The Patterson House

In the last half of the nineteenth century, a family of millers by the name of Patterson came to Sale Creek, Tennessee.  They were welcomed by the resident Cherokees because of the valuable product they could offer in flour and cornmeal.  By 1880, their native friends were facing a forced removal but the Pattersons had found their home.  They built a simple yet roomy four bedroom farmhouse that has stood and sheltered five generations of that family. Twelve years ago the current Patterson family moved in after the death of a great aunt who was twice widowed with no children of her own.  Amazingly, in its 135 years this house has never really been empty and that is a testament to the family that kept finding someone willing to live in it and give it the care it needed to stand.

European homes are usually passed through a law they call primogeniture that gives entire estates (house and household items included) to the firstborn male child.  This is a pretty foreign concept to us in rural America. Today, too many times homes are sold completely out of the family.  Even if one child or grandchild is willing to take on the property, the household belongings are separated among family members.  It is a precious thing to have even a small reminder of a loved one, but by this method things are quickly scattered.  However, the Pattersons have followed more of the European tradition and today The Patterson House is filled with literally five generations of treasures.

There are mementos of the original milling trade – mill stones stored in the barn and antique scales and grain scoops which seem poised to tell of their years of service measuring meal and sending neighbors on their way, ready to make bread.  It makes me wonder how open the house was to the populace.  Certainly long-time residents in Sale Creek today appreciate this building as an integral part of the community.  Gayle Patterson, the current lady of the house, very graciously sees her home as belonging to more than just herself, her husband and their children.  A few hours spent in her flower beds often yields a neighbor stopping in to comment on the house or share a bit of history with her.  Surely this speaks to a family that has always been caring and neighborly. 

Just as I mentioned last week, changing times and tastes have changed this house.  Built as a working farm house, well before indoor plumbing was even considered much less thought to be an absolute necessity, there was neither living room nor upstairs bathroom.  So the last resident decided she’d prefer a more formal, Victorian-type home and made changes to adapt the farmhouse.  The drive was moved to direct visitors to a new entry into the former master bedroom which was converted into a parlor.  Making a simple switch, the original parlor became her bedroom.  But the question of where to put a living room remained.  Ah, the dining room would serve well but that necessitated the kitchen transforming into the dining room and a new kitchen would be built on the now-enclosed porch.  Whew, it rather makes your head spin, doesn’t it?  But I doubt all of these changes were happening simultaneously so maybe it wasn’t quite as chaotic as the mental picture the list conjures. 

Then there was that missing bathroom upstairs. You don’t have to look too closely at a lot of older homes to see that bathrooms were created from existing space or added as afterthoughts of original plans.  Often, there are big, roomy bathrooms in otherwise modest homes – these were usually bedrooms that were just converted entirely.  One reader last week recalled an English hotel room in which the addition of a private bathroom obliged guests to walk sideways around the bed.  Well The Patterson House wouldn’t squeeze the upstairs bathroom into a closet, nor would it waste an entire bedroom.  So a bedroom was split into the new upstairs bathroom and a new hallway – never mind the fireplace in that bedroom, it’s now in the hallway.  All of these changes necessitated the removal of two doors, but in proper farmer-fashion, Miss Katherine saved the doors in the barn because you never know when you might need them.

Some changes were extremely practical, such as the altered roofline hoping to eliminate the collection point for leaves which were damaging the roof.  However, the bay windows were built for function as well, drawing cool air into the pre-air-conditioned house.  Although the two features seem unrelated, Great Aunt Katherine reported the house never “drawed air” as well after the roof was changed. 

I’ve mentioned many times in these articles that they are driven by research for my fiction writing.  Usually I’m researching legends that I’ve heard all my life, or people that I’ve always known about.  This fascinating home and family are new to me but I am certain they will soon find a home in one of my books and I am eager to write it.

