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Saving the Himler House

Posted by | November 10, 2014

Please welcome guest author Cathy Cassady Corbin. Corbin is the editor and agent for Martin Himler’s autobiography which will be published in 2015. Corbin also is a member of the Martin County, KY Historical and Genealogical Society and of the Society’s Himler Project Committee.

 

Martin Himler is known internationally for his 1919 founding of the Himler Coal Company, a coal company owned by Hungarian miners and structured on a unique co-operative business model that allowed the miners to be stockholders of the company and own their homes in the town of Himlerville (now Beauty), KY. The Hungarian immigrant coal mining entrepreneur arrived in America via the SS Carpathia on May 7, 1907, with 9¢ in his pocket and two goals in his mind. Mr. Himler was only eighteen years old when he stepped onto American soil, but he already knew that he wanted to fulfill his goals of making a living in America’s free enterprise system and serving America to the best of his capabilities.

Martin Himler in a miner’s cap explaining the $1,000 insurance policies being distributed among the workmen. Eugen Lang, the secretary, may be seen in this photo behind and on the left hand of Mr. Himler, policies in hand. Nearly every other man is a coal-miner-stockholder. From 1921 Coal Age article.<sup>2</sup>

Martin Himler in a miner’s cap explaining the $1,000 insurance policies being distributed among the workmen. Eugene Lang, the secretary, may be seen in this photo behind and on the left hand of Mr. Himler, policies in hand. Nearly every other man is a coal-miner stockholder. From 1921 Coal Age article.1

 

Mr. Himler’s first job in America was working as a coal miner in Thacker Mines, Thacker, WV. He also worked in the Iselin, PA coal mines. Mr. Himler later worked as a peddler to coal mining towns, and his entrepreneurial spirit further led him to begin his journalism career with the publication of Magyar Banyaszlap, Hungarian Miners’ Journal, a weekly newspaper published, as Mr. Himler said, “for miners by miners”.

Many Hungarian immigrants worked in American coal mines, and Mr. Himler saw a need for these miners to receive news from both America and Hungary, along with information about job openings and American citizenship. Mr. Himler penned the first issue of Magyar Banyaszlap while he was waiting for his peddling customers at a Holden,WV mine. Magyar Banyaszlap was self-supporting within five months and soon had a following of 60,000 miners. Some of the issues of Magyar Banyaszlap were published in both Hungarian and English, and the success of Magyar Banyaszlap inspired Mr. Himler’s life-long career in journalism.

The residents of Himlerville were primarily Hungarian immigrants who came to America to live and work. By 1922, there were 100 miners’ homes in Himlerville, and 1,000 Himlerville residents. Mr. Himler’s home and the home of Eugene Lang, Treasurer and Secretary of Himler Coal Company, were located in the town of Himlerville, and the town also is reported to have contained a company store, a theatre/opera house, a school, the Himler State Bank, St. Stephen’s Catholic Church, an ice cream parlor, a bakery, a powerhouse, a round house for locomotive maintenance, a building for community gatherings, the Himler Coal Company and Magyar Banyaszlap Office, and a community park in the middle of town. The Himlerville community had its own culture, its own way of life and prosperity, and according to the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian , “… the people who were a part of Himlerville surely have a lot to be proud of. Himlerville will go down in Martin County history as a strong force in helping shape the county’s future.”

Rear view of Martin Himler house as it appears today.

Rear view of Martin Himler house as it appears today.

Perhaps the most striking feature of Himlerville was the beautiful home of Martin Himler, which sat atop a hill overlooking the town. With its imposing columns and homely veranda, the two-story building was magnificent in every way. Similar in construction to a barn, the unique style of the house comes from two forms of architecture: Dutch Colonial and Craftsman. The roof has a gambrel roof, but no flaring eaves (another Dutch Colonial distinction). Instead, the eaves resemble a Bungalow or Craftsman style of architecture. This type of architecture can be categorized by overhanging eaves, double-hung windows, and a front porch beneath the extension of the main roof. Located on Mansion Hill, Himler’s estate captured attentions and commanded a strong presence over the town and its inhabitants. 2

The beautiful and welcoming home of Martin Himler was a center of social activity in Himlerville. Miners gathered at the home in the evenings, guests from throughout America were hosted at the home, and community dinners and activities often were centered in Mr. Himler’s home. One of the Himlerville residents, a young Hungarian woman named Mary Domosley Koblass, shared her memories of Mr. Himler’s home in the July 28, 1976, edition of The Martin Countian.

Mary began her description of a banquet held at the Himler home to honor a Martin County physician, Dr. Stepp, by saying that guests arriving at Mr. Himler’s home had to climb over one hundred concrete steps to reach the home. Mary explained that the steps had a double purpose of both stimulating guests’ appetites AND loosening the accumulated mud on guests’ shoes. The dinner guests arriving to honor Dr. Stepp were greeted on the front porch by Mr. Himler and his nephew, Mr. Andrew Fisher.

The guests included coal buyers and journalists; even the famous New York Hungarian journalist and screen writer Illona Fulop was a guest. Guests cleaned their shoes, then were led to either the large combination sun parlor and library where a fireplace was heaped with Himlerville coal on cool evenings, or to the more luxurious parlor known as the Blue Room. Mary said that the conversation at the dinner table was focused on only pleasant and humorous topics; shop talk was purposely avoided.

This is a picture of the first wedding in Himlerville; the wedding took place in 1925. Mary Koblass said,

This is a picture of the first wedding in Himlerville; the wedding took place in 1925. Mary Koblass said, “The affair was more formal than any that had been witnessed in Martin Co. up to that time.” Mr. Himler is standing on the right. This is the only Himlerville wedding ceremony in which Mr. Himler is pictured.

