Saturday, December 31, 2016

Knox Christmas Bird Count 2016

A cold sunrise, Maxey Dock, Saturday, December 31, 2016

Today was the annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count (CBC) for Knox County. My team met at Maxey's Dock on Maloney Road at sunrise, then split up to go in separate directions and count all the birds we could find on Lakemoor Hills peninsula north to Cherokee Farm Greenway. All within Area #12 of the official count circle. My team has counted this same parcel along the river for almost 15 years.

We are carrying on a grand tradition. In Tennessee the first Audubon CBC happened in Knoxville. According to the late News Sentinel columnist, J. B. Owen, the state's first bird count was made by Magnolia Woodward who tallied birds around her home near Park Avenue. (Later changed to Magnolia Avenue.) A visit to the Audubon website reveals that the count was made on December 1, 1902. In two hours that day the list of birds she counted were: eight flickers, six Carolina chickadees, three tufted titmice, one wren and twelve goldfinches--typical backyard birds for then and now. But Woodward was counting in the days before Knoxville had gulls, starlings, herons, pigeons and Canada geese in winter and all of those birds we found in big numbers.

Today was cold, overcast and dreary with off and on light freezing rain. Not ideal. Most birds puffed up and stayed hunkered down, hidden in some nook or cranny. Thank you to my hardy bundled team: Patty, Eddy, Dr. Cheryl, Vickie and Rachael Eliot. I will total all of our lists as soon as my brain and fingers thaw out.


Friday, December 30, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #10

Center of town, Gatlinburg 1920s. Baskins Creek flows over the main road not under it. Ephraim E. Ogle's Store in background. © Arrowmont archives

Dad would have described Gatlinburg in the early 1900s as being merely "a wide place in the road." And it was a muddy, sometimes flooded road at that.

Historians have recorded it in much harsher terms: inaccessible, remote, cut off. And the mountain folk that lived up the headwaters of Baskins Creek and Roaring Fork were even more isolated. They were almost unreachable. As sequestered as an aboriginal tribe hidden in the dense jungle. 

A trip to Knoxville and back could take three days by wagon. And it could be hazardous. Great great grandfather Caleb Bales died in 1914 after he fell out of the back of a wagon. He was visiting family in the vicinity of Gists Creek east of Sevierville and was buried there in an unknown grave. Getting his body back to his home on Roaring Fork would have been too arduous and it was customary to bury the deceased the next day. 

Caleb Bales (1839-1914)
© Bales family archive
During that time, a trip from Sevierville to Gatlinburg was made, "by wagon or buggy, over a road that was little more than a trail running up into the mountains through the Little Pigeon River gorge. There were no bridges; the river and the many creeks had to be forded, often through water so deep that it came almost into the bed of the buggy and sometimes too deep to be crossed," wrote Jeanette Greve in 1931.

Caleb's visit to Gists Creek was perhaps to find solace with him still grieving. He had out survived his wife Elizabeth Margaret Reagan by two years. It's one of the tender mercies when the husband dies first, they do not do well alone, every day in mourning, every day the long hours, the loneliness. Lost to the world. Keeping the fire going for you and you alone. The clock ticking in the silent cabin. Why was it so loud? And what was the point of even winding it? What does time really mean?

Elizabeth Bales (1837-1912)
© Bales family archive
Elizabeth was the daughter of Daniel Wesley Reagan, the first child of European ancestry born in White Oak Flats, today's Gatlinburg. Caleb and Elizabeth had five children that lived to adulthood in the mountains: Martha Ann, Ephraim, Jim, Nancy Ellen and Daniel. And the sadness of it all? They were unable to bury Caleb next to his wife of 51 years. And the irony? He had donated the parcel of now consecrated ground for the Bales Cemetery on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail where Elizabeth lies in everlasting peace.

Not knowing where his grandfather was buried, Homer Bales erected a memorial stone for Caleb beside Elizabeth's grave.

Caleb begot Jim who begot Homer who begot Russell who begot me, with enormous help from Elizabeth, Emma, Pearl and Mary Helen.

Elizabeth, Martha Ann, Ephraim and Daniel are all buried at the Bales Cemetery. The firestorm of Monday, November 28 did not burn over this site.   

