A national treasure almost lost forever

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 9, 2017

Maxine Broadwater was just 5 years old when she helped her brothers destroy the glass negatives so they could turn their late uncle’s photography studio into a chicken house. Luckily for us they didn’t finish the job.

Leo J. Beachy (1874-1927) is thought to have taken ten thousand photographs a year on five inch by seven inch glass plates of the people and places in his beloved Garrett County, MD between the years 1905 and 1927. Perhaps 10% of his output survives today. It’s astonishing to consider that by the time he gave up his teaching career at the age of 31 to pursue his passion full time, he’d somehow found ways to prevent his multiple sclerosis from slowing this pace. He’d wrap his arms around people’s backs to be dragged from camera to developing room, and had a special wagon outfitted to carry photographer and rigging.

Leo J. Beachy with children

“I have taken medicine by the barrel and as for doctors… I’ve been drugged by the allopaths, rubbed by the osteopaths and bilked by the quack-o-paths. They have doped me with caster oil, rubbed me with sweet oil and soaked me in hard oil. I’ve slept with my head to the north for polarity, and between a pair of electric sheets and with a bundle of shingles for a pillow, for cedaracity. In fact I’ve tried everything from sooth sayers to the ouija board. Now if you know of anything new, just trot it out and I’ll put it through the paces.” Leo Beachy, 1923.

Fifty years after she dumped her uncle’s glass plates into a nearby creek, Maxine Broadwater was given about 2,700 Beachy negatives that had been gathering dust in a neighbor’s shed. Broadwater has devoted the decades since to preserving those images of children, farmers and small-town Appalachia.

“When I was a child, I did exactly what I was told. I’m hoping Uncle Lee forgave me for that, I’m trying to make it up to him now,” she said.

The pictures have been celebrated since their discovery. William Stapp, curator of photography for the National Portrait Gallery, praised them as “entrancing pictures, composed with naive charm” in his essay for the 1984 book, “Maryland Time Exposures, 1840-1940.” And a 1990 Spread in LIFE magazine exposed Beachy’s work to the world.

“When I first saw [the photographs], what struck me was how unposed and natural his portraits where, not anything like I had seen or associated in my own mind with what photographs looked like at the turn of the century,” said Adele Rush, executive producer of ‘Images of Maryland,’ an hour long special aired several years ago by Maryland Public Television about the work of six great Maryland photographers.

Finally The Maryland Historical Society acquired the Leo Beachy Collection of Photographs. The collection includes 2,000 postcard prints, and 200 glass-plate negatives.

sources: www.rootsweb.com/~mdgarret/unclesphoto.html


Related posts: “Photographer Doris Uhlmann”

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Acid rain devastates Tennessee’s Copper Basin

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 8, 2017

In August 1843, a Tennessee gold prospector working on Potato Creek discovered a reddish-brown and black decomposed rock that contained deep red crystals; his “gold” turned out to be red copper oxide. At the time, this copper deposit was one of the world’s largest finds.

The Hiwassee Mine opened in 1850, and within 5 years the Tennessee, Mary’s, Isabella, and Eureka mines were operating full swing. The Copper Basin, a 75-square-mile long geologic formation, was fast becoming home to the Southeast’s largest metal mining operation, employing more than 2,500 people at its peak.

Who could have foreseen that the largest man-made biological desert in the nation would emerge out of this economic fervor?

By 1861, trees were becoming scarce in the Basin. Wood was needed to fuel the smelters. The Polk County ores contained significant sulfur content. When roasted, the sulfur was released, forming sulfur dioxide, which later rained down as sulfuric acid. After the trees had been cut, the gases from the open smelting destroyed the remaining vegetation.

By 1876, there was no wood left in the immediate area. Logs were floated down the Ocoee River from Fannin County, GA to fuel the smelters. By 1878, about 50 square miles had been stripped of vegetation. Without trees and undergrowth, the top soil began to erode and huge gullies formed. Very few plants or animals survived. The nation was getting its first look at the long-term effects of acid rain.

Starting about 1885, the State of Georgia began filing lawsuits because of the damage to its timber and crops.

