Sunday, November 20, 2011

Mr. Nute's Peach Fed Free Range Turkeys

Three hundred years after the original Nute colonist arrived in New Hampshire, our grandfather made a bold move to leave New England for Medora, Kentucky, there to manage a successful and innovative orchard enhanced by thousands of turkeys. And this is the story.

Raymond grew up in a well to do family in Fall River, Massachusetts, and as a young man attended first Massachusetts Institute of Technology, then the Massachusetts Agricultural College, now the University of Massachusetts. Unlike his father who was a mechanical engineer, Raymond majored in "pomology", the study of raising fruit. Whatever possessed this young man to study fruit raising is anyone's guess. He came from a long line of farmers starting with the original Nute was killed in his garden by Indians in the 1600's, interrupted briefly when his farmer/teacher grandfather moved from New Hampshire to Boston.

He was an officer of the Rifle Club, ran a 5 minute mile, and went to school with young men with names like Murray Danforth Lincoln, Merton Chesleigh Lane, and Lewis Phillips Howard. He could have had a life of ease living in the city, but after graduating in 1914, he got himself a farm in Lakeville, Massachusetts, a few miles outside town with a good sized house,

and barn.

Nor was the family happy when Raymond soon took a young wife, Alice, who was the daughter of a grocer. "She wasn't good enough for them", Raymond's daughter, Jeannette, recalls. Over the next five years, they lived on the New England farm and had two children. What made Raymond and Alice move their young family to rural Kentucky in 1920? Was it Raymond's best friend at Mass Ag moving to Ohio to found Nationwide Insurance, a cooperative insurance company for farmers? Was he recruited to Kentucky Orchards by the owner?  According to Jeannette, he wanted a place to try out his ideas.

Whatever the reason, the young farmer brought scientific farming to Kentucky with a flourish. A 1924 article in the Farmers Home Journal says:

"R.E. Nute is one of the most remarkable fruit pioneers in Kentucky, and the constant wonder of his neighbors, who predicted loss from the start because of his ideas on scientific growing.

That hill-top of apparently worthless land is now the wonder of the countryside. To begin with, Mr. Nute had to build a road to the top that auto trucks could navigate. The road was built. A saw mill was constructed so that lumber on the property could be converted into houses and a packing shed.

The ground was torn up and prepared with the aid of a Fordson and various plows, harrows, cultivators, and the like. Trees by the thousand were planted where only a few old ones were on hand for a nucleus. None in those parts believed in such modern devices as thinning out and spraying and cultivating.

Nute did. He knew how. He came from Massachusetts with his family and buckled down to work. The trees were pruned, dusted, sprayed, cultivated. A big bean spray pump and duster, taking care of two or more rows at a time, destroyed all insects and pests. Borers were gotten rid of with "paracide" planted around the trunks every year. Lime sulphur dust took care of the upper works of the orchard.

Although Mr. Nute has already attained a one-pound peach, on rare occasions slightly over a pound, a two pound peach is one of his ambitions.

His packing house is another wonder to fruit growers, who now come for miles to see, and often to buy peaches. Not long ago visitors made the pilgrimage to the top of the hill in such numbers one day that $100 worth of peaches were sold in the front yard. Some of the peaches are snapped up at 10 cents apiece as curiosities. Last year a number of Mr. Nute's products took first prizes in the Kentucky State fair."

This photo was taken at the Massachusetts farm shortly before their move to Kentucky. They still have that refined New England look.

A short time later, they are looking more like Kentucky farmers.

Raymond's fame as an orchardist brought other agriculturists from around the country and he was sought as a speaker for meetings and radio. By 1928, Raymond was looking another way to boost his orchard's profitability and from this came the concept of raising turkeys in his 100 acre orchard. From a start of two hens and a tom, his flock grew to over 7000 birds, and a mill was added to the orchard to grind the grain. The birds provided natural and labor free fertilization, ate the insects, weeds, and dead fruit on the ground, and apple trees that usually produced fruit every three years were yielding fruit every year.

So grew Raymond's fame as a turkey grower and innovator, and he became known as the Turkey King of Kentucky. He collaborated with the University of Kentucky, presided over State Farm Bureau meetings, and continued to raise his family on the farm.

Then, in the midst of this tremendous success, it ends in 1937, and Raymond moved his family away to small town Washington, Kentucky, then to Vanceburg and became agricultural agent for Lewis County, never again to show the world what a hard working young man from Massachusetts with a Mass Ag education could do with a 100 acres of hard scrabble land, some peach and apple trees and a few turkeys. What happened? Jeannette says the owner of the orchard died and the land was sold.

