Tuesday, January 31, 2012


Not that kind of spinster! Sue is a craftsperson who spins wool into yarn (she's been married to Howard for years). In fact, she carries her craft from growing the wool, in her case Angora Rabbits, through spinning to weaving to finished product.

Sue is a ranger/interpreter with the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area, and frequently represents the park at festivals and events in the area. She brings along a couple of rabbits each time, which sit quietly near her spinning wheel while she plucks fur from them as she spins.

Holding the spinning yarn in her right hand, she deftly plucks a patch of fur with her left and merges it with the turning thread of yarn. It looks easy; I'm sure it's not as easy as she makes it look.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Don't get above your raisin'

There are few principles in the southern Appalachians that are held more dearly and none that are less understood by outsiders. It is not a defense of the status quo, nor is it an argument against ambition and self-improvement. Rather, it is a reminder to always remember where you came from, to not be overly impressed by your own achievements, and to treat home and neighbors with respect. Don't "get the big head," or "be stuck-up." Politicians know the principle well; at least the successful ones do.

Henry D. Hatfield was the nephew of William Anderson "Devil Anse" Hatfield, leader of the Hatfield side in the infamous feud. He also was a physician, West Virginia Governor (1913-1917), and the first physician to serve in the United States Senate (1929-1935). To my grandmother, her second cousin was sometimes Drury, but more often just "Ol' Doc Hatfield." He didn't get above his raisin'.

Robert C. Byrd belonged to the next generation of West Virginia politicians. As the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate (1959-2010) and longest-serving member of the U.S. Congress (1953-2010), Byrd garnered great power in government. He served as Senate Majority Leader for six years, and as President pro tempore of the Senate anytime the Democratic Party was in the majority from 1989 until 2010. The latter position placed him third in the line of succession to the office of President of the United States. His position as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Appropriations for twelve years allowed him to channel large sums of money into West Virginia for infrastructure and social programs. Even surrounding states benefited from these projects. And he never got above his raisin', playing his fiddle at campaign stops and other public events.

This video is a little dated, but it gets the point across (and entertains).

Friday, January 27, 2012

You know you're in the South when ......

Newspaper advertisment
 As I've said before, you can't make this stuff up!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Shaker setting

When decorating with Shaker, it usually isn't practical to always use authentic Shaker pieces or even exact reproductions. Aside from the cost of Shaker antiques, size also is important. Being communal, Shaker case pieces were sized to serve "families" of up to one hundred people. Pieces such as pie safes tended to be too large to use in modern single-family homes. The pie safe, above, is contemporary with Shaker communities and is of simple design. But it fits in a modern family dining room. The chairs are all Shaker reproductions, bought as kits from Shaker Workshops, Inc.  The low-back dining chairs slide completely under the table where they are out of the way. The two ladder-back chairs with flame finials frequently hung upside down from peg rail in a previous house. There isn't space to hang them in this one. That was a Shaker practice that both got the chairs out of the way for cleaning the floor and also kept dust from accumulating on the seating area of the chair.

The sconces are 3/4 scale reproductions of a Kentucky Shaker design. Original-size reproductions are available, but would be too large for this space. Likewise, the Shaker-reproduction dining table was sized to fit in this space. Peg rail was a common feature of 18th and early 19th century homes, before closets came into use. Most were simple boards with round, or in the case of Colonial Williamsburg, cut pegs. The Shakers turned pegs on a wood lathe, fashioning a mushroom-shaped cap on them. Thumb-mold was common on eastern Shaker rails; less so in the west. The Shakers also tended to place peg rail on every wall, in dwellings and in shops. Even stairwells often have them. Our peg rail was custom-made on site. The braided rug represents common Shaker practice.The punched-tin chandelier isn't Shaker, but punched-tin lighting will be found in Shaker museums. Usually it's more along the line of the "Revere" lantern seen on the pie safe.

The designers of the "Danish Modern" school were influenced by Shaker design. Somewhere we have a poster of a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibit that documented that influence. Maybe not; we've moved a couple of times since then!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Flat-top houses

The American Museum of Science and Energy  in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has a display of a so-called "flat-top" house. The population of Oak Ridge grew rapidly during the Manhattan Project, outstripping all of the planning that was done and producing a persistent housing shortage. The Tennessee Valley Authority, which was working closely with the Army on the project, offered plans for small houses they had used during the construction of Fontana Dam in North Carolina. These small flat-top houses could be built quickly in an off-site factory and trucked in sections to the home site, often with furniture already inside.