By 1899 the Tennessee Copper Company (TCC) had bought or leased mines from most of the other mining companies in the Basin. It built a new smelter in McCays (renamed Copperhill) and in 1904 placed its headquarters in the town.

Copper Basin, Polk County TNOriginal caption reads: Copper mining section between Ducktown and Copperhill, Tennessee. Fumes from smelting copper for sulfuric acid have destroyed all vegetation and eroded the land.

That same year, TCC erected smoke stacks 150 feet tall to solve the acid rain problem, and in 1905 erected a 325 foot stack. The stacks helped locally but dispersed the gases over an even wider area. Instead of settling lawsuits, this tactic created more lawsuits from a broader area.

Tennessee courts ruled that the value of the copper companies’ contributions to the county out-weighed damages they caused. Before the copper industry came to the area, there were only around 200 residents. The court noted that, at that time, the open-roast heap method of smelting was the only known smelting method.

In 1906 in Georgia vs. Tennessee Copper Company, the Supreme Court heard Georgia’s claim that TCC was taking away its sovereign rights of control over its land and air. Georgia sought an injunction preventing TCC from using the open roast heap smelting method, and the Supreme Court granted it in 1907.

This injunction, had it been enforced, would have probably meant the end to mining, which in turn would have killed the Basin economically. TCC mining engineers instead proposed the idea of condensing the gases to produce sulfuric acid. Georgia officials agreed to wait and see if the new process would help the situation.

“The Tennessee Company is erecting an acid plant to make low-grade sulphuric acid out of the fumes from the blast furnaces,” said Walter Harvey Weed in ‘The Copper Mines of the World,” in 1908. The company built two acid plants, in Isabella and Copperhill, which did in fact contain the sulfur dioxide output.

And so, even though the Court had found for Georgia, it did not instate the injunction. Ironically, sulfuric acid ultimately replaced copper as TCC’s major product. In 1942, TCC built a large sulfuric acid plant at Copperhill.

Within two decades of the acid rain ruling the first efforts were made to reclaim the barren landscape. Reforestation efforts began in the 1920s and 1930s and concentrated efforts began in the 1940s. Early efforts were carried out by the mining companies and TVA.

In 1941 the TVA established a CCC camp in the Basin to enhance their tree planting efforts. Hundreds of acres of pine were planted between 1939 and 1944. The CCC workers built dams, planted trees, and covered the ground with straw to prevent runoff.

Today, the Burra Burra Mine Historic District is on the National Register of Historic Places. The State of Tennessee purchased the site in 1983, making it the first state-owned historic industrial site.

The district stands as a stark example of the devastating environmental damage that stems from unplanned, unregulated large-scale industrial development.

sources: www.tennessee.gov/environment/hist/pdf/copperhill.pdf


acid+rain Tennessee+Copper+Company Copper+Basin Polk+County+TN appalachia appalachian+history appalachian+mountains+history

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I don’t ever seem to be able to get away from groceries

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 7, 2017

“So you wonder why I have spent the last ten years of my life behind this meat counter,” said Jack Gallup. “You think I ought to be doin’ something better, do you? Well, I’ll tell you. For one thing, I never would study in school and I dropped out at the end of the fifth grade; and another thing is, I have never been able to get any money ahead because I spent it on gasoline and liquor.

“I am not much over thirty, but I might have saved up enough money by now to start a small business of my own. I know the grocery business and I know the meat business from top to bottom. My uncle’s store has a good trade and I do all the buying for the meat counter and stand behind the counter to cut it and weigh it. Particular people come in here and it’s my business to please them.

“In the course of time, you know, a man can learn anything if he puts his mind on it. I could have learned something out of books when I was in school, but I wasn’t willin’ to put my mind on it. I was interested in marbles and baseball and in playing pranks on the other boys and in deviling the teachers. A good lawyer here in Tucony once told my mother I’d make a good lawyer if I’d only study, but I wouldn’t.

Ice box in grocery store in West Asheville, NC“What little I know I’ve learned right here in this store. In sellin’ meat I learned some arithmetic because I had to, and I’ve learned to speak fairly good English from educated people who came in here to trade. I’ve always kept my ears open, and that’s easier than studyin’ books and worth more; I never could see much in books.