Our Heritage in Houses


Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England. It is the set for ITV's Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle in Hampshire, England.
It is the set for ITV's Downton Abbey

British Television’s Downton Abbey is a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic and whether or not you enjoy the drama, there is a history lesson in every scene as we virtually walk through Highclere Castle, where the show is filmed.  My curiosity led me to watch a documentary about the seventeenth century house and then shows about other such buildings until I realized that Brits are not only documenting these old structures, they are systematically trying to save them.  Well, that got me to thinking about our own historic buildings.

On the mountain, we certainly don’t have any seventeenth century castles sitting around; in fact, we scarcely have any houses that have reached the century mark.  Of course, we can find some old buildings in the surrounding areas and I would very much like to explore some of those with you on the blog.

I think we’ve pretty well established here that I don’t care too much for change.  I never quite understand our American tendency to tear down historic brick and mortar buildings and replace them with concrete slab, steel framed, pre-fab structures.  I’m puzzled when I see big old houses left to fall down with a house trailer pulled in just a few feet from the front door.  Now, I certainly realize there are challenges to renovation as well as occupation of old buildings.  So I ask you, do you think there is any value in keeping historic buildings?  Can we learn anything from them?  Do they give us a clue to life in the past?  Are they only valuable - or historic - if someone famous lived there?

Home of Lester Key in Martha Washington, TN constructed about 1939. It was a log home - in this picture it's been covered by brickside siding.  You see an addition on the lefthand side which was made about 1950 when only two of his children were still at home.

Home of Lester Key in Martha Washington, TN constructed about 1939.
It was a log home - in this picture it's been covered by brickside siding.  You see an addition on the lefthand side which was made about 1950 when only two of his children were still at home.

I certainly believe the answer is a resounding “Yes” to each of these questions.  We know that our grandparents’ generation lived differently than we do today.  We require more space.  Lester Key had a little log house in Martha Washington where he raised seven children.  It had an open loft where all of the kids slept.  There was only one boy and his space was separated from the girls’ by a curtain. The whole house was maybe seven hundred square feet.  The house was in no way unique to the area, most homes of the day were quite similar.

Houses of that generation had tiny rooms compared to today’s open floor-plans, and every room had a door.  They planned and built for practicality since smaller rooms were much easier to heat and in a pinch, rooms could be shut off and left cold.  And that brings us to the luxury of heat.  One of my favorite lines from Downton Abbey was spoken by the Dowager Countess, Violet Crawley when she referred to her relatively small dowager house she said it was the first time she’d been warm in years.  Those palatial, stone homes are notoriously cold – large rooms with high ceilings that were originally heated only by fireplaces are nearly impossible to get really warm. 

Perhaps I shouldn’t be comparing our buildings to European country homes, but I certainly believe our beloved spaces hold as much value as those big houses despite the great difference in their age.  Certainly families who were raised in some of the little homes like the Lester Key example, would argue that the families in those big houses couldn't have been any happier than them.

Am I just being sentimental?  Probably. 

As I watched those renovation shows, I saw houses that were hundreds and hundreds of years old.  It opened my eyes to the real need for renovations.  Which leads me to another question for you:  Is it better to see homes greatly altered to suit modern lifestyles or to just have them razed? 

I’ve now decided that I’d rather see the significant changes than to completely lose the building.  Of course, I always appreciate an honest presentation.  I recently learned (and maybe everybody else in America already knew this) that the White House was completely gutted and reconstructed in the late 1940’s.  While that’s no secret, when we talk about the presidential mansion, we think of it as being built in 1800 and home to every president since John Adams.  However, President Adams would be lost in the house sitting at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue today.

Still, if you learn about any home that’s been occupied for a century or more, you will undoubtedly learn of many changes as times change, technology evolves and the face of the American family shifts.  I’ve now decided that I’m okay with knowing I’m standing in your spacious parlor which used to be the master bedroom or that the big bathroom you’ll direct me to at the top of the stairs was created from another bedroom since the house was built before indoor plumbing.  It is better to see these changes and to know that a family is still loving a house that’s been standing for four or five generations, and it’s still home. 

