Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Crab Orchard Museum Gallery

The museum gallery tour is self-guiding and begins with an interpretive display of Native American artifacts. Most of what is known about this period comes from archaeological sources, although the Spanish explorer de Soto encountered the Chisca tribe in 1542. The Chisca, who later were absorbed by the Shawnee, lived in present day east Tennessee and southwest Virginia.

Other than the Spanish explorers, the longhunters were probably the first Europeans to visit southwest Virginia. Dr. Thomas Walker passed through the region around 1750 during his explorations that took him to east Tennessee and Kentucky. As southwest Virginia was settled, the area became home to longhunters who farmed during the growing season and hunted from October until late March or early April. Long hunting was a dangerous trade, for the hunters spent months deep in Indian territory, far from any other Europeans. Here is a closer view of some of the tools of their trade.

There is a display of Revolutionary War artifacts, along with the following information:

The Birth of a County display documents settlement in the area, the end of conflict with the Indians, and the development of institutions both social and political. Note the device for preparing flax on the right and the school desk immediately behind it. The fine table on the left denotes a transition from a rough frontier existence, as well.

More tools of pioneer homesteads.

The U.S. Civil War began in 1861. The State of Virginia was one of eleven states to form the Confederate States of America, but the far western counties seceded from the Confederacy to form the State of West Virginia, which was admitted to the Union in 1863. Tazwell County, which remained in Virginia, became a border with the Union and McDowell County, West Virginia.

Following the Civil War there was rapid industrialization in the U.S. and that industrialization was fueled by coal.

Above are some of the tools of coal mining when it was done largely by hand labor. The chest augers to drill holes for blasting are now museum pieces, as are the carbide lamps to light a miner's way.

Coal remains an important industry in southwest Virginia and in West Virginia. But it faces increasing controversy. Modern surface mining technologies allow for the extraction of coal from beds previously thought out of reach, but also produce environmental impacts on an unprecedented scale. Among the most damaging is what is called mountain-top removal, where large amounts of overburden are removed and dumped into valley heads in what is called head-of-hollow fills. These practices are receiving fierce opposition, as well as a battle of bumper stickers throughout the region.

Tomorrow we will continue the tour outside.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Crab Orchard Museum

While driving a familiar route between Bluefield, West Virginia, and Cumberland Gap, Tennessee, this past week we stopped at the Crab Orchard Museum near Tazwell, Virginia.

This is the site of one of the earliest settlements in this part of western Virginia. We learned that Over Mountain Men from Tennessee and North Carolina at the Battle of King's Mountain learned of available, fertile land in this area and many of them came here to settle.

A plaque tells that the first settler was Thomas Whitten, who came here with his family in 1771, which was well before King's Mountain. According to a history of Tazwell County, Witten was of English descent and had come from Maryland in 1766, settling first in what is now Giles County, Virginia. At Crab Orchard he built a fort that protected his family and neighbors from Indian attack, after troubles began around 1772-3.

The reconstructed fort sits on a knoll above the museum. It's a surprisingly small structure, one room with a loft, without windows but with gun ports near the top.
The museum building is a modern structure housing artifacts and interpretative displays, which overlooks a reconstructed pioneer settlement.

The area around the museum is well landscaped with flowers, a split-rail snake fence, and artifacts.

The sign at the entrance suggests starting the tour in the Museum's Gallery. We'll do just that tomorrow.

Friday, July 27, 2012


Sometimes it's all in how you look at things.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Big Brother is Watching You

When George Orwell wrote 1984 after WWII, he thought he was looking forward to a time that hadn't yet come. But was he?

When Ann Lee/Lees founded The United Society of Believers in Christ's Second Appearing, also known as Shakers, in 18th Century England, she created a new kind of monastic order. Her church would be protestant, celibate, communal, and include both men and women. The sexes would live side by side in families as brothers and sisters. Each family would be overseen by an Elder and an Eldress, each having equal power. A community would comprise multiple families and be overseen by another Elder and Eldress who would occupy apartments in the village meeting house. These Elders and Eldresses would be the village ministry.

Shaker leaders were very cognizant of sexual attractions, however, and took steps to prevent backsliding, or lapses in faith and commitment. Men and women occupied opposite sides of dwellings, which usually had separate entrances and stairs. Work was assigned by gender; the sisters had their own shops and the brethren theirs. Yet even more steps were needed, they believed. See that window on the roof of the Centre Family dwelling at Pleasant Hill? Here it is from the inside:

There is only a stairs leading up to it. Here a person could sit, or in good weather, venture onto the  widow's walk outside, and have a commanding view of much of the village. From here they might see "lost sheep" whose faith was not strong enough to overcome the call of biology. These lost sheep would be called upon to repent or leave the church.

But even more safeguards were needed. Church services have been a time-honored place for young people living in rural communities to come together, to begin courtships, and to form lasting bonds. Were Shaker churches any different?

The Meeting House, or church, at Pleasant Hill (and other Shaker communities), is a large open space where after the lessons the benches could be pushed back to the walls and the worshipers could engage in the stylized dance and songs that set the Shakers apart. The ministry lived at either end on the building, Elder on one end and Eldress on the other. Also at either end was a window that looked out over the meeting room from the ministry apartments.

From these windows the ministry could follow the service and keep tabs on the worshipers. If a couple glanced at each other too many times it might be noticed. Or if someone entered the dance with weak spiritual absorption, then perhaps that person needed special attention. No one escaped the attention of the ministry.

