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Francis Scott Key’s descendants in western Maryland

Posted by | July 16, 2014

In 1870 Alice Key Howard [the author’s aunt], a daughter of Mrs. Charles Howard, bought from a man named Stabler a four room hunting lodge with separate kitchens, standing in a dense grove of oaks, many of whose survivors still surround the present house.

This picture, “The Foot Paths Through The Glades,” is a reprint of a painting, artist unknown, made for the American Bank Note Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It presents a true-to-life scene in Mt. Lake Park, Maryland, around 1890. The paths were made of tan bark.

This picture, “The Foot Paths Through The Glades,” is a reprint of a painting, artist unknown, made for the American Bank Note Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. It presents a true-to-life scene in Mt. Lake Park, Maryland, around 1890. The paths were made of tan bark.

Even in my memory there was an oak grove with a path through it where the present Shafer house now stands. Several additions and wings were built before the original four room lodge became the low rambling red structure, now known as 79 Alder Street.

Willed by Alice Key Howard to her niece, Elizabeth B. Howard, its present owner, it was for eighty years the summer home of many of Francis Scott Key’s grandchildren and great grandchildren.

One grandson, John Ross Key, a notable painter, especially of mountain scenery, was a frequent visitor, and one of his paintings of “The Old County Bridge” was long in the possession of an Oakland family.

McHenry Howard, father of Elizabeth G. Howard, was a passionate fisherman, and with his first cousin, Dr. James McHenry Howard, went by horseback, or by horse and buggy, over then all but impossible roads, on month long fishing trips to the Cheat and Elk Rivers. His diary, illustrated in part by his own sketches, is immediately destined to the Garrett County Historical Society.

Another granddaughter of Francis Scott Key’s, Mrs. Edward Lloyd of Wye House, Talbot County, spent much time with her mother in Oakland, as did Mrs. Charlton Morgan (Ellen Key Howard) of Lexington, Kentucky. In fact, Mr. and Mrs. Charlton Morgan and their children spent several winters in Oakland, one at least at 79 Alder Street.

A notable group of boys played together in Oakland in those days. Cal Crim, Henry McComas, Charles McHenry Howard and Thomas Hunt Morgan. Thomas Hunt Morgan, winner of the Nobel Prize for biology in 1933, and known before his death several years ago as the greatest living biologist in the world, received his first schooling in what I understand was a log cabin schoolhouse in Oakland. He and his cousin, Charles McHenry, were great rattlesnake hunters and amassed a trophy of rattles which I still own.

In 1893, Mrs. Charles Howard (Elizabeth Phoebe Key) celebrated her 90th birthday in Oakland. All day a stream of visitors poured in, people from Oakland and Deer Park. (I have her letter written to an absent member of her family which also, with her picture, will go to the Garrett County Historical Society.) In the evening, a large dinner party was given and I vividly remember the long table decorated with ferns and with ninety candles blazing.

In 1897 she died there, and again I remember the American Flag in red, white and blue flowers which covered the coffin, sent by “Doctor McComas.”

Many members of the family have died at 79 Alder Street, the little daughter of Dr. Edward Lloyd Howard and Laura Maynard Howard first, in 1894. Since then, Mrs. McHenry Howard in 1908, McHenry Howard in 1923, and their daughter May Howard in 1943.

A very deep love for Oakland and Garrett County is born into, and inherited by, all the descendants of Francis Scott Key, who have spent their summers at 79 Alder Street, and though for the past two years the present writer is the only member of the family to get there, and that, in all too short a stay, yet it is always with a deep sense of homecoming, of belonging in great part to Garrett County, that I return.

“A Summer Home in the Mountains,” by Julia McHenry Howard, Tableland Trails magazine, Summer 1953, pp 2-4, Felix G. Robinson, publisher

Julia McHenry Howard (1886-1959) was a great-granddaughter of Francis Scott Key, composer of the “Star Spangled Banner.”


State of the Arts: Cultural double talk

Posted by | July 15, 2014

The following article by Kyle Sherard ran July 14 in the Mountain Xpress. It is reposted here with permission.


Southern Appalachia can thank any number of movies and TV shows for flagrantly misconstruing us as a bunch of lawless, illiterate hicks and hillbillies.

Such characters have softened and intoxicated our sheriffs, put moonshine stills in all of our kitchens and rendered snakes as common as hymnals in our churches. And docudramas such as Moonshiners and movies including Deliverance have made overalls our de facto dress code in the same way that our rivers will permanently call to mind the twang of “Dueling Banjos.”