This Thanksgiving as you all are enjoying your fabulous turkey dinner, eating until you can't push yourself away from the table, be thankful for the farmers in the country who have made it all possible with a few hours cooking on your part.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Abraham Dillow (1839-1910), Veteran, West Virginia Fifth Infantry

While I was back visiting my old Kentucky home a couple weeks ago, one of my goals was to search out some ancestor graves. I had researched where they were buried but finding an old cemeteries and grave stones can be a daunting task in the hills of Kentucky. The sparsely populated county of Lewis County listed 29 known cemeteries, many of them small family or no longer used plots on private land.

On a beautiful October day, I set out with my cousin Allen to find our great grandfather's grave on Pleasant Ridge in Fly Branch. Well, Pleasant Ridge wasn't even one of the 29 listed and Fly Branch wasn't on any map. Even having been to the cemetery once before, Allen wasn't quite sure where was this obscure burial ground. He did know, though, to leave behind his yellow vintage Mustang and we took his wife's car, knowing it might get beat up a little.

We found Fly Branch, we found the gnarly, rutted little road up to the ridge, from there we had no idea. It was one of those another door opens moments when we came across a young man repairing his deer blind. Who knows what deer hunters use those for, just a little house on stilts, like a tree house without a tree. I say the deer is already handicapped by not having a gun, why do hunters need to build a place to hide.

On to the story - Allen, of course, knew the man, Dane, one of those blue eyed Scotch-Irish-German Appalachians, good looking, long haired, and friendly. He owned much of the property on the ridge and was raising his family miles away from any civilization. Hosting and guiding hunters on his ridge was one of his several businesses. Yes, he knew the cemetery. Said his cousins went there to be "spiritual". Allen said this meant to smoke marijuana, another one of our young man's businesses on the property. As most Kentuckians would, he offered to guide us as far as we could go with a vehicle. From there, we'd be on foot.

We made our way along the ridge,

until we came to a clearing that was clearly the cemetery site. It was indeed a peaceful place. I could see why they came here to be "spiritual". I had asked Dane why the cemeteries seemed to be up on ridges. "They wanted to be closer to heaven", he said.

This was the final resting place for Abraham Dillow, our great-grandfather, descendant of Revolution and War of 1812 veterans, and a veteran of the Civil War himself. He buried first on this ridge two young adult children in the late 1890's, Willard and Sarah "Dolly", who very likely died from tuberculosis but searching those death records is a task for another day. He buried a wife, Sarah, who died from "brain trouble", likely a stroke, and three years later he was laid to rest here, marking his grave with his rank and infantry regiment, the West Virginia Fifth.

The four boys from Lost Creek, Kentucky, joined the Union Army at the beginning in 1861, three of the boys going to the eastern campaign with the West Virginia Fifth and the fourth south with the Kentucky 14th into Georgia. Abraham and his brothers, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington Dillow, fought at Cross Keys, Second Bull Run, and through Shenandoah Valley with General Sheridan.

This summer I went to Manassas where the Second Bull Run was fought and traced the footsteps of "Milroy''s Brigade" over the three day battle where 10,000 were killed or wounded on the Union side alone. I tracked the "Deep Cut"

Henry Hill,

other troop movements where the brothers went up against the forces of Stonewall Jackson and James Longstreet, and found the little muddy stream called Bull Run where the first shots were fired that started this conflagration.

We have a family photo of Abraham in his uniform.

Abraham returned to Lost Creek after the war, married Sarah Ann, and named his first two sons Ulysses S. and Alfred Sheridan. All the brothers survived the war. Two of the brothers married sisters of Sarah Ann.

"War is hell", Sherman said. Our four lucky brothers came home. Many do not. I called my favorite veteran today, Allen, great grandson also of Abraham, glad that he came home from his four years in Vietnam.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Nightmare on Front Street

I like to stay in a bed and breakfast or small inn when I travel. I get to hang with the local folk, breakfast is often tasty, it usually costs less, and the money goes to the local economy. Stay in a big chain hotel and I might as well be in Chicago.

So, when I decided to go back to the home town of my childhood - Vanceburg, Kentucky - I went on online to find a nice little bed and breakfast. The decision was helped along by my Janie sister saying there wasn't a hotel within 25 miles of Vanceburg. She had lived in Vanceburg for several years before moving to Charleston a couple years ago.

Online searching found few pickin's but the one "Inn" listed on a Kentucky tourism website seemed to be just what I was looking for -

Take a step back in time to a place where noise, congestion and life's pressures have been forsaken. The McKellup House Inn is located in downtown Vanceburg, Kentucky, a million miles from a big city (at least it will seem that way). Relax and renew at the McKellup House Inn! We offer: four guest rooms, each with a private bath...period furnishings, a ground-floor guest room with ADA-compliant bath. Each room has been furnished with antiques reflecting the pre-civil war house. Beds include polished brass, iron, or carved oak. Although at this time we do not offer breakfast with bookings, we will do everything possible to arrange for whatever your needs or desires may be.