 

When the delicious feast in honor of Dr. Stepp had ended, Dr. Stepp was driven to his home at Kermit, WV, via a Model T Ford. Mary further explained that the overnight guests were shown to their upstairs bedrooms, each room with a private lavatory, and Mr. Fisher bid everyone a pleasant good night and God’s blessing. Mary’s words to summarize her memories of life at Mr. Himler’s home are: “Such was the social life in the Himler residence. I am sure that any guest that was fortunate enough to be invited there treasured the occasion for a lifetime!”

Many Martin Countians remember the story which says that Mr. Himler took the money from Himlerville and escaped with the money into the darkness of a June, 1928, night, never to be seen or heard from again. However, the story is only a story. The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society wishes to dispel this myth. Facts are that Himlerville went into receivership with a Cincinnati Bank in 1925 as a result of three factors: the unexpected expense of the Himler Coal Company Railroad Bridge, the one- inch seam of slate that was found in the Himlerville coal and that soon became a nine- foot seam of slate, and the decreased demand for coal following World War I. Himlerville Coal Company filed for bankruptcy because the company could not produce and sell enough coal to keep the company financially stable. All of the Himlerville Coal Company stockholders lost money, but Mr. Himler lost the most because he owned more shares of the company than other stockholders.

The Hungarians had hopes of opening another mine at Himlerville, but Nature intervened. Himlerville almost was washed away by the raging waters of Buck Creek on June 28,1928, and Mr. Himler said that he considered the flood to be a sign from God that the prosperous Himler Coal Company days were finished. The flood’s devastation sent most of the Hungarians to work in mines in WV.

Martin Himler shown wearing his US military uniform, with front of the house. Montage by Brandon Young.

Martin Himler shown wearing his US military uniform, with front of the house. Montage by Brandon Young.

The judge at the Himlerville bankruptcy hearing declared that the bankruptcy was the “cleanest” bankruptcy that he had seen, and the $1, 250,000.00 of Himler Coal Company assets were sold for $50,000.00. When Mr. Himler left Himlerville, he went to the Mayo Clinic to seek treatment for a lesion in his mouth that was thought to be malignant. Mr. Himler had $4.00 when he arrived at Mayo Clinic from Himlerville, and he had to contact friends and relatives to ask for financial support.

Martin Himler’s work in America was far from finished when the prosperous and happy Himlerville community came to an end. Mr. Himler continued his journalism career, and he fulfilled his goal to serve America when he became Colonel Martin Himler, Office of Strategic Services (now CIA), United States of America. Mr. Himler served America and the world when he became the interrogator of Nazi war criminals in Europe and decided the fate of the criminals whom Mr. Himler referred to as “the cringing beasts before me”.

The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society initiated the Himler Project in June, 2014, with the mission of restoring and preserving an Appalachian historic site important not only to Appalachian history, but to American and world history as well. The Society needs the creative ideas, the volunteer help, and the financial help of Appalachian History readers to ensure the success of the Himler Project!

The Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society believes that a restoration of Mr. Himler’s home is imperative to preserve the Hungarian immigrant culture of Himlerville and Appalachia, and the Society’s vision for the restored home is to maintain the home as a center for Hungarian immigrant culture and coal mining history. The restoration of Mr. Himler’s home and the preservation of the remaining Himlerville structures and the Himlerville Cemetery may lead to the designation of Mr. Himler’s home as a national landmark. The Society doesn’t want to miss the historic and economic opportunity to have a national landmark in eastern Kentucky.

The Society is grateful to Dave Tabler for sharing information about the Himler Project with all of you, and more Himler Project information will be coming when a restoration contractor has been selected and a restoration fundraising goal has been set. If you have ideas for the Himler Project or would like to volunteer to help with the Project, please contact Tom and Cathy Corbin at tomcorbin@hotmail.com.

The Himler Project needs the support of all of us living in Appalachia and of everyone who loves Appalachian history. Please visit the Save The Himler House Facebook Page, the @himlerhouse Twitter Page, and  The Himler Project website. The Himler Project is looking forward to hearing from Appalachian History readers!

Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society members displaying posters that were made by middle school students in Martin County. L - R: Dwayne Sweeney,  Evelynn Cassady, President of the Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society, and Dena James.

Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society members displaying posters that were made by middle school students in Martin County. L – R: Dwayne Sweeney, Evelynn Cassady, President of the Martin County, Kentucky Historical and Genealogical Society, and Dena James.

 

1 Hungarians Successfully Conduct Co-operative Mine in Kentucky, by J.R. Haworth, Coal Age, Vol. 20, No. 11, September 15, 1921, p. 413.

2 Martin County Historical and Genealogical Society. A Pictorial History of Martin County, Kentucky. Paducah, KY: Turner Publishing Company, 2001.

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Mortimer & Edgemont, NC – a Backroads Tour via ‘The Mountain Laurel’

Posted by | November 7, 2014

Bob HeafnerPlease welcome guest author Bob Heafner. Heafner is the publisher of The Mountain Laurel, which has been collecting and printing the lore, history, culture, and happenings of the Blue Ridge Mountain community since Bob and Charlotte Heafner and Susan Thigpen set up shop with an electronic typewriter in a rented farmhouse in March 1983. Heafner recently reviewed the route of one his 1984 Backroads Tours, in Mortimer & Edgemont, NC [article reprinted below]. “This tour, like all our tours,” he tells us, “is what we saw and who we talked to at that time. No doubt the area has changed, but we hope the reader can journey with us along the route and back in time to see what we saw back then. Unlike historians, we simply relied on the oral histories of old folks who had lived through the events they described.” Last year Heafner lent his collection of The Mountain Laurel to the Library of Virginia so it could be preserved on microfilm. Issues for March 1983 through Winter 1995 are available on Film 2025A. The Mountain Laurel maintains a website for the journal with many transcribed articles available and they are still accepting submissions of readers’ stories. Please visit the site for more of these wonderful stories.

