Howell Homestead

Lower back of log house showing fireplace stones

Lower back of log house showing fireplace stones

“The Old Log House”

The old log house where Wilma (my late wife) was born, was built about 1842 by Rev. Thomas Wilson. Rev. Wilson had a grand of land that included most of the valley where the Rebels Creek community eventually developed. He had eleven children, all daughters, so the Wilson surname did not survive in the family. However, the daughters married Boones, Willises, and other names that do still live in and around this community.

The old house was continuously occupied until the 1960‘s. During the Civil War, according to a family legend, some Yankee soldiers came in and took all the food and even the blankets off the beds. One of Wilma’s distant Howell relatives (on her mother’s side) died during the war. Somewhere among my voluminous papers there is a copy of his last letter to his wife Sally — something I will eventually find and share with you. Wilma’s family moved to the small green house just below the High-Cove pasture some time in the 1960’s–I don’t remember the date. I used to depend on Wilma as my “data-bank” and I have forgotten way too much.

There were three main rooms in the original house, referred to within the family as the “upper room,” the “middle room,” and the “lower room.” Within the tiny middle room there were two short wooden beds strung with ropes and covered with straw mattresses, as well as a very steep stairway–almost a ladder–that led up to the attic. The roof was made of cedar or white-oak shakes that allowed a liberal amount of snow to sift through during the winter, while summer rains played a dissonant tune in the various pots and pans. The logs were chinked with mud; I remember brushing tiny drifts of snow from my bed when I visited during the winter. There was a fireplace in each end of the house. Wilma recalled that when she was very young, her parents, her five siblings, and two sets of grandparents lived with the family, and she remembered that before her father built the kitchen, sometime around 1936, they cooked over the fireplace in the lower room.

8. Florence Murdock Boone, Wilma’s mother’s sister, lived with the family after her husband, Bill, passed away. Bill Boone was related to the other Boones on the Creek--Nate Boone and Jim Boone and … I don’t remember the others. It was told by the family that these Boones were distantly related to the somewhat more famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone. I love this picture.

I love this picture.

“Civilization” came late to this part of Rebels Creek. Electricity lighted up the old logs sometime in the late 1930’s. I remember Wilma telling me that when the lights came on everybody was dismayed to find out how much dirt lingered in the corners. They scrubbed the old plank floors with brooms and sand. Newspapers were used for wallpaper on some of the walls.

9-10. This is what the old 1842 log house looks like now (or did 15-20 years ago). The kitchen has been completely changed, they added a second storey, and a long porch was added to the back. It lost all of its charm somewhere in the move, although I’m not sure the family ever thought about the house as “charming.” It was more like a chore that never ended to keep it from sinking back into the ground.

the rebuild “old log house” 15-20 years ago

Sometime in the 1960’s “some feller from Florida” bought the tired old log house and moved it log by log to Yancey County. He added two or three courses of logs to make the attic high enough for four beautiful bedrooms and a bathroom; I have heard that he expected to use the house as a retreat for himself and his family, but that his children took one look at it and said “No, thanks.” So far as I know, it still sits there inhabited only by its memories.

Editor’s note:  Byrne has offered to answer questions about his article. So please let me encourage you to reply below with questions about the log house and this area. This article clearly shows, Byrne is great resource for our community.

 

1. Little (actually, nothing) did I know in 1961 that in 1997 we would build our retirement home almost where I was standing to take this picture.

1. Little (actually, nothing) did I know in 1961 that in 1997 we would build our retirement home almost where I was standing to take this picture.

2. I took this picture from where Kenneth’s horse pasture is now. That tall, spindly maple tree is still there, just barely on Kenneth’s side of the wire fence, right beside the driveway. An accident of photography seems to paint a porch roof on the back of the house, but as you will see in picture 3, there was no porch on the back.

2. I took this picture from where Kenneth’s horse pasture is now. That tall, spindly maple tree is still there, just barely on Kenneth’s side of the wire fence, right beside the driveway. An accident of photography seems to paint a porch roof on the back of the house, but as you will see in picture 3, there was no porch on the back.

3. You can see one back door that led from the “upper room,” and there was another door on the lower side, all but hidden by the trees. The little square window provided the only light for the “middle room.”

3. You can see one back door that led from the “upper room,” and there was another door on the lower side, all but hidden by the trees. The little square window provided the only light for the “middle room.”

4. The house was already vacant and lonesome when I took this picture. After Herbert and Estelle moved to the small green house, they still tended a garden in the same old place.

4. The house was already vacant and lonesome when I took this picture. After Herbert and Estelle moved to the small green house, they still tended a garden in the same old place.