“I remember at least one thing I heard a teacher say. It was somethin’ about paying too dear for your whistle. These people who get a book education have to pay too much for it. I may not be right but that’s my way of thinkin’. Anyhow I wasn’t willin’ to pay the price. It may be worth it to some people but not to me.

“Have I always lived in Tucony? Most of my life. I was born out in the country six miles from town on a farm my granddaddy bought when this was a wild country, and I had my fun fishin’ and huntin’ and trappin’. I went to school when I had to, and I worked in the cornfield when I had to, but my daddy had to lick me sometimes to make me do it. I reckon the way I lived out in the country is what makes me so strong and healthy.

“When my daddy moved into town so my sisters could go to high school, I got a job as an errand boy in a grocery store, and I don’t ever seem to be able to get away from groceries. When I was growin’ up I got several other small jobs, but I didn’t keep any of ‘em long. I got to runnin’ round nights with the boys and we used to drink and prowl about, and sometimes times we got into fights and landed in the cooler. It cost my daddy a lot of money to get me out of trouble, and it was at a time when he had mighty little money. I don’t know why it is but when I get liquor in me I want to fight. I’m just a plain fool.

“Finally my uncle took me into his grocery and put me behind the meat counter. I got drunk once in a great while and he always threatened to fire me but he never did. He’s a queer old duck, but he’s good-hearted. He hates to see money go out of his hands but he’ll give a bunch of ripening bananas to some of his kin to help feed the chillun. Some people would rather give things to strangers than to their kin. Not my uncle. He abuses everybody who works for him, but he is good to them in many ways. He’ll do anything for them except raise their wages; some of them have been with him a long time.

“He and his wife work hard – she with her butter-making and he behind his counter or an the road looking after his branch stores in neighboring towns. He drives his own automobile and he goes like the devil was after him. He says time’s money, and money is what he wants. Two or three times he has run his car off the mountainside and rolled over and over, but he’s so tough he was back at work in a day or so. He growls and says he’s nearly dead but he goes on. I once told him he wasn’t fit to die. I expected he’d beat me over the head with a stick, but he only laughed.”

Spencer Mull,
Brevard, N.C.
interviewed August 7, 1939 by A.W. Long
Folklore Project of the Federal Writers’ Project
for the U.S. Works Progress (later Work Projects) Administration (WPA)
online at https://www.loc.gov/item/wpalh001813/

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The Grand Canyon of the South

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 4, 2017

Breaks Interstate Park, located astride the SW Virginia/eastern Kentucky border along the Russell Fork of the Big Sandy River, is one of only two interstate parks in the nation. Perhaps the scale of the 5-mile-long, .25-mile-deep gorge that forms the park’s centerpiece cannot rival that of the Grand Canyon, but the 250 million year old “Grand Canyon of the South” IS the largest gorge east of the Mississippi.

Breaks Interstate ParkThe park takes its name from this gorge, which forms a “break” in Pine Mountain. Passes through these rugged mountains were called breaks by early settlers. Where the raging waters have carved the solid sandstone to break through Pine Mountain, nature has dressed the canyon walls in some of the region’s most spectacular scenery.

Daniel Boone is credited with discovering The Breaks in 1767 as he attempted to find ever-improved trails into Kentucky and the Ohio River Valley beyond. Both he and Simon Kenton explored here in the last quarter of the 18th century.

Because of elevation and moisture differences, the park contains various biospheres, ranging from oak/hickory climax forests on the drier ridge tops to a laurel/hemlock environment in the bottoms and along the creeks. This biodiversity results in an amazing display of spring wildflowers, including rare plants like yellow lady’s slipper and Catawba rhododendron.

The region was a hunting ground for Cherokee and Shawnee Indians. It is the home of Pow Wow Cave, used by the Shawnees.

The crown jewel of the park is the Towers, an imposing pyramid of rocks more than half a mile long and a third of a mile wide. The area around the Towers is said to contain the lost silver mine of Englishman John Swift. In the late 1700s Swift supposedly had one or more silver mines that were subsequently lost. He spent the last part of his life trying to relocate them. The lost mines are one of the great –and recurring- legends of southeastern Kentucky.

