Bald is beautiful

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 23, 2016

Ah, southern Appalachian ‘balds,’ those curious subalpine meadows. From northern Georgia to southwestern Virginia, there are scores of such grassy peaks sprinkled along the Appalachian mountain chain. They are an enigma, being largely devoid of trees and other woody vegetation where one would normally expect to see a continuation of the surrounding forest.

In places, these balds are expansive, measured in the hundreds of acres. Elsewhere they are tiny summit caps. Some 90 are cloaked in grasses and sedges. These so-called grass balds are especially rich in botanical finds.

Researchers have looked for evidence of bald creation through climatic factors related to the Wisconsin glaciation and the effects of mega-fauna during the last ice age. Wood bison, deer, and other native grazers also contributed to keeping the balds cleared.

Native Americans probably used the balds as hunting areas and lookouts and may have used fire to maintain them, says Kristine Johnson, supervisory forester and vegetation management specialist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The Cherokee name for Gregory Bald was “Tsistu’yi,” or “Rabbit Place.” According to tribal lore, the chief of all rabbits— known simply as the Great Rabbit— lived at the summit. The rabbit, considered by the Cherokee to be sly and mischievous, was a key figure in tribal legends, showing the importance the tribe placed upon the mountain.

Cades Cove and Gregory Bald. Albert Gordon ‘Dutch’ Roth(1890-1974) photographed Cades Cove with Gregory Bald looming behind it on August 23, 1936.

Gregory Bald, famous for its wealth of hybrid azaleas (some azalea hybrids occur only here), is located about five miles south of Cades Cove. Its grassy slopes sustain a variety of rare and endangered wildflowers, native grasses, and a rare, dwarf willow.
Gregory Bald was documented by the region’s earliest white explorers in the Davenport survey of 1821, which covered the area now comprising GSMNP. The mountain was listed by Arnold Guyot in his 1856 survey of the Smokies, although Guyot gave it the name “Great Bald’s Central Peak”, and measured its elevation at 4,922 feet.

In the Smokies, as well as other areas, farmers would drive their livestock to the highest balds in the summer. Livestock thus avoided ‘milk sickness’ that resulted when they consumed low elevation plants. This also freed up lower fields, such as Cades Cove, to be used for crops.

The name “Gregory Bald” was given to the mountain by Cades Cove residents in honor of Russell Gregory (1805-1864), a prominent Cades Cove settler. Gregory used the mountain to graze cattle during the spring and summer, when the fields in the cove were needed for growing crops. He lived atop the mountain during this part of the year in a circular stone house near the mountain’s summit (the house is no longer standing).

Today, maintenance of the balds is sometimes the only reason that some of these balds still exist. The origin of balds remains a mystery, and balds management issues are continually debated.


Gregory+Bald Appalachian+balds Tsistu’yi Cades+Cove Russell+Gregory appalachia +appalachia+history appalachian+culture history+of+appalachia

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The granddaddy of Alabama family reunions

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 22, 2016

There are a few things that can be said about Kennamer Cove that probably cannot be said truthfully about any other community in the state.

There have been only two murders in the Cove, which occurred ninety years ago. I am sure there has never been a divorce case in court in the whole 130 years since Hans Kennamer, with a large family of children, settled among the Indians. Hans Kennamer and some of the five generations of his descendants are buried in Pisgah Cemetery, which is in sight of the D.A.R. school located on the brow of Gunter’s Mountain.

John R. Kennamer (1873-1952)
From The Progressive Age, August 22, 1929

Granddaddy of reunions in state
by Boone Aiken
The Birmingham News, page 13
Tuesday, Sept. 5,1972

AUBURN There are family reunions and more family reunions in Alabama, particularly around this time of the year, but how many can claim their very own cove, complete with a pavilion in case of rain or a too enthusiastic sun?

Furthermore how many have their very own museum? Or a commercial picture postcard with their name and a picture of the ancestral home site?

No one knows exactly how many Kennamers there are today but at last count in 1942 there were 2,400 families.

John R. Kennamer, Sr.John R. Kennamer, Sr. (1873-1952) organized the first Kennamer family reunion.

On Aug. 21, Kennamers, from as far away as Oklahoma and “cousins by the dozens” gathered again at the Pisgah Church in Kennamer’s Cove in Marshall County for the 44th annual reunion.