 

As a teenager, in the early 1960’s, I spent a week deer hunting in Pisgah National Forest. My base camp was the tiny mountain community of Edgemont, North Carolina, which is located about 25 miles north of Morganton, North Carolina. Edgemont consisted primarily of Mr. Coffey’s Store. It was an old timey general store with everything from hoop cheese to kerosene lanterns. I remember the place had the smell of a fresh oiled gun. In those days, it seemed to me as if it were straight out of the pages of “Field and Stream” magazine.

An early issue of 'The Mountain Laurel' from August 1983.

An early issue of ‘The Mountain Laurel’ from August 1983.

The store was situated in a narrow mountain valley and was separated from a 20 foot wide trout stream by only the narrow gravel road. High ridges rose on both sides of the valley. It was a truly picturesque place.

One morning I had come out of the woods about 11:00 and headed to Mr. Coffey’s in my car for lunch. I passed an old fellow walking and offered him a ride. He accepted my invitation, climbed in the car and immediately began pointing out the sites of long disappeared homes and businesses. At one spot he announced, “This here’s Mortimer.” The few old deserted and dilapidated buildings that I had passed without thought were once Mortimer, North Carolina.

There was no trace of a railroad then but my new found friend informed me, “That building over there was the depot and that one over there was the hotel.” Tall weeds and underbrush almost completely hid the buildings then, but not from the old man’s memories. He told how there used to be a cotton mill and sure enough, as he pointed, I saw concrete walls standing in the woods. The outline of the buildings could easily be seen and all the walls were intact but there were no windows, roof, door and even the area within the walls was now covered with a growth of large trees.

My first reaction was, “What happened?” The old man informed me that in 1940, a tremendous flood had rocketed through the narrow valleys, sweeping away homes and businesses, including the cotton mill. Families had little notice to head for high ground and lives were lost. As the old man talked to me that cold November morning, I could see the towns of Mortimer and Edgemont, North Carolina as they were in his memories. I could smell the sweat of the two mules that pulled the wagon “by this very spot” the morning a feuding neighbor took a drunken shot at him and thankfully missed. My drive to Coffey’s Store that morning took longer than usual but it was well worth the extra time.

On later drives by the places he had pointed out, I could imagine the log cabin that “stood right over there” and the hustle and bustle that must have accompanied the mill in its heyday. No longer were the areas just pretty, but now they were fascinating places where imagination was ignited like dynamite. In the space of a thirty minute drive, I had “seen” over half a century. Sadly, I cannot remember the old man’s name, but thankfully, I will never forget his stories.

Photograph of Mortimer, North Carolina taken in 1929. It shows Wilson' s Creek, the railroad, and mill company housing. The big white houses on far right were boarding houses. The railroad depot is in curve of railroad. See mile 20.7.

Photograph of Mortimer, North Carolina taken in 1929. It shows Wilson’ s Creek, the railroad, and mill company housing. The big white houses on far right were boarding houses. The railroad depot is in curve of railroad. See mile 20.7.

This month our BACKROADS tour will go to Edgemont and Mortimer, North Carolina. We’ll visit Mr. Coffey’s Store and witness some of natures most rugged and spectacular mountain beauty. There are white water rivers rushing through gorges filled with boulders the size of houses and high mountain vistas all to be seen and enjoyed along our route. Take a picnic basket and a camera. It’s the kind of place you’ll want to linger and show your friends later.

Our entire tour will cover a total distance of 59.4 miles and you should allow at least four unhurried hours to complete this scenic drive.
BACKROADS tours always make a complete loop back to the point where we started. The underlined numbers at the beginning of each paragraph indicate the total number of miles we’ve traveled from our point of beginning. The numbers in parenthesis ( ) indicate the distance from the last point of interest that we passed.

00.0 (0.0) If you are traveling the Blue Ridge Parkway, exit at milepost 291.9 onto US 321 and 221 and proceed into Blowing Rock. The Blowing Rock Town Hall at 1036 Main St, will be on our right and we will start our mileage reading here as we head south on Main Street from this point. Main Street is also US 321 Business.

00.2 (0.2) The beautiful rock church on our right is the Rumple Memorial Presbyterian Church.

00.3 (0.1) Turn right onto State Road 1537 (Globe Road). This is the second road to the right past the church.

00.4 (0.1) Pavement ends here.

04.4 (4.0) There is an old mountain cemetery on our left.

05.8 (1.4) Here we bear to the left on state road 1367 continuing towards Globe, North Carolina.

05.9 (0.1) Here we cross a bridge spanning a beautiful stream.

06.6 (0.7) A beautiful old farm house is on our right.

07.4 (0.8) John’s River is on our left. This area is dotted with Christmas tree farms and they are beautiful, standing cone shaped and straight, row after row and field after field.

08.1 (0.7) Silver Wings Campground is on our left.

08.4 (0.3) At this stop sign, we are directly across from the Globe Baptist Church. We will turn left onto state road 1362.

Archie Coffey's General Store in Edgemont, North Carolina. See mile 17.6.

Archie Coffey’s General Store in Edgemont, North Carolina.
See mile 17.6.

08.7 (0.3) Here we cross another bridge over the river.

09.3 (0.6) At this point, we turn right onto state road 90.

09.5 (0.2) Here we cross a one lane steel bridge over beautiful John’s River.

12.0 (2.5) We continue straight ahead on state road 90.

15.5 (3.5) Mortimer Station Offices of Pisgah National Forest is on our right.

15.6 (0.1) A beautiful picnic area is on our right and the river is on our left.

16.4 (0.8) As we cross this bridge, the view of John’s River is spectacularly beautiful.