"Broadway Street Asheville, N.C., 1992," by Ralph Burns

“Broadway Street Asheville, N.C., 1992,” by Ralph Burns

The history and cultural persistence of these and other insulting-yet-laughable regional stereotypes make up the meat and bones of Hillbilly Land: Myth and Reality of Appalachian Culture, a contemplative and text-heavy new exhibition, curated by author and UNC Asheville history professor Dan Pierce, currently on view at the Smith-McDowell House Museum.

Hillbilly Land weaves through five major pillars of southern Appalachian cultural identity: religion, art and craft, music, moonshine and isolation. Each forms a literal and fantasized foundation of daily mountain life, both historical and contemporary.

The show features a series of information panels that hang in the south side of the museum’s ground floor. These are illustrated by photos from the likes of Tim Barnwell, Doris Ulman, Ralph Burns and Ron Amberg, along with several installation pieces ranging from a banjo, fiddle and a spinning wheel to a copper-topped still and a wooden toy set of a farm, complete with a barn, little chickens and a baby-wielding mother.

Ulman’s photographs depict mountain life, circa the 1930s. The grainy black-and-white stills show artisans crafting chairs and sitting on porches. Others play banjo or work on quilts. They portray the isolated and slowed-down lifestyle that was, and still is, associated with homesteading and remote mountain living. That very isolation is the proposed source of our cultural and social delinquency, and thus the basis for such easy stereotyping.

Article continues HERE


Mountain songs and sayings have living reality

Posted by | July 15, 2014

The convenient and pithy term for the mountain people of Kentucky, “our contemporary ancestors,” does not indicate the origin of the customs, beliefs, and peculiarities which persist among them. For they too had ancestors. These were, for the most part, British, and of the soil. Just as today many a mountaineer has never been ten miles from his birthplace, so also his forebears remained at home.

They were sturdy men and women, steeped in traditional ways, independent and as little humble as possible. The mountaineer is that way too. He cares neither for ease nor for soft living. He is hospitable. “Welcome, stranger, light and hitch,” is the salutation, and the stranger is bidden to take “damn near all” of whatever the table offers.

Leslie County, KY. Interior of mountain cabinA hunter by race, he is first of all a poacher, in arms against such as would deny him the right to take game where he may find it, a trait dating back to the time of Robin Hood in England. His speech is reminiscent of this older land and people. Labeled as “a survival,” the mountaineer in reality is on the defensive, protecting himself against later comers and strange ideas. “I wouldn’t choose to crave this newfangled teachin’ and preachin’,” he says. “All I ask is to be let alone. I was doin’ middlin’ well. The hull kit and bilin’ can go to the devil.”

Mountain dialect reflects the Anglo-Saxon origin of the mountain people; obsolete forms found in Shakespeare and the King James version of the Bible are in common use. “Clumb,” “writ,” and “et” for climbed, wrote and ate are common enough if you go back a few centuries. “Buss” for kiss, “pack” for carry, and “poke” for pocketbag and the like are pure Elizabethan.

Shakespeare said “a-feared,” as does the mountaineer today, and “beholden” is common to both. “His schoolin’ holp him mighty,” says the proud mountain father; King Richard of England said, “Let him thank me that holp send him thither.” “Hit’s right pied,” shouts the mountain boy when the snake he has stoned puffs up and mottles. But he probably never read of “meadows trim with daisies pied,” or heard of the Pied Piper of Hamelin. When he sings, the mountaineer “rolls a song,” and his expression, “he looks like the hind wheels of bad luck,” is so expressive that only the carping student would seek to trace its heritage.

Folklore is found not only among the mountaineers but in every county in the State, in town and in city. In the mountains, however, because of close-knit family and community ties, it is part of everyday life. Songs and sayings are more than quaint and queer; they have living reality.

The WPA Guide to Kentucky, Compiled by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Work Projects Administration for the State of Kentucky, F. Kevin Simon, Editor,Univ. of KY 1939, publ. Harcourt Brace & Co.


Ghost Towns on the Cumberland Plateau

Posted by | July 14, 2014

Beth DurhamPlease welcome guest author Beth Durham. Durham is an author of folklore and Christian fiction. Her work is inspired by the traditional stories and oral history of the mountains of Tennessee. You can find Durham online at where she blogs weekly about the legends and lessons from Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau, or on Facebook at:


We’ve all enjoyed the B-westerns where the trail-weary cowboy rides into a town only to discover it has been abandoned and is now only a ghost of a town.  At the mention of ghost towns, that’s the image that comes to mind – the gold rush settlements of the Old West.  But Appalachia has her own version of ghost towns and they are plentiful.  Whether you’re talking about the “company towns” built by big mining operations, nomadic logging camps, or family towns that grew around several generations – all of them share some commonalities.

