The Call of the trail in the Picturesque Cumberlands

As we continue our 1940’s tour of the Upper Cumberlands, let’s think about the natural beauty that surrounds us and the draw that has always been to tourists.  I have written here about Monterey’s history as a resort town.  And I suppose when I think about the early part of the twentieth century, when the plateau was less populated and less modernized, I fail to imagine residents seeking outdoor recreation.  That’s a silly assumption.

The March of Progress publication places great importance on the natural beauty of the mountain, and the public’s desire to enjoy it.  Early in the book, the area recreational parks are presented.  Today, we may take for granted the number of choices we have to fish, picnic or hike in a well-maintained, public park.  But in 1940, these parks were a pretty new concept.

Seven specific parks are mentioned: Fall Creek Falls, Cumberland State Park, Pickett State Park, Standing Stone State Park, Morgan State Forest and The Rock Island Area.  Except for Rock Island, all of these parks came into existence in the 1930’s with most being built using the labor of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  A recreational area in Rock Island grew up around a private hydroelectric dam built on the Caney Fork River in 1917.  That park wasn’t formally established until 1969 which explains our historic document referring to it only as an area.  By including this sectionin their book, we see the pride citizens already had in the wilderness’ beauty.  And, we can see that they already knew tourism was an industry that needed to be tapped.

The facing page of the park details is a collage of equine adventures.  I am fascinated to see this because horseback riding has grown to be such a big attraction.  While I grew up loving horses and riding and everything associated with the two, the attraction seems to have really grown up in the county over the past twenty years.  Certainly the improvements to the Big South Fork River and Recreational Area in the 1980's offered a huge boost.  Then, others who were passionate about those big ole’ loving horses opened other stables with riding trails and the trailers started rolling in.  Well, those stable managers might correct me that it took just a bit more work than that, but can you imagine how happy the developers of the magazine would be to see the lines of horse trailers on a holiday weekend?

It is a short part of the book, but nestled between the beckoning calls of Livingston and Gainsboro, the reader of this document could have easily imagined the rest and relaxation he could enjoy on our “magnificent sweep of mountain”.

Jamestown, Tennessee “The Obedstown of the Gilded Age"

Northup Falls; You can still hike to it: Scott at Backwoods Adventures knew just where the trailhead is located.

Northup Falls; You can still hike to it: Scott at Backwoods Adventures knew just where the trailhead is located.

Our tour of the Upper Cumberland begins this week in the Fentress County-seat, Jamestown.  We may be starting in the center of the touring area, but remember I was prompted to write this after the Highway 127 sale which of course originated in Jamestown.

In reading more carefully the six page article in the 1940’s era “March of Progress” publication, Jamestown is presented largely as an industrial opportunity.  Sure, there is a casual mention that Jamestown is located “upon the exact spot of an old Cherokee camp bearing the name of ‘Sand Springs’.”  And there is a quick history of the town.

According to this publication the first deed for land in the county was issued in 1800 to Alvin C. York’s great-great-great grandfather, Conrad Pile, a close personal friend of Davey Crockett.  It is also proudly noted that Pile and Crockett hunted the area woodland together.  Historical note is given to Mark Twain’s father who contracted the first courthouse and acquired about 100,000 acres of virgin forest to ensure, “my heirs are secure”.  However, the parents of the famous writer left Jamestown for Missouri just three months before Samuel Clemens was born.  And of course no historical account of Fentress County would fail to mention Sergeant Alvin C. York, the hero of World War I – of course this publication refers to that great conflict as the World War.

Today we might write such an article with an eye toward tourism and therefore focus on the history and activities of the area.  While this article certainly details the rustic beauty the Jamestown area has to offer, it is clearly geared toward the industrialist.  The sections on oil, gas and coal are downright technical as they discuss the type of coal, the era in which each of the resources would have developed and comparison of production across the region. 

If you know much about Fentress County history at all, you know a little about coal’s importance.  This document cites Tennessee’s 1939 production as 5.2 million tons.  That’s one-third of what West Virginia produced in 2002.  The difference between coal production then and now is phenomenal – in 1939 miners wearing carbide lights largely chipped away at coal seams with sharp picks whereas today’s mines have heavy drilling equipment.  Of course the Wilder mines had electricity even before TVA strung power lines across the mountains for they were creating their own power in a steam plant.  Therefore those “big mines” as we often refer to them, benefitted from the automation electricity afforded.  So I’m pretty impressed that seventy-five years ago Tennessee’s coal production was even worth comparing to a modern mine.

The story turns to the nearby community of Allardt where Mr. Max Colditz had been keeping climatic records for fifty years.  Using his data, the writer was proud to report that Fentress County enjoyed consistent rainfall throughout the year.  Mr. Colditz summarized the Plateau’s conditions as, “the winters are mild.  There is never a winter month that has not some days in which children can play in the sunshine outdoors.  The summers are pleasant, the heat never oppressive and most always a breeze.” 

Of final note from this article is the presence of the railroad.  I really wish it had given more details but simply mentions that the Oneida and Western Railroad has an eastern terminus in Oneida, Tennessee and that its daily passenger service “penetrates what was formerly called the ‘Wilderness Country’.”  I suppose that passenger service could get you anywhere in the country if you changed trains enough, but I would have loved to hear what direct points could be reached from Jamestown.