17.5 (1.1) Up the narrow shaded lane to our right is the picturesque Edgemont Baptist Church.

17.6 (0.1) This is Edgemont, North Carolina and Mr. Coffey’s General Store is on our left.

We will stop here for a while before heading back the way we came. More than likely Archie Coffey will be sitting on the bench in front of his store when you arrive and a neighborly smile and a “How do you do,” undoubtedly will greet you as you walk up the steps to the store. Mr. Coffey has operated this store for 48 years. 38 1/2 of which, he was postmaster of Edgemont. The old Post Office window is still in the rear of the store, although it is no longer a post office. The store is filled to the brim with antiques which are not for sale, but Mr. Coffey obviously enjoys explaining the uses and history of the various items. On three separate occasions, the floorboards of this store have been under flood water – in 1895, 1916 and again in 1940.

Mr. Coffey recalls August 13, 1940 as, “A day I’ll never forget.” It had rained all night and morning brought no relief. Wilson creek in front of the store was getting dangerously high, so Archie and Mrs. Coffey opened the front and back doors of the store, hoping the raging waters would pass through rather than carry the building away, and started climbing Jonas Ridge, which rises almost vertically behind the store, on their way to higher ground. As they climbed, rain was coming in torrents and although they were close enough to touch, they could barely hear each other speak over the roar of crashing boulders being washed downstream in the normally small mountain stream nearly a half a mile away. Boulders the size of house were washed away never to be seen again.

On top of the ridge they met up with 15 of their neighbors and there the small band, all relieved to find each other alive, huddled together and prayed for the safety of their neighbors who lived across the creek and for their homes and belongings which surely would not last out the day.

From their vantage point on Jonas Ridge, they could see entire houses being washed downstream. As Mr. Coffey described the events of August 13, 1940, it was easy to understand why that was a day he’ll never forget.

When you enter Coffey’s General Store and shake the hand of Archie Coffey, do so with the knowledge that here is a man that typifies mountain people everywhere; a person who has faced hardships and danger without losing faith; a person who has endured the changes of time and natural disasters only to become stronger in character and in faith. Archie Coffey is a mountain man and nothing, not economic hard times or natural disasters can separate him from his mountain home and way of life.

When you are ready to leave Coffey’s General Store, we will head back the way we came, toward the Mortimer Station of Pisgah National Forest.

[Update 2014 – Unfortunately Mr. Coffey has passed away, I wish you could have met him. He was a genuinely nice old mountain gentleman.]

19.9 (2.3) Turn right onto state road 1328 (Brown Mountain Beach Road).

20.3 (0.4) To your right is evidence of where the railroad once crossed Wilson Creek.

20.6 (0.3) Here we cross a low water bridge across Wilson Creek.

20.7 (0.1) In the woods on our left are the walls of the old United Milling Company Mill. For the next tenth of a mile, evidence of the last remnants of Mortimer, North Carolina can be seen.

Mortimer was primarily a lumber camp town with over 600 residents in 1929. The “crash of ‘29” brought an end to its heyday and by 1930 the entire town was closed down. By 1933, only three people were left. Along about then, Mr. O.P. Lutz of Lenoir, North Carolina, bought the entire town and a thousand acres of the surrounding mountains. He reopened the old mill with a plan to manufacture nylon hosiery, which were the new and coming rage at the time. Six machines were ordered from Germany and each one came packed in boxes containing over 30,000 pieces. Machinists from Germany came with the machines to assemble them and begin production of samples. The plant was only in operation for 6 or 7 days when the flood of 1940 completely destroyed Mr. Lutz dream and Mortimer’s hopes of revival as a manufacturing center.

Today the heirs of O.P. Lutz still own the property, but the signs of Mortimer, like the house size boulders, are washed away in the stream of time.

21.9 (1.2) Here we cross a one lane bridge.

24.0 (2.1) At this point we bear to the left over a one lane bridge. The upcoming views are magnificent.

27.7 (3.7) Entrance to Brown Mountain Beach Store and Campground is on our right. Pavement begins here.

28.5 (0.8) Turn left onto state road 1335 at this stop sign.

31.7 (3.2) At this stop sign, we are in Collettesville, North Carolina and here we turn right onto state road 90.

39.5 (7.8) At this stop sign, state road 1352 turns left but we will turn right and continue on state road 90.

40.4 (0.9) Enter Lenoir, North Carolina city limits.

40.8 (0.4) Turn left onto 321-A North and cross a bridge.

41.1 (0.3) Turn left at this stop light onto 321 North towards Blowing Rock, North Carolina.

57.4 (16.3) Entering the town limits of Blowing Rock.

58.3 (0.9) Turn left onto 321 Business Route (Main Street of Blowing Rock).

59.4 (1.1) We are back at our point of beginning at 1036 Main St, Blowing Rock, NC and the Blowing Rock Town Hall is on our left.

I hope you enjoyed this tour as much as we did. For me, it was a ride down memory lane, for the rest of the family it was a day of, “Isn’t that beautiful,” and “Look over there,” and for each of us it was a day of fun. Billy got to ride on Tweetsie Railroad while we were in the area. (To tell you the truth, he wasn’t the only one who enjoyed that. It was my first train ride too!) Have fun!

 

© Bob Heafner / The Mountain Laurel 1983 – 2014

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Book Review: “Buttermilk and Bible Burgers”

Posted by | November 6, 2014

lisa king dolloffPlease welcome guest writer Lisa King Dolloff. Dolloff, a journalist at Communities Digital News, was born and educated in Southwest Virginia (Emory & Henry). She traveled with her job all over America in her twenties and early thirties, then came back to the mountains to raise her daughter. “I’ve been employed as everything from a quality control technician in industrial construction, to a mail processing plant manager, to postmaster of a small town,” she says. “I come from a long line of story tellers, and will shamelessly exploit a family tree resplendent with colorful and unique characters, both past and present.”