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

Homer Bales with memorial stone he placed in Bales Cemetery 
in honor of his grandfather. 1983
© Bales Family archive
Caleb Bales Memorial stone erected by his grandson Homer.
© Photo by Rex McDaniel. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #9

Gatlinburg. circa 1930s.

Open fields cleared by hand bordering the Little Pigeon River. You could throw a rock and not hit a thing. The terrain was more or less flat compared to the aged mountains that towered over it. That's all it was for a time, the original name of the little town was White Oak Flats and it fit it like a pair of old shoes

The hamlet had just a few roads leading in from the communities of Greenbrier, Sugarlands and Sevierville and muddy ruts down from the mountainside along Bearskins (today Baskins) and Mill (today LeConte) Creeks. And there in the center was the hub, the Ogle Brother's Store, plus a few other businesses, a church, the settlement school and a few dozen homes.

It wasn't all that much just open space for decades with 6,594-foot tall Mt. LeConte, the mountain with four peaks—Myrtle Point, High Point, Cliff Top and Bullhead—overlooking it like Zeus from Mount Olympus. And if the sky and thunder deity did happen to look down, he probably was generally bored. But who am I to speak for an omnipotent Greek?  

The late 1930s saw the beginning of a renaissance in Gatlinburg. With the coming of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1934 and the establishing of the Sugarlands as the new park's headquarters, Gatlinburg took on a new role. In today's terms it was rebranded, going from a languid timber town to bustling resort town, the gateway to the new national park. And the resourceful mountain families who providence had placed there were more than ready to adopt their new roles as hosts to the Great Smokies. They put out the welcome mat and said, "Come on in. Take a load off."

The Great Depression was coming to a close and many people were starting to feel good again and go on vacation, not by train but in the family automobile and they wanted to see the newest national park. The Mountain View Hotel founded by Andy Huff in 1916 for the lodging of lumbermen buying timber was expanded for the fledgling tourist trade. 

But the Mountain View simply wasn't enough to accommodate all the new visitors. If you owned a piece of open land, you could start a business. And in the 1930s, most of Gatlinburg was open. Within a time frame of only a few years several more accommodations were added to the AAA travel guide.

The Gatlinburg Inn was built by R.L. Maples in 1937 and Dick Whaley enlarged the 20-room 1925 boarding house built by his father Stephen and rechristened it the New Riverside Hotel the same year. He also changed the front entrance that faced River Road to the new main road, the Parkway, in the back. 

In 1939, Andy Huff bought the small, eight room wonderfully named Rocky Waters Inn in lower Gatlinburg, demolished it, rebuilt it with 16 units and then resold the new Rocky Waters Court to Ralph and Mattie (Andy's daughter) Lawson in 1943. An early post card boasts of steam heat, a dining room, although three units had kitchenettes, and porches over the Little Pigeon River, its hallmark ever since. Listening to flowing water has appealed to its guests for decades. Interested? Their early phone number was 44. 

Later Dick Whaley built the Hotel Greystone in 1941. A postcard from the time reads, "Hotel Greystone was designed and built to serve the more discriminating visitors to the Great Smokies. It is one of the South's truly beautiful hotels. A spacious dining room offers plenty of food and an appetizing variety of menus - Home cooked southern style. The large cozy veranda overlooks a beautiful lawn, and faces directly toward majestic Mt. LeConte, the Grandstand of the Great Smokies."

Clearly a renaissance was underway. Visitors could even play croquet on the lawn at the Mountain View.

Today, Ripley's Aquarium now sits on the site of the old Hotel Greystone and as fate would have it, on Monday, November 28, my sisiter and I watched the firestorm embers blow into Gatlinburg live from a remote WATE-6 weather camera atop the aquarium pointed at Pi Beta Phi. Meteorologist Matt Hinkin described what he saw. In disbelief, we watched it too but little did we know how much of our hometown, Vintage Gatlinburg, would burn to the ground in the space of one or two hours, probably much less.

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

The New Riverside Hotel expanded in 1937
Croquet on the lawn at the Mountain View Hotel

Friday, December 23, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #8

Russ and Helen's new home. circa 1949/50
Russ took a photo of Helen in front of their new home
He was a blue-eyed veteran back home from the Navy and World War II. She was a dark-haired waitress at the bus stop counter, a Sevier County farm girl still a teenager who had moved to the resort town to earn a living.

