Friday, December 30, 2011

Maximum Security

The old jail in Jamestown, Tennessee, no longer houses prisoners. But walking by, one can't help noticing this window. The bars are covered over three-quarters of the way up with cement-block, and the last bit is covered in plywood. I wonder just how bad those folks were that previously occupied that cell?

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Forbus General Store

On highway US-127 in Fentress County, Tennessee, just north west of Pall Mall, is the community of Forbus. Forbus consists primarily of one house and the Forbus General Store, founded 1892. The general store exists on tourist traffic, with offerings of fudge, souvenir tee shirts, ice cream, and crafts. And of course, Pig. No, we're not talking swine here; it's a card game. For all practical purposes, Pig isn't played anywhere outside the confines of Fentress County, but it's big there. Everyone plays. And while someone from a neighboring country may at times intrude, they usually have Fentress County ties. On the last Saturday in February each year, the Forbus General Store hosts the International Pig Championship Tournament. It's big; just come by and see for yourself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Down on your Luck

I recently wrote about Trust and Luck, two small communities in western North Carolina. In the photos of the Pink J. Plemmons general store was this rocking chair. What, may I ask, is more hopeless than an rocking chair with one rocker missing? It sits in front of the closed store, advertising abandonment and decay. Pity. Both the rocker and the store have great character. Is there no one who can restore them and make a living off the tourists who come through the area? I would be happy to stop in.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Last trip to West Virginia

With all of the Christmas distractions, it's back into the files today for a photo to post. This one is from our most recent visit to West Virginia, which was in late October. You can tell the peak of color has passed, but the hillsides are still very attractive. The trees will be bare now. This is a barn on property owned by two of my wife's friends from high school. We stopped by the shop in Rainelle to say hi to Patty, and she invited us out to their home. They have a lovely home. Two of their sons played football for Wake Forest University in North Carolina, which just happens to be the Alma Mater of our older son and his wife.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

Boxing Day isn't widely observed in the US. In fact, I'm not even sure I had heard of it before having a mentor from the UK when I was in graduate school. But it has become a tradition in our family, even if not quite in the same way as in the UK.

Our Boxing Day tradition is a family hike, usually on one of the many trails in the Big South Fork. After all of the food on Christmas Day, the hike is a perfect way to build an appetite for left-overs.

Two years ago we went to Northrup Falls, in the Colditz Cove State Natural Area. Our grand-daughter was only 8 months old then, so we chose a short, easy hike since her Daddy got to carry her all the way.

Last year our older son and his family were unable to come for Christmas, and for the first time we had snow. So we chose to hike within Rugby.

But it was fun walking in the falling snow.

Our daughter-in-law got to try out her new Canon 7D. Karen, in addition to running half marathons, is developing into an outstanding photographer. She has always been artistic, and she now applies her art to her photos, some of which have been spectacular.

This year our grand-daughter is two and a half, and will be walking with us for the first time. So it looks to be another short, local hike. Perhaps we'll walk up to the Massengale Homeplace display. Doesn't look like there's much chance of snow, however.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Christmas Card

May peace, love, and joy be with you now

and throughout the coming year.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Cantilever barns

Cantilever barns apparently are found only in the southern highlands, primarily east Tennessee, but also to a lesser extent in Kentucky, West Virginia, Virginia, and North Carolina. As can be seen in the photograph, they're built on one or two log ricks or cribs, with the top layer of logs extending some eight to ten feet beyond the log base. The upper level would have been used for hay, with livestock housed in the cribs below. The overhang provided shelter from the weather for farm equipment or for livestock pastured around the barn.

Most cantilever barns were built on two log cribs with a drive or "dog-trot" between them. The drive allowed hay to be unloaded into the loft out of the elements if a rain shower had come up. Over the years, many cantilever barns had the overhangs enclosed for hanging tobacco to cure, as was my grandfather's barn in eastern Kentucky.

The origins of cantilever barns are obscure, although many think they may have derived from German prototypes. Another hypothesis considers them to be a local invention to meet the needs of farming in a humid climate and to make use of local materials in their construction. Whatever their origin, they definitely are southern Appalachian in their distribution. A survey in the 1980s found them to be most common in east Tennessee, with 289 of 316 barns located in just two counties.  I photographed three of them at the Museum of Appalachia, that I wrote about yesterday.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Museum of Appalachia

 Beginning in the early 1960s, John Rice Irwin began assembling a collection of architecture and artifacts documenting the pioneer history of the southern highlands. The Museum of Appalachia opened to the public in 1968, offering a glimpse into the lives of southern Appalachian farmers in the late 18th and 19th centuries. Located just a few miles north of Knoxville, Tennessee, the museum sits at a convenient exit on the major north-south highway connecting the Midwest with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Florida.