Earl Kennamer, Auburn University extension wildlife specialist, recalls when the first reunion was held he rode in style in the rumble seat of the family car from Selma to Kennamer’s Cove. He also reports the huge picnic basket of food beside him arrived intact at the Aug. 15, 1929 affair, but his friends rather doubt this astounding bit of information.

At that time more Kennamers arrived by buggy and wagon than by automobile, he said.

Always there has been a good crowd on hand whether the reunion was held on Thursday, Saturday or Sunday. One of the smallest occurred in 1942 when only 350 persons attended due to war conditions, lack of transportation and Kennamers in the armed services.

The Kennamer clan proudly announces its annual reunion is held “rain or shine, war or peace, depression or inflation, hot or cold, Republican or Democrat, pollution or smog, mini or maxi, hair or bald.”

They report their membership is made up of “farmers, preachers, teachers, merchants, students, retirees, secretaries, lawyers, housewives, beauticians, radio announcers, contractors, doctors, salesmen, bankers, druggists, and what-have-you.”

A famous family member is Dr. Rexford Kennamer Hollywood, physician to Elizabeth Taylor and Gary Cooper.

In 1965 a concrete block structure, 10’x30′ was built to house family mementoes. Included are pictures of pioneer families, old family Bibles, family records, a 150-year-old quilt, a 50-year-old baby dress and arrow heads.

Although no one knows just how many persons actually showed up Sunday at the pavilion in Kennamer Cove Earl Kennamer, vice president of the Kennamer Family, Inc. said estimates between 500-1,000.

All with well-filled picnic baskets, of course.

Kennamer Cove, ALModern day view of Kennamer Cove.

Minutes from the 1st Kennamer Family Reunion

On August 15th, 1929, six miles south of Woodville, at Pisgah Church, in Kennamer Cove, was held the first Kennamer Family Reunion.

By actual count five hundred Kennamers and their kinfolks assembled. Many members of this large family from a distance were present to enjoy the day, a day long to be remembered by all present.

The morning was given over to meeting and greeting each other in social conversation.

At the noon hour was taken in enjoying an old time picnic dinner. There was enough food to feed a crowd three times as large. It is generally agreed that the day of miracles has passed, but when I saw some of the baskets of food taken up, after every one had eaten, I involuntarily thought of the Savior feeding the five thousand, and the baskets remaining.

In the afternoon many short speeches were made to the great delight of all. First on the program, was our genial editor, Hon. J. S. Benson, who kept the audience in laughter by his funny and appropriate stories. He was followed by Federal Judge Franklin Elmore Kennamer, of Tulsa, Okla., who made the principal speech of the day. He made a strong plea for the sanctity of the home, reverence to God, and obedience to Constitutional Government. Next Mr. D. P. Woodall, postmaster at Hillsboro, Ala., made an interesting speech. Dr. L. G. Kennamer, of Richmond, Ky., made a short and very appropriate speech.

Mr. P. H. Woodall, of Columbus City made a stirring appeal to the young folks to live for God and the Church. He was followed by Hon. T. J. Kennamer, U. S. Marshall of Birmingham, Ala., and in a happy speech. The last speaker on the program was Hon. Chas. B. Kennamer, District Attorney of Guntersville, Ala. It is needless to say that he made a good one. He said the majority of persons convicted by the courts are young educated men, and stressed the great need or moral training in the schools. That the colleges were not now giving this training as they should.

All speakers urged the parents to train their children in matters right or wrong and to learn obedience to parents and reverence to God.

The occasion was such a success that it was unanimously voted to hold another reunion next year.


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Something went wrong jumping off the train, and he met his fate

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 19, 2016

He used his middle name Levoid. He was a restless soul, traveling here and there, looking for that elusive something and never finding it. James Levoid Bryant (1918-1941) was very popular with acquaintances, but unfortunately started drinking at an early age. He liked to play the part of the hobo, travelling around the United States on trains, sometimes getting into mischief.

Levoid’s brother Bert said that he went with Levoid once to Chattanooga on a train, “but I bought a ticket for the trip home.” The train yards had detectives who regularly kicked the stowaways off the trains, so riding in that style meant continually looking over one’s shoulder.

On another occasion Bert remembers being in town [Liberty, SC] with friends, when someone said, “Look, there’s Levoid!” Across the street was a clothing store, closed for the night. However, the lights were on and Levoid was wandering about inside. Bert called the police and Levoid spent the night in jail.

It finally got to the point where Levoid was sent to the state penitentiary in Columbia. In August 1941 their father Rome had a stroke. Bert and another man named Abbott, who was an undertaker, made arrangements for Levoid to obtain a 30-day furlough from prison. Thus he was with his father when he passed away shortly after the stroke.