 

In Buttermilk and Bible Burgers, Fred Sauceman’s latest book about the art of Appalachian cooking, he has once again demonstrated his ability to capture the essence of the people. Not only does the reader get some great recipes, but the unique way of life in one of the poorest regions in the country comes to life in a way that makes us forget about the poverty and yearn to meet the rich assortment of people he features.

For those unfamiliar with Appalachian ways, it is one thing to get a wave from a front porch when driving by but quite another to be invited into the kitchen. The misleading stereotypes that still plague the region have made the people cautious about opening up too much for fear of being misinterpreted.

Sauceman not only gets into the kitchens of Appalachia, he has gathered a collection of stories that provide an accurate portrayal of the reverence of a good meal in the region by taking the time to get to know the people who wield the iron skillet with such skill.

Buttermilk and Bible Burgers cover

Perhaps the most telling statement of the entire book is “Appalachia is sustainable without saying it.” Long before it was fashionable to plant a garden, and “buy local” appeared on bumper stickers, each spring the gardens were laid out in wistful anticipation of that first fresh garden tomato.

The gardening and gathering were not complete until a colorful array of jars, jugs and hanging pork filled pantries and smokehouses. With the preparations complete, the families had the satisfaction of knowing that come what may, they would not go hungry.

The book is divided into three sections; “The People,” “The Products,” and “The Places.” Sauceman seamlessly takes the reader on a joyful romp through Appalachian kitchens, farms and restaurants while introducing us to a diversity of characters we would love to get to know better. He portrays the region so accurately one can almost hear the snap of freshly harvested beans being prepared for the cooking pot and the lively banter that often accompanies the task.

Writing a book review is usually a simple task; either you like the book or you do not. But as a native Appalachian I will confess the book had my undivided attention from the first chapter about memories of frog gigging in the summer time.

Frog legs were a tasty staple and another source of protein long before “The Cooking Channel” introduced the rest of the country to the southern Appalachian tradition. It is yet another demonstration of the resourcefulness of the people and their ability to always find a way to get by.

It is hard to be non-biased when each story reminds me of people and places I know and love. My Great Aunt Lessie is long gone now but I can still hear echoing in my mind her solution to unexpected dinner guests. “Just add some flour and water to the pot and stir it up a while.” I don’t know how many times she pulled this on me, but I do know she cooked some of the best meals I’ve ever eaten. Thank you Mr. Sauceman for reminding me of her culinary wizardry.

If you want to know what the people and the food of Appalachia are really like, ignore the endless parade of Appalachian based “reality shows” and pick up Buttermilk and Bible Burgers instead. Long after the current fad fades away, Sauceman’s collection of books will stand as a lasting testament to the hardworking people of the region and the love they put into preparing a good meal.

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In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion

Posted by | November 5, 2014

A new feature documentary from Alpha Vision Films

James OvertonPlease welcome guest author James Overton. “I find the ‘team’ quality of filmmaking deeply rewarding,” says the producer and director of Alpha Vision Films, Waynesboro, VA. “One can’t make films alone. So it’s necessary to assemble a group of interested associates, all with their own distinct talents, knowledge and experience. Then the ‘team’ combines their efforts towards a common creative goal, the envisioning, execution and completion of a film. Naturally, as producer and director at Alpha Vision Films, much of this responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders. But in the end, it’s a team effort all the way.” Overton’s recently completed documentary In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history.

 

On any given day, an intrepid hiker might stray off the path more traveled and find themselves on a certain mountain ridge deep in the George Washington National Forest near the small town of Lyndhurst, Augusta County, Virginia. That wanderer would possibly be struck by the quiet serene beauty of a lonely wood. But also, one might feel a sense of deep, isolated, melancholy remote separation.

Out of the corner of the eye, cracked and sunken concrete foundations suddenly seem to appear. But there are mature trees growing inside these old man-made formations. Then, a maze of complicated stone-lined pathways can occasionally be seen, as if in an attempt to affirm their continued existence under years and years of leaves, fallen limbs and bracken. A moss covered stairway leading to nowhere. Buried in the wilderness, what on earth could all this be?

This is exactly the impression made on me as I first arrived at the location of a forgotten structure deep in the forest. A location with great, but largely unknown and certainly unresolved for many, significance in Virginia history. This is Camp Lyndhurst. The home of nearly 300 German prisoners during the final years of World War II. But, that is only the last chapter of this incredible place, so lost and forgotten by many today.

Camp Lyndhurst was constructed deep in the throes of The Great Depression to house men who were part of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. A program in FDR’s “New Deal” to employ thousands of jobless young men across America in construction and conservation projects, saving them from possible homelessness and starvation. The “CCC,” as it was familiarly called, constructed the Sherando Lake complex, did major construction on all areas of the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway, and was involved with numerous other projects along the parkway’s route. They planted billions of trees in a reforestation project to inspire the sprit of conservation, all under the strict supervision of the U.S. Army.

These CCC Boys, although not prisoners, were under military restrictions and regulations. Consequently, they were the first men at Camp Lyndhurst to experience directly the overwhelming loneliness of this remote place. In fact, in one year alone—1940—37 were given dishonorable discharges for desertion. The isolated sequestration in this place created an uncannily depressing atmosphere.

Main Street, Camp Lyndhurst during the Civilian Public Service era.

Main Street, Camp Lyndhurst during the Civilian Public Service era.

Soon, very soon, their boredom was relieved by a sudden and dramatic contingency: the looming global conflict of the Second World War. The camp originally opened on May 15, 1933 and was operational as a CCC camp for the next 8 years. That era of Camp Lyndhurst came to an end on July 18, 1941. The camp was closed and vacant until May 1942. In short order, most CCC Boys enlisted or were drafted into the military, along with millions of other young Americans. But not all.

