Friday, September 30, 2011

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary

Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary at Petros, here in Morgan County, has a storied history. Although founded in 1896, its roots go back to 1881. Tennessee, like many southern states following the U.S. Civil War, used convict labor in mines and other industries. Persons convicted of crimes would be leased to corporations that would house them in return for their otherwise free labor. In 1881, miners at Coal Creek, in Anderson County, demanded of their employer, The Tennessee Mining Company, that they be paid in cash rather than script, and that they be allowed to employ their own checkweighmen instead of having company-paid checkweighmen.  On April 1 the company rejected their demands and shut down operations. The company demanded the miners sign a binding agreement as a condition of reopening the mine, which the miners refused. On July 5 the company reopened the mine with convicts they had leased, indirectly, from the State of Tennessee. A series of armed actions by miners followed in which convicts were freed and placed on trains heading out of town. Violence escalated, politicians vacillated, newspapers took sides, changed sides, and then changed sides again. After much violence and several deaths on both sides, the state concluded in the early 1890s that leasing convicts to industry wasn't profitable and ended the practice.

The state wasn't through with convict labor, however. Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary was built to house convicts who would mine coal directly for the state. The mine mouth opened within the prison walls and coal was shipped via a convict-built railroad spur. Initially a wooden stockade, the current castle-like complex was built in the 1920s.
The prison finally closed in 2009, to be replaced by a new, modern, maximum-security complex a few miles north in the Flat Fork Valley at the southern edge of Wartburg, the county seat.

While it operated, Brushy housed one of the more famous felons in U.S. history. James Earl Ray, the convicted killer of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., was also one of the few inmates ever to escape. He was at large nearly two days, but never made it out of the mountains surrounding the prison. A few years ago I actually met the Tennessee Highway Patrolman who found him. This trooper was providing security for one of our emergency drills for the nuclear facilities in Oak Ridge. He told me he had been part of a line of officers methodically searching across the mountain when he stepped on something soft and heard an "oooff." Ray had found a depression in the soil and had lain there covered with leaves. The Trooper didn't see him and just stepped on him by accident. I guess history is the product of simple fate.

The mountains surrounding Brushy didn't promise easy egress from the prison. They're tall, steep, and heavily forested. Across the mountain to the north lies Frozen Head State Park, at the head of the Flat Fork Valley. It's one of the prettiest spots I've ever seen. Pity there's a maximum-security prison on the way in.

Kingston, Tennessee, attorney Chris Cawood in 1995 published Tennessee's Coal Creek War: Another Fight For Freedom, a fascinating account of the Coal Creek War.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Spirit of Red Hill

The Spirit of Red Hill is an 'art and oddiments' (collectables) shop in "downtown" Rugby. The original building was the land office for Thomas Hughes and his London backers back in the 1880s. They had purchased a large tract of land from a group of Boston investors and hoped to use it to attract the younger sons of British landed gentry who were being squeezed out at home by primogeniture laws. They called their endeavor the "Board of Aid to Land Ownership."
The name is all that remains of the Board of Aid, but it's prominently displayed on the front of the building.
"Gourdon" welcomes visitors to the front porch, where his gourd-head expression never changes. The shop is the work of partners Donna and Annie, who are gourd artists. Donna is also a talented nature/wildlife artist and acrylic painter.
Donna greets visitors by telling them about their art and explaining that the other items displayed are vintage, more than 50 years old, or made from vintage items. She closes her welcome speech by confessing that she, too, is vintage.
I must admit that much of their vintage inventory are items I remember from my childhood. I've even bought a few of them.
But I especially like their gourds. We have run out of places to put them in our home, but if you're due to receive a gift from us, I do hope you like gourd art.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Michaelmas 2011

Michaelmas, the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels, comes on Thursday of this week. The whole village is getting ready, especially the Michaelmas Daisies. They've been planted all around the village and usually start to bloom in late August. This year they were late, but they're catching up fast.
At Virgo House,
Martin's Roost,
 The Lindens,
Greenbrier House, and elsewhere. I think they'll be ready when Christ Church holds its annual Michaelmas Festival on the following Saturday. The highlight of the Festival is an English Cream Tea, served in the Friendly House behind the church.
In addition to tea, there will be English Country Dancers, including audience participation,

and crafts.
Hours and tea reservations can be found here. Ya'll come!