It’s hard to read this sort of article without looking through my twenty-first century lenses.  However, I find it a fascinating view of history for it’s not someone’s perception of what folks were thinking about our county before World War II, but it was written by contemporaries of the time.  This had to have been written in the height of The Great Depression and I know folks in Fentress County, and all over the Cumberland Plateau, were suffering.  However, there is so much hope in this article.  It isn’t a plea for someone to bail them out; they aren’t looking for outsiders to bring charity to this poor Appalachian community.  In fact, here we have a group promoting the great beauty and resources of the land and people, and I found it thoroughly refreshing to read.

I will try to make readable pictures of the actual pages of this article and post them on Pinterest if you would be interested in reading them.

The Upper Cumberlands of Tennessee

I mentioned last week that we’d begin a tour of the small towns dotted across the Cumberland Plateau and today I’d like to introduce this series with a booklet that was produced many years ago for the purpose of promoting those towns.

The booklet is entitled, The March of Progress in the Upper Cumberlands of Tennessee.  It is undated and appears to have never intended to be a series, nor is there a copyright date.  However, there are clues to its age. 

On the back of the front cover it introduces and salutes the Honorable Cordell Hull, Secretary of State.  He served in that office 1933 through 1944. 

In an article about area dams and lakes, reference is made to a report “which is expected late in 1941”. 

The few photos in the book that include automobiles show at the latest 1940’s models.

Finally, no mention is made of World War II, nor of the many soldiers that haled from the Upper Cumberlands.

All of these hints seem to point to a publication of the early 1940’s 

An awful lot has changed on the plateau in three-quarters of a century; this shows a little snapshot of the best the area had to offer in that day.  And it’s a beautiful picture.  More than a dozen towns are highlighted from McMinnville to Jamestown with special articles for the Tennessee Central Railway, The Tennessee Walking Horse and Tennessee Polytechnic Institute as well as other noteworthy institutions. 

Perhaps the most intriguing part is the community spirit that this document communicates.  All of these small towns have clearly worked together, contributing information and financing in hopes they will be rediscovered.  The introduction actually asserts that all of America is being rediscovered by the tourist traveler newly equipped with the automobile.

I want to share the final paragraph of the introduction:

Here in the Upper Cumberlands, we have resources:  We have intelligent manpower; we have rich soils; we have vast timber lands; we have unmeasured mineral resources; we have charming scenery; we have a delightful and livable climate.  We have a section whose scenic grandeur is surpassed only by the chivalry and heroism of her sons and daughters.  This publication is dedicated to the worthy task of heralding to the whole world the story of the Upper Cumberlands.  It is devoutly hoped that the effort may prove to be a graphic and ripping statement, succinctly and reliably presented in a sympathetic and enthusiastic mood by picture and story.

Wow.  I read that and I can’t help but think how similar was their purpose to my own.  Sure, they were aiming to recruit business, industry, and tourism while I simply intend to share the history and beauty of my home. 

As we’ve just finished the big Highway 127 sale and lots of folks have visited the plateau who may never have been here before, this seems the perfect time to explore all of these little towns.  I’m really excited to share them with you as they were seventy-five years ago.

World's Longest Yard Sale

Since 1987, the first weekend in August has seen an amazing influx of visitor from around the world to our little plateau as they both vendors and shoppers come to the Highway 127 Corridor sale.  Today, the sale reaches from Addison, Michigan to Gadsden, Alabama making it six hundred ninety miles of rummage.

Who doesn’t love a good deal?  And I’m betting more than a few of you readers appreciate yesterday’s treasures as much as I do.  Today, I‘m thinking not just about the stuff to be found along this sale but also about the route itself.

Have you ever driven down a country road and wondered what it might have been like to make that drive, walk or horseback ride way back when?  If you haven’t, I challenge you to ask that question sometime, even if it’s a road you’ve traveled many times. 

Roads are built and re-built, changing their paths slightly.  Certainly as we’ve become more adept at slicing through the geographic features, we’ve straightened both hills and curves.  Yet there are many features that remain unchanged.  Even after major route changes, you can often still see a hint of the old path.  Can you close your eyes and imagine you’re seeing it for the very first time.  Imagine you’re the first non-native to enter the area.  Picture what it must have looked like to the long hunters, the trappers or the earliest pioneers.  

In his novel Jubal Sackett, author Louis L’Amour wrote about a seventeenth century explorer who walked across our Cumberland Plateau seeking a new home for his family.  He found the ideal place in the Sequatchie Valley.  As I read the story many years ago, I quickly realized where he was at and that may have been the first time I thought about just what our home would have looked like to those early explorers.  It’s hard to imagine the mountain without power lines, pavement or houses but it’s intriguing to try.

If you are visiting the corridor sale nextweekend, try to see beyond the tents and tables and to the countryside.  If you are driving very far at all, imagine riding in a creaking wagon with little or no suspension or even walking behind the wagon to spare the horse pulling your weight along with the weight of all your worldly possessions. 