At the same time, thousands of young men, mostly affiliated with pacifist-based religious orders such as The Mennonite and Brethren Churches, requested and were officially designated conscientious objector status. Accordingly, many months after Camp Lyndhurst had been evacuated and shuttered by The Civilian Conservation Corps, frantic activity at the camp resumed.

Conscientious objectors were assigned to The Civilian Public Service, or CPS, and the camp took on its second incarnation as CPS Camp 29. Several hundred conscientious objectors continued the work on the parkway begun earlier by The CCC, along with essential work in agriculture on farms and orchards in The Shenandoah Valley. Eventually, work on The Blue Ridge Parkway in the Augusta County sector was completed, and CPS assignees were transferred to a separate CPS camp near Bedford, VA to continue work in the area of The Peaks of Otter.

And so, once again, the camp was closed and temporarily abandoned. Few could have imagined the next role the camp was to play. In 1944, many of the over three hundred thousand German prisoners of war would find the old CCC/CPS camps their home for the duration of the war and beyond. Manpower in the nation’s factories, fields and farms had been drastically depleted during the war effort. These German soldiers provided much needed labor on the home front, directed by the Department of Agriculture following strict observation of The Geneva Convention. Camp Lyndhurst was now a POW camp, and enemy soldiers were in our land, The Shenandoah Valley.

German POW.

German POW.

Many were given work assignments and were directly supervised by their local farmer and agricultural employers. Some of these farm families were of the Mennonite and Brethren church communities for generations, and many prisoners’ lives were transformed by these hosts‘ pacifist beliefs.

When the war ended, POWs, without fanfare and with little notice, were swiftly repatriated back to their homelands where they encountered complete destruction, death and starvation. However, the qualities of freedom, liberty and democracy they had experienced while working alongside the civilian population of America had made an indelible impression. Many determined to return, one day, to the land of the free.

This new feature documentary, from my local independent film group Alpha Vision Films, explores a little known and fascinating chapter in Virginia history. “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga” features President of The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Historical Society, and author of The Longest Patrol, Gregory L. Owen. Mr. Owen’s book is about the life of one of the POWs interned at Camp Lyndhurst, Karl Baumann.

Karl Baumann was captured in France and eventually imprisoned at the camp. Following the war, he made his way back to the Shenandoah Valley to raise his family and live out his life. His story is prominently featured in the film. Karl Baumann passed away in 2009, so we have no direct quote from him. However, it’s recorded that he felt the attitude of the Mennonite and Brethren church families that employed him as a POW made a tremendous impact in his life. Although he was “the enemy” he was still given basic humanitarian treatment and respect.

Our documentary also includes President of The Waynesboro Heritage Foundation, Shirley Bridgeforth. Shirley was essential to the conception of film. The Foundation’s museum in downtown Waynesboro retains some fascinating relics from the camp. This is covered in her film interview. My study of these relics led me to the idea of making the film. At that point, Shirley introduced me to Gregory L. Owen. Greg had already done several years of research into the camp history, which was incredibly helpful in creating the narrative of the film. Shirley also did considerable research.

Karl Baumann, U-Boat Gunner, Age 19

Karl Baumann, U-Boat
Gunner, Age 19

The production began in January of 2014 and was completed by June this year. The location of the camp is a very compelling, but extremely dangerous place. One thing I hadn’t considered in sharing this story is that I’m now being swamped with requests for details on the location. Consequently, I’ve posted the following statement on all of our relevant social media: “Friends, thank you for your interest in the film. I have received numerous inquiries asking about the location of the camp. EXTREME caution should be used if attempting to visit the site. It’s a dangerous spot for many reasons:

1.) Sinkholes abound (we almost lost one of our associates up there filming one afternoon) Most of what I call “sinkholes” are the result of the foundations cracking up and settling, holes where fence/telephone/power line posts have been removed and eroded away, wells and cisterns, etc. All of these hazards are completely covered in years’ worth of leaves, limbs, bracken, etc. and consequently, totally invisible.

2.) It’s VERY remote. Please do NOT venture up there without advising the US Forest Service that you’ll be on the site.

3.) It’s a rattlesnake den! Additionally, we were given the stern warning from the US Forest Service to not remove any item large or small from the campsite. Please respect this completely reasonable directive. With a little research, the camp can be located. However, my one main concern in sharing this story is that someone will go up there and be injured… Consequently, I’m not generally publicizing the location. But it is indeed an amazing place…We learned all of this at the location the hard way!

One interesting production incident: over the weeks of location shooting, we had the son of former POW, the late Karl Baumann, request to join us at the site. Michael Baumann, who is an educator in Kenova WV, had not been back to the camp location since his first visit, age 6, when he was accompanied by his father. Michael Baumann is now 52. I had not, at that time, had the opportunity to secure rights, releases, and permissions to include him in the film. This visit had come up suddenly and unexpectedly.

Author Gregory L. Owen inspects grounds of Camp Lyndhurst with Shirley Bridgeforth.

Author Gregory L. Owen inspects grounds of Camp Lyndhurst with Shirley Bridgeforth.

So I firmly instructed my director of photography, Mark Miller, not to film him or have him on camera on this particular day’s shooting. While we were split up with different crews over several different spots at the site, Michael found himself alone with Mark at a very significant landmark, which we had discovered and excavated at the camp, the “stone pedestal” bulletin board. Effectively, the center of the camp.

At this point, Michael insisted that the camera start rolling. He had something to say, and over Mark’s objection, his sequence was filmed. It was very fortunate, for Michael did not return to the campsite at any other time during the filming. Michael’s statement in the film is, without doubt, one of the emotional highlights of the entire production. In the end we received the full co-operation of the Baumann family.