Friday, September 23, 2011

The pumpkin patch

This is just the kind of tacky marketing genius that demands you stop, take pictures, and actually buy something. We did all three. In case you don't recognize them, those are painted hay bales making up the jack-o-lantern man. But he was just the barker for the real show.
They had a field of pumpkins, squash, and indian corn. Maybe they had more, but that's what we bought. I normally don't care for squash, but I got introduced to spaghetti squash here. Not bad!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Constitution Square

We've been by there many times and frequently said "we need to stop here sometime." Years have passed, and we have zipped by again and again. Now that I've begun this blog, I'm less likely to miss things that can be used as blog fodder. We stopped. And we're glad we did.

Constitution Square, in Danville, KY, is a small state park that offers a lot of Kentucky history. Danville is less than 10 miles from Harrodsburg, Kentucky's oldest town, and thus at or near the center of the state's first settlements. Settlers arrived both via the Ohio River to the north and the Wilderness Road through Cumberland Gap to the south. The Courthouse, above, was the site of a series of state constitutional conventions that in 1792 finally resulted in Kentucky being admitted to the Union as the fifteenth state. The original building was erected in 1784-85 as home to the Kentucky Supreme Court.
One of the first actions of the new Kentucky Supreme Court was to have a jail built. The above structure represents the original building constructed in 1785. The building consists of two cells containing basic furnishings.
The Meeting House, built in 1784, served the congregation of Concord Presbyterian Church, reputed to be the first Presbyterians in Kentucky. I've read that many, if not most, of the pioneers who formed the vanguard of the western settlement were Presbyterians. These settlers were frequently left without clergy because the Presbyterian Church insisted on an educated ministry and could not supply the pulpits with ministers willing to accept frontier hardships. Many Presbyterians left without ministers migrated to denominations that were less picky, including my own ancestors. I've always said my ancestors outran the Presbyterian Church.
The Post Office, built in 1792 or before, is the only log structure on the site that is original. The rest were reconstructed in 1942.
Grayson's Tavern, built in 1785, was where many of the men who served on the Supreme Court or in the Constitutional Conventions stayed. It was a natural place for political discussions to take place and it was here that the Danville Political Society formed in 1786 to "plan the course of the empire." The Tavern today houses the Convention & Visitors Bureau.
Across the street from the jail stands the Ephraim McDowell house. It was here on Christmas morning 1809 that Dr. McDowell performed the first successful surgery anywhere in the world to remove an ovarian tumor. Mrs. Jane Crawford thought she was expecting twins, but Dr. McDowell determined she had the tumor instead. The tumor he removed weighed twenty-two and one-half pounds, and was removed without anesthesia or antisepsis, neither of which was known at the time. The patient survived and lived another thirty-two years. These Kentucky pioneers were tough!
Danville is also home to Centre College, founded in 1819 by Presbyterians, and today considered to be a top-50 private liberal arts college.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Country Store

I can't pass one of these without stopping. Once the rule among groceries, they are now rare. Most that survive sit empty or have been converted to tourist stops. This was neither, but a working country store.
The gas pumps are old, but not nearly so old as the store itself. They are functional and offer regular unleaded (87 octane) and premium (93 octane) grades.
One of the rusted signs advertises Royal Crown Cola, which has long since been modernized to RC. The brick-look asphalt siding was popular before World War II and is still fairly common on old barns and sheds, usually more broken and torn than it is here. It remains on many old houses, too, hidden beneath more modern low-maintenance sidings.
The faded Coca Cola sign is vintage.
The kerosene tank and air compressor don't appear to get much use. The kerosene tank was largely put out of business when Rural Electrification made its way through Casey County, which was probably in the early 1950s. Perhaps that's when the air compressor was installed.
The double doors on the ell suggest the store keeper once lived in the same building. Neither looks like it's had much use of late.

The Davenport Grocery serves the South Fork community of Casey County, Kentucky. Casey County was formed in 1806 and named for Col. William Casey, a great-grandfather of Samuel L. Clements, a.k.a. Mark Twain, adding another regional tie.

