Tennessee Mountain Stories

Margaret’s Faith - what's it all about?

Last week I officially introduced Margaret’s Faith to you.  Today I thought I’d share some of the story with you…


Margaret Book Cover ART.jpeg

Margaret Elmore reads every printed word she can find.  She longs to see the glamorous and adventure-filled world that she’s read about.  But in 1863, her father is trying to keep his family out of the way of two warring armies.  That means staying close to home on their farm on Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau. 

Then one October morning Union soldier Philip Berai wanders onto the farm.  Lawrence Elmore’s first thought is to protect the family and home from a possible raiding party.  But this lone soldier turns out to be a danger to only one member of the family, Margaret.  He weaves a story of emigrating from Italy with a dream of building a great fortune.  Eighteen year old Margaret is mesmerized and when Philip leaves a few days later, she runs after him.

Margaret turns a blind eye to the differences in this man’s values and her family’s.  She ignores God’s gentle prodding.

They marry and travel together to Chicago where Philip was living with his brother before the war.  When they arrive, Margaret quickly realizes there is little glamour in this city life.  But she has been raised to hard work and devotion to family.  Without question, she begins to make a home for her new husband. 

I hope you will enjoy walking with Margaret from northern Cumberland County, Tennessee to Chicago, Illinois. You will taste the life on a borderland farm – caught between two warring armies as the people of the Plateau were during The Civil War.   You may even feel the internal battle Margaret wages when her eyes are finally opened to her situation.  Can you identify with her struggle to find joy in the things the world considers desirable? Maybe there’s been a time when you’ve had to face The Lord and admit you rebelled against His will for your life.

You will see a young woman among evil surroundings trying to live a godly life.  And you will see her begin to bloom where she is planted.


Isoline Campbell namesake of Isoline, Tennessee

Isoline Campbell

Isoline Campbell

I am really excited about today’s article because the source is YOU – one of my readers.  Thank you Dee for sending me the information you found about R.O. Campbell and his daughter Isoline. 

Just as an aside, Dee’s email was particularly exciting because my vision for this blog would be a conversation among readers in the comments of the stories.  I have a little bit of information and knowledge – ya’ll have tons of it!  The trick is for us to all share it, and that’s how we can preserve this precious oral history.

Richard Orme Campbell was a wealthy Atlanta business man who started the Campbell Coal Company in 1884 (according to http://tomitronics.com/old_buildings/aunt%20fanny/index.html#isoline).  He built the business into the south’s largest coal company with mines in Tennessee and Kentucky.  We know that one of those mines was in North Cumberlad County. 

Orme’s oldest child was named Isoline, and the mine and surrounding community was surely named in her honor. It is interesting to note that Orme, Tennessee had already been established in Marion County, Tennessee where a mine had been established in 1892 and Mr. Campbell purchased it in 1902.

I never thought about the origin of the name Isoline but when I read it as a lady’s Christian name it was certainly new to me.  Turns out, the name is French in origin; an 1888 play portrayed a Princess Isoline.  The Orme family (R.O. Campbell’s maternal family) has some roots in France so Isoline may well have been the name of a beloved family member. 

Isoline Campbell grew up among Atlanta’s elite crowd and during her Grand Tour, she witnessed the German invasion of Brussels in 1914.  The experience changed her perspective on life, if not her very life. When she returned to Atlanta, she was more focused on service than society and she founded the Junior League of Atlanta.  This organization was purposed to, “[do] some good for the needy of Atlanta and [foster] among members interest in the community’s social, economic and educational conditions.”

One of the questions I posed last week was where the Cumberland Plateau Railroad was going when it ran from Isoline to Campbell Junction.  According to Duke’s Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading, & Logging ({Paducah: Turner, 2003), Campbell built the Isoline spur line between 1900 and 1902.  The first trains arrived in Crossville in 1897 so the Tennessee Central line from Monterey to Crossville was already passing through the area that would become Campbell Junction.  So the Cumberland Plateau Railroad was connecting to that existing TC mainline.

Mr. Duke’s book also notes that Isoline had hotels, boarding houses, store and numerous businesses.  If any of you ever run upon any pictures of this booming Isoline, I’d love to see them for I had no idea it was anything like that thriving description.