At the end of the furlough, Levoid didn’t return to the prison. Instead he conceived the idea of joining the army. The recruiters were unaware of Levoid’s convict status. He was posted for basic training at Fort Jackson, ironically in Columbia.

Shortly after this, he somehow obtained a pass, and began making his way home to Liberty. It is assumed he once again illegally rode the train. Bert believes something went wrong jumping off the train, and he met his fate. It is not uncommon for train jumpers to injure or kill themselves dealing with a moving train. Add alcohol to the equation and it becomes quite dangerous.

The Pickens Railroad Company’s ‘Doodle’ engine ran between the towns of Pickens and Easley. It got its nickname because it could not turn around on the tracks, so to return from Easley it backed into Pickens “like a doodle-bug.” The railroad company was founded in 1890, and the Doodle was operating regularly during 1941, when Bryant died. Easley is a mere 6 miles from Bryant’s hometown of Liberty. We can’t know for certain, but it’s likely that Bryant rode this train. Photo has been altered for dramatic illustration.

According to the recollection of Levoid’s brother Bert, the sheriff called the family to report a man fitting Levoid’s description found dead along some nearby railroad tracks. Sister Ruby asked Bert to go down there, since she knew she wouldn’t be able to bear it. Upon arrival, Bert unfortunately found it was Levoid. His head was crushed and his arm was broken, according to the newspaper, although Bert said he didn’t look bad.

He also said Levoid was almost on the track. The accident occurred right in front of the family’s former home, a place where Levoid would have played as a little boy. The sheriff wanted to leave the body there until the coroner could arrive later for investigation. Bert strongly told the sheriff to have the body transported immediately to the funeral home.

Having just lost his father three months earlier, Bert broke down. He kept the contents of Levoid’s pockets: a partial pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a box of wooden matches, a round cardboard box of aspirins, and a packet of razor blades. Levoid was only 23. It was a sad end to a troubled young life.

source: “Descendants of Terrell Kirksey Bryant”

7 Responses

  • Joan says:

    A life story — interesting, tragic, and poignant.

  • Lisa says:

    Levoid was my great grandmother’s brother-RIP

  • Retta McCulley says:

    Levoid was my grandmother, Lillie Bryant Lovell’s, half brother. I remember her telling this tale often. She often stated that she thought someone murdered him and put him on the track. The undertaker was J.M. Abbott.

    Another Levoid story from Lillie: Levoid liked to drink, and came in one evening quite drunk and argumentive. He threw something across the room and knocked Lillie’s birth mother, Julia Davis’, clock off the mantle and broke a corner of the “banjo” style clock. I still have the clock and enjoy telling about the broken corner!

  • Karen says:

    I so enjoyed finding this story and a piece of my family history. Levoid would be a distant cousin of mine. His father Rome is my 2nd Great-Grandmother’s (Carrie Corrine Bryant) brother.

  • Lisa says:

    Julie Davis Bryant and Rome Bryant were my 2nd great grandparents. Their daughter Emmie Bryant Tollison was my great grandmother. Is there anyway possible to get a copy of a picture of Julia’s clock?

  • Edward Bryant says:

    Levoid was my uncle. I was only 7 years old when he was killed so I never really got to know him. I lived near Liberty and remember hearing of the accident and his death. Bert was my father.

  • Delbert Bryant says:

    Ha! I wrote this story! Amazing to see it got picked up and shared with others. This all came from an interview with my dad, Bert Bryant.

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West Virginia’s “Home of the Millionaires”

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 18, 2016

At the turn of the century, when 4,000 people lived here, at least 14 millionaires called Bramwell, WV home, making it the richest town per capita in the United States.

Joseph H. Bramwell, for whom the town was named.  As first postmaster of a post office that needed a legal label, he said, "Every little baby has a name, and this little town must have the same. I therefore name it Bramwell." Joseph H. Bramwell became first president of the famed Bank of Bramwell, and a big-time real estate investor. After getting rich on real estate sales in Bramwell he left the town for Switzerland where he died in the 1890s.

Joseph H. Bramwell, for whom the town was named. As first postmaster of a post office that needed a legal label, he said, “Every little baby has a name, and this little town must have the same. I therefore name it Bramwell.” Joseph H. Bramwell became first president of the famed Bank of Bramwell, and a big-time real estate investor. After getting rich on real estate sales in Bramwell he left the town for Switzerland where he died in the 1890s.

