|Love of History Comes Alive on Clevelands’ Farm in Blount Co.|
The Gulf gas pump glistens in the winter sun, seemingly waiting for the 1934 International pickup to pull beside its steel and glass bubble, and imbibe a gurgle of its 19.9 cent-per-gallon gasoline.
A scene from the Walton’s? An old movie? Have you been kidnapped into a time machine?
Actually, you’re simply on the farm of Harold and Joan Cleveland in rural Blount County where history stays alive in the old-time General Store they are restoring in an old farm house on their 200 acre farm AND within their hearts.
"I just love it," Harold explained.
Joan is a retired history teacher from Cleveland High School and Harold retired from his job as a Logistic Engineer at Redstone Arsenal (always running cattle on his farm as well). But even when they worked their "regular jobs," every vacation, including when their son Jonathan was a youngster, was aimed at visiting as many historical spots as possible.
(And that love of history was contagious as Jonathan has taught history and P.E. and coaches, while his wife Charity works as Appalachian High’s librarian.)
"Most of our trips have been historical," Joan explained. "But I guess our favorite is Virginia."
Harold talks of becoming misty-eyed when viewing General Robert E. Lee’s office at Washington and Lee University featured exactly as it was the last day Gen. Lee walked out the door.
Joan became much more than "misty-eyed" when they viewed not only Gen. Lee’s mausoleum, but, just outside it, the grave of his loyal stallion Traveler.
They’ve visited Civil War battlefields and other burial grounds, as they toured the country.
But it’s the history near home that has taken over their hearts now.
They bought their farm in 1967 and immediately began plans to add onto the tiny four-room house. Now a spacious, split-level home greets visitors just "down the road" from where Joan was born to her parents Bernard and Genie Mae Horton.
Behind their home, along the river and downstream from the current Horton Mill Covered Bridge, are simply a few large stones — the remains of a former village which once included an older covered bridge, blacksmith shop, general store, grist mill and more belonging to Joan’s great-grandfather Thurman Horton.
Since there was an extra, old, now-uninhabitable house just across the yard from the Cleveland’s home, Harold and Joan decided it would make an ideal "general store" to house some of their memories.
It’s just for their family and friends’ enjoyment and "setting a spell" on the old-time, wooden front porch (which Joan received as her Christmas present from Harold a couple of years ago — "everybody should get a porch for Christmas!" she said ) has proven to be a popular pastime.
The front porch features an ever-expanding collection. There’s the wooden wheelchair belonging to Joan’s great-grandmother and collectible signs, many in pristine condition and others showing their rusty age.
A checker board Harold crafted sits atop an ancient nail keg waiting for a game to begin.
A folk-art rooster roosts atop an antique wooden chicken crate. There are old Coke signs, a Royal Crown Cola thermometer (plus a newer Blount County Farmers Co-op thermometer!), wooden sled, milk cans, kerosene cans, a Merita bread sign, cigarette advertisements, an old Firestone tire display and so much more.
Of course, there are the requisite rocking chairs to while away the time.
There’s a wooden rail in case you want to tie your horse or mule out front. But there’s also that 1934 International truck, which Harold bought in Tennessee, but which he learned had served its life hauling silage on a Kansas farm.
Many of the items are collected from the Cleveland’s family and friends but many also have been bought at swap meets and at the annual gasoline-related sale at Blount County’s Dry Creek Farm.
Harold is still searching for a kerosene pump and a set of large grain scales.
The little house itself was home to much of Blount’s history.
Mildred Stephens Colvin and her husband lived in the house, and either bought it or built it in the early 1930s. Their son, Kenneth Colvin, was born in the house in 1934 and there was another son, Wayne, born there as well.
Kenneth told Joan records show it took $300 to build the house, which was primarily for the nails and windows as the family built the doors themselves, but they had the chimney constructed by a local rock layer.
Forney Gilmore Stephens was Mildred’s father. He had begun the Southern Democrat in Blountsville in October 1894. A few years later, after the Blount County seat moved from Blountsville to Oneonta, the Southern Democrat followed suit.
Stephens married Octie Eugenia Howard in 1899 and their daughter, Mildred, was born in 1900.
Forney Stephens was also a State Senator for a time and, according to research by Joan, instrumental in getting several of Blount County’s Covered Bridges built in the early 1930s. It is speculated he helped get the Horton Mill Bridge built in 1934 because he wanted daughter Mildred and her family to have a safe way to get to her home on what is now Horton Mill Covered Bridge Road.
After Forney’s death, Mildred took over as editor of the Southern Democrat until she later sold it to her cousin, Rice Howard.
Howard’s wife continued as editor after Rice’s death until their daughter, Molly Howard, become editor.
Molly Howard (Ryan) was editor until 2010 (with a couple of decades when she was assisted by her late-daughter Lisa Ryan as editor) when she sold the newspaper to Rob Rice. Ms. Howard remains at the newspaper as publisher.
Joan has a little more history about Mildred Stephens Colvin. It seems Mildred was also a registered nurse and attended many of the babies who were born in the community.
Joan was delivered at home "right down the road," by Dr. Howard Denton and Mildred was the nurse in attendance!
The Clevelands are just now beginning to work inside the home/store and hope to furnish it exactly as an old general store would look.
(Joan’s greenhouse back of their home also is historical with front doors made by her granddaddy and old windows from the old now-demolished Oneonta Junior High School.)
Harold and Joan are working slowly because they want to have ample time to attend third grade granddaughter Ella’s basketball games and babysit four-year-old granddaughter Lila three days each week!
"We just love the past," Harold explained. "We’re products of our history and preserving as much of it as possible is not only worthwhile, it’s a lot of fun."
Suzy Lowry Geno is a freelance writer from Blount County. She can be reached through her website at www.suzysfarm.com.