In 1965, my friends’ Uncle Morris R. Nanney wrote about the Montford Cove Valley. The road on the far right is 221 going north to Marion, NC. The area to the right of 221 near the county line is Union Mills and to the left is Nanney Town, all in Rutherford County. Lake Lure and Chimney Rock are bottom left. (Chapters 12 & 32) Spring House Farm is in McDowell County, left center.
At that time, he was 74 years old and wanted to record his recollection of the neighborhood. Oral history, if you will. He wrote that the first house in the Cove was near the Hemphill graveyard, “a large house of logs, with port holes in the attic that served as defense against the Indians. A quarter mile away, southwest, was another house about the same description, owned by the Halls. On farther West was another near the brick house recently built by Mid Conner, known as the Johnson Place, where old Richard Ledbetter, we think, lived awhile then moved to Brunswick County, Georgia.” (at 99 with his new wife and his sons Johnson and Johnston). “Another was near the Ash bridge on Cove Creek, the Micajah Hall place, and the Elijah Hall place on the Chalk Creek, large 2-story buildings, port holes in the attic, basements built of stone and large chimneys with wide fireplaces. These houses had smaller ones built near them that served as kitchens.”
I throw all of this into my story about the Albertus Ledbetter house to give the reader the idea of early community. As I mentioned a couple posts ago, Richard Ledbetter’s son Jonathan built the house near his father’s place in 1826. Jonathan added to the house in 1836 the year Albertus was born. It was a showplace and restored with pride in 2000 by Arthur and Zee Campbell. The 92 acres on which it sits is now called Spring House Farm.
My tour of the grounds included a historical background, but when Arthur mentioned port holes I had no idea what he meant. “See the half moons on either side of the chimney? The third course down from the top. Those are for home protection in that day. Working with architectural historian John Horton on this project, I thought it was attic ventilation. He corrected me. He said that in 1836 when this side of the house was completed, it was two years prior to the Trail of Tears, and there was a lot of unrest in this area.” The front of the house can easily be defended because of the open fields. Likewise the back of the house was open farmland. “The way the house is situated back here in the cove to get out of the winter wind, it is close to the spring but vulnerable to attack from the little ridge” that runs behind it. There are no upstairs windows. The gun ports put in to defend the flanks were also useful following the War Between the States when marauders worked the countryside. A rifleman can stand behind the protection of the chimney with a clear field of fire below and beyond the ridge.
The spring house was tucked into that ridge. Arthur pointed out “this absolutely beautiful water” running all the time even in the deepest drought from a 60′ well that services all the rental cabins and the main house on Spring House Farm. It was a dipping well with easy access, about waist high deep when dug out, and a sluice that took the water into the spring house to preserve their perishable food. No doubt one of the first things built.
“Half of a floor kept the things that needed to be stacked, and then they hung from the ceiling things to be kept cool. But there were steps that accessed off that floor and directly into the water and that’s where they kept their butter and their milk.” (Zee had the idea to put a plexiglass over the inside stream so the flowing creek could be seen below by visitors.) Arthur admired Jonathan as “a stickler for accuracy,” describing the dovetailed joints on the hand hewn logs as close to perfect. This was a slave plantation and most likely this work was done by slaves under his supervision. Good work lasts a long time.
Underneath the house were root cellars, sectioned out pits for potatoes and apples and onions that need to be stored in a cool, dark place. I’m sure that was a good hiding place also. Down the hatch, under the house.
The barn near the corncrib was probably built in 1780-1790, disassembled in 1931, brought down here and reassembled and used as a dairy barn. There are “ragtag looking additions” for three stalls, “probably 90-95% heart pine, much like the house
where there is very little chestnut hardwood because the heart pine is very easy to work. The corncrib is over a hundred years old, and the two structures were original to the property. The slave quarters were behind the office and taken apart in the early part of the 20th century. (Their office is in the former chicken house.)
When I asked about schools in that era, Arthur said there was a schoolhouse on Formosa a couple miles away. “When I needed materials to restoring this house, I took apart an old schoolhouse, just about ready to fall in.” A lot of the siding for the main house came from it as well as 12×14 sills that were 15′-20′ long and used in one of their rental cabins. “I have a 28′ ridge pole that runs the length of the cabin that is just beautiful. Gorgeous.” Max Bailey, a fifth generation Appalachian chair maker, “a wonderful craftsman, a true artist,” was hired to help in the technical restoration of the house. It is obvious that the Campbells are enthusiastic custodians of a historic treasure.
You don’t need a time machine to walk the property of one of America’s earliest families, and it doesn’t take much imagination to see it as the farm looked two hundred years ago. The best part is you can sleep in a restored cabin with modern amenities amid the beauty of unspoiled nature in a private cove. And there are no Indians to fear, and the British and the Yankees have already come and gone. See http://www.springhousefarm.com
Copyright 2015 Georgia Wilson