5. The logs had been squared with an axe and a frow--you can still see the irregularities in these logs.

5. The logs had been squared with an axe and a frow–you can still see the irregularities in these logs.

6. The small lean-to addition contained a wood-burning kitchen stove and a small dining room. We inherited the corner cupboard that was used to store left-over biscuits from breakfast and yesterday’s apple pies. They used to make a kind of flat apple pie, and stack them three- or four-high. The cupboard is older than the house; Wilma remembered one of the family stories: When the Wilson family moved to Rebels Creek from Green Mountain in 1842, they carried the cupboard on the back of a mule to cross the river at Boonford. The mule’s back was higher than the wagons that carried their other furniture.

6. The small lean-to addition contained a wood-burning kitchen stove and a small dining room. We inherited the corner cupboard that was used to store left-over biscuits from breakfast and yesterday’s apple pies. They used to make a kind of flat apple pie, and stack them three- or four-high. The cupboard is older than the house; Wilma remembered one of the family stories: When the Wilson family moved to Rebels Creek from Green Mountain in 1842, they carried the cupboard on the back of a mule to cross the river at Boonford. The mule’s back was higher than the wagons that carried their other furniture.

Lower back of log house showing fireplace stones

Lower back of log house showing fireplace stones

8. Florence Murdock Boone, Wilma’s mother’s sister, lived with the family after her husband, Bill, passed away. Bill Boone was related to the other Boones on the Creek--Nate Boone and Jim Boone and … I don’t remember the others. It was told by the family that these Boones were distantly related to the somewhat more famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone. I love this picture.

8. Florence Murdock Boone, Wilma’s mother’s sister, lived with the family after her husband, Bill, passed away. Bill Boone was related to the other Boones on the Creek–Nate Boone and Jim Boone and … I don’t remember the others. It was told by the family that these Boones were distantly related to the somewhat more famous frontiersman, Daniel Boone. I love this picture.

9-10. This is what the old 1842 log house looks like now (or did 15-20 years ago). The kitchen has been completely changed, they added a second storey, and a long porch was added to the back. It lost all of its charm somewhere in the move, although I’m not sure the family ever thought about the house as “charming.” It was more like a chore that never ended to keep it from sinking back into the ground.

9-10. This is what the old 1842 log house looks like now (or did 15-20 years ago). The kitchen has been completely changed, they added a second storey, and a long porch was added to the back. It lost all of its charm somewhere in the move, although I’m not sure the family ever thought about the house as “charming.” It was more like a chore that never ended to keep it from sinking back into the ground.

9-10. This is what the old 1842 log house looks like now (or did 15-20 years ago). The kitchen has been completely changed, they added a second storey, and a long porch was added to the back. It lost all of its charm somewhere in the move, although I’m not sure the family ever thought about the house as “charming.” It was more like a chore that never ended to keep it from sinking back into the ground.

9-10. This is what the old 1842 log house looks like now (or did 15-20 years ago). The kitchen has been completely changed, they added a second storey, and a long porch was added to the back. It lost all of its charm somewhere in the move, although I’m not sure the family ever thought about the house as “charming.” It was more like a chore that never ended to keep it from sinking back into the ground.

5 thoughts on “Howell Homestead

  1. Byrne, what a lovely story. Thank you for sharing it, and we look forward to reading (and hearing) many more. I agree, that cabin had a lot of charm.

  2. Byrne, I’ll be doing some reshaping to this format soon so might loose the correlated imagery between the opening old log house image and the lodge addition cabin. That correlation interest me. Thinking a lot recently about the Appalachian aesthetic. I actually love looking east from the homestead (old log house site) and seeing Kenneth’s blue tarp and tire solution to his roof leak.

    Talking about images and correlation, Wilma’s mother’s sister’s image is breathtaking in it’s iconic character. I can give both of these images better play in the newsletter.

    Want you to see the book on the civil war art. It came last week and I have not had the time to delve into it but the correlations abound.

  3. I was so surprised to come across the photo of my great-aunt Florence here. My maternal grandfather was the Nate Boone that you mentioned as Bill Boone’s brother. My mother grew up on Rebel’s Creek. We visited there often when I was a kid. Aunt Florence came to Atlanta and visited us when I was a boy. I remember that she had never ridden on an escalator until that trip. I had never seen this photo of her before…so thank you for sharing it.

  4. I am a Wilson/Boone/Howell descendant Bill Boone was my great-uncle. Thank you so much for posting the story and pictures. I have an old picture – early 1900s – that someone shared with me years ago that claimed to be the “Howell Cabin”. It is pre-additions but it does look to be the same one.

  5. JIM: i’m byrne’s (other) daughter, and i’d love to see that picture of the “old house.” i’ve never seen one that old, and i remember that house with great fondness. you could send it to me on facebook or at ntinney@suffolk.lib.ny.us. thanks!

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