The online photo looked good, a nice historic inn,

My suspicions should have been raised on making the reservation - which took several phone calls - and the lady answered Redbud Realty, but, hey, it's a small town and people do a variety of things to make a living. Then she went on to say not only was there no breakfast, but no TV, no phone, no wireless. OK, I could live with that. I was looking to get away.

I arrived in town about 1:30 PM and went to check in at my little inn on the river. Well, the real live place looked a little different from the online photo. The paint was peeling, the landscaping had died, all blinds were drawn. Lookin' pretty run down,

Knocked on the door several times, no answer. Checked the address. Yep, this was 226 Front Street. I thought the hostess must be out getting some welcome snack and tea, so I went over to the Historical Society for a few hours to work on our family history.

Returned at 4:30 PM, still no answer. Hm-m-m. I asked the people sitting on the porch across the street - they still do this in Kentucky, kind of nice - did they know when the owner might be back.

"No, but they live just down the street, in the green house on the corner".

I hustled down to the green house. No one home there either, but a note on the door addressed to me gave a number to a pizza shop. Call there and someone would come to let me in. Now, tell me, how was I supposed know to go to the green house, and not the Inn to check in?

Sure enough, a lady drove up in a pick up truck about 10 minutes after my call, but I'd had to walk some distance into town because there was no cell phone service on Front Street.

The inside of the Inn was dark. No snack or tea. We sure have been spoiled in those European B & B's. The door was open to a downstairs bedroom, antique bed all right, but no mattress and the bedclothes were strewn on the floor. This must be the ADA room. All the other downstairs doors were closed. My room was upstairs, and it had a nice look.

My room would have been Civil War looking if not for a jacuzzi tub taking up a quarter of the space. Funkiness aside, a warm Jacuzzi bath could have been neat later in the evening were it not for a sign that said "Sorry, I don't work". The lady showed me how to turn on the gas heater hanging on the wall. Not like anything I'd seen before, a pilot light that heated up two bricks when the flame was turned a little higher.

I had a feeling and asked the greeter lady whether there were any other guests staying at the Inn.

"No, but I'll be staying downstairs after I get off from the pizza shop. I'll be late, so I hope I don't wake you up."

Well, at least there would be someone else in the house during the night. I was planning to be out late myself.

I went over to my cousin's house for dinner, and he asked if I wasn't going to stay with him and his wife, Nancy. I hadn't seen him for almost 50 years but I said no, I'd wanted to stay at least a couple days at my Inn and get the flavor of the town, and I liked being right next to the river.

It was 10:30 when I returned to the Inn. It was a bit spooky, completely dark, no light on, no one there, so I sang to myself walking up the stairs. I had trouble getting the heater to work. For some reason, the pilot light was off and I couldn't get the d--- thing fixed. And it was starting to smell like gas in the room. So, back downstairs, drive to the edge of town to get cell phone service, and call the number for the pizza place.

This time a guy came over, and after blasting the heater with a blow torch looking lighter for a few minutes, the pilot came on. The room still had a gas smell so I asked him to open the windows since they were stuck.

I slept in my blue jeans that night with the windows open. That elegant looking little bedspread was all the cover there was.

The next morning as I was leaving, the lady was out on the porch smoking a cigarette so she must have come in sometime during the night.

"The heater has a problem", I told her. "Could you have someone look at it today".

I spent the day exploring the town and running around with my cousin, Allen, catching up on 50 years of our adventures and misadventures. We are indeed from the same genes.

Kentucky is beautiful, and my Inn was right on the Ohio River.

Vanceburg is well past its heyday when it was a bustling, thriving river town, barges, and river boats up and down the river, tobacco growing in the fields. My grandparents' Victorian house just down the street from my Inn was beautiful in the 1940's, but now run down much like the Inn.

The house next to the Inn is a fixer upper,

Once beautiful houses are up for sale.

The town seems to have little activity,

Even the railroad through town that used to carry coal from the eastern coal fields, and livestock, and people has rusted.

Exhausted from the day, I returned to my Inn about 8:30 PM. It was dark, and as soon as I stepped inside I could smell the gas. Back down to the green house - no one home. Drive to the edge of town to get cell phone service to call whoever is running the place. Got that d--- Redbud Realty machine. Couldn't even get hold of the pizza shop, wherever the h--- it was. Back to the Inn, hold my breath and run upstairs to get my bag before the place blows up.

Gracious hosts they are, my cousins took me in.

Nancy smiled. "Had enough flavor?". I remembered her eyebrow had gone up when I told them the first night where I was staying.

It's a sad requiem for another Kentucky town.