There is no description of Campbell Junction and I’m still wondering whether that end of the spur line built up as much.  At least it had staying-power for there is still an operating post office at Campbell Junction and Isoline was long ago absorbed into Crossville’s postal community.

After 53 years in business, the Campbell Coal Company dissolved in 1962.  The mines at Isoline had played out by the mid-1920’s and the spur line tracks were pulled up in 1939.


UPDATE:  4/10/16

A reader graciously shared the following article from 1914 about Isoline Campbell - she and I thought you might enjoy it.

Railroad Ghost Town

Campbell Junction Depot From Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading, & Logging (Duke, Turner Publishing, Paducah, KY 2003)

Campbell Junction Depot
From Tennessee Coal Mining, Railroading, & Logging (Duke, Turner Publishing, Paducah, KY 2003)

A little over a year ago I wrote a guest blog for AppalachianHistory.net on ghost towns.  I got to thinking about this subject again this week; I’ll try not to repeat that previous post since you can click over and read it on that site.  However, I’m very fascinated by the changing communities and wanted to mention it here.

If you’ve spent much time tramping around our woods, you will have happened upon groups of foundation rocks that tell you there was once several homes in an area.  Or, maybe your family stories include tales from Key Town or Hood Town but Google Maps gives you no indication where they may be located.  These are the ghost towns I’m referring to.

We think of ghost towns out West where you can drive through and visit clusters of empty buildings abandoned when the gold or silver mine played out.  If you drive through our familiar mining town of Wilder you won’t see many old buildings.  I guess that’s thanks to our much more humid climate that quickly weakens abandoned buildings.  I understand that in the arid west you can leave houses or wooden wagons and such sitting outside for years without much noticeable deterioration.

I’ve mentioned that I’m preparing to speak to a fund raiser for the Monterey Depot Museum and it is that railroad research that brought Isoline to mind.  In reading a timeline of the Tennessee Central Railroad, I learned that in 1901 the TC purchased the Cumberland Plateau Railroad which ran from Campbell Junction to Isoline.  Now I knew that Isoline had been a busy spot in the early years of the twentieth century.  A big logging operation and a coal mine drew people to the area. 

There was a post office in Isoline from 1901 until 1935. Yet today, driving north out of Crossville on Highway 127, only the Isoline Baptist Church will tell you when you’ve entered the community.  As the state exercises its power of eminent domain and moves out houses in preparation for the widened highway, I wonder if even that little church will survive to remind us of this once thriving community.

An internet search for Isoline returns almost nothing.  There was one entry from roadsidethoughts.com that actually asked for input.  I sent them what I know which you can see is precious little.

If the TC bought the spur line in 1901, I wonder where that line was going prior to the the Monterey – Crossville – Emery Gap line that the TC built. 

Campbell Junction is a new community name for me, but I did find it on Google Maps in the Mayland area.  I know that whole area was big log country but I’m not sure what would join up just there to create the junction.  Yet this community still has had their own post office since 1858.

There are lots of factors that change where people live, work and do business.  Roads are a big factor as we’ve seen since the interstate highways were built almost sixty years ago.  It’s both charming and heartbreaking to drive down the state highways and see the old motels and stores which used to cater to travelers that are now routed far from the small towns.  Monterey is another great example; the railroad brought great industry to the town but without it, the commercial center of the county has shifted down the mountain to Cookeville.  I suppose there's a good possibility that both Isoline and Campbell Junction are similar victims.  When their logs and coal played out there was little to keep the population centered there.  We’ve certainly seen the same thing happen in the “rust belt” where population surged for automotive jobs and as those jobs moved overseas the people and their money also left.

There is certainly history in these two communities and I long to know it.  As so often seems to happen, I’m left with more questions than answers on this subject.  I love to write about these mysteries because I’m always hoping one of you readers will have information that you’re willing to share.  If you know more about Isoline, please be sure to click comments below and tell me what you know.


Cumberland Homesteads

No discussion of historic homes on The Cumberland Plateau would be complete without a mention of The Homesteads.  Much has been written about this program, and I’ll try to provide some links at the end if you want to know more.  They are lovely homes and I stopped by the Homestead House Museum to get a look inside.