TN Barn

However, unlike the western towns that stand for decades relatively unscathed by the arid climate, our houses quickly rot, any left-behind equipment rusts and lush green foliage quickly reclaims the land.  Therefore, you have to look a little deeper and listen a little closer to local stories to see the ghost towns of Appalachia.

As you drive along country roads, or better still if you walk carefully through remote woodlands, you may be lucky enough to see an abandoned barn.  More likely, you’ll find a grassy roadway, a lone chimney or just a rectangular pattern of carefully stacked rocks that once served as a home’s foundation.  These are the hints that you’ve found one of our ghost towns.  And if you can find a longtime, local resident then you may just hear the stories of that town which can bring it to life for you.  They become somewhat legendary as the children who lived there grow older and reminisce of their childhood, of good times amid hard, and laughter chasing away sadness.

On Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau we have the memories and the legends from a booming coal town, Wilder.  For twenty years miners dug coal from that mountain and families lived in company houses and made a myriad of memories.  Today, Wilder is a field of scrub pines and saw briars.  No longer does the theatre show black and white films.  No longer can you take a room in the hotel or see a ball game at Wilder High School.  All those buildings were either sold and dismantled, or some fell-in after a period of neglect. Wilder had such a great impact on the surrounding community that  concerted effort has been made to have the stories of Wilder recorded, and the local PBS television station even filmed  a documentary and included many long-time residents telling their part of the story.

courtesy of

Wilder, TN. No date. Courtesy of

But all of the towns weren’t big company towns and haven’t received the same effort to memorialize them.  Many of these neighborhoods grew up around a good stand of timber and the families who would fell and fetch those logs formed the town.  Others sprouted when a family settled on a fertile piece of land and before they knew it, they were surrounded by several generations.  I grew up on the outskirts of just such a place, Key Town.

Now, you can’t Google Key Town, Tennessee.  And sadly the people who could take you there are quickly vanishing.  But the stories from those families have been told and retold until they seem to have a life all their own.

Picture with me the deeply worn roadway that was Key Town Road.  It is thick with grass now, and a tree has fallen here and there across it.  On one side, it runs through a farm and fences cross the road.  But the flat rock where Millard Stepp’s home once stood is, of course, still there.  Weren’t they ahead of their time making such a small carbon footprint by utilizing a rock outcropping for a patio?  The well that supplied that house with fresh water was visible until the farmer’s plow mistakenly snagged the casing.   Mrs. Stepp’s sister, Lena, lived on the neighboring farm.  I can imagine how often the two women crossed the little roadway to share quilt pieces or borrow a key ingredient from their sparse larders when company was expected or a special meal was being prepared.

Just to the west you’d find John and Sarah Key.  They were old even then, but their house outlasted all the others in this part of the settlement.  In the springtime, you can still see flowers surviving in the woods giving testimony to yesteryear’s beauty and happiness in this place.

Then there’s the Jack Atkinson home which saw so much sadness, and yet the family was strong and the descendants are still living in the area.  Mrs. Atkinson died from tuberculosis, that slow plague of the early twentieth century.  Then her daughter contracted the same disease.  As though they had not born enough, they sent a son to fight for our nation in World War II and he contracted the disease and died before the enemy could assault him.

Three men seated in chairs outdoors in 1923. Left to right: Unknown, Rev. Henry (Het) Phillips, and Rev. Thompson. Phillips and Thompson were Baptist preachers from Wilder, Tennessee. Collection Nelson Family Photographs, 1905-1925/Tennessee State Library and Archives

Three men seated in chairs outdoors in 1923. Left to right: Unknown, Rev. Henry (Het) Phillips, and Rev. Thompson. Phillips and Thompson were Baptist preachers from Wilder, Tennessee. Collection Nelson Family Photographs, 1905-1925/Tennessee State Library and Archives

The Lester Key home stood on the south fork of the road.  They were part of the same Key family but they came late to Key Town, having spent the early years of their marriage a couple of miles away on Mrs. Key’s family property.  But this little house was where Lester and Mary raised seven kids.  The house was log in the beginning but somewhere along the way he was able to cover it with “brickside” (or asphalt) siding.  It had only one bedroom and an open attic/loft where all of the children slept.  Mr. Key often told that he had in his pocket one dollar more when he finished the house than when he started.  The family had only one son and he had a bed partitioned off with a curtain on one end of the loft.  That home was close enough to today’s road that Lester was able to live in it till near the end of his ninety year life.  Even after he passed, his children could not part with the home and kept it standing another twenty years until they felt the decaying timbers were no longer safe.