There are stories of a family arriving at the super-secret project, being assigned housing by Roane-Anderson Company, the property-management contractor, and finding a vacant lot with a few pipes sticking out of the ground when they went to the address. The elaborated story has the wife sitting on the curb in tears when a crane and a couple of trucks show up, quickly unload and set up a house, and drive away. That might not be too far from the truth!

The flat-top roofs were no match for east Tennessee rains and the Army quickly refitted the houses with gabled roofs. Unlike the alphabet houses, most flat-tops (they're still called that) are rental units today. Many rental units are in poor repair, but those in private ownership often have been remodeled and enlarged to the point they are no longer recognizable as flat-tops.

Just in case any of the new occupants were less than thrilled with their housing assignment, the museum display has a reproduction of a war-time motivational billboard.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Shaker setting

We first became interested in Shakers and Shaker design in the '60s when my wife read The Believers by Janice Holt Giles. Drawn in by the story, we began a life-long study of the sect. Each home over the years has had a little more Shaker influence than the one before it. When we built this house in 2004, we decided to "go all the way." That's in design and decor, mind you; we did not adopt the Shaker religion, and we have two sons to prove it. Since we are into the winter season, with frequently overcast skies and fewer days made for roaming the mountains, it seemed like a good time to begin sharing some of it with you. The print with the most famous Shaker song, Simple Gifts, seemed to be a good place to start. Hope you enjoy this and the ones that will follow.

The candlestick, by the way, is threaded so that it may be raised as the candles burn down, thereby keeping the light at a constant height to work by. The oval box has become a symbol of Shaker craftsmanship. They are most often displayed as progressively smaller boxes in a stack. Non-Shakers display them with the graceful finger-joints in front. When in use, Shakers would have turned the finger-joints to the rear. When not in use, the boxes would have been nested much like the Russian dolls.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Harriman, Tennessee

Tennessee apparently was fertile ground for nineteenth century utopian experiments. The three most famous, Nashoba (1826), Rugby (1880), and Ruskin (1894) all had short lives, although Rugby has enjoyed a not-quite-utopian rebirth. Harriman (1891) not only lives on, it is a thriving small city.

Seeking to establish a town free of the ills of Victorian industrial towns, investors bought a large tract of land and founded the Tennessee Land Company. Among the initial investors were Union General and 1888 Prohibition candidate for U.S. President, Clinton Fisk; Isaac Funk and  A.W. Wagnalls of dictionary fame; and a co-founder of the Quaker Oats Company. The company built an imposing headquarters to go with their grand vision of a utopian center of industry and commerce. Temperance, thrift, and morality would lead to prosperity for all. But overextending itself with credit, the company failed to survive the recession of 1893 and was forced into bankruptcy. Their headquarters building became the American Temperance University, which operated until 1908. It now serves as Harriman City Hall.

Although the Tennessee Land Company was short-lived, it did manage to attract a number of other industries to Harriman. Some were wiped out in the stock market crash of 1929, but a paper mill and two hosiery mills continued to operate for most of the twentieth century. Together these industries brought a fairly large number of affluent investors and managers to Harriman who built fine homes along the ridge above the main street.

Cornstalk Heights is now listed as an historic district on the National Register of Historic Places. It contains some of the finest examples of Victorian architecture to be found anywhere, and has become a desirable neighborhood not only for people who work locally, but also folks who commute to Oak Ridge and Knoxville. Their annual Christmas tour of homes enjoys great popularity.

But times do change. There is now a liquor store just across the Emory River that even offers discounts to customers who must travel from "dry" counties, such as the residents of Rugby.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Blue Heron Tipple

I didn't intend to do a theme week when I started; it just turned out that way. So I decided to finish the week with another life-in-Appalachia post. We live on the edge of a National Park, the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Contained within the Park is the Blue Heron interpretive area, which is a former mining camp. When the Park Service acquired the land, the tipple was about all that was left. It has been restored and "ghost structures," skeletal metal buildings, represent the miners' cabins, church, school, and such. The ghost buildings contain life-sized cut-outs of old photographs, posters, and recorded descriptions of the activity represented.

