The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Stored Treasures - from the Recollections of a Son of Bransom Benton

By Pat Hadley Davis © 1990

Issue: July, 1990

On a cold crisp January morning a stately old home is seen glistening in the early morning sun. It seems to stand there among its various out buildings waiting for the return of the noise and hustle of a family of years gone by.

This old house is different from the other houses that dot the landscape of these Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina. The house does once again hear the voices and laughter of the family it sheltered two generations ago. Each year, in early autumn, the children of yesteryear return. They come in bright colored late model autos, many with out-of-state license, bearing children and grandchildren in their arms. They want to share this heritage with the generations that never knew the first generation in the home that sits in this peaceful valley.

One of the sons shared some memories and told of the good life that they had. Memories of how they were able to make the most of what they had and prosper.

The first owners came as a young family in 1918 to establish a home for their children. Seven children in 1918, the family grew to twelve children over the years. It was a land of plenty. It held timber and the pastures yielded plenty of feed for the stock. The land was good, but it took back breaking work and long years of toil to bring it to where it is today.

The years saw many events that made the lives of these sturdy mountain people change from year to year. The depression years the government leased a portion of some adjoining land to construct a Civilian Conservation Corps camp. The young men that lived in poverty in the depressed areas of the cities during those years were sent to the camp to show them a way to make a living and teach them a trade. They were put in this mountain setting to help them learn to survive as the inhabitants had learned. Remnants of the CCC Camp can be seen as you travel an old road known as Jones Creek road near the farm.

Over the years the farm prospered. Cattle grew fat in the lush pastures. There was always four or five milk cows to furnish milk and butter for the growing family. Fifty stands of bees stood near the home and many others were kept up in the mountains. There were apple and peach orchards. In some years as many as six hogs each weighing close to five hundred pounds were killed. Chickens, ducks, turkeys, and guineas populated the farm yard. The guineas serving as a built in security guard with their squawk to warn of strangers approaching. No insecticides were necessary with the guineas devouring any bugs in sight.

Crops were raised that were essential for feeding the family of twelve children and two adults. Forty to fifty acres were tilled each year to provide garden space. The gardens were plowed with a team of mules until 1939 when the first tractor was purchased. They cut and sold timber out of the mountains high above the home place.

There were three hundred acres purchased in 1918, other purchases of adjoining land increased the acreage to seven hundred acres. New land was acquired and turkey production was taken on. During the years of turkey production there were three to six thousand turkeys at a time on the range being raised for market.

There was a cannery on the farm. It had three furnaces in it. It was equipped with the cookers to prepare the fruits and vegetables grown on the farm. It was not the usual type of home canning. The food was processed and put in cans, much like canned goods seen in the grocery stores of today. The food was cooked in the cans. A lid with a small hole in the middle was soldered on the can. The small hold allowed steam to escape during the cooking process. When the cooking was complete and the steam escaped, the cans were "tipped." That is, the hold was soldered to complete the process.

Remnants of the activity that took place on the farm remain in the out buildings that still stand. The vats used in the cannery, old iron pots, mason jars with zinc lids, some still containing blackberries, kraut and lard; an old cider mill, a spinning wheel, a hand cranked seed cleaner, a honey extractor, a lard press, and old copper still.

Evidence of the flood in 1916 that turned springs and streams into raging rivers still dots the landscape. A tannery situated on this land was washed away in the 1916 flood. An engine and a boiler left over from that tannery stood there until it was sold for scrap iron in 1937. Traces of a long tan bark shed can be seen. Bark was hauled out from the mountains on wagons pulled by mule teams.

The brick from the tannery that remained after the flood was salvaged years later. The underpinnings of some of the buildings situated on the farm were made of the old brick left from the tannery buildings.

Life in these mountains was not dull. There were the social events that took place. The Bean Stringings and Corn Shuckings when the crop was harvested was an annual affair. The beans were piled in rows twenty feet long. The corn needing to be shucked and put in the barn for winter feed would be piled high in front of the barn. The neighbors from far and wide looked forward to the word that someone needed help with their beans and corn.

Neighbors and friends knew how it was done, throwing the corn in one direction and the husk in another. When the huge piles of corn began to dwindle the participants knew the fun was about to begin. There was always a gallon jug of corn liquor at the bottom of the pile to be shared with all the comers. The "Papa" of the family knew how to mix just a small amount of wine with the good whiskey to make his special recipe he called "Dominecker."

The first electric power the home place had was powered by a Delco thirty-two volt system. When Duke Power pulled in to the area all their electrical appliances had to be changed due to the change in voltage.

Before the advent of electricity the wash was done by boiling the clothes in two large black pots. They made their own lye soap. Hominy was made by the bushel; all done in those two black iron pots.

After electricity a Maytag wringer washer was purchased. The washboard went by the wayside. One of the boys, fascinated with the new appliance, decided to explore its workings and got his arm caught in the wringer. The usual problems that mothers have with the inquisitive sons were multiplied by the seven sons that were raised in the home.

Family stories are told and retold when the family has their annual reunion; the story of the ancestor who went to a neighbor's home to borrow a horse to get the doctor for his family who were all down with the "fever." The neighbor was not at home so he borrowed the horse anyway. He was hung for being a horse thief. So the story goes. They still wonder if the story is true and if he was the one that is buried in a cemetery on Highway 115.

The homeplace is owned by one of the sons of the original owners. The pastures still feed cattle, the garden still grows vegetables; tended with loving care by the son who lives nearby.

The old home, perfectly preserved, sits and waits for the autumn day when life returns once again. Perhaps a grandchild will remember his grandparents coming back to the home place on an autumn day to honor the memory of the family who settled this valley. That grandchild may grow weary of the modern day hustle and bustle. He may seek tranquility and feel a need to seek his roots. His roots are here.

The Benton home place, like the mountains that surround it stand silently awaiting the return of a family to once again begin a new life. Perhaps a great-grandchild will come. It waits.