She would have nothing to do with his flirty way. She had been told about sailor boys. But he persisted and they courted, it went well and in time they eloped to Clayton, Georgia.

And Helen took a photo of Russ
The he was Russell Homer Bales. The she was Mary Helen Bales, nee Latham. It was 68 years ago today that they were married: December 23, 1948just two days before Christmas

A house was built on the hill for them with materials bought by his mother Pearl. It was a big house, oak hardwood floors, knotty pine paneled walls with six bedrooms and two baths. 

Perhaps, Pearl expected a gaggle of grandchildren, that was the way in the mountains but Russell and Helen decided two were enough, a boy and a girl. Darlene Bales Brett was the second-born, and me? I was the first. 

Russ and Helen spent their entire 60 year marriage in this one home. 

For decades this house and two seasonal rentals below it were the center of the family's universe. The absolute center. And times were good. It was a happy family that celebrated over 50 Christmases in a big way in the living room that looked out on the rest of the world.

Russ with squirrels
Dad was a bridge between the old ways and the new. He was an apiarist and kept as many as 20 beehives on the hill behind the house. There was always fresh honey on the table and he sold the extra for two dollars a quart to the tourists in the summer. He also hunted during squirrel season in the fall for fresh meat for the table, carrying on the hunter-gatherer ways of his father. While at the same time, early on his day job was a carpenter, working on many of the new buildings being created for the booming tourist industry. And he was never without work. Today, his naturalist son chases squirrels away from the bird-feeders but he wouldn't think of eating one. That was then. This is now.   

But on Monday evening, November 28, all the homes and support houses in this story and in the photographs along side burned to the ground in a matter of minutes. Such an inferno, even the grass was charred away.

All of it gone.

The detritus that's left? Only ashes, cinder blocks and cobblestones carried up from Baskins Creek, our hereditary water. 

But this is but one home and the one story that it contained. Hundreds of homes burned to the ground that horrific night in Gatlinburg and Sevier County. Other families lost so very much more. Feel for them. Help them. We lost the touchstones to 100,000 memories, but the memories are still there only the touchstones are gone. 

We miss you Mom and Dad. Happy anniversary.

So many pictures taken on those steps. This with Latham cousins, 1958
Winter snows, left 1966, Darlene right 1965 

Left 1965, Darlene and friend Donita right, 1962  
The last time I saw the old homeplace standing, November 2015

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1969" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

For links to other Gatlinburg history posts click:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #7

Roaring Fork Church singing meeting, 1925. Bales family archive

It was the little congregation that needed to find a new home. When the families with the last names of Reagan, Ogle, Floyd, Clabo, Kear, Bohanan, Oakley and Bales, who lived upstream on Baskins Creek and Roaring Fork, sold their land and moved to town, they needed to find a new place of worship. 

Some began attending services at the already established First Baptist Church of Gatlinburg at the confluence of Baskins and the Little Pigeon River, while others stayed with their own churchless congregation established on November 26, 1881. But what is a church? Is it the structure? Or the congregation itself? They just needed to build a new modern building. They needed a new place to "sing unto the Lord."

"Yes, we’ll gather at the river, The beautiful, the beautiful river; Gather with the saints at the river, That flows by the throne of God."

The Laurel Grove Primitive Baptist Church of Christ was built in 1939 on land donated by members Luther "Luke" Reagan and his wife Alie Ogle Reagan

Luke was the son of Alfred and Martha Ann Bales Reagan. He is in the photo at the top in the center behind the smallest boy. Luke is also listed on the trustee and building committee for Laurel Grove along with Amos Reagan, Lewis Reagan, Jess McCarter, Sam Lamon, Jim Huff and my grandfather Homer Bales. 

The adjective "Primitive" in the name conveys the sense of "original." Their teachings were conservative. Some see them as Old School Baptists. It is still a small church that follows the scriptures of the New Testament, singing is a cappella and no Sunday School is held. It is believed that parents should teach the lessons of the Bible to their own young ones.

The old-timers' name for rhododendron was laurel. (Ivy was their name for mountain laurel.) So laurel grove suggests a rhododendron ticket along the Roaring Fork perhaps near where the original church was founded. It was the church of my grandparents, my parents and of my childhood in the small resort town we all called home.

Luke's son Tolbert Reagan (top photo, boy with cap seventh from right) and my father Russell Bales joined the church and were baptized the same day, June 10, 1950.   