It's not my intention to criticize the Shakers, but rather to point out what appears to me to be a near universal abuse of power. In churches, schools, governments, and businesses, there always are those who feel called to control the behavior of others through surveillance. The more structured the organization and the more power is vested in a few at the top, the greater the surveillance and control. Sometimes it is justified by security needs; often it is justified only by the leader's need to be in control. Sometimes it's simply because they can. The sad part is, we welcome it because we are told it will make us safer.

Benjamin Franklin said "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

Monday, July 23, 2012

The writer's desk

In honor of having a well-known writer visit Rugby this past weekend, my friends Annie and Donna created a special merchandise display on the front porch of their shop.

Complete with the beginning of what, no doubt, will be a best-selling novel.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The doors of Rugby

Many cities and towns around the world offer posters of The Doors of ....." Among the notable in the U.S. are the Doors of Charleston, the Doors of New Orleans, and the Doors of San Francisco. There are others, and I've seen collections from Europe on line. I set out to do one in Rugby, and was reminded of two things. There aren't all that many doors to choose from, and what we have lack the variety of those offered by larger historic cities. So instead of a poster, here are some of the more interesting ones.

Rugby Print Shop

 1884 Ingleside

1885 Kingstone Lisle

1881 Oak Lodge

Oak Lodge parlor door

1884 Ruralia

 The Lindens, 1880

 1882 Twin Oaks

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

A ghost building

This decaying train station in Jamestown, Tennessee, has its counterparts all over America. Just as the coming of the railroads in the 19th century was the death knell for canal transportation, General Eisenhower's admiration for the German autobahns during WWII led to diminished importance for railroads in the 20th century. There are many towns that owe their existence to the railroad that no longer have tracks running anywhere near them. It just doesn't seem right.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Vicki Lane

Many of the readers of this blog are fans of Vicki Lane's novels and followers of Vicki's blog. I'm both. So I'm very pleased to announce that Vicki is coming to Rugby Saturday, July 21, for a book signing.

For those of you who are near enough to attend, it will be in the Historic Rugby Visitor Center's Rebecca Johnson Theater. The event is free and starts at 7:00 p.m. eastern time. Lodging is available by calling  toll-free 888-214-3400 or by visiting the Historic Rugby web site. Come early and enjoy dinner at Rugby's Harrow Road Cafe.

If you can't join us, pick up one of Vicki's novels and read along. She's good!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Big South Fork Scenic Railroad

Last week we took a ride on the Big South Fork Scenic Railroad, which leaves from nearby Stearns, KY. This is a fairly long ride, so get comfortable and enjoy the trip. The trains are privately owned, but operate in cooperation with the National Park Service. The tracks were originally built by the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company to haul coal and timber from their operations, and to provide passenger service to the company-owned camps.

There is entertainment while people gather for the train ride. The guitar player turned out to be the engineer, as well.

But we had brought our own engineer. (Her great uncle is an engineer for Norfolk Southern and had given her the child-sized engineer's cap.)

Maybe riding with her Granny would be more fun than driving the train.

The train ride goes from the top of the Cumberland Plateau into the valley of the Big South Fork of the Cumberland River, passing through cuts and a tunnel that are barely wide enough to let the train pass.

Much of the trip follows Paunch Creek as it flows down to the Big South Fork.

It passes through the recreated mining camp of Barthell, where overnight lodging is available in reconstructed miners' cabins.

At one point Paunch Creek runs rust red from acid mine drainage, the result of improper mine closure. The mining company has been in litigation over its closures and just recently forfeited its mineral rights ownership in settlement of the case.

At the bottom of the hill the track curves to follow the Big South Fork downstream. A switch is thrown and the train moves in reverse ...

crossing Paunch Creek on its approach to the Blue Heron mining camp. The railroad bridge over Paunch Creek was bought used by the mining company, and curved in the wrong direction. That was remedied by simply installing the bridge upside down and laying the track on the bottom of the bridge, which of course was now facing up.

The track runs beside the mine road on its way into Blue Heron, and both parallel the river in a strip barely wide enough to contain them. Throughout much of Appalachia there isn't room for a road and tracks on the same side and they will occupy opposite sides of the creeks or rivers.

The National Park Service has recreated the Blue Heron mining camp. Significant structures, such as miners' cabins, the church, and school, are represented as "ghost structures," skeletal buildings of the correct dimensions located in their original places. Inside these structures are life-size cutouts of the people who lived, worshiped, or learned in them. A push of a button plays a recording made by these same people describing their life in Blue Heron.

The track ends at a station/museum/ gift shop in the middle of the coal camp. Riders have an hour and a half before the train leaves for the return trip.

Inside the museum is an H.O. scale model of Blue Heron as it looked during coal production.

Then it's off to find some lunch.

Ahh! Mountain soul food, pinto beans and cornbread. Does anyone have some chopped onions?

The excursion train consists of passenger cars built on old flat cars. It's currently pulled by a diesel switch engine. By this time next year they expect to have their 0-6-0 steam locomotive restored and in operation. I'm looking forward to that, especially since that very engine once ran on the Morehead & North Fork Railroad that was part of my childhood.

There was more entertainment as people gathered for the return trip.

Along with much anticipation.

The whistle means it's time to go!

The return trip led past a rock house occupied by the wee folk, one of whom sat and watched the train go by.

We again passed through Barthell, passing the miners' cabins perched on the hillside above the tracks.

It also passed a former passenger platform, a remnant of the days when this line was the only means of reaching coal camps such as Barthell, Blue Heron, Zenith, and Yamacraw.

The trips ends back in the town of Stearns. The large building just barely seen at the far right in the photograph is the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company headquarters building. We rode the train on Friday; on Saturday night the Stearns Coal and Lumber Company building was destroyed by fire. Arson is suspected.