Most of our readers won’t know any of these names but I’ll bet many of you can relate to the stories.  What a blessing to know these people that we were never able to meet.  What an inspiration they are when we compare the stresses of our modern-day lives to the struggles they faced.  The Atkinsons that I mentioned nursed their sick at home right there in Key Town.  There was little choice in the matter since no hospital was readily available and money to pay hospital bills would have been nearly impossible to come by.

Loretta Lynn said in her autobiographical song Coal Miner’s Daughter, “…a lot of things have changed since way back then and it’s so good to be back home again.  Not much left but the floor, nothing lives here anymore except the memories of a coal miner’s daughter.”  Well, things have certainly changed in Key Town; just within the last year the trees were harvested, wiping out even more of the signs of the town.  But the saws and the skidders cannot touch the memories or the stories.

Sometimes it’s hard to find the history of why a town grew where it did, and even harder to learn why it was abandoned.  Sure, when you can identify a mining community you can deduce that the coal seam played out and the company moved on.  But many of these towns sprang up around very small mines that are practically lost to history.

Just as those western towns often dried up when the railroad passed too far from them, the building and location of new roads often sealed the fate of towns.  In our example, the Key Town road was never developed and as new homes were built, they needed better access to the public road.

We are so accustomed to mobility today that looking at some of the locations makes one ask why anyone settled in the middle of nowhere.  The Baldwin Gulf raises such a question.  This is literally a gulf between two ridges cut by the river.  The Baldwin family settled there prior to The Civil War, locating at the site of a good spring.  Legend has it that the patriarch of the family refused to choose a side in the state’s war and was killed by local guerillas.  Still the family stayed and fifty years later saw the rich timberland of Baldwin Gulf harvested.  However, once again, the public road was built on top of the ridge line and the family began to move out of the gulf.  Hood Town, Zenith, and Hoover Town are very similar stories.

Isoline saw a different fate.  Built around a small mine, Isoline had its own railroad spur and a town grew up around it.  When the mine played out, the railroad pulled out and the town soon followed.  However, the roadway had been built right through Isoline so there is still ready access to it.  However, as you drive through today, only when you see the sign for the Isoline Baptist Church will you know you’ve arrived.

I suppose in fifty or one hundred years from now, many of the places we frequent or even call home will be only memories.  So we add our own stories to those we pass along to another generation until, as Loretta Lynn sang, “nothing lives here anymore except the memories…”


Listen Here: Appalachian History Weekly podcast posts today

Posted by | July 13, 2014

We post a new episode of Appalachian History weekly podcast every Sunday. Check us out on the Stitcher network, available on mobile phones, in-car dashboards and tablets worldwide. Just click below to start listening:

We open today’s show with guest author Barbara J. Butler. Butler is a member of Shady Grove Cemetery Dahlonega, LLC. “On May 10, 1872,” she tells us, “my 2nd great grandfather, Jacob Saine, deeded two acres of land to help his community start The Methodist Episcopal Church South. The log cabin/school was called Shady Grove Cemetery and Grave Yard. A number of my ancestors are buried there. Since 2008, family members have been fighting the battle to get ownership of Shady Grove away from The United Methodist Conference of Gainesville, Ga.”

We’ll pause in between things to catch up on a calendar of events in the region this week, with special attention paid to events that emphasize heritage and local color.

It probably should have been named William Christian Lake, considering the multi-generational efforts of the Pulaski County, VA community to preserve that man’s legacy. Instead, both the dam across the New River and the reservoir it creates were named for Graham Claytor, who just happened to be a senior executive of American Gas and Electric Company, the utility that built the dam in 1937-39.

“Museum exhibits and the understanding of shared history evolve at the Lillian E. Jones Museum,” says Megan Malone, director of this Jackson, OH institution. “The current exhibit of ‘Exploring Our Heritage …through wood’ is the perfect example of both statements, because history is simply not a singular experience that belongs to any one group of people.”

We’ll wrap things up with an oral history excerpt with WV deer tanner Kerth Snyder from Marshall University’s Oral History of Appalachia Collection. “We just, I used to flesh them by hand, used to air ‘em by hand. I used to do everything by hand. If I counted my time at normal wages, I’d have to have two or three hundred dollars per hide to come out and make wages.”

And thanks to the good folks at the Blue Ridge Institute Archives at Ferrum College, we’ll be able to enjoy some authentic Appalachian music from ‘Georgia Slim’ & Ivey Rutland in a 1950s recording of Chicken Reel.

So call your old Plott hound up on the porch, fire up your corncob pipe, and settle in for a dose of Appalachian history.

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