As I’ve talked to folks about their old houses and read history preparing for this series of articles, I’ve thought again and again, if only these walls could talk.  Can you imagine the history we might learn?  So for the next few weeks we’ll take a look around the area (and we’ll look inside whenever we have a chance) and see what we can learn.  In the end, I hope you will want to leave a comment telling me whether you think these old houses are worth the effort.

A Trip to The Pres Beaty School

I ask a lot of questions.  I know it’s annoying sometimes – okay a lot of times I’m pretty annoying.  But you wouldn’t believe what I learn this way.

In researching last week’s article about efforts to keep Clarkrange High School open, I learned of the “History of Education, Fentress County, Tennessee” which was produced by the Retired Teachers’ Association in 1986.  Mr. Steven Little has graciously shared it with me.

Pres Beaty School 1933

Pres Beaty School 1933

The booklet presents the Pres Beaty’s School with a story by Wilma Pinkley.  She describes the school as established in the 1930’s.  While the location of the school is not given, it is described as being in “a sparsely settled area and so far away from any school that the Fentress County Board of Education established a school just for this one family.”

She then presents an account of a Doctor Pearson driving his Dodge car to this remote school, along with his nurse Mrs. Roys, in November 1937.  The account was so entertaining that I want to share it with you unedited and in its entirety (including her spelling).  I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Medical Team on their visit to the PRes Beaty School

Medical Team on their visit to the PRes Beaty School

Mrs. Roys had received directions from someone as to just how to get to the school.  She had also written the teacher that we would be there on this special date.  We traveled approximately 15 miles on a good oiled road – and then angled off on a side road and headed straight for trouble.  “How lucky we are that we cannot look ahead and see what the future has in store for us.”  After a few miles travel on a fairly good graveled road, we came to a long mud hole in the middle of which we turned off on another road which led through a field and into what I now consider a forest.  Shortly after this, we met a truck load of logs, so it was necessary to back for some distance in order to find a place to pull off into the woods to let the truck proceed.  In continuing on this road, we made our first real human contact.  “This man with some boys was hauling wood.  He told us that one of the boys could go with us so we would not get lost on the rest of the route, but the boy made many excuses to keep from going and told the man, on the side, that he did not know any of us and since he had been reading in the papers about kidnapping, thought that might be our purpose in coming in there.”  After receiving minute directions, we continued the journey.  We found that the forest was full of narrow roads running in every direction.  “We rolled over rocks which could not be crossed, went through holes which could not be gone through and did all sorts of impossible things.”  In one instance, we found a tree across the road which we chopped loose from its stump with an ax we found at a nearby wood pile.  It required our combined strength to move the tree.  At another place, we ran upon a stump with the differential housing of the car so that the rear wheels were left waving in the air – the car had to be jacked up so that chunks could be placed under the wheels.  After the first two hours, we thought we could not possibly find any worse road than we had already been over, but we did.  Finally, it became so late that it was necessary to return to Jamestown to be there for the afternoon schedule of our clinic. 

               “Even though we failed in our objective, our courage is not daunted and we plan to try again next week.”

(Written by Marie Bennett, Co. Supervisor)

               Once again we four started out to conquer that which seemed to be unconquerable.  I dare think we might be a little egotistical to think we were the type that never give up.

               The morning was not as cheerful as the preceeding Thursday and maybe we were rather doubtful as to the outcome since we had such an unfavorable trip before.  Overhead the sky was overcast with clods scurrying around and occasional rain drops were flitting across the wind shield of the doctor’s faithful Dodge.         

               Nurse Roys had not been idle during the week, and had arranged for a guide to escort us over the hills and creeks.  The guide, true to mountain traditions, had failed to respond to the urgent call of the “furrner,” thereby causing us to once again change our course.  The teacher at Silver Pines came to our rescue and furnished a girl to show the way.  Note the fact that a girl was chosen, once again proving the many different uses of the mountain maid.  We were able to drive through the pine woods for a distance of three miles, when we were confronted by a pole fence and were advised at the same time by the guide that we would have to walk the rest of the way.

