Wednesday, August 5, 2009

To Tennessee and Back and a Bit of History, too

Yesterday was one of those unexpected ambles into new territory. We Ponds like to take day trips whenever possible and lured by the promise of adventure–and antiques (even our boys are in on that act)–and a decent meal, it isn't hard to pry us away from our familiar. With our boys starting school on Monday, we wanted to take the opportunity for a day's jaunt while we could. We decided to avoid the larger interstates so went down Route 27 from Somerset which crosses into the Tennessee mountains and eventually to our destination. Of course it took four and half hours to get there but that included an hour stop for lunch and another bit of time at an antique mall. PHOTO: The Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee is the preserved and well-interpreted site of the infamous Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925.

In Harriman, Tennessee just north of I-40, we stopped to have lunch at an unpretentious place called Steak and Country Restaurant [812 North Roane Street, Highway 27, 865-882-5198]. It was located at an old gas station and I sneered at my husband (but should learn by now, especially with road food, that looks are not everything). However, I'd already turned down two other "Mom and Pop" places just north based on things like no cars in lot, signage and just a general feeling of "uh uh." I also banned Subway (and we must have passed ten of them, even in small towns), son Henry's usual pick, or Sonic, son Eli's, as much as those places are OK in a pinch. [We figured if we didn't find the right lunch spot, there was always reliable Cracker Barrel, which yup, turned out to be right near the I-40 Harriman exit a bit further south.]

Well, pantry friends, let me just tell you that Steak and Country is worthy of a Jane and Michael Stern "Road Food" endorsement. I was immediately heartened by the "No Smoking Allowed" sign on the door (something I took for granted in New England but not so common here). We were relieved, in a way, that their cherry cobbler sold out the day before, but were rewarded and satisfied with our lunch choices. Temple had the hamburger steak with grilled onions and peppers; Eli chose a vast double-cheeseburger and fries that looked pretty darned amazing. Henry wanted to try the luncheon special of roast beef (more like what we know as pot roast in New England), gravy and mashed potatoes while I chose the 3-piece fried chicken plate (I know, the diet thing but remember my new and occasional motto, "make it cheat-worthy") for $6.99. With two sides–coleslaw and corn nuggets–and a square of cornbread, you can't beat the price. [We also made it the main meal of our day as we hadn't bothered with breakfast earlier.]

I admit to often judging a Mom and Pop kind of place by their coleslaw. I've found that no restaurant potato salad has ever compared to my own version, but coleslaw is another thing altogether. Our friendly, welcoming waitress said that a woman drives over from Knoxville (an hour or so east) to buy their coleslaw by the tub. Well, it was easy to taste why: just enough mayo to bind it all together, if any at all, a good infusion of vinegar and just a bit of sweetness. I believe I detected finely minced kale amidst the cabbage and carrot, along with a bit of pepper and onion. Also, the key was in the finely diced vegetables which were able to hold and absorb the lighter dressing. Meanwhile, their delicious corn nuggets were made from small clumps of corn kernels encased in a light, sweet corn bread batter. Their squares of cornbread, however, were a bit dusty–the traditional Southern kind we usually find in restaurants and probably better suited to sopping up bowls of beans or chili.

You are probably thinking, enough food already, where did they actually go? An antique shop in Dayton, Tennessee–Time Worn Treasures–opened in May of this year with the contents of the former Primitive Settlement, an outdoor recreated historic village in Cleveland, Tennessee. The village closed upon the death of the two collector owners and then it went to an estate auction [the original cabins, authentic but relocated, are also for sale]. The shop is only open three days a week but the owners allowed us to come down and see some of their wares yesterday. My husband is interested in old blacksmith equipment and the shop owners, Richard Kinzalow and Kim Swatzell, have the former blacksmith shop set up in theirs.

I found an old bread board from the Settlement's collection as well as a could-not-pass-up black walnut jelly cupboard, made in Tennessee in the mid 19th century. It is a treat for our once and future farmhouse and a bit of a splurge, but in this antiques recession, definitely affordable (well, let's just say we did our annual bit to stimulate the antiques economy). Richard even threw in a blue glass jar of authentic jam, likely blackberry, that had come with the cupboard. Kim says he actually opened and tried some but folks, don't try that at home (while canned and preserved goods have been known to keep for decades, it's not worth the risk of botulism). I will treasure my unopened keepsake jar in the cupboard for all time, with a note attached about when and where we purchased the cupboard. [This time around, my husband had the chance to sneer!] PHOTO: The backside of the jam cupboard has painted writing: "Painted July 21, 1916" However at one point in the last century the paint was removed to restore the original black walnut patina (unless the note meant "stained").

A jam cupboard for Catherine's future farm kitchen...with some original filled jars of jam on the top shelf that were found with it. The cupboard even fit in the back of the Honda Pilot but Temple is returning on Friday with a friend–and our small trailer–to pick up some of the blacksmith equipment he purchased.