Laurel Grove is located on Highway 321 on the right just after you drive up Burg Hill. And it is safe to say, the Gatlinburg Fire of Monday, November 28 missed this little church with deep Smoky Mountain roots. I have seen it and even though some buildings nearby burned, it is still standing after 77 years.

Today, Tolbert's grandson, Mitch, maintains the grounds.

"In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore"

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales
Laurel Grove Primitive Baptist Church, Gatlinburg, December 2016

For links to other Gatlinburg history posts click:

Monday, December 19, 2016

Remembrance of Things Past: Gatlinburg #6

GSMNP Archives

The cabin in the above photo no longer exists. Like so many other mountaineer homes inside the national park, it was allowed to gently return to nature almost 90 years ago.

Homer & Pearl at homesite with
bedroom ell and Edith in background,
circa 1926.
Bales family archive

This is the hidden homestead of Homer Daniel Bales and Pearl Mae Ogle Bales, my grandparents. Homer and Pearl were married on October 5, 1918. They birthed four children in this cabin. No doctor, no nurse, no running water, heat from a fireplace, probably a midwife as was the custom of the day. 

Maferd died the day he was born, November 22, 1923. The stillborn son is buried at the Bales Cemetery on the Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail. Three lived to adulthood: Mintha Edith Webb (March 26, 1921-June 19, 1990), Rubin Odos Bales (March 18, 1827) and Russell Homer Bales (December 4, 1928-September 9, 2007). Uncle Rubin is still living in Florida, Russell was my father.

Homer brings home supper:
 opossums. © Bales family archive

Life was hard. Initially, money scarce. You grew your own food or hunter-gathered it. The ruins of the home are located off trail, very off trail, at the fountainhead of Baskins Creek inside the national park. There is no longer a trodden path in, you just have to know where to go. I do, but few others know the way. That's why I offer it here as a remembrance.
Their log cabin was a basic saddlebag layout, single chimney in the middle with two fireplaces that face into the opposite rooms. An additional framed "modern" bedroom ell was added as the family grew.

Homer and Pearl sold their property in May 1929 to become part of the new national park. They packed everything they owned and galumphed away from the hardship down the wagon road to Gatlinburg. The inventory of the sale lists 127.8 acres: 40 cultivated and cleared, 87.8 timbered, 150 apple trees, unimproved road and wire fence, house with three rooms, six pen barn, spring house and corn crib. The asking price was $2500. They were paid $2,250.

Once asked "Were you bitter about having to sell your property?" Grandma Pearl laughed, she always laughed she enjoyed life. "Goodness no!" She replied, "We never thought we'd have $2,000 in our entire life." In the parlance of today, they "took the money and run" moving downstream.

Pi Beta Phi Settlement School was founded in Gatlinburg on February 20, 1912 in an abandoned schoolhouse at the confluence of Baskins Creek and the Little Pigeon River. Grandma Pearl, or as in the custom of my region, Mamaw Pearl had become loyal to the women of Pi Beta Phi the international Fraternity for Women, founded in 1867, so Pearl and Homer bought a parcel of open land between Bishop and Newton Lanes near Arrowmont and the school.

Pearl & Homer with Edith and Rubin, barn in 
background. circa 1927. Bales family archive

Today, all that is left to mark where the young family began at the head of Baskins is a pile of cobblestones, the stoic remains of their chimney. A gray ghost. Like most of the homes that were located within the national park’s boundaries, the homesite was left to wither away, dust to dust.

Memories fade. But their lives were much like the lives of their neighbors. They worked hard and dealt with their surroundings not knowing that someday it would become so special to so many.

Although the area is still closed and again we have to rely on the interactive map provided by the national park and Sevier County officials, it appears that the Homer Bales homesite did not burn during the firestorms that swept through the national park and Gatlinburg on Monday, November 28.

Time will tell. I'll hike back in as soon as I can.

© 2016 From the upcoming book, 
"Vintage Gatlinburg: 
The Transformation of a Small Timber Town to a Mountain Resort
 Family Remembrances 1899-1974" 
by University of Tennessee Press author and native son  
Stephen Lyn Bales

Russell Bales at his birthplace, 1979

 For links to other Gatlinburg history posts click:

Baskins Creek Falls/P.C. Ogle

Alfred Reagan

Ephraim Bales