The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Up Cabin Creek

By Ellen Hawks St John © 1987

Issue: April, 1987

Editor's Note... The following is an excerpt from the book, "Up Cabin Creek." You can order the book for $10.00 plus .75 tax and mailing charge from:

Mrs. Ellen St John
Box 319 D
Big Island, VA 24526

This book is rich in detail of how mountain families lived day to day in isolated pockets in the mountains, and the way they related to life outside of the hollows. We think you will enjoy it very much as you take a mental tour of Ellen St John's childhood home in this story. It was taken from chapter one of her book.

It was always my favorite hollow house. It was here I was born, my mother before me, and my grandfather and grandmother spent most of their married life here.

If we had lived in the west, we would have said, "The Canyon," but here everyone called it "The Hollow." We only referred to it as Gruggis Hollow when talking to strangers. We explained that it was the valley that ran along Cabin Creek. It was tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains of Central Virginia about half way between Lynchburg and Natural Bridge. You turned off route 501 at a little stop called Waugh. I am sure few people in my childhood knew about "The Hollow" and even fewer people today know of its whereabouts.

Judged by our present society, the hollow did not give the world any great men or women, however, they each contributed to the building of this great nation of ours. They built homes, farmed the land, and reared their children in the only way they knew in the small valley they called home.

The house that I called home is the log cabin I was born in. My family lived in several houses in the hollow, but none made lasting impressions as did the old Hudson Home place; as it was called by everyone but me. I just said, "My home."

Most houses faced east or west, but not this house. It looked straight north or down the hollow. It was just like two houses for the front and back was joined together by a roof covered porch known as a dog trot. The front part was built of large locust and oak logs with a porch that went all the way across the front. You entered into a large room with a fireplace that served as a living room and a bedroom. We later divided it into two small rooms. Up over the big room were two bedrooms with a small fireplace in one of the rooms. Across the dog trot was another log room that was used as a kitchen with a room over the kitchen; later there was a room added onto the kitchen with up and down planks. It was never called anything but the new room, because it was built much later than the rest of the house. Attached to this room was a small room with no floor that was used to store meat. Strong wooden boxes with tight covers and poles across the room to hang meat were the things I remember about that little room.

The roof on the log part of the house was of split shingles turned up on the corners. It didn't rain in, but you could look up through the cracks at night and see the stars shining. The new room, for as long as we lived in the house, was covered with tar paper.

The old log walls were chinked with small pieces of wood and red clay, held together with pig hair. After it had hardened it had been painted inside and out with something called calcimine. It was just a bit better than white wash, for it stayed on a little longer and did not rub off quite as bad.

I doubt if the inside of the house had changed much since Mother was a child. In the large front room, you entered from the center of the front porch, there were two windows. After it was made into two rooms, Mother cut another window. There was a large rock fireplace with a split log for a mantle; on that mantle was the big clock. There was a high wooden bed and a wardrobe that reached to the ceiling. The big rocking chair had a velvet pillow for a seat and a throw over the back. A rag rug stayed by the chair and another in front of the bed. Under the bed rested the chamber pot. The foot of the bed was piled high with quilts and things my grandma was working on. The old sewing machine and a wash stand with pitcher and bowl about filled the room. There was a shelf as you went out of the room to the dogtrot that had the same things on it for years. Among them was a tall vase with a bunch of grapes on the side.

The staircase stood in the corner by the shelf and was made a little different from most. There were two steps up and then a door opened. The staircase then turned sharply up the side of the wall. There was a railing around the stairwell to keep from walking over the edge. This railing was a storage place for more quilts. They hung all around the railing in summer and were used on the beds in the winter. This first room at the top of the stairs was more of a hall than a room, but was used as a bedroom. I remember the old marble top dresser, the flat top trunk and the iron bed. This is the room I used and many mornings, I would have to shake the snow off the covers of my bed before I could get up. You went through the room into a much larger room. This had a ceiling that was high in the center and dropped on each side until only a child could stand upright near the wall. There were two windows, one on each side of the fireplace in this room. There was room for two beds, a trunk, dresser, wash stand and chair, but your clothes had to be hung on the back of the door for there were no closets.

The floor in the front part of the house was two inches thick and ten inches wide. The old step treads were so worn in the center they had the appearance of sagging in the middle.

From the dog trot, you entered into the kitchen. The door was made of heavy thick plank and had a cat hole in the bottom corner of the right side. The ceiling was low and large log beams were overhead. The beams were covered with think rough planks that served as an upstairs floor as well as a ceiling. The big old cook stove with the water tank took up most of one corner.

There were two windows in the big room and under one was a large wooden box used for wood. A wide plank shelf ran out over the box toward the stove; on this could be found the coffee grinder, salt box, and a metal bucket that we kept the coffee in. The Arbuckle coffee came whole grain in a grass bag. You bought the number of pounds you wanted from the store and ground it yourself. In another corner stood the pie cupboard. I don't understand why it was called a pie cupboard, for it always held dishes. It was a funny looking thing with a wooden back and frame with tin sides and front doors all punched full of holes.

The table was the largest thing in the room. I am sure it was eight feet square and would have taken a team of horses to move it. Along the back of the table toward the wall was a long wooden bench with high back, string bottomed chairs around the front and sides.

A small table stood near the door for the water bucket, wash pan and soap dish. The gourd dipper, towel, and wash rag hung on a nail nearby. Everything had a nail in the logs of that old kitchen. The frying pans, pots, broom, mop, and dish pan. Grandpa's coat and hat had a nail in the back of the door and beside it; Grandma had a nail for her apron and sunbonnet. The washtub we took a bath in hung just outside the door on the dog trot. Another nail was used for the wash board, the clothes pins, and rag to wash off the line to hang up the clothes on.

In the closet under the steps that led to the room over the kitchen was home for the churn, milk jars, buckets for milking, strainer, butter print and paddle. Up the stairwell were nails and more nails. Here hung the red peppers, dried fruits, sage, and other dried things for the winter use.

There was no heat in the room over the kitchen, but the cook stove kept it fairly warm all winter, and hot enough to roast you in the summer. In my early childhood, the room was used for a bedroom, but as the children left home to make homes of their own, it became a storage room. I called it the attic because it had grandma's trunk and so many things she had packed in wooden boxes and stored neatly under the eves. On rainy days, I could spend hours pulling out all her treasures. There was only one catch, I pulled them out, but never put them back. I ended up with a spanking and had to put them back again too; most of the time.

The upstairs room only extended over the kitchen and not the new room. There was a little window in each end and one overlooked the lower roof of the new room. This room holds many fond memories for me, in spite of the spankings. I loved to look at the little baby shoes, notes with pink ribbons that smelled like dead roses, and post cards from people and places I didn't know. There were pictures of children I have never seen and books with dried flowers pressed between the pages. All this and much more would keep a child busy for hours and hours.

On the dog trot was a windlass. Grandpa had it installed so they would not have to go down the hill for water. It was very hard for me to draw a bucket of water up the line by turning the big wooden wheel. The empty bucket would go flying down the line and hit the spring, sink to the bottom and fill up. You started winding the wheel, winding and winding until you got it to the porch. Some had sloshed over the side of the bucket and now was only two thirds full. It beat going down to the spring in rainy, nasty weather.

When I was telling you about the wooden shingles on the house, I forgot to tell you that there were two lightening rods on the highest point of the house. A wire ran from them to the ground where the whole system was grounded. On top of one lightening rod rested a weathervane.