The “Home of the Millionaires,” incorporated in 1889, was the business and residential community for Pocahontas coalfield owners and operators such as J.H. Bramwell, I.T. Mann, Edward Cooper, Philip Goodwill, John Hewitt and William Thomas until the Great Depression ruined the economy.

Bramwell is extremely significant to the history of West Virginia and to the nation because it represents the opulence of the era at the turn of the century when an individual, often an immigrant to the U.S., could obtain large fortunes through his own wit  and the long hours of the laboring class.

As a town planned by coal land investors and coal mining operators, Bramwell was the only location specifically designed to be a residential area inhabited by the elite populace of the Pocahontas Coalfield.

Whereas nearby Bluefield basically began as a supply center for the mining operations of the coalfield, Bramwell became a place where coal operators could be near their mining operations without actually living in the mining camps they originated.

The operators chose the finest materials to build grand homes, which combined with the beautiful trees and surrounding hills make the Bramwell historic district a very striking location even today.

The story of the Pocahontas Coalfield, renowned nationwide for its ten-foot seams and high quality coal, began in 1883 when the first carload of coal was shipped by the Norfolk and Western Railroad from Pocahontas, VA (located a few miles southwest of Bramwell) to Norfolk, VA.

In 1884 a group of Philadelphia financiers began buying great quantities of coal lands along the Bluestone River in Mercer County under the name of the Bluestone Coal Company. This organization, under its local manager O.H. Duhring, planned the town of Bramwell and established its headquarters there in 1885.

Duhring, in fact, built the first house there, which no longer stands. Many of the company’s engineers and draftsmen soon moved into Bramwell, directing the company’s leases to coal operators.

The Bluestone Coal Company became part of the Flat Top Coal Land Association, the largest holder of coal lands in the Pocahontas Coalfield. The Land Association maintained its office in Bramwell for many years even after it was reorganized and changed its name to the Pocahontas Coal and Coke Company.

Bramwell was named for another coal land investor, J.H. Bramwell, probably because he was the town’s first postmaster. After the mining towns of Coopers and Freeman were incorporated into Bramwell, it had the distinction of having three separate post offices within its corporate limits,  unusual for a town of its size.

Bramwell was a spur stop on the railroad; trains had to make special trips to it because it was not on the main line of the railroad. Even so, there are reports of up to fourteen trains a day going in and out of Bramwell during its heyday.

Town overview. Postcard has a cancellation date of 1909 on reverse.

Town overview. Postcard has a cancellation date of 1909 on reverse.


In addition to the Land offices, several other coal companies maintained offices in Bramwell, including the Pocahontas Company, the marketing organization for Pocahontas Coal, located in the Masonic Hall.

Dry good and grocery stores also appeared in the business block on Main Street, and the Bryant and Newbold Pharmacy at  the corner of Main and Bloch Streets carried the distinction of being the third drugstore in the U.S. to sell the exotic perfume Chanel No. 5, probably prompted by its wealthy clientele.

There almost seems to have been an attempt on the part of the operators to overcompensate for the lack of “society” in southern West Virginia at the time by building large homes with the finest materials available and the most modern conveniences.

Women in Bramwell in effect attempted to recreate Philadelphia’s social life by hosting many elaborate parties. It was almost essential, in a town such as Bramwell, to establish a controlled social atmosphere amid luxury in order to satisfy a transplanted managerial class.

When, for example, the Philip Goodwill family sold their mines and Goodwill became president of the Pocahontas Company in 1905, he enlarged their house by adding a third floor ballroom and a Queen Anne turret. His wife Phoebe had a perfect view of the town from her semicircular bedroom windows.

Phoebe was the prime example of a former Pennsylvanian who adored parties and an active social life; she kept a daily journal on the local comings & goings.  She was one of several hostesses in Bramwell who often imported special foods and caterers from cities as far away as Cincinnati by train.

Yet Bramwell was remote from urban America. Phoebe Goodwill’s family worried she had left Pennsylvania for “the wilderness.” They insisted she return home for the birth of her children. Other wives and daughters who went East were embarrassed to find their dress years behind the fashion.

Goodwill House, Bramwell, WV, Fall 1987. This property is a part of the Bramwell Historic District listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.


The Bank of Bramwell, famous because it supposedly was at one time the richest bank of its size in the United States, was chartered in 1889. The bank was located one block from the railroad station; several Bramwell residents recall that the black janitor of the bank used to roll money in a wheelbarrow down the street with an armed guard by his side, to board it on a train.