The restored tipple dominates the site, as it did when the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company operated the coal camp from 1937 until 1962. Known as Blue Heron, or Mine 18, the company housed miners in company-owned houses and operated a company store to provide residents with their essentials.

Park Service photo

 Coal was mined at several sites on both sides of the river and brought to the tipple by low tram cars.
Park Service photo

Tram cars unloaded the coal at the top of the tipple and mechanical screens inside sorted the coal by size and loaded it into railroad hopper cars for shipment to markets. The noise from the tipple was a constant in the coal camp, running 24 hours every day and stopping only for maintenance or emergency. Tipple operation also produced coal dust that drifted and settled over the site.
Park Service photo

 Since tipple, track, houses, school, and church were all packed into a small area along the river, there could be no escape from the dust and noise.

While the next photo really doesn't apply to the tipple, I couldn't resist including a photo of  "classmates" taken in the schoolhouse ghost structure.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


There was a time, before paved roads and supermarkets, that every family raised a hog. It would be butchered when the weather turned cold, and the hams would be covered with salt and placed on a shelf in a smokehouse to cure. The cured meat would supply the family for the coming year. Now we buy sugar-cured hams at Kroger or WalMart, and the smokehouse, if it survived, is used to store the lawn mower.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Nothing is simple, is it?

For centuries, coal mining in mountainous terrain, such as Appalachia, has been done under ground. This underground mining has left a legacy of death, broken bodies, and disease from accidents and working conditions. Yet, there never has been a shortage of miners available to do the work and the nation has grown on the energy supplied by coal.

In about the 1930s in the U.S., surface mining started to become widespread. It was called "strip mining" in Appalachia, because it stripped away the soil overlying the coal (overburden) or "contour mining" because it followed the contour of a mountain, cutting away as much overburden as was economical. The health and safety impacts to workers were much less than with underground mining, but the adverse effects above-ground on vegetation, water, wildlife, and the health of nearby residents were greatly increased. States began to pass laws to regulate surface mining, but they largely were ineffective for multiple reasons, not the least of which concerned state revenues, votes, and general economic issues. Following extensive growth in surface mining, the U.S. Congress passed the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 that sought to bring order to surface mining and reduce adverse effects, while allowing for the continued production of coal.

Among the provisions of SMCRA, as it became known, was a requirement that strip mines be reclaimed as mining progressed, with the surface being restored to "approximate original contour." That latter provision proved to be popular with environmental, recreation, and aesthetic interests. It was problematic for municipalities and developers, who were seeking more land on which homes and business could be built. Many sought waivers from the regulations so that individual projects could be carried out, which brings us to what this posting is all about.

Coming out of Pikeville, KY, on a trip to Gilbert, WV, a few years ago I saw a house for sale that appeared to be sitting on a strip bench (the floor of a strip mine after the coal has been removed). Behind it was a high wall, which is the feature the "approximate original contour" provision of SMCRA sought to eliminate. High walls are inherently unstable, subject to erosion, falling rocks, and even partial collapse. They're extremely dangerous places to be under, and yet here was a very nice new home being offered for sale in precisely that spot. Would a family with small children buy it?

The house seemed to be part of a development being built on an active strip mine. Construction appeared to be the "reclamation" required while the mine is being advanced around the mountain.

Some were already occupied and their Christmas decorations were going up. Further up the road, we saw that the local high school also was built on mined land.

We stayed in a hotel in Pikeville two nights on that trip and got to drive around the city some. I have to admit that suitable land on which to build was in short supply, and using mined land certainly looked like a plausible option. Yet, I wonder. Could the building of houses on a strip bench simply be an inexpensive way to avoid the costs of reclamation?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012


Yes, that's the name he goes by, and he looks every bit the part of the stereotypical hillbilly. Don't let him fool you. He's a bright fellow, an artist, a wit, and greyhound rescue leader. And he even serves as "Father Christmas" every year for the annual Christmas at Historic Rugby event.

