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.)
In the late 1800s when the railroad from Old Fort to Ridgecrest was completed, passengers were treated to a very impressive sight as their train climbed the 13 miles of switchbacks and seven tunnels to the top of the mountain. Several times during their ascent they were treated with a view of “the fountain” at Round Knob Hotel, with gravity-powered water shooting nearly 100 feet into the air. The fountain would later become known as Andrews Geyser and, after a period of neglect in the mid-20th century, has become one of the most recognizable and visted landmarks in McDowell County. It has come to symbolize the achievement of bringing the railroad across the rugged mountains of McDowell County.
Freezing weather sometimes transforms the geyser into an ice cone.
Steve Little, now Mayor of Marion, has always harbored a keen interest in the railroad and played a central role in bringing the geyser back from disrepair and neglect in the mid 1970s. He lays out the history of Andrews Geyser and talks about its rehabilitation, which coincided with the American Bi-Centennial.
Listen to Steve tell the story of Andrews Geyser, recorded at the historic Old Fort depot:
Steve also gave us a great overview of the history of the railroad in McDowell County. You can watch the 3-part video presentation as part of our special railroad page.
In the early days of McDowell County, strong personalities often had a sizeable and lasting impact on the community.
Colonel Adams (Photo courtesy of Bill Nichols, John's Market Collection)
The accomplished inventor Col. Daniel W. Adams of Old Fort worked to bring water, electricity and telephone service to the town. Adams also served as a mountain guide and designer of municipal fountains, among a myriad of other interests and abilities. He also built a very architecturally eccentric home, which can be seen in the photo to the right.
Charlie McKinney of North Cove/Little Switzerland is a legendary figure as well, known for other “talents”, including the ability to provide four dozen young heads for four dozen new hats from J.D. Blanton’s store in Marion. Terrell Finley (above) of The Mountain Gateway Museum talks about Col. Adams:…and Bill Carson of the Orchard at Altapass tells us about the “colorful” Charlie McKinney:
Joe Williams (left) and Mark Hall (in blue) with fellow Fort supporters and re-enactors
In October of 1781, the Revolutionary War ended when the British surrendered at Yorktown. But, much of the groundwork for that final American victory had been laid at Davidson’s Fort, located near the present town of Old Fort. The largest volunteer militia of the war gathered there and many historians say that the grit and determination of that force turned the tide in the settlers’ favor in their fight for independence.
Davidson's Fort replica by Lissa Silver
In this segment, Joe Williams and Mark Hall of Davidson’s Fort Historic Park explain the historical significance of the fort, talk about the earliest origins of the town of Old Fort and discuss their organization’s vision for an interactive recreational and educational park.
Listen here: .Joe and Mark refer several times to important information gleaned from soldiers’ pension applications. You can read some of those applications here.
The tannery shortly after it opened in 1905, and the flume line that brought logs down from the Curtis Creek area.
“I’ve been going to work in the same building for 62 years”, laughs Old Fort resident Bud Hogan. Here, he discusses the history of Old Fort from a businessman’s point of view. From the days of the tannery to the fading of the textile industry in recent decades, Mr. Hogan has had a front-row seat. But, it’s not just his head that has ruled his work life… his heart has played a large role as well, as you’ll hear near the end of the clip.
The Wesleyan Church as it looked in 1970 close to the time it received a most distinguished visitor.
It seems you never know whoyou’re going to find standing out in the snow in front of the gas station at the I-40 interchange in Old Fort!
From 1966 to 1972, Reverend Richard Stanley Jr. was the pastor at the Wesleyan Church just up the street from the station. Here, he shares the story of unexpectedly welcoming the most famous evangelist in the world to his church. Click on media player below:
When the Oral History crew was taping this piece about Old Fort Mountain Music, we set up for awhile on the street outside to get some shots of folks arriving and visiting with one another. While we were out on the sidewalk, an elderly couple drove up and the gentleman helped the lady out of the car and into the building. After he parked the car, he pulled an odd-looking cane out of the back seat and used it to make his way over to us. His eyes danced as he showed us the cane was also a slender mandolin! Proudly explaining that he had made it himself, he turned it over and played “Little Liza Jane”. He then gave us a hug as if he’d known us all his life, put the instrument back to use as a walking stick and went inside to await the start of the evening’s program.
That episode sums up the feeling of Old Fort Mountain Music…there are no strangers in Old Fort on Friday night. People of all ages and walks of life, some from just around the corner and some from across the globe, are united by their love of traditional music and old-fashioned fun.
Current MC and sound man Wayne Roland met us in the old Rockett building to talk about the history of Old Fort Mountain Music and about everything that goes into making it such a special event. If you’d like to visit Old Fort Mountain Music, it’s located at 55 E. Main Street.