Public Law 275 created the park on August 14, 1953, and today, the 4,600-acre Breaks accommodates more than a third of a million visitors annually.

Sources: “Hiking Kentucky” by Brook Elliott (1998, Human Kinetics)

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The full force of an ardent Southern temperament

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 3, 2017

“I don’t know anything else. You see, I was born in North Georgia, in Dalton, the town that has figured in my books as ‘Darley,’” explained novelist Will N. Harben to a reporter in a 1905 interview.

novelist Will N. Harden

“So that while I am not one of the people about whom I write—for there is the sharpest line drawn there between the townspeople and the true countrymen still, my childhood and most of my life was spent amid such scenes as I have attempted to portray. Those people and the customs and conditions of their lives are as real to me as your own family life is to you. I cannot help writing about them, because I am thinking of them all the time.

“I get more and more out of it the further I go. And the deeper I go into the lives of these simple people the more I find to wonder at and admire and the deeper I want to go. It is an absorbing study, and my thoughts are so much bound up in it that my life is passed not so much in New York as in North Georgia. You have no idea of the depth of emotion of which these people are capable. You might know them a long time and never guess at the passion slumbering deep down in their souls until some chance occasion revealed to you the storm of feeling that had been sleeping concealed from all the world.

“They are a taciturn people, little given to demonstration, making light alike of their sufferings and their pleasures, but feeling with the full force of an ardent Southern temperament all the time. And their pride, especially their family pride – it is astounding. They are a clannish people, and you would be amazed to find the social distinctions which they observe among themselves. In their way these distinctions are far more fixed and more potent than those of the outside world. They have much ambition, but it is often asleep—lulled into content by the easy life that has been followed by generation after generation. Of course, in the towns this is not so true, and once the ambition of one of these North Georgians is aroused it is a mighty force.

“Yes, we have plenty of moonshiners, and among them are some of the best people there. But you cannot convince those people that they are doing any wrong. They really believe they have a perfect right to make whisky if they wish to, not only a moral right, but a legal right. You see, their sense of justice is absolute, and they believe they are fully within their rights as citizens. They are good people, too; kind, hospitable, and generous. I know them, because I have dealt with them.

William Nathaniel Harben, Dalton, GA, ca. 1903. Photo Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History

William Nathaniel Harben, Dalton, GA, ca. 1903. Photo Vanishing Georgia, Georgia Division of Archives and History

“A keen sense of humor is one of their chief characteristics. It is the shrewd humor in these characters that make them so lovable. A group of North Georgians never comes together without this trait becoming apparent. Their conversations overflow with a canny mirth that is irresistible.

“[Abner Daniel] is a type only, a very common type in North Georgia. You can meet possible Abner Daniels sitting around on benches and cracker boxes all through this region. I have listened to the conversation of such men by the hour.”

Will Harben (1858-1919) was one of the most popular novelists in America during the first two decades of the twentieth century. In his thirty books and numerous short stories Harben portrays the mountaineers of his native North Georgia with authenticity and color, though his reputation today suffers from his use of a sentimental romanticism demanded by readers of his day.

Abner Daniel (1902) made a wide appeal, North as well as South, and really laid the foundation stone of Mr. Harben’s reputation as a delineator of character,” commented critic Annie Booth McKinney in the Library of Southern Literature. “Crude, whimsical, sarcastic, yet good-natured, droll, witty, human, Abner Daniel stands quite apart, and it unlikely that his creator will ever surpass this creation. No one can read carefully any of his stories and fail to be impressed by their underlying sincerity, or fail to rejoice in the crisp humor that seems to be as much a part of old Abner and Pole Baker as the blue is of the sky.”


Sources: North Georgia’s Quaint Folk as a Novelist’s Type, Vivian M Moses, NY Times, August 13, 1905, http://snipurl.com/31fos [query_nytimes_com]


Library of Southern Literature By Edwin Anderson Alderman, Joel Chandler Harris, Charles William Kent, 1909, the Martin & Hoyt Company

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