Tennessee Mountain Stories

Subdivisions in 1900

Subdivision House in Dayton.jpg

If you’ve been visiting TennesseeMountainStories.com for very long, you know I’m fascinated by old architecture.  Back in 2015 I shared a whole series are articles about historic homes here.  Well you can imagine how my ears perked up when some friends mentioned a new house they’ve bought in Dayton, Tennessee.  It was built in 1900.  As I looked at the pictures and tried not to covet them actually living IN an antique, I commented this must have been an old farmhouse.  “Does it still have any acreage with it?” I asked.  When they answered no I said, “Well it would have originally.”  I was wrong.

It’s part of a subdivision of other homes built at the turn of the 20th century.  Now subdivision is a word I associate with the move to the suburbs that began in the 1950’s, encouraged by growing industrialization, improving roadways and the addition of the family car to most homes.

However, I did remember in my genealogical research that I’d seen census records even in the 1800’s noting subdivisions.  Could these be the same creatures that are eating up vast farmlands across the country, even across the Plateau?  Well, not exactly…

By definition a subdivision is the act of dividing property into smaller tracts.  Even now you can find property subdivided into property measured by the feet on up to hundred acre lots.  In fact, you might think of the Cumberland Homesteads that we’ve talked about here before, as a subdivision.  In that case the government bought over 20,000 acres, allocated several acres in the center for the creation of a town then divided out small farms.

Today subdivisions will be developed by a single company who may establish infrastructure as well as residential rules for the community.  Well the subdivision in 1900 would have looked very different I imagine.  Remember that TVA didn’t stretch power lines across Tennessee until the 1930’s so no developers were laying in underground power grids.  Paved roadways were unheard of small-town-America (the first mile of pavement was laid in Michigan in 1909).  And as for those deed covenants that prohibit animals, most folks kept at least a horse in 1900 – remember that Henry Ford didn’t introduce his Model T until 1908.

So, contrary to this country girl’s assumptions, neighborhoods were being planned and built all those years ago.  Now many of these homes still stand as testimony to their quality construction and a new generation moves in to create memories and stories to be told to generations to come.

Canned Sausage

I received a wonderful gift a few weeks ago and I’ve been meaning to tell y’uns about it.


Brother George met my husband in the parking lot at church one Sunday morning and handed him a quart jar.  “What’s that? He asked” 

George just grinned and said, “Beth’ll know.”

Well I did!  It was canned sausage and I had not had any since my grandpa Stepp last killed a hog – and I can’t even count how many years that’s been since he’s been home in heaven for the past 30 years.  I well remember Grandma canning the stuff and having it both on the pantry shelf as well as the breakfast table.  But somehow I forgot how good it tastes.  I went back to church and reported to Brother George that it was the best sausage I’d ever eaten – and I was really being honest with him.

Okay, so how many of you have ever imagined putting meat in a jar or ever seen it done? 

It’s kind of a foreign concept to us these days what with the easily available fresh and frozen meats.  But if you’ve ever wintered on salted pork you can appreciate the value of meat that was cooked within a day of coming off the hoof (we’ve really got to talk about hog killin’s sometime, don’t we?).  For those of you who have never eaten much salt pork let me tell you that I don’t care for it.  Old folks that were accustomed to eating it seem very partial to the taste but I find it overwhelming. 


Of course sausage by its very nature has a lot of spice in it, but somehow cooking it when it’s truly fresh seals in a special flavor.  And it’s so well preserved that I don’t think it ages as badly as cured pork which tends to taste a little old after about 6 months.  I didn’t test this canned sausage on aging – it didn’t have a chance to sit on the shelf for very long.

Canned sausage is the simplest thing in the world.  You want to start with good, clean jars – that’s the secret to successfully canning most anything.  Then you roll your fresh sausage into balls – I can’t tell you why you roll it up, seems like it would do just as well if you made patties but I’ve never seen it any other way than in balls.  Cook the sausage balls completely done, saving all of the grease that cooks off.  Dip out the balls into the clean jars leaving a good inch of head room.  Then pour in a good helping of the grease – I don’t want to say fill the jar but the more the better I suppose.  So if you just distribute the grease among all the jars you’re filling that should be a good measure.  Seal ‘em up and turn them upside down to cool.  That’s the neatest part because not only is the jar sealed with the pressure created from the vacuum inside the jar, but also by the congealed grease.

“Potting” meat is an ancient method of preservation – although it’s awfully hard to find any information out about it.  Of course it’s not considered safe by the government officials who tell us what we should and should not do / eat / think but the French are still doing it.  From what I can discover, congealed grease seals out air.  So if you submerge cooked meat beneath a good layer of the stuff it will keep.  I’ve mentioned before that there were many modern conveniences my family embraced and never looked back – self-sealing lids and mason jars were two of those newfangled gadgets that absolutely replaced the old-ways.

The Dainty Lady's Hanky


If I can find a subject to write on that allows me to open with a quote from Gone with the Wind it always seems like a winner. Well, here goes…

Rhett Butler says to Scarlett as he tries to tell her he’s leaving, “Here take my handkerchief.  Never, at any crisis of your life, have I known you to have a handkerchief.”

Not long ago at all, men always had a handkerchief to lend to a weeping lady.   But a lady had one too – Scarlett O’Hara being the exception to lots of these rules.  In Victorian days – when a lady always wore long sleeves during daytime hours – you could tuck your hanky in your sleeve.  At home you could always carry one in your apron pocket (as we established last week, aprons were a regular part of a lady’s attire) or of course you could carry it in your reticule. 