Between 1934 and 1938, two hundred-fifty homesteads were built just south of Crossville, Tennessee.  One of President Roosevelt’s New Deal programs, The Cumberland Homesteads was just one of dozens of Roosevelt towns.  The original vision was a village surrounded by twenty to thirty acre farms which would serve to house and educate a starving Appalachian populace.  While they left a series of picturesque farms, the program itself wasn’t overly successful.

The government believed that the mountain people were in distress due to ignorance and if they could educate these people then their poverty would disappear.  Therefore, the families who acquired these properties signed on to a rigorous program that required them to report their every action to the overseers.  Those directors would tell the farmers what would be planted (and when) in each field they tilled.  Not surprisingly, the independent mountaineers did not take to this plan very readily. 

There was constant turn-over and after just four years the funding was ended and the homesteads given over to those farmers who could secure independent financing to pay off the loan.  Sadly, the families had not been given a final price when they began the program; they were simply told they would work a certain number of hours and make a certain monthly payment.  The acceptance of these terms no doubt speaks to the desperate economic condition for none of us would agree to them now, would we?

A wood-framed village was erected to support the logistics of the building but this was demolished in preparation for a permanent downtown which was never completed.  The focal point of the city center would be a tower surrounded by a cross-shaped building.  This was intended to house the administrative offices and in the tower was a water tank topped by a lookout platform.  Fire towers were very common in that day and this platform allowed a clear view of nearly all the homesteads.  Today, Homestead School sits adjacent to the tower, but it was originally located in a wooden structure on another site. 

The homes were built on eleven repeating plans, as well as a few unique plans.  The architect, William Macy Stanton, lived onsite in one of the first and unique homes.  He was responsible for designing not just the floor plans but the farm, roads and community buildings.  The houses were built almost entirely with indigenous materials by both local labor and the homesteaders themselves.  As families arrived, they would initially occupy one of the completed barns and moved into the Crab-Orchard-stone homes as they were finished. 

Inside, the houses have a hand-pumped well in the kitchen that fills a holding tank located in the attic.  Some of the designs allow you to fill a bucket right from the pump while others only allow water access from the actual sink tap.  The houses do have indoor bathrooms, although that was not originally planned.  However, Eleanor Roosevelt, who no doubt enjoyed the indoor plumbing in the White House, felt that everyone should have an indoor bathroom.  Therefore, the architect re-drew his plans, carving out enough space for a small restroom.  The locations of these are interesting because we usually see plans with centrally located plumbing.  However, the bathrooms in these houses are well away from the kitchen, the hand pump, and the holding tank.  In the museum, the bathroom seems to have borrowed space from the dining room and the master bedroom.

The houses are generally three bedrooms, with one being downstairs and two bedrooms located atop a narrow staircase.  The stairs are open in some plans, but the museum’s floor plan has an enclosed staircase that is really quite dark and steep.  The beautiful beaded pine paneling has aged to a golden-red, and the beauty of the local stone is continued inside with fireplaces designed as the center of the living space.  Many of the plans have two chimneys to accommodate both the fireplace and a wood burning cook-stove in the kitchen.

The museum is furnished with 1930’s era furniture – and even vintage clothing in the closets!  The bedrooms are small by our standards today, but the full-sized beds and straight backed chairs are perfectly proportioned for the rooms. 

I visited on a warm and breezy day and while the horizon today is dotted with modern homes, the beauty of the distant mountains remains.  It is easy to imagine rising with the sun to begin a farmer’s day and being greeted by such a landscape.  These families had so little when they arrived from all over the Cumberland Plateau.  These homes would have been mansions compared to the shacks that many left.  In fact, the families did not complain when asked to first live in the new barns – they were new and well-built; the families made do quite nicely in them for a short period of time.

A government agent remained on-site until 1946 and the turn-over of homesteads continued.  As World War II drew to a close, returning veterans were promised priority in getting the homesteads.  This brought in a new wave of families eager to carve out a home and living from The Plateau.

It’s so easy to live right down the road from an amazing piece of history and never really see it first hand.  I want to encourage you to get out and visit The Homestead.  The museum at the tower and the open house both offer a wealth of information.  Even a simple drive through the community is a joy.

Here are a few links if you want to read more about the Homesteada and their history:

Great pictures from the 1930's including original pictures of homestead houses.