Tuesday, May 25, 2010

in search of

Wartrace, TN. Human population 583 (according to the 2000 census). Birthplace of the Tennessee Walking Horse and my great-grandmother (and several generations of family before her). Situated among beautiful rolling hills. An hour from where we live.

Yesterday we took a day trip to Wartrace, one of those "we really need to make a trip" notions that finally came to fruition while Mom was visiting. I had visited there once about twenty years ago, armed with a family tree and not much else. There's not a lot to see in Wartrace. Once a thriving little town that was a stop on the railway, now it is home to a handful of shops facing a stretch of railway line and an old hotel on the other side of the tracks. No matter. Just getting there is worth the trip. The countryside is beautiful, and homes crown the knolls of hills through which you wind as you drive deeper into the county.

We went in search of evidence of family. There are no known homesteads, only the graves of those whose lives ended in this place that burned brightly for a while before burning out, snuffed into near oblivion by the shifting routes of the railroad. Were it not for the (mostly) Walking Horse industry there would be no tax base to speak of. Still. We wanted to check it all out, to round the curves of roads traveled by kin and enjoy the views that brought serenity to the souls of hard-working people.

Having done some homework in advance, we checked in at town hall to learn what we could about what we needed to know. The locations of cemeteries (family cemeteries abound, but none of them ours!), and the knowledge that a woman who owns the local strawberry farm could be very helpful.

Off to the strawberry farm we went. We intended to locate the owner and maybe buy some strawberries, but as we pulled into the driveway the last of the already picked baskets were walking out of the store. We made the spontaneous decision to go ahead and pick our own, filling two gallon-baskets with ripe sweetness. We learned after completing our task (relatively bearable in spite of near 90-degree heat, thanks to a steady breeze), that 1500 people had been through the farm over the weekend, which explained the picked-over plants and relatively small size of the berries. No matter. It didn't take long to fill our baskets and check in with the woman-in-the-know, who was incredibly helpful and eager to tell us what she knew and answer questions.

From the strawberry farm we headed to the site of the old family church, long since burned to the ground, but still home to the resting place of the parents of my mother's mother's mother's mother.Distaff all the way! Records indicate that his parents were buried in a cemetery several miles farther east, but efforts to locate it came to naught, and no one had any knowledge of a cemetery by its name. Probably grown over, one person suggested, and beware if we found it--it would be home to rattlesnakes.
At last we headed home, content from a day of exploration, discovery and a sense of people and place. As it became clear that Wartrace would not support livelihoods without the commerce of the railroad, families moved to other towns and other places. My great-grandmother's family moved to Sumner County, just north of where I am, and one day I'll venture there to learn what I can. For now I can leave the Wartrace quest behind, and perhaps one day head off in dogged pursuit of the missing cemetery. Somewhere, bodies are buried...


Amy said...

What a wonderful day - exploring your "roots" is very fulfilling and, I think, important. My grandmother's roots are in a small town in Wisconsin, a state I've never visited. It would be interesting if I could find any grave sites.

Are those your dogs on the side bar? What a trio!

The Bug said...

I love days like that. I've gone with Mike on some similar rambles.

Mompriest said...

Awesome day. While in Salt Lake City a few weeks ago I wandered the SLC cemetary which sits on the side of a mountain. There rests my mother, her sister and parents, and somewhere in that huge cemetary, almost all the rest of my family since the 1800's. It feels really sacred to me, as I imagine some of your day felt to you and your mom?

Jan said...

What a lovely day. The strawberries look scrumptious in that basket. I remember the wonderful berries grown in my parents' backyard in Bellingham, WA: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. They probably aren't there any longer.

Jayne said...

Sometimes the journey is just as rewarding as any information gleaned and it looks like this trip was one of those times. :c)


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