The Bank of Bramwell financed local enterprises and those far from the coalfields. It funded two projects in Washington — the Burning Tree Country Club, where President Eisenhower played golf, and the National Woman’s Golf Club. During World War I, the first liberty bonds were sold here.

As coal grew into a big business, independent operators were forced to merge or sell out to large corporations. And the nationwide depression and subsequent closing of the Bank of Bramwell in the early 1930’s signaled the end of an era in Bramwell. Many families and proprietors moved away from Bramwell.

Philip Goodwill’s three sons had trouble finding steady work and took to drinking. Their mother Phoebe feared no one would hire such “society boys.” The Goodwill family fortune, like that of so many other pioneer operators, dwindled away.


sources: National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form for Bramwell, online at

Restoring women’s history through historic preservation, Volume 2002, By Gail Lee Dubrow, Jennifer B. Goodman, JHU Press, 2003

“Bramwell, The Diary of a Millionaire Coal Town,” By Martha Jane Williams Becker, self-published, 1988

4 Responses

  • Dana Cochran says:

    Bramwell was incorporated in 1888, not 1889.

  • emily friend says:

    i love 2 learn about bramwell i have lived there 4 so many years and never knew much about it. i am doing reaserch on bramwell because i am doing the history of the millionares of bramwell 4 my social studies fair project

  • Shelby King says:

    My grandmother Minnie Mann was a niece of ITMann who started The Bank of Bramwell. I heard many stories of Bramwell growing up in Bluefield in the 50′ s

  • Gwen Yost says:

    I knew the family who owned the Goodwill Mansion in the 1950’s and 60’s,(and maybe longer) Nora Belle and Edward Pasley. The house was beautiful then, a very interesting home with many unique qualities.

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A town dies, a park is born

Posted by Dave Tabler | August 17, 2016

Today the former town of Elkmont, TN in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a magnet for lovers of the synchronous firefly display.

But in the early 1930s nature’s display was being outshone by political sparks flying in all directions. The previously bucolic summer haven for the socially prominent and wealthy members of Knoxville, Maryville, and Chattanooga was about to be changed beyond recognition, and tempers were high. There were two sides on the issue–one wished for a national park and one wanted the area to be preserved as a national forest. Colonel David C. Chapman was the driving force behind the national park; he wanted roads and facilities erected so all Americans could enjoy the area. He also believed the visitors would bring in money for local businesses.

hikers near Elkmont TN
“On the way to Silers Bald from Elkmont by way of Buckeye Gap.”
August 17, 1929 — photo by Albert Gordon (Dutch) Roth, 1890-1974

James Wright, a Knoxville lawyer and owner of a cottage in Elkmont, led the opposition. A dedicated conservationist, Wright believed the area would be contaminated by hoards of crowds. He thought the area would be best protected if classified as a national forest.

In the end, the national park idea won out. Colonel W. B. Townsend had years earlier purchased 75,000 to 80,000 acres in the surrounding area in order to create the Little River Lumber Company. Now, by agreeing to sell 76,500 mountain acres to the state, which would then be transferred to the Federal Government, he became the linchpin in creating the new park. He agreed to give up his lumbering empire. The town was facing its demise, for the public was not allowed to reside in national parks. Logging operations were stopped and the government began to buy the homeowners’ property.

Great opposition arose from the residents and members of the Appalachian Club, a well established local sportsmen’s group. They hired James Wright to defend their rights in court. Neither side would back down and no compromise was in sight. The State Park Commission was faced with two conclusions: either exclude the area in question from the proposed park or acquire the lands through purchase at the discretion of the owners, and at their stated price. The National Park Service would not agree to the exclusion, and the Commission did not have the funds to pay the owners’ set prices.

The Commission and the Secretary of the Interior finally found a solution by devising a plan whereby the landowners would be offered long-term leases to live on the property, which would be purchased by the government at reduced rates. Upon grudging Congressional consent, the plan went into effect.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park became a reality in 1934, and the residents of Elkmont remained in their homes now owned by the Government.


2 Responses

  • Joan says:

    This is one of my favorite blogs –always find something interesting and out of the ordinary. Would love to visit the Great Smoky Mountains someday. See where those old ones of mine once hung out.

  • Daniel L. Paulin says:

    Where is Attorney James Wright buried. Which cabin in Elkmont belonged to him? Who did he sell it to?

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