John Rice Irwin (center) and friends

 A former educator and school superintendent, Irwin became concerned that the history of the region was being lost, with artifacts either destroyed or separated from their historical context through sale as antiques. He began scouring the region for buildings, tools, and other items of daily lives and assembled them on his farm near Norris, Tennessee. The site now contains more than 35 pioneer buildings, livestock displays, and two display buildings that contain more than 1,000 artifacts.

There is a one-room school,

a stable with sheep,

a blacksmith shop,

and an old-fashioned haystack, which we never see on farms anymore.

There is the cabin once occupied by Samuel Clemen's parents in Fentress County, Tennesse, which I wrote about earlier here,

artifacts such as these millstones,

and cantilever barns, a uniquely Appalachian structure that I'll write more about tomorrow.

In addition to the static displays at the museum, there are special programs that keep alive the traditions of the southern highlands. The annual Independence  Day celebration includes an "anvil shoot," in which black powder is placed into the bottom of a blacksmith's anvil, ignited, and shot high into the air. Several events include mountain music, the largest of which is the annual Fall Homecoming event that draws the biggest names in traditional music, as well as dozens of traditional crafters who demonstrate and sell their crafts. For more information, visit the Museum's web page at the link near the top of this page.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


A hand-off
Hand over
Hand holding
Lay hands on
Hands down
To have your hands full
A winning hand
By his own hand
On the other hand

Hands. They're one of the most distinguishing features of the human species, a fact that struck home when I first saw my new-born son. They readily identify the kind of work one does, by the presence or absence of callouses. We read character into the grip of a handshake. We offer a hand to help and give a hand in appreciation. We comfort, accept, and incorporate with a touch of the hands. Hands make us human.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Muddy Pond barns

We drove over to Muddy Pond on Saturday to pick up some last-minute Christmas gifts at the Mennonite-operated general store there. They have high-quality grain products packaged in bulk and some really excellent cheeses that you simply can't get in a supermarket. Although I took a camera, I wasn't feeling very creative and it stayed in its case. I then faced the reality of needing something for the blog after I got home, so it was into the files with Muddy Pond still on my mind.

The old pole barn, above, is on the road into Muddy Pond and I don't think it sees much use any more. But I think it has character and I have shots from several angles. The next two barns are both owned by Mennonite families.

The Mazlin family's barn sits between their house and the molasses shed. In the fall you can watch them crush the sorghum cane, cook the syrup, and buy jars of still-warm molasses at the shed. The picnic table in front of their house always has containers of molasses and, in season, watermelon, cantaloupe, pumpkins, or tomatoes. There will be a jar in which you can leave payment, and make change if you need to. A knock on their door and Mrs. Mazlin may have fresh-baked bread or pastries for sale. This barn, by the way, is the one shown in the December 10, 2011, Silent Saturday posting.

This barn is on land belonging to the Schrock family. Although they are now in Africa on a three-year missionary trip, we previously bought honey and sweet corn from them. We also for several years picked our own blueberries from their field of cultivated blueberry bushes. It was always a nice summer outing, and much cheaper than buying blueberries in the store. Fred was always apologetic if the bushes had been picked over, making picking go slower. We had to explain to him that the picking and the time in the field were at least as important as the blueberries we would be taking home.

Monday, December 19, 2011


 The Christmas season is a time for gatherings and celebrations, with many friends being welcomed into our homes. It also seemed to be a good time to welcome and thank all of you who have visited this blog over the past ten months. The blog was begun with rather weak motivation and I never dreamed so many would actually visit. I thank you; you do me an honor. Blogger tells me that twenty-six of you have signed up to follow, although it only lets me see twenty-two. I thank each of you, whether I can see who you are or not. And for those who are kind enough to leave a comment, I am especially grateful. It confirms for me that you have actually read the posting, not just stumbled upon it, and gives me valuable feedback on your interests. Although we've never met, I feel like I've gotten to know you. I hope you'll keep coming back. Jim

Friday, December 16, 2011


After many years of lobbying and planning, work finally began this year on rerouting Tennessee highway 52 around the village of Rugby. It's been needed for a very long time.