We were able to track down some fascinating people here in Virginia, some of whom had been at the camp in one of its many facets. Mr. David Flora of Bridgewater VA is a good case in point. Mr. Flora, 92 years old in 2014, was the son of a Brethren Church minister and lifelong member of the Brethren Church community. He requested, and was officially granted, conscientious objector status by Selective Service during World War II.

In 1943, at age 21, he reported to CPS Camp 23, Camp Lyndhurst, to begin his compulsory service. He describes the concept of conscientious objection in the film thus: ‘It means not killing. Seeking the good in a person rather than the evil. You wouldn’t go out and shoot a person who was your friend, so you don’t go shoot a person who’s not your friend!’ Mr. Flora’s sequence in the film is another emotionally powerful moment.

Barracks interior. CPS era. 1943. 21 year old David Flora is seated far right.

Barracks interior. CPS era. 1943. 21 year old David Flora is seated far right.

Needless to say, these first hand witnesses are fewer and fewer with the passing years. Their recollections proved to be most interesting.

The film raises many important issues, still completely valid today. The question of conscience versus duty… The idea of how humans relate to each other and how one or two inciting incidents in a person’s life can send them off on a path of which they could never have dreamed… Our film will appeal to those interested in both the history of Virginia and/or of World War II. Also, since local Brethren and Mennonites played important roles as both conscientious objectors and as consumers of POW labor, the story of Camp Lyndhurst would be of interest to those immersed in church history.

You can view “In This Land: The Camp Lyndhurst Saga / German Prisoners of War in The Old Dominion” free of charge by visiting the Alpha Vision Films website: www.alphavisionfilms.net or www.alphavisionfilms.com. (All of our 19 previous productions, many also with local interest, can be seen at the site free of charge as well.) You won’t want to miss this incredible story that retraces, and at long last reveals, a compelling true-life drama in The Shenandoah Valley. We hope you will find this story as exciting and profound as we did in bringing it to you.

Alpha Vision Films’ production team also includes Associate producer Theresa Reynolds Curry and Mark Miller, Director of photography. Who is funding Alpha Vision Films? In short, I am. My ‘real job’ has been professional singer and entertainer in Virginia for the last 38 years. But I have also been a lifelong film fan, studied the process, and long intended to one day undertake film-making myself. This is not now, and has never been, a ‘commercial’ venture for me. I’ve spent a small fortune in all this (and I’m not wealthy by any means) and haven’t yet made a dime. Purely done for the intrinsic joy of being a part of such a creative form of expression and working within a new medium that I love.

Just as I do, everyone donates their time and talent while I pick up all expenses. Very gratifying undertaking, and our work has dramatically improved and met with enthusiastic acceptance over the last 5 years. We’re incredibly grateful.

One final thought on this particular subject—I know from personal experience, having spent my entire adult life in the entertainment industry, that this approach—concentrating solely on the artistic merits and quality of one’s work, NOT the money—is EXACTLY how amazing and unexpected opportunities often find a person. So… this is how I’m betting!

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Book Excerpt: ‘Black Mountain College’

Posted by | November 4, 2014

anne chesky_smithHeather SouthPlease welcome guest authors Anne E. Chesky Smith and Heather South. The two have just released the new book Black Mountain College (Arcadia Publishing). Chesky Smith grew up in the Swannanoa Valley of North Carolina and is a graduate of Appalachian State University’s Masters of Appalachian Studies program in Boone, NC. Smith served as the Executive Director of the Swannanoa Valley Museum for the past four years and is now pursuing her PhD in Anthropology at the University of Georgia in Athens. Heather South fell in love with archives work during an internship at Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC, and has been working with historical documents ever since. Heather has a BA and MA in history from Winthrop University and is a member of the Academy of Certified Archivists. South is now the head archivist for the Western Regional Archives, a branch of the State Archives of North Carolina, located in Asheville, NC, which opened in August 2012. Black Mountain College boasts 200 vintage images, many of which have never been published, and chronicles the school’s unique history. We’re pleased to present the following excerpt:

 

In the spring of 1933, John Andrew Rice, a classics professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, faced an investigating team to answer to charges that ranged from wearing a jockstrap on the beach to being “disruptive of peace and harmony.”

Black Mountain cover final

Denying the former charge, but unable to fully dispute the latter because of his unconventional teaching methods and sometimes abrasive personality, Rice was fired. Several other faculty, including physics instructor Theodore Dreier, chemistry professor Frederick Georgia, and history professor Robert Lounsbury, rallied around Rice and the issues his firing brought up at the school. A few were also fired, and others resigned in protest.

That summer, many of Rice’s former students and colleagues encouraged him to start a new experimental school where they could practice many of the educational theories of which Rice had often spoken. When he finally agreed, space for the college and money to operate it had to be found quickly. Former Rollins drama professor and native North Carolinian Bob Wunsch suggested Blue Ridge Assembly, located in Black Mountain, North Carolina.

The Christian conference center, in use only during the summer, proved to be an excellent location for the school. The large, three-story, white-columned main building, Robert E. Lee Hall, boasted a large lobby, wide porch, two wings, and rooms suitable for dorms. There was also a separate dining room directly behind Lee Hall. All of this would well serve the college’s idea of a communal living environmental. And, best of all, it was available for just $4,500 a year—a modest sum for a rental, but still an obstacle for Rice and his supporters to raise before the start of the term.

Without a clear operational plan, Rice had trouble finding funding from traditional sources, but at the last minute, he lucked into a $10,000 gift from the wealthy family of another former Rollins faculty, “Mac” Forbes, who would continue to generously support the college for many years. Now, with enough money in the bank, Rice signed the lease for Blue Ridge Assembly on August 24, 1933, and Black Mountain College became a reality.

