My Mom and Dad got married in 1956 right after graduating from the 2 yr college (at the time) of Mars Hill. Then Dad went on to NC State to get his engineering degree. After graduating, he went to work with TVA (Tennessee Valley Authority) as an engineer. They had me in Knoxville, TN when he first went to work for TVA. They purchased a trailer so that I (and my two sisters who came later) would have the same home and environment no matter where TVA moved them. So they bought a Crossland trailer, made in Crossland, TN and we traveled in that through Greenville, KY then to Paris, TN (where Elaine was born), then to Chattanooga, TN, then to Iuka, MS and finally to Elizabethton, Carter County, TN where Melinda was born. Elizabethton is located in the Appalachian Mountain range of eastern Tennessee on the confluence of the Wautauga and Doe Rivers. At that point, Dad figured he would be in Elizabethton for awhile so they sold the trailer and bought an old farm on the Doe River. The house was called the Van Nuss home.
Melinda was a new baby, Elaine was 2 yrs old and I was 4 yrs old. I was old enough to start having a lot of memories of Elizabethton. We lived there for 4 years from 1963-1967. One of my first memories is of coming home and seeing baby Melinda for the first time. We had gone to NC to stay with Dad's sister and parents while Mother had Melinda. Once they got home from the hospital, Dad came back to NC to get us and take us back to Elizabethton. I remember standing up in the backseat of the car looking out the front windshield as we pulled up in Elizabethton to the trailer (in the days before car seats). I also remember being so excited and going to the crib and seeing her asleep for the first time. Her nose was all squished. Mom lifted us up so we could see her. There are photos of Elaine and I sitting in the trailer on the couch and I'm holding Melinda on that day. I was always a little mother-er. I could mother a fence post! So I mothered Elaine and Melinda like I was their little mother, I tell you what! I took my responsibility seriously! Anyway, the old farm house was called the Van Nuss house and it was on River Rd (it starts out as Riverview Rd, then become River Bottom Rd and finally River Rd).
Being a small town, I found it hard to find a detailed map of Elizabethton and environs so I used Google maps, which, when printed, is fuzzy. Sorry. I added some shading and notes of the places I remember.
Elizabethton is a charming small town on Doe River and Wautauga River.
It is the county seat of Carter County and thus has an old brick courthouse and the old jail just off the Doe River with a pretty Confederate/Union Veterans Monument that honors those who fought in the War of Northern Aggression on both sides.
There are several parks along the rivers. There is the old wooden Covered Bridge, built in 1882, and it's small park.
There is Edward's Island Park on the Doe River close to the Covered Bridge. There is Cat Island Park. There is Elizabethton City Park. And, finally, there is Riverside Park on the Wautauga River.
Carter County, TN was settled in the late 1760s. Elizabethton was founded in 1799 and incorporated in 1905. It is the site of the first independent American settlement west of both the Eastern Continental Divide and the original thirteen British colonies in America.
Here is a map of the original British colonies at the time of the Revolutionary War.
|From Huneycutt Genealogy|
From this map you can see that the western edges of the colonies was a little fluid.
And in this map you can see the dates when the western expansion, after the Revolutionary War, began to define other states
Elizabethton was the first majority-rule system of American democracy, the Watauga Settlement at Sycamore Shoals (in what is now Elizabethton) was home to prominent military officials, legislators, and members of the Constitutional Convention.
Sycamore Shoals, at the convergence of the Doe and Watauga Rivers, was also the site of the largest private land deal in American history. Resulting in the purchase of 20 million acres of land, the Transylvania Purchase marked the beginning of the westward expansion and gave all the lands of the Cumberland Watershed and extending to the Kentucky River to the settlers.
In 1780, 1100 men gathered at Sycamore Shoals before making a 14-day march to King's Mountain, South Carolina, where they confronted and defeated Major Patrick Ferguson's British militia in the Battle of King's Mountain during the Revolutionary War. There is a large park called Sycamore Shoals with a replica of Fort Wautauga on the Sycamore Shoals.
Every year, re-enactors re-enact the Overmountain Men who started from Sycamore Shoals and followed the Overmountain Victory Trail (what it's called today) that started in Abingdon, VA and went to King's Mountain. They joined men along the way. Here they are crossing the Wautauga River and stopping mid-way to shoot an honorary volley. Today's version of the Overmountain Victory Trail begins in Abingdon, Virginia and fords the Watauga River at Sycamore Shoals on its way to Elizabethton, Tennessee. Then it crosses the Doe River near Hampton, Tennessee and again near Roan Mountain. Then the route climbs steeply over the Great Smoky Mountains into North Carolina, finally ending at Kings Mountain, just over the line in South Carolina.
