In the schoolyard in the 1920s. Mr. Burgin is third row, second from the left.
Willard Burgin makes his home on land originally cleared by his great-grandfather in the upper reaches of the Crooked Creek community, barely this side of the Buncombe County line. He’s just up the road from the old Mount Hebron Bible Institute where his parents met and where he briefly went to school himself. Nestled peacefully at the foot of the mountain, his home is a refuge from the rush of the modern world. We visited there for almost two hours, and only one car passed the entire time!
Mr. Burgin proudly displays his medals from WWII.
Mr. Burgin is a treasure-trove of memories and stories: from cutting wood for the tannery in Old Fort when he was a child, to seeking emergency assistance from the “snake doctor”, to searching the hillside behind his house so he could milk the family cow, to planting by the signs, to loading ammunition boats in Iceland during World War II.
Listen to our conversation with Willard Burgin here:
Due to the rugged terrain and distance from the closest towns, the North Cove and Ashford communities in the northern tip of McDowell County remained relatively isolated until the mid- twentieth century. Electricity didn’t arrive until 1947, and telephones were rare until about 1960. Nearly everyone farmed and the community was tight-knit.
Cousins and neighbors Clara McCall and Freddie Brown are members of two of the oldest families in the Cove. They came together at the old Brown house to reminisce about the railroad, the yearly arrival of the thrashers, kerosene powered refrigerators, memorable characters, grandma’s cooking and everyday life on the farm.
You can listen to Clara’s and Freddie’s conversation (in three parts) here: Part One:Part TwoPart Three:
Rockett Motors in Old Fort (present location of Old Fort Mountain Music). Jep Gibbs was employed here early in her working life. (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)
Jessica “Jep” Gibbs was born in 1913. The majority of her life has been lived in the Old Fort area, and she currently resides just minutes from where she grew up. In addition to her other stories, in this clip she talks quite a bit about her friend Binkie Adams, daughter of the visionary Col. Daniel W. Adams. (A future post will be devoted to Col. Adams.) Binkie was a much-respected county historian and wrote many articles for the Old Fort News Bulletin.
Listen to Jep here:
To read a transcript of an oral history of Binkie Adams written in 1997 by Martha Stevens, student of Freddy Bradburn at McDowell Tech, click here: Binkie Adams. (Thanks to Old Fort librarian Dee Daughtridge for providing the transcript.)
The Ledbetter House, built in 1826, boasts exceptionally intact interior features.
Stepping through the front door of the Albertus Ledbetter House could be the closest thing to stepping back in time you’ll ever experience. Lovingly restored by Arthur and Zee Campbell, the house has all its original doors with the original locks and hinges. The 1826 spring house, with rock retaining wall and sluice, has been brought back to life as well. The farm is dotted with 19th and 20th century outbuildings, and today is known as Spring House Farm, hosting guests in rustic rental cabins. This unique eco-retreat is also a site on the N.C. Birding Trail.
Harold McCurry spent part of his childhood at the Ledbetter House. He joined us on the front porch to share some memories about growing up in Montford Cove.
Donald Anderson's grandfather takes the family for a wagon ride in 1915. The farm was flooded by the construction of Lake James a few years later.
Donald Anderson recalls that “Most of my time as a youngster was spent hoeing corn”, and he comes from a long line of farmers. His grandfather farmed land in the community that is now covered by Lake James and his father was a tenant farmer just north of Marion until, as the recipient of the first FHA loan in the county, he moved the family to the Glenwood community.
Donald Anderson's grandfather and father (right) mind the cane mill.
Donald tells us about the life of a McDowell County farmer in the early 20th century, about electricity coming to Glenwood, and about his years teaching Vocational Agriculture in McDowell County.