               One of the things we viewed with no little apprehension, was the scales which had to be taken along to prove Nurse Roys’ point that corn pone and sorgum was not a sufficient diet for the children of the hills.  The Doctor’s pill bags were no light load, but we divided the load and started along at a lively and determined gait.  The road was proof enough that even a T-modeled Ford would be at a loss here.  The nurse kept sighing over a creek she knew we must ford.  We soon knew why she was apprehensive.  A very swiftly moving little river was merrily winding its way down the valley unobstructed by ferry boats or bridges.  True, a tree had fallen across, but it was narrow and slippery.  Being born in the mountains and long used to just such conditions, I thought I was equal to the situation and I started across the tree=no one urged me on because they thought it was impossible.  The doctor was especially concerned over the bag I carried.  I made good progress until I reached the bank and then the result of a good job well done made me dizzy, and like many others who lack the last round of reaching the top of success, I toppled over into the berry patch.  No damage was done to the bag, but my dignity had suffered.  The rest of the party waded.  I expected pneumonia.

               We proceeded up the hill and around the cliffs, which were lovely.  We deplored the beauty that grew on every hand with few to appreciate it.  Many times the girl informed us we were almost there and it was just a quarter of a mile farther.  The school was discovered at last and many exclamations of relief and delight went up from light hearts.

               The doctor, nurse, superintendent and I worked with as much speed as possible in order to make our return trip by one o’clock.  Many mothers took advantage of the free service and we were not able to get away as soon as we wished  It was afternoon and the walk had made us hungry.  One of the inhabitants of the woods gave us some nice sweet turnips, which she generously gathered from the patch.  It would not be a very good story if I left out the fact that this little school is operated for one man’s family.  There are seventeen children; eight of whom are in school.  Grandchildren fill up the required rank.

               It is an old story.  The one about getting stuck.  We did that, too, in a nice way.  I believe the doctor said it was the first time he ever got to the place when he didn’t know what to do next.  Being out with Dr. Pearson and knowing he doesn’t recognize defeat, that alone was enough to know the situation was plenty bad.  We must give thanks to a hunter who came by in time to save us from what appeared a watery grave.  With his superior knowledge of these roads and strength that had not already been taxed to the breaking point, we were able to pull out.

               All stories must end.  We arrive home destitute, weary and worn.  The story speaks for itself.  Were we hardy  I shall let my readers come to their conclusions, but as my mother always says, “We live in peae.  May we die in grease and be buried in a cake of tallow.”

Keeping the School

In today’s world of free, compulsory education, we may fail to appreciate our schools.  Sure, our young folks may give some thought to whether or not they should go to college and which university they’ll choose.  But the idea that finishing high school would be any more difficult than the senior term paper or required science project is pretty foreign to us.  But it wasn’t always so easy to get even a basic education.

While preparing last week’s article about Elbert Hall and realizing the degree of dedication that was required for him to finish high school, I began to remember other such stories and thought I’d look into the history of Clarkrange High School.

The History of Fentress County, Tennessee, by The Fentress County Historical Society, 1987 lists this building as the Clarkrange Elementary and High School 1926 - 1952.  However, those dates do not correspond to the building dates given elsewhere in that book, and students of that day recognize this building as the Elementary school.

The History of Fentress County, Tennessee, by The Fentress County Historical Society, 1987 lists this building as the Clarkrange Elementary and High School 1926 - 1952.  However, those dates do not correspond to the building dates given elsewhere in that book, and students of that day recognize this building as the Elementary school.

Prior to 1919, Fentress County had just one county high school which was located on the North side of Jamestown, near the present day location of York Institute.  There were a handful of private academies but none near the south side of Fentress County.  The people in the Clarkrange community desperately wanted a school to be located closer to their homes and farms so they began to work together to make that happen.  That a county as small as Fentress today has two high schools can still be attributed to that community spirit.