A ladies handkerchief was often a beautiful creation.  They were a means of showing off your skill with a needle, a delicate yet practical accessory that could be matched to your clothing, and even an olfactory shield.  Hankies were often scented by storing them with floral sachets or perfume if you could afford it.  Then whenever you passed by particularly unpleasant odors you could just gently hold it up to your nose and inhale those sweet smells instead of the world around you.  Now remember that our ancestors didn’t bathe nearly as often as we do, had fewer products for odor control and cities actually had open sewage running beside their streets. 


All of this came to mind when an elderly aunt passed along to me some of her hankie collection.  A couple were modern creations with commercially printed flowers or pictures.  A couple had beautiful floral embroidery – whether by hand or machine I can’t tell.  My favorite in the collection has a tatted edge around a simple white square.  This one has received a lot of use and is actually worn through in 3 different places.  But I just love it!  Maybe it’s the hand-made edging (for I don’t think you can tatt on a machine, can you?) or maybe it’s the simple elegance of white and lilac.  But I think it’s probably my favorite because my sweet little aunt chose it again and again until the center wore completely out.

Do you have memories of your mother or grandmother with a hankie in her hand?  Do you remember those scenes in the old movies when an elegant leading lady waved a hanky to her departing lover or whipped one out to catch a falling tear?

Aprons - fashion and utility

Apron Collection.jpg

It wasn’t too many years ago that every woman doing any kind of domestic work wore an apron.  Clothes were scarce, laundry difficult and household chores were often quite messy.  Aprons were such a practical part of femininity that grandma’s apron was just a part of her – no one questioned it.  They wore them until they were threadbare, adding patches to places that gave way to a burn or constant rubbing – whether on tables or the wash board.  And they were beautiful.  Aprons were made from sack cloth or leftovers – although I’ve rarely seen one made out of patchwork except the modern versions.

 A Modern Apron Creation - quilted patchwork

A Modern Apron Creation - quilted patchwork

We don’t wear aprons too much anymore.  Of course we don’t cook quite as much as previous generations did either, do we?  And we have so many modern conveniences that maybe we are able to be a little neater in the kitchen (well I’m sure you are all neater in the kitchen, can’t really claim that myself!).  And, I suppose that the ease with which we launder clothes, and the number of outfits we have hanging in our closets make us a little less concerned with spills and spots.  But can you imagine how valuable the scrap of fabric tied around your waist would have been to previous generations?

In Replacing Ann I opened with Winnie in tears because she’d torn her only decent dress – and it was a pitifully faded rag.  This is the very kind of garment you’d want swathe in a protective layer.  

We’ve often talked in our stories about how rare and precious pictures were to earlier generations so women would usually have on their best clothes and certainly not their working apron when they posed for a photographer.  Therefore it’s sometimes hard for me to get a good image of the aprons.  But some of them got handed down – and mothers made aprons for daughters both while they were at home and when they moved to their own homes.  So some of those aprons have survived – and what treasures they are now.

Recently my 102-year-old Great Aunt Willie gave me a little apron she’d made – and used – many years ago.  As she did she said, “Grandmother Livesay always wore an apron.”  Willie may have forgotten how often I saw HER in an apron.  And when my little Ruthie wrapped up in this one it made reminded me that this humble accessory needed to be documented.

Apron on Roberta.jpg

My Aunt Roberta kind of collects aprons and it was her collection that supplied the pictures for today’s article.  She has old aprons, “Mom may have made this one,” she noted as we looked through the stack.  And she has aprons she’s made recently which of course she shares her with all of us.  And so the tradition continues I suppose.


Two Fellers Under One Sled

This article will bring us to the end of Callie Melton’s book “Pon my Honor”.  I hope you’ve enjoyed them as much as I have. 

Farm Sled.jpg

Old man Johnson had a boy named Henery that was a might funny.  He was a big raw-boned and slow-footed boy.  And to make matters worse, when he got to the age for his voice to change it started and then stopped smack dab in the middle of the process.  So Henery always talked two ways.  He’d start out in a fine little boy’s voice, then he’d wind up in a big coarse man’s voice.

Folks would always have a heap of fun about the way Henery talked.  But it was all good-natured fun and not making light, for everbody knowed that it was a sin to make light of anybody’s afflictions.

One day his Pappy started Henery out in the sled to gather some nubbins for cow feed.  On the way to the field, Henery had to go down this little steep place, and the old mule got scared when the sled bumped his hind legs, so he just up and run away.  He run so fast that he run over a big rock and turned the sled over on Henery.  Then he broke loose from the sled and just kept right on going.

It knocked all the wind out of Henery when the sled turned over on him, but as soon as he could get his breath back, he started hollering for help.  He just wore hisself out, so he had to stop to rest.  While he was resting he heard somebody coming down the road, so commenced hollering again.  “Help! Help!” he yelled in his fine little boy’s voice, and then “Get me out! Get me out!” in his big coarse man’s voice.

Now the man who was passing by the sled was a stranger in these here parts, so he didn’t know about Henery and his two voices.  The man listened a couple of time, looked at the heavy sled, and then said, “Well, iffen two o’ ye’ can’t lift that sled, what do you’ens ‘pect me to do?”

And with that the man went on down the road, leaving Henery hollering his head off.