It started as a simple retirement project of renovating an old worn down cabin in the Appalachian backwoods of the modern Riverbend Development in Lake Lure, NC. It quickly became an ancient travelog of a backwater mountain home full of artifacts, local stories and historic cultural conflicts. Growing up in Western North Carolina an hour from the cabin, the author expanded his construction hobby skills, and utilized historical research, aided by new friends, family, and neighbors to reflect on the process from his cabin’s front porch. Written in three parts of practical restoration processes, historic documentation, and life reflections, the author invites the reader through text and photos to go along for the journey.
The expanded and edited book will replace these blog posts. It will be offered in print and electronic formats.
Someone kindly, but jokingly, called me Dr. Doolittle recently, after hearing about my encounters with animals at Posey Brown’s Cabin. Summer, but all seasons, bring surprise visitors to the cabin. Birds, mammals, reptiles and insects are a part of the living environment that I share. I am never alone, even when I think I am alone at the cabin: inquisitive bears, friendly hummingbirds sipping sugar water from my bird feeder, hungry deer foraging on my lawn and eating absolutely all of the plants in my two garden plots. I’ve included some of my better photographs–so miss my professional 35mm, but it was heavy, and the phone camera does okay. I shared this in another post, but instead of being afraid of these visitors I prefer to think of them as visits from my distant ancestors who wanted to see what was going on with me at the cabin. I usually call them by their names: Uncle John, Aunt Rebecca, Great Grandpa Henderson. They are welcome.
In the late 18th century, when settlers began to populate Western North Carolina, among other places, log cabins were built from hand hewn local pitch pine and cedar logs. Beneath the structure, settlers would dig a root cellar where they stored fall crops like potatoes; and yes, moonshine, a valuable commodity.
When you look at Posey Brown’s cabin, which I first called the Stage Coach Cabin because there was a barn on the property and horses and mules were housed for long range wagons moving west, you might miss the main cabin, which one archeologist dated from between 1790-1820. In the early 1930’s a new owner built an addition housing a bedroom, kitchen and bathroom. First a bedroom and later the kitchen, the cellar entrance was hidden by a closet door. Basically, unused for 75 years.
This was a last cabin project for me to complete the restoration–a wine cellar. The following photo album shows the process aided by grandsons and friends. Fun for all. And what will I store in the cellar? None of your business. LOL. Thanks to all.
My thanks to Nick Bell and his son (Relic Kid) for spending the morning with me recently to unearth physical evidence to support what I believe, after fours years of research, to be the definitive history. With a degree in archaeology and an avid metal detectorist, Bell specializes his hobby to Revolutionary and Civil War artifacts. Check out his YouTube channel where he documents his digs.
It was a clear cool spring morning when Nick Bell pulled his SUV into Posey Brown’s Cabin gravel parking lot, then partially filled with a load of topsoil. Opening the car hatch, he unveiled enough equipment to cover one of my barn walls: three professional grade metal detectors, smaller hand size ‘pinpointer’ detectors, canvas bags for collecting found objects, shovels, gloves and other small tools.
“I hope we can discover some artifacts here and confirm what you believe to be the history of the place,” he encouraged.
I had been up writing since 2:30AM and not in the best focus or energy for waving around a four foot metal wand attached to my forearm. In reality I think I woke up early, excited for what we might discover.
We took a tour of the property and cabin. Immediately he began describing the history he saw, “Maybe this and maybe that, possibly this and possibly that.” Nothing definitive.
Nick and his son Relic Kid, as he called him, began the slow methodical ritual of the waving of the wands. Instantly the detectors started to speak with high and low pitches talking to Nick in a language only he could understand. “The front yard is usually the best place to find objects of value,” as the wands stopped talking. Nothing there. “Let’s move to the back part of the cabin.”
At the back of the cabin, there had been a cookhouse and barracks behind the house, now long gone. Both had been erected in the 1930s. The barracks, confirmed by my neighbor who discovered a CCC button and saw the remains well over 20 years ago, was part of Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps. The summer cookhouse was erected by the Justice family as the back kitchen was too hot in the summer.
The wands started screaming at the buried metal roof pieces, remnants of a brass lantern, and spent .22 caliber casings. “How can you tell that is brass,” looking at the dirty and corroded metal piece. “It has a reddish tint, see?” No I did not see. I decided my male colorblindness limited ability for this hobby.
“The higher the pitch the better the chance for a piece of metal.” Bell handed me a metal detector and I had some hope.
“Can we discover an outhouse?” I inquired knowing that the filled hole of an outhouse, or privy, could be a goldmine of relics.
“Don’t think there was an outhouse, Nathan. Most early mountain settler compounds had a privy that either hung over a creek or a hill. No wonder there was a lot of typhoid and dysentery in the settler period. Growing up our family would build a privy over a hill on our hunting trips.”