Initially, the high school could only offer grades nine and ten and was located in a room of the elementary school. After completing tenth grade, students would have to find another school to finish their final two years in order to get a diploma.  Some of the choices were Fentress County High School, Stockton Valley Academy in Helena, Cumberland Mountain near Crossville, and Pleasant Hill Academy in Pleasant Hill.  Given the locations of these schools, it’s easy to understand the urgency the community felt to secure a full four-year school right at home.  In 1927 their dream was realized when Clarkrange High School offered ninth through twelfth grades.

It was a small milestone.  Locals had already built a building to house the school in 1924, using free labor and donated materials.  But there were no buses and unlike Pleasant Hill Academy which had dormitories for both male and female students, Clarkrange was strictly a day-school which presented a significant problem for students living more than a few miles away.   The school would have to maintain an enrollment of sixteen students to remain open.

1938 Geometry Class Picture taken on the steps of the old high school building. Wasn't it a neat idea that they sat in a triangle since they were studying geometry?

1938 Geometry Class
Picture taken on the steps of the old high school building.
Wasn't it a neat idea that they sat in a triangle since they were studying geometry?

Clarkrange had a high school, now the community turned its attention to keeping the school.  It seems obvious to mention that prospective high school students would have to have successfully completed the eighth grade; however, it was actually difficult to find sixteen students who met that qualification.  Some of the smaller schools were struggling to even keep their doors open; remember from Mr. Hall’s story that he had to finish his eighth grade year at a new school because Roslin closed due to lack of a teacher.  Moreover, the farms were spread from Roslin to Campground and Grimsely to Rinnie.  Even those farms that could spare a child from the labor intensive work had no means to transport them to the school.  Those people living close enough to the school quickly saw that they would have to board students in order to keep their school.  Homes were opened and board was earned by helping in the home and on the farm.  The students were all accustomed to hard work and realized the golden opportunity they had been given; they worked willingly for their sponsoring families.  This practice would last at least into the early 1940’s before transportation was available to bring students in each day.

I don’t know (and would love for some of you to enlighten me if you have this information) how students would have known where they could find a room but I suspect that since the whole community was so eager to see this succeed that there was a very active grapevine that would send a student along to the right people. 

This recruiting and boarding plan certainly brought new blood into the community.  Mr. Denton Little, who would teach for many years in both the high school as well as several of the area elementary schools, would meet his wife Bessie as she boarded with Oscar Turner’s family.  Mr. Little always remembered the first time he ever saw her as she was sitting on their second story porch when he passed by.  Bessie and her sister Fonzie hailed from Byrdstown but met and married in Clarkrange and raised families there.  The schools were also bringing in teachers from distant communities; Denton Little’s family had come just one generation earlier to teach as did Mr. Harry Martin who moved in from Sale Creek, Tennessee.  These single teachers were also boarding with local residents.

Clarkrange High School faithfully trained the leaders of the community and the county.  It trained doctors and veterinarians who would return to Clarkrange to care for their neighbors and their neighbors’ stock.  It trained the teachers that would continue the tradition.  It taught the men and women who served in all sorts of capacities during World War II for the cause of freedom – during the war years, they even offered classes in aeronautics!

The little schoolhouse the community built themselves lasted until the early sixties when a modern building replaced it a few miles north.  By then a fleet of buses ensured that any child in Fentress County would be transported to one of the county’s high schools.  There were modern facilities and new education standards for the teachers.  But the community’s pride had not changed, they were still proud they had kept their school. 

1961 Faculty on the steps of the original Clarkrange High School building. This would have been the last faculty in that building as the school moved to the new building in the fall of 1962.

1961 Faculty on the steps of the original Clarkrange High School building.
This would have been the last faculty in that building as the school moved to the new building in the fall of 1962.

In just a few short years, Clarkrange High School will be one hundred years old - I certainly hope a celebration is planned.  Of course none of those original supporters are around to join the celebration, but their stories remain. We still hear about the men and women who wanted an education bad enough to leave home and to work hard to achieve it.  And we as a community are still dedicated to keeping our school.

