The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

1791 frontier house

Rocky Mount, Tennessee

Rocky Mount was another of those local attractions that I visited as a school kid but was clearly too young to fully appreciate at the time. Emily and her husband met us there for a tour, and we were all amazed by the museum and (even more so) by the re-creation of frontier life out back.

Shake roof

But I'll start in front, where Mark was quite taken by the shake roofs that covered the barn, sheds, and houses.

Cotswold sheep

I, of course, was more drawn to the heirloom sheep and to the orchard, where I snagged a few pears that otherwise seemed destined to rot on the ground.

Hand-cranked drill press

Inside, Mark's toolish eye immediately picked out the hand-cranked drill press...

Tree cores

...while I was more interested in the idea of using coring technology to learn about the trees that made up the log houses.

Frontier house with dogtrot

Speaking of log houses, the real adventure began when we finished our interior journey and stepped into the world of 1791. The farmstead of the Cobb family has been lovingly salvaged and restored and tour guides dressed in period clothing welcome you inside to learn about their life after the Revolutionary War.

Above, you can see the main house, with the typical dogtrot (covered porch) joining the original smaller house with the larger addition. The Cobbs were quite a wealthy family, evidenced by the size of their house and by the presence of glass windows. There is no kitchen in the main house either --- just living and sleeping accommodations --- since the family was rich enough to own slaves. As we learned later in our tour, all food was cooked in a separate building and delivered in stages to the family and to their numerous guests.

Block of tea

Pieces of eightMark called the tour guides actors, but I was able to suspend my disbelief most of the time and accept that they were real people of 1791 welcoming us into their lives. (Yes, I do find it particularly easy to live in a fantasy world. Why do you ask?) I could feel this woman's wonder and care as she unwrapped a block of tea from China, which she informed us would cost more than a day of a man's wages. And I was intrigued by the pieces of eight (called "bits" here on the frontier), by straw ticking for children's mattresses (easier to restuff than feathers if younguns wet the bed), and by standing writing desks.

Cooking hearth

But the best part of the tour came when we reached the kitchen, complete with drying herbs, huge cooking hearth, meat spit, and warming oven. Off to the left (not visible in this picture) was a bread oven, fired up once a week for a huge day of baking. "We never bake on Mondays," our guide explained, "Because it takes the entire day beforehand to prepare, and Sunday is the Sabbath."

Processing flax

Okay, I lied. The real best part was when the cook brought us down to the weaving house. I've seen spinning and weaving before, but had never watched flax being transformed from plant to thread. The process was astonishing.

First, you dry the plants for a couple of years, then you pound them with a heavy weight thing to loosen up the woody exterior fibers. (Yes, I missed all of the proper words --- I should have been taking notes.) Rubbing bundles of loosened flax across a post and then hitting it with a stick knocks off most of those woody fibers, but you really turn the flax into thread by pulling it through a metal brush. Add in some wool from the farm's sheep and you've got fire-resistant linsey woolsey, perfect for a cook who spends her days flapping a long skirt at an open flame.

Asclepias physocarpa

I won't write more because I don't want it to take you as long to read this post as it took us to suck up all that Rocky Mount has to offer. But I highly recommend this outing, which costs $7.50 apiece with a AAA card. We spent three full hours in the museum and on the grounds, and if I hadn't been starving we likely would have stayed longer. Go after lunch and stay all afternoon --- you won't regret it!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We had a blast! Rocky Mount is one of my favorite places, anyway! I keep meaning to actually show up for the sheep shearing or one of the other special events.

And if you can catch the people in costume out in the world, they call themselves reenactors.

Comment by Emily Mon Oct 12 11:36:44 2015
Emily --- Thank you so much for turning us on to such a wonderful historical resource! I definitely want to go back for one of the classes, but am very glad I went on a normal day first because otherwise it would have been far too much to take in.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 12 14:54:43 2015
Loved seeing the old homestead. We have a similar living museum here. This post makes me want to go back for a visit. I have a very old linsey woolsey coverlet, one of my treasures, found at an estate sale. I think it dates back to very early 1800s. I wonder if we could grow flax here?
Comment by Deb Mon Oct 12 23:08:35 2015

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