Old Chimneys, Outbuildings The stories They Could Tell
Barns of Appalachia
Stones and Mud Old Chimneys are Reminders of History and Heritage
If one drives the rural roads of the Carolina's, remnants of old chimneys, barns and outbuildings can often be seen. They remain as reminders of the days when most earned their living tilling the soil and lived off the land. Family homes were heated by wood and drew warmeth by the love of family. I love seeing the old tobacco barns in Madison County, many which are now falling into a state of disrepair through neglect and are no longer used.Within my own community there are remnants of log corn cribs. Chimneys that were built out of native stone, some harvested from new ground and freshly cleared fields. Each stone carefully placed and daubed with slime ever so carefully remain as staunch reminders of the pioneering spirit of our forebears.
Timbers cut and sawed in local mills were used to construct the farmhouses, barns and outbuildings. Locust posts now hard as steel provided support for the structures and seem impervious to termites and bore bees. The locusts posts in my barn are almost 100 years old. The boards, like most have long turned gray but have withstood wind and rain, heat and cold.
I am especially fond of the old chimneys which stand as relics; not of nobility or a hierarchy disdained by commoners as are the castles of Scotland or Ireland but these possess a nostalgia and a grandeur speaking volumes of the character and hands that built them.. There are many in the area of Western North Carolina where I live, one is only a couple of miles up Green River Road where me and my family live. It is the only tangible evidence of the home once occupied by the Cyrus Ward family. It is work of art and the stones remain as solid in place as the day the chimney was erected. I recall speaking to a family member who lived in the old house before it was destroyed by fire. "My daddy burned many a cord of wood in that old fireplace trying to keep the family warm on cold winter nights."
Another old chimney stands near the bend of the Green River on the Freeman property where once a stately old house stood. The house had been built by one of this areas most prominent families. Like most of the chimneys which remain, this one is made of local stone and in today's economy and union scale artisans who do stone work, it would have cost a fortune just to build. I am also reminded of the bygone era and the early settlers who earned a living and fed big families on crops raised on the rich soil. "Rough rations" my grandpa called them staved off hunger and the family always mindful never failed to be thankful before eating that first bite. . Houses were constructed with logs cut from the hills and hewed and fitted in a rustic manner or maybe even built with sawmill lumber with shingles for the roof made of red oak. The primary source of heat and cooking were from the fireplace.
I often think of the large families that lived in our area who were of a hardy pioneer spirit and survivors who used the resources of nature, their ingenuity and wit. Most were farmers who lived off the land growing nearly all their food. Livestock such as cows, pigs, and chickens provided much of their diet along with the wild life that flourished in the mountainous terrain. There was an abundance deer, bear, and small game like squirrels, rabbit, fowls like the wild turkey and quail, most ate pretty good.
In my imagination which sometimes is prone to wander and think on themes of nostalgia, I can also envision these families sitting around the fire place during the evening time and mama lighting the oil lamps soon after the sun had bid a good night to all and has once more set over the tallest of the Blue Ridge peaks. The solitude of dusk brings a close to busy day of hard work. As my mind races, I can hear happy voices singing songs from Sunday worship services or maybe some of the older children studying shaped note music from the latest Stamps-Baxter songbook which had anxiously been looked for in the mail. They will happily teach the younger ones what they have learned.
Mom or dad reading from the Scriptures in the dim light, sometimes reading out loud to the children sitting quietly taking in every word and learning the deep moral and spiritual values from that Blessed Old Book. These truth would govern their lives and conduct as they have in bygone generations. A family altar of prayer would soon follow where loving dads weren't ashamed and talk to God; reverently, humbly and respectfully, just as though He was seated in the room joining the family circle.
My thoughts quickly are diverted to those of a loving mother whose calloused hands which have never known a moment of idleness, now are busy patching a pair of paw's overalls or at her spinning wheel or maybe a set of quilting frames which are spread in preparation of making yarn or patiently sewing intricate patterns on a new quilt to cover the beds of an ever growing family. Occasionally, she smiles as she bends over to gently rock the wooden cradle containing a baby which may have become fretful as darkness settles in the home place. The cradle possibly made by her husband when a whisper in his ear told him the first child was soon to be born. Now more than a piece of furniture, the cradle has held the offspring of a union ordained by God in heaven and a marriage sealed with a lifetime commitment, bound with the cords of unconditional love.
As the time for going to bed arrives, daddy adds wood to the fireplace,maybe a big piece of chestnut sawed with a crosscut saw from one the huge trees that had fallen. These once were so numerous in the Blue Ridge providing a bounty of chestnuts, Boys and girls who had gone barefoot all spring and summer because they had no shoes to wear, had feet so tough, they could hull the burrs on the chestnuts with their feet.. The chestnut tree had all too quickly disappeared from the landscaped leaving only the remains of a once hearty tree in the Western North Carolina mountains to be burned as fuel in the fire place. As good nights are spoken, daddy sweeps the embers or coals of fire that may have popped onto the stone hearth and hangs his thick socks on the mantle.
The old chimneys still stand tall and proud a testament of hardship and trials; if only they could speak, the stories that could be told. They are reminders of days gone by that were difficult. Those who experienced these days, our parents and grandparents, though poor in this worlds goods, imparted a wealth that cannot be measured in bank accounts. They gave us a heritage and values worth keeping. What they gave us is wisdom that comes from experiencing a life well lived which includes hard work, faith in God and a love for one another and our fellowman.
Adding a Bit of History to your home.
It is interesting that wood from old barns have found prominence in the construction of crafts and add a nostagic look to new homes. Boards can be salvaged and with a little work can be made into paneling, picture frames and many other novelty uses. I know one family who took boards from an old barn and did a wainscoting in their living room. Some have taken old timbers to make fireplace mantels. Wormy Chesnut is a favorite for mantels especially when the fireplace is made of native stone.
Another great idea is making a a dining room table from old wood taken from an old barn or farmhouse.