This was the downtown during my years living here. One day my parents were taking us to the Dairy Queen for ice cream when I saw my first black person walking down this street. Needless to say I was shocked but Mom and Dad took the time, over ice cream, to explain that some people were born with different colored skin but they were the same as we were and God loved them all. They carefully told me that black people preferred to be called "colored" or "negros" but never to hurt their feelings by calling them the "n" word. That was all it took. I didn't want anyone to have hurt feelings! I didn't have any more contact with black people until segregation in my junior high school. I saw them from afar but had no person-to-person contact. I do remember Mom pointing out to me the whitewashed sign over the water cooler in a basement office building (this was in Spartanburg, SC, which I consider to be my home town since I've been here since the 3rd grade). You could still see "Coloreds Only" over the water fountain. Anyway...
Mom and Dad were far from home. Mom's family was in Spartanburg, SC and Dad's family was in Albemarle, NC. Going to see either one was a long trip. They had been moving around for the last 4 years and had 3 daughters to add to the stress. Dad would go to work and Mom had NO help with us. No family to lean on. She was always very close to her family too. She had 3 girls under 5 yrs old and felt very alone. On top of that, in the days before cell phones, Dad could be anywhere at any given time of day and especially had to be out during the worst weather. He was responsible for adjusting the flow of dams in his assigned area so when it was raining or snowing was when he really had to be there to keep things from flooding downstream! Of course, my Mother worried about him constantly being in these remote areas, unpaved roads, bad weather, no way to contact help. If something were to happen to him, how would anyone know where he was or that he needed help, or where was the last place he had been. My Mother and Dad are very close, still much in love after 56 yrs of marriage. And she's the worrying, nervous type (which all 3 of us inherited) so she had a hard time. The stress made her worry about some very real things and some very silly things. But when you remember the times, it falls into context.
For instance, the 1947 Roswell UFO incident (even though the crash site of the alleged UFO was some 75 miles from Roswell and closer to Corona but the investigation and debris recovery was handled by the local Roswell Army Air Field). That and the space race seemed to increase UFO sightings, movies and books about aliens, spawned TV shows like Buck Rogers and Star Trek, etc. People were really into the science fiction and supposedly real sightings/kidnappings. So Mom was just sure aliens were going to land on the bald pasture across the road from our farm and kidnap her girls because they were so beautiful. A bald pasture means it's a hilltop pasture with nothing but grass on it... a perfect alien landing spot! LOL! It sounds so silly now, but I wasn't a nervous mother living far from home in the mid-1960's.
Other things that happened was the The Bay of Pigs Invasion, an unsuccessful military invasion of Cuba undertaken by the paramilitary group Brigade 2506, a CIA sponsored paramilitary group of Cuban exiles, in April 1961. Then the Cuban Missile Crisis, a 13-day confrontation between the Soviet Union and Cuba on one side, and the United States on the other, in October 1962. The Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Civil Rights Era, the Hippie movement, the anti-war protestors and the assassinations of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King. The 1960's was a time of great upheaval and unrest. Dad never knew when he might be drafted and have to go to Vietnam leaving Mom with 3 little girls. Fortunately, he wasn't drafted. Mom said that every time his number could be called his status changed pushing him back again. College, marriage, birth of 3 daughters, his job. But it was a very real concern. So was Communism, invasion, nuclear war, etc. She said there were times when she kissed Daddy good bye in the mornings as he left for work and fear would overwhelm her and she would be afraid she would never see him again. I think, in today's terminology, we would call it panic attacks. And all 3 of us had panic attacks in our twenties. That seems to be a common age for them in women.
I definitely remember the assassination of JFK in November, 1963 in Dallas, TX. We only had a small, HEAVY, but portable, television set. Being in the mountains, I don't know if they got all 3 of the television stations but I remember Mom having the TV on all day during those days. I remember her crying. I remember seeing Walter Cronkite; seeing the video of the President's head exploding and Jackie climbing out of her seat onto the back trunk of the convertible; the Secret Service men; the fear; seeing people on the streets crying; the funeral, especially Jackie and her 2 children standing at attention. They were little like me and I felt so sorry for them. I remember the TV coverage of Jack Ruby murdering Lee Harvey Oswald. All those stories were coming across a little 12" black and white TV where you had 2 buttons to adjust the horizontal and contrast of the picture and right into the mind of a little girl in a small farmhouse in the mountains of Elizabethton, TN. Before satellite television, before color TVs, before big flat screen televisions, before 300 channels with a good fraction giving 24 hour news coverage and all the others covering it if it's big enough. Those very vivid memories that I have from those things I saw on TV should be a lesson to us today about how much our children watch TV, especially if it's of violence. And technology makes the violence very real on the screens. We may be implanting some serious images in little minds and what will it do in shaping and forming who they will become as adults.