Although route 52 is not a major highway, it is important locally. It's the only practical east-west route between two major north-south highways for some 50 miles to the south and even further to the north.
Consequently, we get a lot of truck traffic through the village, and few drivers observe the posted 45 mph speed limit.
Drivers who do observe the speed limit often get passed on this rare straight stretch of road, although it is marked "no passing." It's a wonder we haven't had visitors killed.
Work has proceeded quickly, with a good bit of the most westerly portion ready for pavement.
It promises to be a beautiful drive when it's completed. There's a great view of the Brimstone mountains from this point.
Work is proceeding well on the two major bridges in the Rugby section. Those long, precast-concrete I-beams are trucked to the site. They have to pass over a narrow highway, around tight curves, and through the village to reach the bridge site. It's a delicate operation, and one guaranteed to strike fear into the hearts of drivers unfortunate enough to meet one on a curve. There's simply not a lot of road to share at some points!
But that phase will soon be complete.
Meanwhile, there's enough large earth-moving equipment around to strike sandbox-envy into the heart of any small boy, and some people who once were small boys.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Alphabet Houses

Selection of a principal location for the war-time Manhattan Project involved multiple criteria. The selected location had to have sufficient electrical power, it should be far enough inland to protect it from enemy attack, and it should be in a sparsely-populated region, both to avoid displacing large numbers of residents and to aid in maintaining secrecy. An area just northwest of Knoxville, Tennessee, met those criteria. It's now known as Oak Ridge, Tennessee, the Secret City.

Next came the building of the factories that would produce the materials for the world's first atomic weapon, and the creation of a town to house the workforce required. For security reasons, the town needed to be entirely self-contained, providing not only housing but all goods and services needed by the population. And since a large part of the population would be young, highly-educated engineers and scientists, and most would come from urban backgrounds, the housing needed to be comfortable, and recreational and intellectual opportunities had to be provided. And, oh, by the way, we need it yesterday. That seemingly-impossible job was given to the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill.

The firm came up with a series of five basic house plans that could quickly be assembled on site. Designated types A, B, C, D, and F, the houses quickly became known as "alphabet houses." They were wood-frame construction sheathed in cement-asbestos, or cemesto, panels, each with a coal-fired furnace and a wood-burning fireplace. In all, some 3,000 cemesto houses were built, with one being completed every 30 minutes. The houses were expected to be needed up to seven years and no thought was given to making them last longer than that. But starting in 1955 the government began selling the houses to residents and speculators, and they continue to be occupied after what is now 68 years after they were built.

Type A house

All of the cemesto alphabet houses have been modified over the years, although the A-house above has had minimal changes made. It still shows the cemesto panels. A-houses are the smallest, only 768 sq. ft. (71 square meters), with two small bedrooms. The B-houses are similar, with 960 sq. ft. allowing for slightly larger bedrooms. The type, and thus the size, of a house was assigned according to family size, although the employee's position in the project also could lead to larger housing if the person were important enough.

Type C house

Most houses have been remodeled to the point where it's sometimes difficult to tell they started out as a cemesto, although the neighborhood is usually a sufficient tipoff. This C-house (1184 sq. ft.) has three bedrooms.

Type D house

This D-house (1584 sq. ft.) now looks to be a typical brick rancher. It also has 3 bedrooms, but somewhat larger ones than in a C-house. Most D-houses are D1s, that is, they have only one bathroom. Our son and his wife have a D2, which has a second bathroom off the master bedroom.

Their D2 is also the reverse floor plan of the brick D-house shown above, and has an added carport.

Type F house

The F-house is 1620 sq. ft., also with three bedrooms. Supposedly one had to be important to get an F-house, and there aren't nearly as many of them as there are D-houses.

So, what happened to the letter "E," you might ask. That letter was reserved for 4-unit apartment buildings that were located at the edges of residential neighborhoods. The one below is now operated by the hospital as a hospitality house.
Type E apartments

Construction workers were assigned to  one of 16,000 hutments (one-room boxes with 4 or more beds in them) or barracks; 13,000 dormitory rooms; or one of 5,000 trailers. I had two aunts who lived in trailers with their construction-worker husbands during construction of the Y-12 plant. One said her memories of Oak Ridge were of "being in mud up to your chin with dust blowing in your face."

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Christmas Home Tour

This past Saturday, our museum/restoration organization, Historic Rugby, held its biennial Christmas home tour. This year there were seven homes open and more than 100 people paid to make the tour. The doorway, above, is at our friend Jessie's house, which had an especially attractive fireplace arrangement,
and an inviting sun room.
Next door is Hester Knoll, where Kelly greeted visitors in her 1880s costume,
and Harry and Jody stood nearby.
Our friends John and Kathy had their house open this year,
with a fetching traditional Christmas tree in the corner.
Last stop was Uffington House, the historic home of Thomas Hughes's mother, Margaret.
Inside was an exhibit of Christmas quilts, including one my wife had made for our grand daughter. It's a "paper doll" quilt, complete with doll clothes that can be moved around on it. Shhhh! It's will be a Christmas surprise for her, so don't tell!
And of course, there had to be refreshments for all who had taken the time to visit and support Historic Rugby.