Monday, January 16, 2012


Someone once said that every good lie has a nugget of truth in it. If you go to Google images and search for "Appalachia," you'll find lots of black and white photos, images of poverty, and other stereotypical scenes. I've often joked that to photograph Appalachia, you must do it in winter, when it's raining, and use black and white film. It helps if you can include images of trains of coal cars, or miners, or musicians, or snake handlers.

It's raining today and going into Flat Fork Valley, one of the most beautiful spots in creation, by the way, I drove past this old, abandoned, home site. I've passed it many times; I've even photographed it before, but never in the rain. It's winter, so I had two out of three criteria. Since I no longer shoot film, PhotoShop took care of the rest. The result is a stereotypical Appalachian photograph, except like so many such photos we see, it's a lie. Yes, there is poverty in Appalachia. Yes, there is substandard housing in Appalachia. Yes, there are some churches that handle snakes in Appalachia. And thankfully, there are musicians in Appalachia. But none of these is the rule.

The Appalachian writer Sharyn McCrumb has frequently said that her mission in life is to show people that the movie "Deliverance" was not a documentary. Likewise, "The Beverly Hillbillies" was not reality TV. We have our warts and they are easily found, but they don't begin to cover the landscape. And about those Google images? Some of them are more than 75 years old.

Friday, January 13, 2012

In search of Sandhill Cranes

Monday last week we were doing our (almost) daily walk when we heard a flock of Sandhill Cranes passing over. Sandhill Cranes are a big deal; we never saw them before recent years when conservation efforts began showing results. Now they aren't resident locally, but can infrequently be seen in migration. I didn't have my camera with me, of course, and even if I had I wouldn't have had the right lens on it. So every day thereafter I carried the camera, with long lens, on our walk. No cranes.

The weather forecast for Friday was excellent, but it was my wife's birthday. I told her we would do whatever she wanted that day. She thought she might like to go down to the Hiwassee Wildlife Refuge to see Sandhill Cranes. Who am I to argue with such an excellent choice?

A few other people had the same idea. It was our first time there, and we weren't quite prepared for how far away from the water was the viewing stand.

My longest lens is only 300 mm, and we were at pretty much the effective limit of that lens. I looked around at other photographers and suffered some serious lens-envy. But I reminded myself that I really don't do wildlife photography.

We find some cranes along the water's edge just as a lone bird glides past.
Landing gear down -

In mid-afternoon a flock comes in
Did someone say "dinner is served?"
There must be several hundred cranes in that field.

Someone said that earlier in the day they had seen an endangered Whooping Crane. We didn't get to see it, but we did see an adult Bald Eagle.
It's the bird with the white head perched in the tree on the point of land.

And we got to see immature Bald Eagles, as well. They didn't have the white heads yet.

Sure which I'd had a longer lens!

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The fire next time

God gave Noah the rainbow sign,
no more water, the fire next time!
There had been enough rain over the past few days that people were starting to joke about building arks in their back yards. Driving home at dusk, the rain stopped and the setting sun became visible at the horizon. Surely the sky was on fire!!

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Monkey Trial, monkey business

The advancements of science have sometimes been seen as a challenge to scripture. One of the early issues arose with Copernicus, who in 1543 published On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres, which described a heliocentric universe at a time when earth was thought to be at its center. Serious reaction from the church took some sixty years to develop. That reaction reached its apogee in 1633 when the Inquisition found the astronomer Galileo guilty of heresy for advocating the Copernican view of the universe, forced him to disavow all of his writings on the sun being at the center of the universe, and sentenced him to house arrest for the remainder of his life. In addition, publication of his writings was outlawed. Eventually the accumulation of evidence forced the church to recognize the Copernican model, and in October 1992 Pope John Paul II issued a declaration acknowledging that the Catholic Church erred in its trial of Galileo.

Enter Dayton, Tennessee, and the famous "Scopes Monkey Trial." In 1859, Charles Darwin had published On the Origin of Species, a book based on a voyage to the south Pacific in which he observed species distributions. It and subsequent work developed the idea that species changed and branched over time, leading to new species that differed from their ancestors. In other words, the assemblages of plants and animals seen at present would not have been the same as viewed immediately following the point of creation described in Genesis.