I was sent to kindergarden at a church in downtown Elizabethton.
I said "sent" because I was terrified and did NOT want to go. I was 5 years old. Mom left me and I cried and cried. Finally the class went out on the playground. I remember the teacher called me over to her and offered me a simple stick of gum. This was a novelty to me and I stopped crying. After that I was OK. I learned the numbers 1-10, the Pledge of Allegiance, the Lord's Prayer, the Twenty Third Psalm and got to play and draw and color.
Me all dressed up and ready for the first day in the 1st grade! Yep, I had an empty book satchel and a rest mat. That was all you had to supply back in the old days. When I got to school the teacher gave us our big crayons and big pencils and pads of lined paper. The school provided toilet paper, tissues, free milk and free lunch and all books and covers. My parents didn't have to go out the week before school started and spend several hundred dollars on supplies for us to take to school. Mom would take us out to buy us some school shoes and a few school clothes. That was it. We didn't have designer tennis shoes, matching outfits, bows in our hair, etc. We had school shoes/clothes, play shoes/clothes and church shoes/clothes but not closets full of clothes like kids have now.
I started school, the first grade, in the Harold McCormack Elementary School, 226 Cedar Avenue, Elizabethton, TN. It was a fairly new and modern school.
I'm not sure why I attended Harold McCormack for the first grade but was sent to the nearby Lynn Avenue Elementary School, 301 N. Lynn Avenue Elementary Drive, Elizabethton, TN for 2nd and part of 3rd grade. Anyway, in Harold McCormack Elementary School, I had a teacher who made us say the Pledge of Allegiance and the Lord's Prayer every morning to start the day. I remember I had a hard time learning my numbers but the boy that sat next to me showed me the secret and I was very proud of myself. I remember learning how to write the alphabet and using Dick and Jane readers to learn words and simple sentences. Every little while (I don't remember how often) I was excited when a storyteller would come to our class. She used beautiful felt figures and a felt board to tell us Bible stories. When it turned Spring our teacher took the class on a walk in the neighborhood. We saw dogwood trees in bloom and she told us the legend of the dogwood tree. I've loved them ever since. I remember playing on the playground and the modern cafeteria with it's accompanying sour milk smell (I hate that smell).
As I said, I went to the 2nd grade at the old Lynn Avenue Elementary School.
It's no longer there but was on this lot downtown.
I've been told that it originally was the high school. The front door and lobby was where I went in every day into the creaking wooden floor hallways and the classrooms with the huge windows (for air in the days before air conditioning). The cafeteria was in the basement, I'm sure an afterthought. It was on a triangle lot with the playground out back. I remember swinging in those school swings as high as I could go. I remember my little girl friend and two little boys played marriage all the time. She and I would switch "husbands" and pretend all the time. I also remember her calling me at home and telling me that Batman was at her house and I could talk to him. I had my first crush on Batman, Elaine crushed on Robin. So I would pretend I was talking to Batman then Elaine and I would get Mom to tie towels on our back so we could go outside and pretend to be Catwoman and superhero girls. When I started the 3rd grade, Elaine started the 1st grade at Lynn Ave. We moved during winter break so I didn't finish the 3rd grade in Elizabethton. But I remember there was a bomb threat during that Fall. I remember the principal came into our room and whispered to the teacher. We knew something was up. She lined us up, told us what was happening, marched us outside and set us free!!!! Can you imagine that today? Elaine was in the 1st grade and I was in the 3rd grade and I was frantic. I got her and went across the street to the service station to call Mother to come get us. But I didn't have change for the pay phone so he gave us a dime (no telling how many dimes he gave to kids that day). Kids were wandering around, parents were rushing up, I remember it being chaos but that may be just my little girl memories. I just can't believe the teachers letting us go as soon as we were out of the building. Unless, I somehow got separated from my class on my own. I wonder who would call in a bomb scare back in those days?
Besides my home and school, the next biggest thing in our life was church. My Mom was the daughter of a Baptist minister so she and Dad always joined the "First Baptist Church of"..., wherever they were living. So we joined the First Baptist Church of Eliabethton, TN.
