Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Walker (Staffeldt?) Sisters

From the Little Greenbrier School (described yesterday), a walk up a narrow gravel path led to the home of the Walker Sisters. Since the Park Ranger mentioned that bears may be present along the walk, we sang and shuffled our feet through the gravel. Unfortunately, this noise also interrupted the work of a woodpecker and the communication among other birds.

Along the way, we crossed a dry creek bed. Had there been any significant level of water in the creek, we could have used the narrow bridge to cross.

After the mile walk, we came upon this clearing. There was a feeling of specialness as we entered the Walker Homestead. John Walker inherited part of the property from Margaret King's father when he married Margaret in 1866 and later purchased additional property from Margaret's brothers and sisters.

As the family grew (it would eventually reach seven girls and four boys), John, an excellent carpenter, used lumber from a small cabin on the property to add a room onto the "big house." This room (left) became the kitchen for the home.

With one daughter and the sons leaving home earlier and the deaths of Margaret (1909), John (1921), and daughter Nancy (1931), the five remaining daughters demonstrated such a high degree of self-sufficiency that they gained national attention. Margaret (a good marksman who could "shear a sheep faster than anyone else"), Martha Ann (the accountant), Louisa (cut wood, worked in the fields, and wrote poetry), Hettie (cook and knitter), and Mary Elizabeth (active in church) managed quite well for about 30 years in what was known as "Five Sisters Cove."

Their 122-acre farm had a barn, pig pen, corncrib, smokehouse, apple-house (they grew some 21 varieties of apples), blacksmith shop, and a small tub mill. However, they had no running water or indoor plumbing (or even an outhouse).

But, "they were blessed with a clear, flowing spring protected by a springhouse (shown below) with a stone slab floor. Inside, crocks of milk, butter, and cheese were kept cool and fresh throughtout the year" (The Walker Sisters of Little Greenbrier, 2005).

It was their appearance on the cover of the April, 1946 issue of the Saturday Evening Post that brought national attention and hundreds of visitors to the Walker Sisters' home. The article was entitled "Time Stood Still in the Smokies."

Gathered around the living room fireplace in their linsey-woolsey clothing made from homegrown cotton and wool, the sisters would talk with visitors about their herbal medicine, quilt-making, beekeeping, and gardening skills. The sisters had a "Visitors Welcome" sign posted near the cabin until the early 50's when they wrote to park superintendent: "Will you please have the sign about the Walker Sisters taken down...the reason I am asking this there is just 2 of the sisters lives at the old House place one is 70 years of age the other is 82...We are not able to do our work and receive so many visitors...."

(The Walker Sisters remind me of the Staffeldt Sisters--my maternal grandmother and her four sisters. Very capable, self-sufficient, friendly people.)

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