While Charles Darwin gets the credit, or the blame, the point often missed is that the Evolutionary Theory credited to Darwin was already emerging from scientific thought. Darwin was able to incorporate insights from a number of other scientists, most notably Wallace, Lyell, and Hooker. But like all scientific advances, one finding sparks a question and ideas flow outward like waves when a pebble is dropped into a quiet pool. Evolution gained traction for the simple reason that it explained what people were seeing around them. It had utility. So by the early 20th century, evolution was being taught as the most likely mechanism to explain the assemblages of plants and animals around the world, and served as the basis for exploring how changes were accomplished.

In 1925 a Tennessee legislator read in a newspaper that evolution was being taught in the schools that were funded, at least in part, by the state. He later stated that he knew nothing about evolution at the time, but after reading William Jennings Bryan's Is the Bible true?, and Darwin's The Origin of Species and The Descent of Man, decided that evolution was a dangerous idea that should not be taught in the schools. He introduced a bill into the legislature to prohibit teaching of evolution theory in all state-supported colleges and schools. The Butler Act, as it became known, specifically prohibited teaching "any theory that denies the Story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found the law to be offensive to liberty, and ran advertisements in Tennessee newspapers offering to pay the expenses of any teacher willing to help them test its constitutionality in court. A group of business leaders in Dayton saw the test case as a means of publicizing their town and possibly bringing in new business and industry. They recruited John T. Scopes, a teacher and coach at Rhea County High School, and a trial was scheduled.

William Jennings Bryan volunteered to aid the prosecution. A former two-term U.S. Congressman, Secretary of State, and unsuccessful three-time candidate for President of the United States, Bryan was clearly the most famous person involved in the trial. Although known as a liberal politician, Bryan was conservative in his religious views, favoring prohibition and opposing evolution. He was widely thought to be the finest orator of his time.
The defense was led by Clarence Darrow, a lawyer who was said to be able to move both juries and judges to tears with his eloquence. Darrow was the complete liberal, in politics and religion, and a leading figure in the ACLU. As a highly successful criminal defense lawyer, he had little experience in losing cases. With two such famous figures on opposing sides, the trial brought tiny Dayton to national attention. The town saw an influx of the curious, the entrepreneurial, and reporters. Among those who came was H.L. Mencken, and his reporting quickly set the tone of the public's perception. It was "The Monkey Trial."

History has focused attention on Bryan, Darrow, and to a lesser extent, Mencken. John T. Scopes turned out to be a minor character in the drama, never taking the stand in his own defense. After each side had made its case, Darrow asked that his client be found guilty, which would allow him to appeal the case to the Tennessee Supreme Court in hopes of having the law declared unconstitutional. Scopes was fined $100, the minimum allowed under the Butler Act. On appeal, the Supreme Court voided Scopes's conviction on the grounds that the jury should have set the fine instead of the judge. It refused to find the law unconstitutional, but the case was not retried. The law remained on the books until 1967, when a teacher in Jacksboro, Tennessee, was fired for teaching evolution. He sued for reinstatement, which was granted, and continued with a class-action suit to have the law voided. The Tennessee legislature passed such a law within three days after the class-action suit was filed.

Today the Rhea County courthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places, and a statue of William Jennings Bryan graces the front lawn. No statue of Clarence Darrow stands on the other side. There is a Scopes Trial Museum in the courthouse basement, where several of these photos were shot.

Displays give a good history of the trial and have excellent visuals. Other displays seek to place Creationism and Evolution on equal footing as competing explanations of modern plants and animals.

Displays and materials placed by Bryan College, a Dayton conservative Christian institution, leaves no doubt where they stand on the issue. Meanwhile, evolution has proven to be a robust theory, meaning that it has withstood the accumulation of new scientific knowledge without having to be revised. Perhaps in another 300 years, the Biblical literalists will have come around. But then, Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) still thought the Church's judgement of Galileo was correct as late as 1990.

Writing this I was reminded of a conversation that took place with a religious-conservative co-worker. I had used Noah's Ark as a reason not to take the Bible literally. While of substantial size, it had to carry two of every species. I pointed out that there are at least a million species of beetles on the earth, so the ark would have to include at least two million beetles. My co-worker said, "No, just two beetles." "Just two beetles? Do you mean then that all one-million species of beetles living today are descended from just those two beetles?" "Yes, just those two beetles!" To which I answered, "That, my friend, is evolution!"