A hearty breakfast is good preparation for a busy day of genealogical research. At the Bean Pot we had coffee, eggs, bacon, biscuits, and sorghum, all home made, and at about half the price we had been paying for breakfast. Welcome to inexpensive Tennessee! The Bean Pot, incidentally, does multiple duty as gas station, antique store, museum, gift shop, ice cream parlor, campground office, parking lot, as well as sales of hunting and fishing licenses. Our family plot
We were looking for traces of a great-great-great uncle, Joseph Norman (known locally as J.N.), who was born in Connecticut, farmed in Massachusetts for a while, moved with some cousins to Minnesota, then came to Crossville in 1868, where he was a Justice of the Peace, farmer, and Chairman of the Cumberland County Court. He moved to Memphis after his wife died, but was buried here in Crossville Cemetery. We were curious as to why he moved to Tennessee, and later kicked ourselves for not figuring it out sooner!
It was a perfect October morning: bright sun, mild temperature, leaves falling and lovely autumn colors. But the local paper warned of a hard winter to come, because (a) hornet nests are higher on walls than usual, (b) the woolly worms are black at the tips, and (c) the leaves have fallen earlier than usual.
Unlike the northern towns which were the beneficiaries of Andrew Carnegie's philanthropy, southern towns had to start lending libraries as non-profit businesses. In Crossville a group of local women formed a group called the Art Circle, which had cultural events and ran a small lending library with volunteer labor. For years that was the only source of reading material for Crossville's citizens, so the modern public library has retained the name: Art Circle Library. (We tell you this because we must admit that our first thought was that the library was started by Mr. Arthur Circle.) Look for this sign!
We've gotten pretty good at sizing up a library's strength, and while the Art Circle Library did have all the genealogical material there is on Cumberland County, it didn't have much, and most of it was twentieth century. Which was interesting since the first settlers came through Cumberland gap before 1800. We turned to the courthouse, expecting failure because the histories told us the courthouse had burned down in 1905. But in fact the land records survived, and we discovered that J.N. bought some 1300 acres of land in 1868 -1870, and his cousin John bought another 1000 acres or so, including half of modern-day Crossville! Still we didn't understand.
We sat down on a stone bench outside the courthouse and talked it over; then we split up. Elsa went to the Chamber of Commerce and Bob tried the County Mayor. While the Mayor's secretary sat Bob down at a desk and put him on the phone with the volunteer county historian, Barbara, Elsa ended up on the phone with a local genealogist, Betty. "Don't trust the Historical Society," Betty cautioned Elsa. "They aren't worth a dime. Especially Barbara. She just flutters." Barbara told Bob that Betty had published all Barbara's cemetery research on the internet without honoring her copyright. Having worked with volunteers a good deal of our adult lives, we were both familiar with the phenomenon that recognition is everything when you're not getting paid. Oh, well.
Back at the library, we heard a woman say, "Where is the lady from Texas?" It was Betty, who had volunteered to show us the graves in the Redeveloped farmland cemetery. We drove out there and, after Betty parked the car and scratched her head for a while, Bob walked around some and found the gravesites himself. "Here they are!" he yelled. We photographed them and thanked Betty effusively for her help, and drove off.
If you go to Crossville, don't rely on the list of restaurants given out by the Chamber of Commerce. Instead find the places where the parking lots are full and overflowing onto the street, like Family Ties restaurant or Sisters restaurant, where the weekday luncheon special is Meat with Two Vegetables for $3.50 or Meat with Three Vegetables for $4.00. Two vegetables is plenty -- the portions are large. Coffee is $.30 extra, and the homemade fresh cornbread and yeast biscuits are included with lunch. We giggled some about Betty and Barbara as we enjoyed our ham hocks and cabbage and chicken livers.
But it was Barbara who had provided the information that helped us understand Why. After the Civil War, many parts of the South, including the Cumberland Plateau and Crossville, were devastated; farmers had been killed in the war, their farm houses burned, their livestock slaughtered to feed the Union Army, their wives and children had fled. Under the terms of the treaty, Confederate soldiers were entitled to a sidearm and a horse, to return and start life anew, but there weren't enough horses, and they were often confiscated. The Southerners had no money -- their Confederate currency was worthless. Union soldiers had been attracted by the Tennessee land. Land fever had driven Northerners since the early days of New England Colonists, when settlers were granted free farmland by townships, which could then be sold to newcomers for a profit. They had pushed west to the Mississippi in the 80 years since the Revolution, buying large plots of land at a bargain and selling them at a profit, then moving west. So The unredeveloped part J.N. and his cousin John were land speculators; they bought land around Crossville for $1.00 an acre. The 1870 census showed almost half of the population of Cumberland County had been born in the North. Some of the Yankees stayed and their descendants still populate the Cumberland Plateau. Some moved west again, repeating the land speculation cycle. J.N. and John were of the former variety, but 150 years later a few of the descendants of the original pioneers who had blazed the trails west from Virginia and North Carolina still remember what Barbara called "The Late Great Unpleasantness" and don't like Yankees.
And in the year 2004, land fever has again gripped Crossville and Cumberland County. The land which cousin Joseph had bought is now occupied, in part, by The Homesteads, a Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf Course, surrounded by expensive new housing developments, and Lake Tansi, which was created by damming up Basses Creek, on which J.N.'s farm lay, is the center of another new development. Another part of the farm has been taken over by the University of Tennessee and is used as an Agricultural Experimentation Station.
Some of the locals are grumbling, because the new occupants aren't from Tennessee. But Crossville doesn't have much unemployment these days.