Sometimes, when you’re writing history stories, you need to pause and clean up loose ends.
One of the most rewarding aspects of writing stories about Haywood County history is the interactive nature with the community which reminds me that history, though past, reveals itself in bits and pieces. Often I write a story and find out more about the event after publication, and today I want to share a few of those details, beginning with some I should not have missed.
In writing about Haywood County’s first female preacher, I omitted one key researcher and source for information. Retired teacher Cheryl Inman Haney, a great-great-great niece of Universalist minister and Inman Chapel founder James Anderson Inman, has researched the life of Rev. Hannah Jewett Powell extensively and is credited with securing two of the four historical markers in the Bethel area, including the one that mentions Powell.
Powell revived Inman Chapel and later established the Friendly House, with some of the first social assistance programs in the county. Powell, who had served along the sea coast of her native Maine, had to overcome great skepticism toward lady ministers, including that of some of Inman’s descendants. Haney wrote about her in Book V of “Legends, Tales & History of Cold Mountain.”
In that account, Haney wrote of the apparent reason Hannah Powell never married: “She was the first female missionary for the Main Seacoast Mission. Hannah Powell met and fell in love with Captain McDonald while working there. He was the skipper of the cargo ship that made regular trips to and from the mainland and seacoast islands. Miss Powell made this trip many times during the seven years she lived and worked on the islands.
According to Miss Powell’s friend, Mrs. Annie Maxwell Outlaw, McDonald proposed marriage with the understanding that she (Powell) would give up her teaching and missionary work. It was because of his wanting her to give up her work that Miss Powell refused his proposal of marriage.”
Haney also questioned a conclusion by another writer that Powell’s spiritual work has become only a fading memory. “It must be said that Miss Powell’s commendable work at Inman Chapel and Sunburst, North Carolina is still remembered and revered by the families, their descendants and those whose lives were touched by her ministry.”
During the winter, our history page has featured a series of stories on Haywood County citizens who lived a century or more. So far we have written of a retired Confederate colonel, a convicted murderess, women who did volunteer work well past the century mark, another who farmed past her 100th birthday, and a number who defied conventions of the time.
Though we have not featured stories on these people in recent weeks, the series will return soon (this writer just needed a break on the topic). Still to come are stories on a pair of Haywood County brothers who both reached 100, and a group of siblings in the county who had not one, but two, grandmothers live past the century mark.
I have also recently discovered that Haywood County had not two, but three, citizens whose lives spanned three centuries, and am working on that story for the future. It seems the more centenarians I write about, the more emerge both in past and present – did anyone notice that a recent story mentioned one in passing?
The story was in fact on David Mason, the first man from Haywood County hanged for murder, but it also mentioned his father, Peter.
Peter Mason survived a lot of grief, losing his wife in middle age, seeing his son executed for a capitol crime, then raising his orphaned grandchildren, yet he lived to see his 106th birthday.
Shorty Ketner’s influenceSometimes historical stories have unexpected connections. A story last summer talked about the “rolling store” started by Shorty Ketner with Grady Honeycutt. Ketner had the idea that he could carry merchandise into the country to sell to farmers, returning with their produce to sell to folks in town.
Over time, Ketner focused on providing goods to farmers through his brick-and-mortar store, while Honeycutt continued the rolling store. The story prompted a number of folks to mention their own memories of both Ketner and Honeycutt. But it wasn’t until this last month that I realized another, even more lasting, legacy of Ketner’s store.
As a young man, Bruce Briggs worked in Ketner’s store. There he came to know the farming community well, and heard stories of folks from Balsam to Fines Creek. Briggs’ family believes his experiences there were a big influence in his efforts to record and verify the history of Haywood County in later years.
Bruce had a passion for preserving those stories, as well as confirming that the stories were based in fact. He was the driving force in the 2008-09 history, “Haywood County: Portrait of a Mountain Community,” as well as a medical history of the county and a written history of First Baptist Church, Waynesville. And to think, much of that inspiration came from his work at the farm store.
FarewellsBruce Briggs, who died in January, is not the only Haywood County historian lost in the past year. In the spring of 2021, we said goodbye to the history sisters — Louise Nelson and Mazie Gerringer, who spent the last three decades of their lives writing down stories of Haywood County’s past.
Like Briggs, Louise and Mazie were among my favorite people. Louise began her history career while in retirement and widowhood, after attending a reunion of those who had attended a one-room school in Big Branch.
She wrote down the memories of folks who were there and submitted it to the newspaper. Then she kept on writing. And Mazie – Mazie was her cheerleader, her advisor, some-times contributor and a fearless promoter. The sisters died within weeks of each other, with Louise going first.
The sisters leave behind a lovely, folksy written history of Haywood County, full of the kind of stories many of us heard from our grandparents, aunts and uncles on the front porches of our childhood. They left us two other valuable life lessons as well. First, write down your history – your memories, the memories of those who went before you, before they are forgotten.
And second, never consider yourself too old to begin a new adventure. Louise was 72 when she began her career as an author, a career that spanned 20 years and resulted in eight books. May we all seek out new callings as we go through life – including those that preserve the best of our past.
Contact Kathy N. Ross at firstname.lastname@example.org