We started down the hill toward the water catchment. “Look Nathan, can you see the old path that led from the cabin to the water catchment?” I did, now overgrown with forest floor vines.
At the stone water catchment, Nick began narrating a possible history. “These are actually two different catchments. And I would say they were actually spring houses with a wooden structure above the small pool of water, for holding eggs and milk along with providing fresh water. The one on the left looks like it was fed by an underground spring. The course of the stream changed and a second one was built. There is concrete between the stones in that one.” He reached down with his wand and the high pitch rang out. Digging underneath with his bare hand he surmised, “There is a large nail under here. Possibly part of the wooden structure above.”
We walked back to his vehicle. “Sorry we didn’t find any gold or a Civil War uniform button.” I was not disappointed. We had climbed through the cabin and around the property, and was given a confirmation of a broader history.
Posey Brown’s Cabin AKA Stage Coach Cabin History Gallery
Introductory comments. What started as my usual whimsical post, as one of my neighbors calls my writing, this one on the Civil War and Posey Brown's Cabin became a little dark, quickly. How do you describe the events of a major destructive war in an area of the south where families had differences of beliefs and livelihood. Life was hard and poverty was rampant in an economic divide between the property rich and farming poor, slaves and owners, educated and uneducated. Besides my usual background research, more extensive than usual, I interviewed local residents, conversed with neighbors, former residents who descended from both slaves and owners, and members associated with the Sons of the Confederacy and Daughters of the Confederacy. I also drew on informal conversations with day laborers and local tradesmen helping on the restoration of the cabin. There is still a divide on the causes of the Civil War that continues in a thread to the politics of today. And yet, it is a peaceful community and changing quickly as outsiders move into a growing resort and retirement community. I especially want to thank William Franklin III of McDowell County for his great assistance in this effort regarding his family. William is the great grandson of "Doc" Brown. In 2019, he and his wife visited my front porch at Posey Brown's cabin. Since then he has shared family records, photographs and responded to numerous questions. Any embellishment of the story is my own. Otherwise, names are withheld out of a concern for personal privacy. Comments and corrections are always welcome.
Part 1: The Stained Glass Window
Part 2: Civil War Around Posey Brown's Cabin
Part 3: The Tale of Two Mountain Men and Posey Brown
Part 4: To Fly or Not to Fly, Bluebellies, Yankees and Rebels
History Not Hate 1 of 4. The Stained Glass Window
A stained glass window seemed out of place in Posey Brown’s Cabin, by maybe 150 years. It was more decorative than functional. Hidden from the dirt road by a thick spruce with roots pushing against the foundation, little light came into the main cabin with its low 6′ 6″ ceiling, unlike the scenic windows and vaulted ceilings of modern day vacation homes made of milled logs and lumber.
What could have been a cozy respite felt more like a damp cave. The fireplace was not functional and only two small lamps with tattered cords illuminated the low rafters, hard pine and hand hewn logs sculpted with a hand axe. The stain glassed window was a historical challenge. Uncover shadowed artifacts and one might discover an ancient lived history. I started with the stained-glass window and uncovered from there.
I lay on the ground in the front yard of Posey Brown’s Cabin on Pheasant Street–an old white man of 70, long-haired, gray-headed and bearded, imagining the birth of earth around the cabin.
Long before, some of you will remember, long ago–but not too long ago, before the cell phone, the television, certainly before the computer and the Internet, we would lie on the summer earth wrapped in her warmth, gazing at the sky above. There was an unfolding drama of magical history that repeats itself, blue and cold, warm and swimming–swirling, cyan, pink, and cobalt. The sun, moon and stars, even planets bright, looked upon us wee–even atom-sized–creatures. Directed by an invisible and magical hand, clouds, light and fluffy, dark and stormy, moving swift and others crawling, began to compete, criss-crossing above our recumbent selves.  It is an old story. One told in variations and recorded both in oral tradition and written in sacred writings around the world–how the earth was formed.
“Thou shalt have a resident holy man–priest/rabbi/imam–who will represent the values of the community at all times.” That is what it says. I know. I am as surprised as you. Who puts a biblical/sacred commandment in the agreements of a community organization. Don’t believe me? Check it out under Article XI of the Riverbend Owners Association, Page 4, Paragraph 5. And wait, did we vote on that? Article or not, we do have a Saint George of Riverbend.
Evidence 1. St. George, our resident holy man, chops wood for a hobby and gives it away to neighbors so they are prepared for winter. Evidence 2. He volunteers for everything. Evidence 3. He dresses up as Santa and the Easter Bunny. Who does that! But wait. There is one more piece of evidence to come.
This past summer St. George, who lives in a cabin on Cougar Alley, delivered a load of wood to my place.
