held dear. If the name doesn't make enough of a statement, then changeable display signs out front take up the slack:

Perhaps that's a topic I'll pursue sometime in the future. Meanwhile, check the comments section of the Sunday posts if you would like to know where a building is.

Friday, July 15, 2011


Dorcas and I are like children, riding our bicycles after supper to pick blackberries in Tommy Martin’s field.  There was rain last week and the berries have grown fat and sweet as they ripened.  It’s tempting to put more in our mouths than in the bucket, but cobblers don’t get made that way.  So we pick, reaching far into the overgrown patch to get the fattest berries.  Brambles tug at our clothes and scratch our bare legs.  Occasionally an old, dead cane will snag, tearing flesh, and we are reminded to be more careful. We pick until it becomes too dark to tell ripe berries from the red ones, and then start home. 

We ride down a dirt lane past barns filled with rusting equipment, no longer used but still precious in someone’s memory.  Blossoms of trumpet vine reach out along the lane, calling louder than Gabriel, but we must get home before the feral hogs come out to root along the verge and in the lawns.  We ride through the village, now closed for the day and dark.  The last customer has left the cafĂ© and the cook has gone home to his wife, home from her job in the city.  No one stirs along the road, and no one sees two small children grown old, riding their bicycles in the twilight, trying to reach home before their mothers begin calling for them. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A nice, rainy day

Sometimes there are storms that bring destruction or flooding. Sometimes there is simply rain that brings a special beauty. Today we had the latter.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Best in Show

Actually, there was no official "best" in Saturday's Rugby Car Show. This example was outstanding, however.  It's a 1929 Ford Model A that has been beautifully restored. It looks as if it might have just rolled off the assembly line. Here it is displayed in front of the 1884 Ingleside, originally the vacation home of Russell Sturgis, first U.S. Counsel to Canton, China.

I was able to catch this fine Ford Model T just as it was leaving for home. There was a generous representation of pre-WWII cars, mostly Model Ts and Model As.

Post-WWII American cars and trucks were well represented, by both restored and customized versions.

My personal favorites were the British cars. I still miss my old MGB, although my current Mazda Miata is much more reliable. I get to drive it to places other than the repair shop.

There was this classic Austin Healy, several MGBs, a Triumph TR-6, and a Jaguar.

There was this fine 1960 MGA. My friend Russ had a baby-blue one when we were in college.

And there was one example of the car that introduced Americans to the British sports car, the MG-TD. American GIs brought them back at the end of WWII and it wasn't long until dealerships were established across the country. Every boy child in the country dreamed of one day having his own.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

My Backyard

I understand that it's all about where you were born and spent your formative years. But I still find the beauty of my surroundings almost more than I can take in. Other places also have great beauty. I love the desert, for example, after having worked in the northern Mojave for some time, but this is where we have chosen to live. And this is what we see around us.

The road to Elgin, with the mountains of Brimstone beyond.

A mountain stream at Zenith.

One of our many natural arches, now protected within the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area.

Cliffs along the Obed River.

Descent into the "Valley of the Three Forks" of the Wolf River near sunset.

Whatever the season, however familiar the road or path, there's always a "wow!" moment around every turn.