Photos courtesy of Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

Photos courtesy of Fentress County Chamber of Commerce

If you travel beyond the neighborhoods you normally frequent, look into the faces of the people.  I find the differences awfully interesting.  Even from Albany, Kentucky to Pikeville, Tennessee the people who settled here were different in many ways.  Listen to the accents; just last week we talked about Appalachian English, can you hear the change in dialect after one hundred miles? 

It’s often hard for me to remember the relative difference in distances.  Over the four days of this year's sale, many of you will travel two or three hundred miles.  Some will travel the entire length of the sale.  Given the traffic in some areas, your speed may match that of a pedestrian or horse drawn wagon.  However, we normally can drive a hundred miles in just a couple of hours.  In the early nineteenth century, many people lived out their entire lives never travelling that far. 

As I considered the communities you would pass through just in Fentress County, I thought maybe this would be a good time to take an historic look at some of our regional towns.  Let’s plan to do that over the next few weeks and we can start in the Fentress’ county seat, Jamestown.

Finally, just a bit of scheduling news.  I’ve been telling you about this book I’m hoping to publish by summer’s end.  Well, I’m very close and need to concentrate on it for a few weeks.  So I will only be publishing on the blog every 10-14 days through the middle of September.  Please consider leaving your email address in the “subscription” box on the right hand side of the page, that way, whenever I publish a new story, it will come right to your inbox and it’s perfectly free to you.   Thank  you for your patience with me during these very busy weeks.

Appalachian Pride

I recently read a news article about a West Virginia University professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  It was entitled “A push to restore pride in the way Appalachians speak”. (professor, Kirk Hazen, who has written numerous books and articles about Appalachian English.  Now if you’ve been reading my blog you’ll know this is a subject close to my heart and you’ll probably hear me talk about it again.  But today’s article really grew into more – as they so often do!

In 1975 June Carter Cash released an album entitled Appalachian Pride.  I confess, I never knew this song but was thrilled when I came across the lyrics which talk about an Appalachian man living in Chicago and dealing with, “Dirty movies, credit cards and bills past due again”; so he pulled up stakes and went home to the mountains where they don’t have much money but there’s “ham in the smokehouse, some flour in the bin, molasses, cans and beans until the crop comes in,” and they have their dignity.

Country music has celebrated the pride of the South for years, unfortunately, too many lyrics were written about the sadder side of the mountains and I’m not sure they’ve done a lot to truly encourage us to be proud of our mountain heritage.  Not to fear, we didn’t need them to tell us who we are and where our worth comes from.

A lot of research has been done on the culture of the Appalachian Mountains and the findings for many years said the people were disconnected from the civilized world, impoverished and uneducated.  Again and again one movement or another has wanted to go in and fix the whole people.  The beauty of what Doctor Hazen is writing is that we are not a people to fix but rather a culture to appreciate. 

And that’s what we are doing here, isn’t it - appreciating the mountain people!

As more objective research comes to light, we begin to see that those remote communities really preferred their isolation.  These were people who chose to live in the mountains and to maintain their own culture.  This is not unlike city neighborhoods where immigrants from one nation or another settled together.  The Chinese or Italian or Irish people went out into the city and took jobs and blended into the American melting pot through the day then went home and ate the food, celebrated the traditions and spoke the language of their homeland.  The ancestry of the mountains is strongly Scotch-Irish and those people simply clung to their own traditions and language in their mountain home.

The University of South Carolina published a dictionary of Southern English which I found absolutely fascinating both in what it included as well as what I did not find.  I’ve bookmarked that site and will refer to it many times, I’m sure.  I made a short list of words common to us that were not included there and then I conducted a little poll asking if others knew these words.  I’ll be interested to hear from some of you readers whether you’ve encountered these terms in other parts of the world.

Poke is something you can carry your groceries home in.  The Scottish know that word, and Midwesterners were familiar with it but surprisingly a Mississippian did not.  I began to wonder if this was truly an Appalachian word but a Californian did not recognize it.

Arsh Taters are the staple, starchy vegetable of most of our meals.  I always imagined arsh was our version of Irish, and my Mississippi resource called them Irish but no one else I polled gave them a name at all.  Perhaps that is because Sweet Potatoes are so truly southern that other regions never needed to differentiate. 

Set a great store by is a great way to measure the value you place on a person or object.  Neither Mississippi nor California used this phrase but it was familiar to Scotland, and the Midwest. 

Of course, this wasn’t really a scientific sampling since I only asked one person from each region.  And I didn’t throw Y’uns, Coil Oil, or Pone at them. Are those three common to all of you?

Long time readers will recall the novel I presented a little over a year ago, The Lewis Story.  I wrote that in the mountain vernacular and it was a challenge for me.  Speaking our dialect is as natural as breathing, but I’ve never been allowed to write it.  However, as I’m editing that work in preparation to publish an eBook I am realizing that the use of your native speech really does add a sense of authenticity to the story.  I hope you think so as well, and I look forward to your reviews of that book when it publishes in a couple of months.

The Bible urges Christians to “…be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15).  Perhaps we ought to also be ready to answer where we’re from and why we’re proud of it.