Lasting Lessons


Elbert Hall

A couple of weeks ago I posted a picture of a young man with a team of mules and promised more details to come.  Today I want to deliver on that promise and tell you a little about Mr. Elbert Hall whose ambition and perseverance could inspire us all.

Many readers will remember Mr. Hall as a school teacher in both the elementary and high schools at Clarkrange as well as the surrounding communities’ elementary schools.  As with most men of his generation, there is so very much more to this man. 

He was born in Roslin, one of four boys, and grew up on the typical subsistence farm that we are so familiar with on the mountain.  He says they lived in Roslin, “Until we were old enough to work for ourselves.”  That very beginning seems novel through our twenty-first century eyes.  These families were raising men and those young men accepted both the challenge and the responsibility for their own future.  He and his brothers attended the Roslin Elementary School until it closed for lack of a teacher.  The family was unable to send all four boys  to school and the elder two sacrificed their own education to provide for Elbert and Jack.  So, when many students would have taken the hard winter months off, Elbert and Jack Hall rode horses four miles to Longbranch School; that allowed Elbert to get an eighth grade diploma which would be the sum total of most educations at the time. 

In fact, this young man set off as so many others did with eighth grade diploma in hand, to find work.  He went to Toledo, Ohio, however, after just four months he knew that was not where he wanted to stay and he came home with the intent of going to high school.  Now, the Halls’ home in Roslin is just about ten miles from the site of the old Clarkrange High School, but without buses and certainly without a family car and fuel to deliver a child to school each morning, Mr. Hall had to find a place to stay closer to the school.  He found that right on the corner of what is now Highway 127 and Highway 62 with the Irvin Peters family.

Mr. Peters agreed to keep this student for the price of farm work.  It was a good deal for all that Elbert Hall had to bargain with was his own two hands.  He cared for the Peters’ livestock and did general chores on the farm in exchange for a room and board - and he saw this as his “chance”.  His ambition didn’t end when he secured a means to finish his high school education.  When he was sixteen, he worked for his brother and made a crop as well as hauling cross ties and lumber during that same year.  The following year, he bought his own team of mules and a wagon and took a logging job.  He notes that public school lasted only six months per year so that allowed him a good opportunity to work the other half of the year.  The picture we have is of that team of mules and what a proud young man he must have been for he had truly accomplished something in owning them.


With four years of high school completed and another diploma in hand, Mr. Hall set his sights on further education and went to Murfreesboro to attend Middle Tennessee State University in 1933.  After four quarters he was eligible for a teaching position.  He returned home to serve the next thirty-three years as a teacher in both the high school as well as seven area elementary schools. 

In 1939 Mr. Hall bought a farm which he would operate the entire time he was teaching, and beyond.  He would serve as a county commissioner, secretary and treasurer of his local church and member of three Masonic branch lodges.  All of these titles speak to the man’s dedication to his community as well as a willingness to continually work hard.  I wish I could ask him when he was inspired to teach, but even without his input, it doesn’t seem hard to imagine that with a limited number of role models, he had to have understood the power teachers have to inspire the children.

The beginning of this story is all too common among our people – born to an impoverished community, raised to hard work and expected to make it on-your-own from an early age. He would have been every bit as respectable if he’d stayed in a factory in Toledo without a high school education.  His family would have loved him just as much if he’d continued driving a team delivering logs and cross ties.   But he caught sight of a dream, he simply refused to accept mediocrity and he was willing to work as hard as necessary to overcome it.  He did not receive a large inheritance, nor was he given any unique opportunities.  He sought out his own prospects and when he was given a chance he did not squander it. 

That is an inspiration to me today, over one hundred years since his birth.  I wonder if any of his students in the 1940’s and 1950’s were able to understand what this man had gone through in order to stand before them and teach?  And again I stress that his story is not unique.  Most of the teachers of that era came to the classroom through similar adversity, in fact the doctors and businessmen of the day also tread comparable paths to success.  Tom Brokaw called the World War II generation “The Greatest Generation” and Elbert Hall seems a perfect example of what made them great and what we ought to remember about that generation to continue an American legacy of greatness.