Campus members soak up the sun while reading in the rocking chairs off the dining hall after a meal, Blue Ridge campus.

Campus members soak up the sun while reading in the rocking chairs off the dining hall after a meal, Blue Ridge campus.

The first board of fellows consisted of Rice, Georgia, Lounsbury, Dreier, Dreier’s younger brother John, and J.E. Spurr. When Lounsbury died suddenly of a stroke just after the start of the first term, and with John Dreier and Spurr mostly absent from the campus, the college was put firmly in the hands of three men—John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, and Frederick Georgia. They appointed themselves to faculty positions, put together bylaws of the college, and elected Georgia as the college’s first rector. After the first year, however, the title would be given to Rice.

But by no means was work in class and on campus the only, or even the main, emphasis of the college. Allowing time for leisure and personal exploration was another component of educating the whole student. The grounds and forests surrounding Blue Ridge Assembly allowed for an abundance of outdoor activities. Students and faculty gathered for dancing after dinner during the week and attended concerts and plays put on by the community on weekends.

The most innovative—and best-remembered—part of Black Mountain’s education experiment, though, was the school’s emphasis on putting art at the center of the curriculum. Students were encouraged to take courses in theater, music, drawing, painting, and poetry. But in order for the arts to be a central focus, an art teacher had to be found. After turning down several recommendations, Rice was told about a German couple that was trying to come to the United States after the Bauhaus had closed its doors.

He hired Josef Albers, a painter, and his wife, Anni, a weaver, on the spot, sight unseen. The Albers arrived at Black Mountain just before Thanksgiving 1933 and would, for the next decade and a half, be a driving force behind the arts at the college. Over the years, more refugee artists would find haven at Black Mountain, greatly shaping the school.

Two unidentified students work in the college’s chemistry lab on the Blue Ridge Assembly campus.

Two unidentified students work in the college’s chemistry lab on the Blue Ridge Assembly campus.

The college would gain notoriety during the 1930s, appearing in newspaper articles and attracting visitors such as John Dewey, Thornton Wilder, Henry Miller, and Aldous Huxley, who were interested in the Black Mountain experiment. But when Louis Adamic, a Yugoslavian writer, came to Black Mountain in 1936 and wrote a long magazine article that would appear in Harper’s and Reader’s Digest, a schism in the community began to develop.

Though the article brought the college much-needed publicity, it presented John Andrew Rice as the hero and leader of the school, a view to which many objected loudly and publicly. The fight between Rice and his detractors continued for over a year, and many faculty who were against him—including Frederick Georgia—were forced out. In 1938, however, it was discovered that Rice was having an affair with a student, and that became the precipitating factor that finally forced him from Black Mountain in 1940. His exit, along with a change of campus, would successfully bring about the end the first era of Black Mountain College’s history.

While Blue Ridge Assembly served the college well during its first years, moving in and out every summer to make room for the Christian conference goers became problematic. Plus, renting a facility limited how much the college could grow and change.

Students rest on a farm truck with John Andrew Rice (seated against the trunk cab).  The farm, a student generated idea, was started to subsidize some of the cost of feeding the students and staff.

Students rest on a farm truck with John Andrew Rice (seated against the truck cab). The farm, a student generated idea, was started to subsidize some of the cost of feeding the students and staff.

So in 1937, the college purchased a 667-acre property across the valley at Lake Eden. Architecture professor A. Lawrence Kocher was asked to design a single facility that would house classrooms, space for a weaving room, storage, student studies, and faculty apartments.

The design was approved, and beginning in the fall of 1940, in an effort to save money, classes were only held in the morning so that students and faculty could go to Lake Eden and work with a few professionals on winterizing the existing buildings and constructing the new Studies Building. In May 1941, with the end of their lease at Blue Ridge Assembly, the college packed up all their equipment and trucked it to the Lake Eden property.

Like the 1930s, the 1940s brought new faculty, new ideas, and new schisms within the college.

The same summer (1944) in which the college invited Alma Stone to be the first black member of the community also saw the introduction of two special summer sessions—one in art and one in music—that, over the years, would bring many notable artists, including Willem de Kooning, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, and Buckminster Fuller, to teach at Black Mountain for a few weeks. It was during one of these summer sessions that Fuller would successfully erect his first geodesic dome.

Black Mountain’s third, and final, era saw it become a dramatically different place it had been for the first 16 years. Enrollment dropped even further in the 1950s, falling to 35 students by1953, then to 15, then to 9, which kept funding a continuing issue.

Sue Spayth (Riley) climbing out onto the roof of Lee Hall for Macbeth rehearsal. She played Lady Macbeth in the campus production.

Sue Spayth (Riley) climbing out onto the roof of Lee Hall for Macbeth rehearsal. She played Lady Macbeth in the campus production.

Selling a large tract of land across the road from the college shored up some of the college’s finances, but few at the school in the 1950s were interested in (or nearly as good as Ted Dreier had been) at fundraising and administration. Interest in the work program was minimal. The farm was neglected, and when the cows began to die from lack of care, they were sold off.

The few attempts on behalf of some faculty members to add a more traditional structure to the college failed in favor of continuing the college’s original ideals of creativity, freedom, and artistic expression, and those faculty, frustrated with the direction in which the college was headed, left the school. Though the last of the college’s summer sessions were held in 1953, Olson attempted to reorganize the structure of the school away from a traditional class schedule to a series of institutes in art, science, and social science held for intense periods throughout the semester but in the end, it was not enough.

Though it only lasted 24 years, Black Mountain College continues to inspire thought on community living, experimental education, and the arts. Several books have already been compiled that chronicle the history of the place, the art that came out of it, and many of the personal stories from the college. The purpose of this publication is twofold—to showcase a small percentage of the image collection at the NCDCR and to introduce Black Mountain College to those who never knew this special place existed.

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