Women’s Work

We’ve all heard the old saying “A woman’s work is never done”, and that was especially true on a farm or plantation in the old days. Dr. James Haney of SpinningWheelthe historic Carson House takes us on a tour of an exhibit in one of the upper rooms of the home devoted to “women’s work”.  He talks about the use of the loom, spinning wheel, quilt press, and even a somewhat intimidating-looking tool called a shuck hackle.

(As you will note if you spend much time exploring this website, Dr. Haney was very generous with his time and expertise for this project. We thank him profusely.)

In the schoolyard in the 1930s. Mr. Burgin is third row, second from the left.

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 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:

(It may take a moment for the audio to load.)

Members of the CCC from Camp Jim Staton on Curtis Creek

Members of the CCC from Camp Jim Staton on Curtis Creek (Photo courtesy Dee Daughtridge/Old Fort Library)

When Franklin Roosevelt became President in 1933, nearly one-fourth of Americans were unemployed. FDR set about immediately establishing the programs of the “New Deal” to address this critical problem. Two of the most successful were the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and the CCC (Civilian Conservation Corps). The WPA put men to work constructing public buildings, parks, bridges and roads while the CCC concentrated on natural resources conservation.  Terrell Finley, Administrator of the Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, talks about the profound impact that both organizations had on McDowell County:

Former rocket scientist (no kidding) and master storyteller Bill Carson of the Orchard at Altapass spins a yarn about romance, destiny, and the Overmountain Men- culminating  in McDowell County’s pivotal role in the Battle of King’s Mountain and the Revolutionary War.

The view from Freddie Brown's front porch
The view from Freddie Brown’s front porch

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 Two Part Three:

Jeanette Harris' "Laughridge Corner" in her home. John Laughridge and his wife are in the large oval picture. Laughridge and some of his deputies are seen in front of the old courthouse in the photo on upper right.

John A. Laughridge was sheriff of McDowell County from 1910 to 1918. He is a legendary figure,  both for the way he discharged his duties as well as for his kindness and fairness to everyone he met. In this clip, his granddaughter Jeanette Harris shares some of her favorite stories about her grandfather. Plus, we’ll hear from Sheriff Laughridge’s daughter Mary Alice Laughridge Scroggs.

(Mrs. Scroggs was recorded nearly a decade ago on a mini-cassette recorder, so the sound quality will be noticably different. Our thanks to Jeanette Harris and her family for allowing us to use the recording.)





Listen to Jeanette Harris and her aunt Mary Alice Scroggs here:

"Pleasant Gardens" was built in the late 1780s by Hunting John McDowell's son Joseph near the site where Brown's Purchase was negotiated with the Cherokee. The house still stands today.

“Pleasant Gardens” was built in the early 1800s, close to the site where Brown’s Purchase was negotiated with the Cherokee. The house still stands today. (Photo courtesy the Carson House library.)

To explore this chapter of McDowell history, we join historian Anne Swann in one of the log cabins at the Mountain Gateway Museum to hear the tale of a wrestling match that laid the foundation for the development of the county. Anne also talks about how Hunting  John McDowell came to play a huge role in the opening of the American West to European expansion.