We were very involved in church and our family made friends. The Pastor was Rev. Wilford Lee and his wife, Mrs. Lee. They had a son, which I don't remember meeting but their daughter was Aleta and she babysat us sometimes. We loved her! Then there was the Minister of Music Pastor Gene Blalock and his wife, Mrs. Blalock. They had 2 little girls that were my age and Elaine's age. We spent a lot of time playing with Lisa and Susan. My parents sang in the choir, we went to Sunday School and Wednesday nights. I was in the children's choir and the girls were in the nursery. My Dad even became a Deacon.
I remember getting dressed for church on Sunday morning. Dad had to buckle our patent leather mary janes because the buckles were so little and hard to manage. Dad would use some lard to polish the patent leather. Then he would give us a coin and put it in the offering envelope for us to give in Sunday School. I learned all the Bible stories in Sunday School class. Then we went into "big church" (the worship service in the sanctuary) and had to sit still. If we weren't still, Mom would gently pinch us and we would get a lecture after church. I remember her telling me that God was always dealing with people's hearts and if we distracted them with our bad behavior, it might prevent them from getting saved.
Finally, one day, at the altar call, the benediction, I felt God dealing with my own heart! I felt like I just had to go forward and pray for Jesus to come into my heart so I could go to Heaven. I whispered and asked Mother and she held me back that Sunday. She wanted to be sure I understood what I was doing before I made the commitment. So that week, they called Preacher Lee to come over and talk to me and he asked me questions and made sure I knew what it meant. Then, the next Sunday, I was drawn again. I just knew I had to go forward and get saved! I was 8 years old. I stepped out and walked that long walk to the altar just like so many others. I bet there were a lot of family watching from Heaven! No telling how many times they had prayed for future generations of the family to be saved. I prayed with Preacher Lee and he set up the time for my baptism.
I was baptized and I remember all of it. It meant a lot to me and I never really turned away from that initial prayer of commitment to God. I went through some wandering and questioning as a teenager I'm ashamed to say but I never DIDN'T believe in God, I was just thrashing out my beliefs. I got into some trouble for a year or two but re-dedicated my life and came back to the roots of my beliefs when I was 17 yrs old and haven't looked back since.
But there was trouble in the church. Mom and Dad don't like to talk about it. The only thing I've gotten them to say was that a lot of people didn't like the music. I don't know if it was the music minister, his style, or what. They won't say. I do know that my parents were friends with them and Preacher Lee supported the music minister. It doesn't surprise me that they would support the pastors since Mother was the daughter of a Baptist minister but they were close friends too. As far as I know, only one other couple supported the two pastors, along with my Mom & Dad. I remember the seriousness because there were a couple of preliminary meetings in homes. We kids could sense the tenseness but we were too busy playing together and having a good time while the grownups sat in the living rooms and talked about what to do. Then, there was a business meeting. It was just after I was baptized and Mother said I was now a member of the church and could go to the business meeting. They must have anticipated some bad feeling because it was decided that if things got out of hand my Dad would make a motion to adjourn the meeting to a later date and one of the other men would second the motion. All this becomes a little girl's memory at this point. I remember shouting going on, red faced men with fists thumping the air and my Mom whispering to Dad in urgent tones to make the motion. When he stood and made the motion to adjourn until a later time, it seemed to me everything went crazy. People were shouting, surging out of the pews. Mom & Dad grabbed me and we RAN from the sanctuary down the hall to the nursery to grab the girls. The Blalocks and the other family right behind us. Mother was really scared and I looked back, seeing people pouring out of the sanctuary doors and down the halls after us. We ran to the car (fortunately parked at one of the doors) and got in with the Blalocks right behind us. But before they got to their car, men were trying to fight with Mr. Blalock who was trying to get in his car. Dad started to get back out but Mom wouldn't let him. So he got back in, Mr. Blalock managed to get the door open and got in. We peeled out. We had to drive around for awhile afraid of people following us. Eventually we wound up at the Lee's pastorage. The kids went in the bedrooms with Aleta while the parents discussed what had happened in the living room. It was a late night that night. I think the Lee's knew their time was up in Elizabethton along with the Blalocks. Little did we realize that it would end our own time in Elizabethton.
You see, Dad had totally remodeled that old farmhouse on the Doe River. They thought they may have found their dream place to live. So they had borrowed with a construction loan and Dad went to work. He did almost all of the work. His Dad came up for a week to help him and he had some teenage boys that gave him a hand, but otherwise he did it ALL by himself! The plumbing, electrical, adding a basement, masonry, etc.