And now for the history portion of our blog: I am sorry to say that until yesterday I had only a vague and distant memory of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" of 1925. Let me just take this time to mention that one of several regrets of my high school education is that I was not more attentive in Mr. Ron Ouellette's excellent Civics and Government classes–Mr. Ouellette, if you are reading this, apologies for my note-passing and idle chatting–I was rude, horrible and should have been pilloried. On the way down, I casually mentioned to my husband that Dayton was the location of the 1925 John Scopes "Monkey" Trial. My husband just about cartwheeled the car down the highway. "The SCOPES trial! I have always wanted to see the courthouse where that took place! I can't believe this!" PHOTO: Attorney Clarence Darrow, an atheist, defended John Scopes in the famous trial that pitted Darwin's theories of evolution with Biblical Creationism.

The original jury seats are still used in the courtroom today, which had a very Southern To Killing a Mockingbird kind of air about it.

My husband, you must understand, routinely fills in all of the gaps of my historic and decorative arts background (which includes two degrees in historic-related stuff). I can admit here now, twenty-plus years after the culmination of both degrees, that I'm not sure what I've retained except for the ability to write, reason and question and to read a wide variety of subjects. I also have the mixed blessing of an unprofitable talent for constructive criticism, navigation and map-reading (all which I've had since the age of five). But that's a huge endorsement for a liberal arts education, I suppose, as well as the pleasures of majoring in art history and English literature. PHOTO: The original clock still hangs on the wall of the courtroom at the Rhea County Courthouse in Dayton, Tennessee.

My thirst for knowledge and too many interests has also contributed to an extremely bad case of ADD which has been aggravated in recent years by the addition and continued fine-tuning of the domestic arts and parenting skills. Temple not only remembers historical events, whether lived or read about, but has an uncanny knack for detail and retains facts about things long after he has read about them. [I will proudly note, like some of the smartest people I have known in this world, that my husband does not have any formal higher education. Truth be told, I know many ignorant, narrow-minded people without degrees as well as many ignorant, narrow-minded people who have them. As with everything, it works both ways.]

Our boys were as fascinated with the preserved courthouse on the Dayton town square as we were. Before we spent some time in the famous courtroom upstairs we went through the exhibit, learning more about the famous "Monkey trial" which put public school teacher John Scopes on trial for teaching evolution in school after a Tennessee law banning it (the trial was famously tried by William Jennings Bryan for the prosecution and Clarence Darrow for the defense). Perhaps the most moving thing for all of us was to sit in the actual jury and courtroom chairs still present, and still in use today, on the second floor. The best way to experience history, I always say, is through being in the preserved places and buildings and landscapes of our past. PHOTO: William Jennings Bryan prosecuted John Scopes, who was found guilty of teaching evolution and fined $100. The Southern heat was so intense that some of the trial was held on the courthouse lawn. Bryan died in his sleep in Dayton, only days after the trial ended.

As for Creationism vs. Darwinism, let's just say I believe there is plenty of room for faith-based religion and the theorems and proofs of scientific discovery, as well as a bit of mystery in all realms. Because of yesterday's visit, I am now fascinated to learn more about both schools of thought in light of our modern age and to hopefully help better answer some of the questions of my children, if not myself. [I was also taught in Sunday school that the "seven days of Creation" in the Bible were likely based in a different variable of applied time so imagine my surprise when I grew up and discovered that some people took the seven days literally or refuted archaeological evidence. But who am I to say?] PHOTO: Part of the excellent display of artifacts and other historic images and interpretive panels at the Rhea County Courthouse.

Our next (unexpected) stop was at a big yard sale set up off of Highway 127 just north of Pikeville, after crossing from Highway 27 (both interstates that parallel each other north-south through the western Appalachians) along Route 30 over a beautiful mountain pass (and into Central Time). I will blog about the Highway 127 Yard Sale in a few days, as it has not officially begun and I plan to hit some local sales on the weekend. Needless to say, it was a fun start to the festivities.

However, we did have another unexpected historic moment. While my husband has a great memory for historical facts and events, he had forgotten that Pall Mall, the home place of Sergeant Alvin C. York, the most decorated American soldier in World War I, was along Highway 127, just about eight miles south of the Kentucky border in the Tennessee highlands. [This is why I navigate and he drives.] Years ago on a trip home to New Hampshire from New Mexico, he and his father made a pilgrimage to the Sergeant York farm, burial ground and other sites in Pall Mall. We stopped at the burial ground and drove by the other historic spots as they were closed. Our boys definitely want to return soon and we will, as it isn't too far from where we live in Kentucky.

Just north of the Cumberland plateau that extends from Crossville, Tennessee north on Highway 127, and before Pall Mall all the way to the Kentucky border and over it, we almost felt like we had driven into Vermont or New Hampshire. The drive had more historic architecture, hills and dales, and woodlands that clung to the winding roads than we had seen in the countryside here before. So a future day trip to plan–perhaps in the golden days of autumn before hunkering in for winter. In the meantime it was a fitting end to our day of antiques, history and adventure. It is always so much fun to explore–to discover what's around the next bend in the road–and even sweeter still to come home again.

Blue moon of Kentucky, keep on shining...The full August moon rises at a diner where we stopped for an uneventful late supper just into Kentucky.


Anonymous said...

My husband and I just returned from a weekend road trip to central Arkansas. Rule #1: no interstates - which always takes a very long time to get 'there and back', but is always so much fun. I loved your blog and look forward to the yard sale news. So glad I found you. Your Arkansas fan, Deanna

viagra online said...

Interesting story, this is how you realize that people have evolved over the years, and have become big cities.
BTW, the pictures are wonderful.