Monday, September 28, 2009

The GYRabbit Redux

Did you know that The Graveyard Rabbit organization started here on Shades as a Weekend With Shades Column by the same name? It was written by Terry Thornton of Hill Country of Monroe County. Read the article that started it all!

The roads in the extreme northeastern part of the hill country's Monroe County pass the highest hills of the county. Some of those roads are Horseshoe Bend Road and Lindsey Road, both in the heart of the Jug Hills. Passing through a group of gentle rolling hills and valleys into the southern section of Itawamba County, Lindsey Road merges with State Line Road.

Along State Line Road is evidence of much early human activity in the hill country. And State Line Road is the way to Cherry Tree.

The roads to Cherry Tree from Monroe County go through some of the most interesting low hills of Hill Country. From the high points of around 580 feet in Monroe County, the hills increase slightly in height. Around Cherry Tree the tallest hills are about 600 feet, well below the high points of 660 feet much further to the north in Itawamba County.

Along State Line Road are remains of a railroad track, the Kentucky Railroad, built exclusively for the removal of the old-growth timber that once formed the forests of this area. There, along this historic road, are remains of several pottery sheds --- the region was once full of potters plying their trade, firing the clay dug from the hills. One of the adjoining roads in Monroe County is even called Jug Shop Road. It passes by the ruins of the remaining kiln --- the only memorial to the time of the potters and to their products which were so highly prized and so necessary to earlier settlers of the region.

And along the roads are banks from which potters once dug the moist clay used to mold stoneware churns and pots and mugs and plates and crocks and jars and jugs. All along these roads can be easily seen where the potters and the earlier settlers got the wood to make the fires to heat the pottery --- there are many hills covered with the mixed growth of hardwood and softwood trees so typical of the southern hills.

All alongside State Line Road are dozens of sites once the places of much activity. There were small hill farms, saw mills, pastures, and, yes, the road passes numerous hollows and valleys where whiskey stills once operated. Long noted for the fine corn whiskey produced in Hill Country, the area today shuns that association and many prefer not to make mention of the local whiskey heritage.

But the whiskey trade and the pottery trade went hand-in-hand. Many of the potters enjoyed a steady income by producing whiskey jugs for the whiskey makers. The whiskey maker had a steady income by selling his product inside a well-fashioned stoneware jug. And some whiskey makers, it is said, had their own pottery operations!

Along the road to Cherry Tree are found remains of old schools --- of old churches --- and of old houses --- all bearing mute testimony to the life and times of early settlers in the hills of Mississippi. One such community today is still well-marked with its church and its cemetery --- and one of the grave markers in that cemetery is the subject of today's column --- the grave of Lizy Lundy at Cherry Tree, Itawamba County, Mississippi.

Lizy Lundy at Cherry Tree
Itawamba County, Mississippi

A few years ago while doing research on the potters of Monroe County, I ran across a statement by Minnie Lee Maxey Suggs. In an interview she described an area north of Smithville mentioning a place name that was new to me. She stated ". . .on the way to Cherry Tree . . ." and indicated an approximate distance and direction from her home town, Smithville.

And imagine my surprise when the first tour conducted by the Monroe County Discussion Group, The Pottery Tour of Monroe and Itawamba County, Mississippi, included a drive through Cherry Tree. I was delighted to learn where Cherry Tree was located.

At one time, Cherry Tree, Itawamba County, Mississippi, boasted a school and a church and a cemetery and a large number of families to support such organizations. Many years ago the school and the church shared a common building. Today, the "new" church building is just south and across the road from the original site --- today that church is known as James Creek Primitive Baptist Church. But some still call it the Cherry Tree Church.

Cherry Tree Church Sign

Cherry Tree Church

Site of an annual sacred harp singing each July for many years, James Creek Church/Cherry Tree Church is also the location of the community cemetery. Some maps even give the name of the cemetery as Wiggington Cemetery but local residents say they've only heard the cemetery called Cherry Tree Cemetery or James Creek Cemetery. [The voting precinct, however, is known as Wiggington.]

A View of
Cherry Hill Cemetery

Earlier I wrote about Beauty's Grave, a marker with sixteen lines of poetry upon it from the Cherry Tree Cemetery. Click here to read Beauty's Grave; perhaps you can help identify the author of the poetry. The marker I call Beauty's Grave is for Margaret L. Wiggington.

But just a few feet away from Beauty's Grave is one of the most interesting grave markers I've found in Hill Country --- it is a small sandstone marker with a single name upon it without dates: the marker for Lizy Lundy.

Cherry Tree
Lizy Lundy Marker
Front View

It is obviously a hand-fashioned grave marker and the most unique home-made one I've found.

When I first examined this marker some months ago, I could not determine what it was made from nor how. On a second visit to the cemetery with Frank Vanasselberg of Fulton, Mississippi, to assist me, we determined that the marker was made of stone, probably local sandstone of which limited outcroppings occur in this region of hill country. The stone, after it was "worked" to inscribe a name upon it, was covered with aluminum paint (or some other metallic paint) and then placed in a base of concrete.

The name incised upon the stone is thought to have been "pecked" into the stone with a chisel in much the manner by which "peckers" prepared the surface of millstones for gristmills. The same basic process was used by indigenous people of the Americas to produce various petroglyphs, pictures on stones. Lizy Lundy's marker is well done --- her name is deeply etched on the back of the marker --- and the face of the marker is thought to be the work of nature --- the unique design the result of sediment and sand and water --- although at first glance the design seems to be man-made.

Cherry Tree
Lizy Lundy Marker
Side View

Cherry Tree
Lizy Lundy Marker
Side View

The unique grave marker for Lizy Lundy is small --- it is on a base of concrete approximately 9 by 16 inches; the marker stands 19 inches above the base and is about 2 inches thick.

It is a beautiful little stone grave marker. That the stone is probably locally obtained sandstone, that the name inscribed upon it was hand-pecked into the stone, and that it was then painted with a metallic paint makes it a one-of-a-kind grave marker worthy of study and admiration.

In the hills of the South is an old expression "brought on" which means store-bought or mass produced. Lizy Lundy's marker is not a "brought on" grave marker but one fashioned by love and by hand and serves well to mark her passing.

I am so glad to have found the way to Cherry Tree and to this wonderful example of what can be accomplished when local talent is combined with ingenuity applied to locally available materials to satisfy a local need.

Suggested reading and special acknowledgments:

Thanks to Frank Vanasselburg, Bob Franks, Mrs. and Mrs. Charles Booth, all of Itawamba County, Mississippi, for their assistance and help in preparing this column.

Thanks to James Alverson, Biloxi, Mississippi, and the Members and Guests of the Monroe County Discussion's Group Pottery Tour of Monroe and Itawamba County, Mississippi, and special thanks to Doyle Summerford, Turon, Mississippi, driver and guide whose knowledge of the area was so freely shared.

An Interview with Minnie Lee Maxey Suggs, conducted by Gladys Gallop Jackson, Jerry Anderson Harlow, and Weda Suggs Hudson, Monroe County, Mississippi. Transcribed by Jerry Anderson Harlow and published in Journal of Monroe County History, Volume 21, 1995, as reprinted at the Monroe Country GenForum in a series of posts beginning at Message Number 78, March 18, 2000, by Sharon Bowling Carter.

See Bob Franks, "Itawamba County's Highest Elevation Along the Tennessee Divide", Itawamba History Review, August 26, 2007.

See Top of the "Hill Country: 3 High Points", Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, August 24, 2007.

For more about pecking/dressing millstones, see "G.S. Thornton Gristmill", Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi, December 4, 2007.



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