Friday, September 16, 2011

While we were away

Our front porch doesn't see a lot of activity in July and August. It's simply too hot to spend much time there, unless you're our resident front-porch skink. Better to spend the cool mornings on the shaded, screened, back porch. So I shouldn't have been surprised when I saw something on one of the front porch chairs.
Obviously no one had been sitting in this chair much if the mud daubers had time to build such a large nest. This species is called the organ-pipe mud dauber, for obvious reasons. This is what a more typical nest looks like:
This nest has been there for a while and the young have emerged. They're not serious pests and they prey on black-widow spiders, so I usually leave them alone. But I must confess to destroying the one on the chair.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


If you've ever read a Batman comic book or seen the TV series or movies, you know the police of Gotham City would call the Caped Crusader to a crime scene using the Bat-Signal, a searchlight with a stylized bat filter that cast a shadow on clouds or tall buildings. We inadvertently ended up with our own version, which we sincerely hope never becomes a crime scene and needs Batman or any other crime fighter.

We installed a window above the landing on the stairs to let in some light. Since it was on a west wall, it worked entirely too well. We got both light and heat in summer. We had a neighbor at the time who was a stained-glass artist and she volunteered to make an insert for the window that would allow light in but reduce the amount of heat we got.
The "dove-descending" insert she created works well. But when the sun is at the right angle, the shadow cast on the short wall between the floors looks a lot like we're summoning the Dark Knight.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sweet Autumn Clematis

It suddenly has become conspicuous along roadsides and in lawns. It's locally called Virgin's Bower but, strictly speaking, that's a different species, a North-American native. A quick look at the leaves clearly shows smooth margins, instead of the toothed margins found in the native.
Sweet Autumn Clematis was introduced as an ornamental from China. It since has naturalized and can be found along untended road margins and fence rows. It is said to be invasive and all plant parts are considered to be poisonous, if ingested. Gloves are suggested when working with it.
Nevertheless, is can be quite attractive and it's very fragrant. We have some growing at the end of one of our porches.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Hug your child, your spouse, your friend

Tomorrow is the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States known as 9/11. The newspapers and TV shows will be full of remembrances, analyses, predictions, and more. It is good that we remember the losses suffered by the victims and their families, and also the valor shown by firefighters and others. But we also need to pull up our socks and move on. Living in fear only gives victory to the terrorists; we can't let them control our lives. That was not the first attack on the United States and it most likely won't be the last. Some may be preventable, but innovative and determined enemies will always come up with novel ways to hurt us. What, then, is most important for us to do?

If we cannot assure their complete protection, then I think the most important thing we can do is to assure those whom we love that we do, in fact, love them. Life and health have no guarantees, and either can be lost in an instant. No one wants to live with feelings left unsaid. Always kiss your spouse goodbye, even if you're only going to the market. It may be the last time you see him/her. Always hug your children and tell them you love them, regardless of their ages. Tell your friend how you feel; don't let either of you pass without your friendship being spoken. It only takes a second, it always is appreciated, and in the final analysis, it's the only thing that really ever counts.

Be safe tomorrow.

Friday, September 9, 2011


It's that time of year again: sneezing, runny nose, watery eyes. Many folks think their symptoms are caused by goldenrod, which are conspicuous along roadsides. Their yellow color fills fence rows, and sometimes spreads across fields. But this pretty wildflower isn't to blame; here's the culprit:
Ragweed is as inconspicuous as goldenrod is visible. You almost have to know what you're looking for to see their small, green flowers. The plants can easily be written off as just a bunch of weeds beside the road, although these Giant Ragweed plants grew to 8 or 10 feet tall in a cluster that ran 60 feet or more along the  roadside.

Goldenrod and ragweed bloom at roughly the same time every year, and much of their ranges overlap. Goldenrod's bright color indicates they are pollinated primarily by insects. Ragweed's green flowers don't attract insects, and they release copious amounts of pollen into the wind. As a general rule-of-thumb, insect-pollinated flowers do not cause nasal allergies, while wind-pollinated species often do. So don't fear the pretty flowers.

There are about 15 species of ragweed in North America and more than 60 species of goldenrod.