Dad had demolished the center chimney. I remember coming home from church on Sunday night and seeing him sitting on the pile of bricks in the living room. He was black with soot and he couldn't move because he was so tired. He had started on the roof that morning and took it down by himself throughout the day. I'd never seen Daddy look so tired before. Mom said she had to lead him by the hand, make his bath and take his clothes and boots off to get him in the bath. And he had to go to work the next day. While he was doing that we were living in the house. Our beds were literally on boards across the rafters and it was freezing! But after he got the chimney down, he lifted the house, dug out a full basement, put in the block walls, poured the cement floor and added the full bathroom down there. We were able to move into that basement while he worked on the other part of the house. Here is the house as it was finished. Honestly, I hated sleeping in that basement more than sleeping on the boards upstairs. For some reason it bothered me being in that basement. But, eventually, he got it finished and we had a very nice little modern home (for the 1960's). We had a big room with the kitchen, dining room and den in it, my first experience with the "open concept". We had a nice entrance hall with staircase and a formal living room which Mom used to teach piano lessons. Upstairs we had 3 bedrooms and 2 baths. Then there was the basement. They fixed it so nice for us. But things at the church were about to interfere. Here is the house finished.
As I remember it.
So what caused us to leave this quaint town and our new home and Dad's dream job? Well, the church thing happened and when it came time to transfer the construction loan to a home mortgage, a fellow church member worked at the bank and created a problem. We got phone threats. My parents lost their friends. The only friends left were the Lees, Blalocks (and the other couple who will remain nameless) and the men Dad worked with. Fortunately, the Lees were able to get a small church on the virtually unknown Hilton Head Island. At the time that was like a place of exile. Sea Pines was new and there was only 1 hotel on the island, the Holiday Inn. But since then, it's become a well known resort island so it was a blessed move for them. The Blalocks moved to Kentucky and we lost contact with them. My Mom was afraid to let us out of her sight. But it just so happened that the Civil Engineer job became available in Spartanburg, SC. My Grandmother sent the want ad to Mom & Dad and Dad applied and got the job. We bought a split level in a new neighborhood just behind Mom's parents. After years of living separated, she was back with her family! I remember our drive to Spartanburg in January or February of 1967.
It was snowing and I was so excited to see my baby cousin, Aunt Judy's son, Kenneth. Of course, Dad had to make multiple trips back to Elizabethton to get everything moved. Our pretty little home on the Doe River didn't sell for nearly 2 years so my parents had to make 2 house payments all that time and put an unusual financial burden on them. Then one day, one of their friends, the wife of one of the men Dad worked with, sent us the front page of the local newspaper with the story that our house had burned down. All Dad's hard work was gone! Fortunately the family who owned it were away from home at the time so no one was hurt. The fire happened in December, 1973.
This photo was taken from the "new" 4 lane highway that crossed the valley across the Doe River from our house. It was taken in 1973 after the fire and you can see the burned roof. This photo also shows you the bald pasture that was across the road from our house... you remember? The one that was the perfect landing place for aliens? LOL!
I was 8 yrs old when we moved to Spartanburg, SC. This was our family portrait taken in Spartanburg.
I have very close ties with family and with this community so I consider Spartanburg my home town. I have some fond memories of Elizabethton but it's tainted with what happened to my family with the church thing. My parents joined the First Baptist Church of Spartanburg and took us for a little while but they couldn't get passed their pain from what happened in Elizabethton so they quit going to church. They didn't quit believing in Jesus or give up their faith. They've always shown and exampled to us what it means to walk a Christian life. They love the Lord. But they couldn't trust the church again. I kept taking my little sisters with me. Dad would drive to drop us off and pick us up. But I was a naturally nervous, shy child and such a big church was overwhelming and stressful to me. By the time I was in junior high school I had quit going. I started back up again at 17 when I re-dedicated my life. It was in Spartanburg that I had major surgery that I might not have survived if I had been living in Elizabethton. It fixed a congenital problem I had that was diagnosed in Johnson City, TN when I was 6 yrs old but they didn't think I would survive the 2 surgeries to fix the problem so they hoped by keeping me on antibiotics I would eventually grow out of it. When I was 11 yrs old it became serious despite the antibiotics. A doctor here in Spartanburg had a dream on how to do this in one surgery rather than two and I was the 2nd one in the world to have it done and it worked. I met my husband in Spartanburg. He was a Spartanburg native so I wouldn't have met him in Elizabethton. So God used even a painful event to move us and bless us. There isn't any unforgiveness or anger in us over what happened but it did influence and color our lives.