The Old Home Place


Throughout the Appalachians, you will find old clapboard farmhouses like the one where I grew up. Each house bears witness to the ingenuity of mountain people.

Our home was built in two stages. A small original house stood beside the B&O rail line that ran from Richmond to Chattanooga, which was a strategic prize during the Civil War. (A quarter mile east of the home place stands a two-story brick house that served as a Union field hospital for much of the war.) Just before World War I, my grandparents doubled the size of the house to accommodate a large farming family they hoped to have.

The house had no central heat. A fireplace in the original structure was supplemented by a wood stove in the living room and a wood-fired cook stove in the kitchen. (The cook stove also heated a galvanized water tank, which raised the temperature of our bath water to tepidly tolerable.) A cistern under the new addition stored rainwater from the home’s galvanized tin roof. The house’s wiring was rudimentary; when I was a boy, it consisted of a bare bulb that dangled from a braided wire in the center of each room.

If the power went out (a common occurrence in the 1950s), Mama would light some kerosene lamps and continue her chores as usual. Our telephone was on a party line, so we knew in “real time” whether our neighbors’ lights had come back on.

Our old home place is still standing. (My sister Debbie commissioned this watercolor of it a couple of years ago.)  Though many of its features seem antiquated now, they spelled survival in Appalachia during the twentieth century. The place is uninhabited, except perhaps for the ghosts of winters past and memories of family life in a much simpler time.