In the beginning of time, the Cherokee creation myth explains, the great raptor buzzard flapped his broad wings over the flat earth in what is now northern Georgia, western North Carolina and Tennessee. Flying here and there, the aeronautic force cracked the earth to create the great mountains, deep valleys and flowing waters of Appalachia. The Broad and Catawba rivers, among others, flowed and fell in cascading waters. Mountain streams bubbled up from the ground, then skipped and jumped the rocky and sandy beds down to join them in their journey to the coast.
You got to love Riverbend south, where life takes a slow turn. Over the past years we have experienced such generosity and reciprocity of kindness. We share tools, help with small projects, give advice (whether we want it or not), and generally just try to be nice to each other, even go 15 MPH–my pet peeve. So it was no surprise when I actually caught one of my neighbors on Pheasant sneaking up on my porch to leave us a hummingbird feeder. You know who you are. Thank you. It is working.
Fall is a time of enhanced beauty. Leaves begin to turn colors. Acorns and seeds fall from the tall trees peppering the metal roof like gunshots. Acrobatic squirrels fly, leap and jump through the trees. And fall wildflowers spurt their last offering before sleeping through the winter.
On one of our morning walks with Zulu near the cabin, Vickie decided to collect wildflower blooms and press them in a book. It was a return to her childhood project. Along the way I photographed the flowers and plants: ferns, passion flowers and even the triennual blooming kudzu–that pervasive (an invasive) southern vine–the vine that ate the south. Reviewing the photographs I could not have been more elated to find another face hiding in the forest. It was a tiny Cotton-top Tamarin hiding in a Kudzu flower, and he was sticking his tongue out at me! Why would I laugh and enjoy this so much? Why would I see it in the first place?
I consider myself rational, a realist with a scientific worldview. Yet, having lived in and studied African cultures, and coming from a religious background that taught about the Holy Spirit and the power of prayer, I can appreciate a mystic, or spiritual worldview approach to life. Especially, that there is a role for symbols, art, myths and legends within a broader cultural context. It is an ancient approach to spirituality common to ancient religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.
If you were around in 1985 you might remember a popular song by Julia Gold, From a Distance, also recorded by Bette Midler. The times were simpler then, filled with a somewhat naive hope for the future of our planet and the people who live in it. Julia Gold, in her words, “believes in an immanent and beneficent God” and “the song is about the difference between how things appear to be and how they really are.” It was not a religious song per se, though some interpreted it that way.
A few of my conservative evangelical friends outwardly turned up their sacred noses because it didn’t mention Jesus; and my agnostic friends rolled their questioning eyes at the idea that if there was a god, why would god even care what goes on in a world of free will where we make all the decisions about our world anyway.
I was living in Africa at the time and as a musician I thought it was a nice little melody–relaxing. What caught my attention were the words of the refrain, “God is watching us.” To my African friends this was entirely possible since the physical world was not the real world and it was often in the dream world that conflicts were resolved with mediating ancestors.
My own Scots-Irish background and the Celtic idea of a thin space, where the sacred appears in the mundane, has started to make more sense, especially during late summer walks in Riverbend–where life takes a slow turn–especially if you are looking.
My goddaughter, who is of Irish, West African and American Indigenous ancestry, is quite open to non-western approaches to life and spirituality. We sometimes discuss the topic of the conscious earth–“a global unity of consciousness, a thinking sphere circling the Earth above the biosphere, which [would comprise all] human reflection, conscious souls, and love.” The Noosphere, as the Jesuit Priest de Chardin called it, is inclusive of [now] the virtual global Internet, as well as the collective healing–or survival–of nature, and possibly a communication between them. Imagine the collective plant world communicating and mutating themselves for survival. Or, the fires, drought, winds and rain deciding to chase away unruly humans.
I have embraced the view of divine and natural play in the world as Jürgen Moltmann expressed in his Theology of Play in 1972. He proposed that those of us from the protestant work ethic ilk, worked with obsession and had lost the joy of life and need for play. All work and no play made Nathan a dull boy. Yet at 70 and in retirement, I get it. God is at play, and plays in the world.
I get that the world has immense problems. We, as a conscious earth, animals and plants, are collectively working out our future. Not everyone is so hopeful, as Harari expressed in the afterward to his book, Sapiens (an interesting book, by the way):
I am not so pessimistic.
I am an artist who in the past four years has expressed my creativity by restoring an old cabin that sits in the middle of a forest. As a lover of nature, and especially since spending hours on my front porch observing and reflecting on the beauty and life around me, the conscious and living forest and the historic peoples who inhabited it are coming alive to me. They present themselves to me in often surprising ways.
So, I am willing to play with the tamarin in the kudzu flower. Or, maybe it could well have been my eccentric father making a quick goofy face, as he so often did during serious moments, to see if he could make me lose my composure. He has visited me before in person and in my dreamworld. Don’t ask.
I can sum this up in the Shabbat Whistle of my friend David Shabot: “If we attribute amazing things in life to natural phenomena, we no longer recognize miracles.” So maybe I’m not such a rational scientific worldview person after all. But I’m not giving up on science, either.