Times worth remembering
by Kim Swindell Wood | May 31, 2018 12:54 pm
Last Updated: May 31, 2018 at 12:56 pm
By Cheri Biggs Harper
I remember, as a small child growing up on Bon Air, wondering why anyone lived up there. It always seemed like there were a lot of people considering the fact there was really nothing else – no stores, except Bon Air Market, DeRossett Market, or Marshall’s at the corner of Eastland, a dive bar here or there, and sometimes a restaurant would pop up and attempt to start but never quite make a run of it. You had to drive to Crossville or Sparta to do any actual shopping or to find work. I remember being baffled at why so many people chose to live so far away from “civilization.”
Growing up, I was always the kid hanging out with the older folks – listening to their stories and asking million questions. I wanted to feel their words. I wanted to feel it, taste it, hear and smell it. I wanted to ask enough questions that I could imagine myself there with them. I wanted to share that experience. There were never enough pictures or descriptions to satisfy my “need to know.” There still aren’t.
Fast forward to about 2010, when my lifelong interest in history was catapulted into an all-consuming pursuit of my own personal history through genealogy. I had just had my second child and had just begun life as a stay-at-home mother. This meant I had a little more free time, as well as access to the internet all hours. I signed up for a free trial of Ancestry, and down the rabbit hole I went. It has been eight years, and I still haven’t found a reason to come up for air.
When I first started exploring genealogy, I was living out of state. I came for my first trip to the Bon Air History Museum in the spring of 2011. My son and I visited the museum and went on the Annual Spring Tour Walk. I was hooked. I have done research on all the branches of my family, but this one was so colorful, and having a museum with a wealth of information available was the equivalent of hitting pay dirt. I finally learned why there were so many people on Bon Air. I learned why they came and why they stayed. I learned how they lived and how they lost. I learned the story of who we were and where we came from. I learned that all of these records and stories and pictures aren’t just names and dates on a page. These intricate little timelines trace my family back to Bon Air from the early 1800’s. These stories tell me who they were, and, in doing so, tell me who I am.
Since that time, I have moved back to Sparta and become a member of the Historical Society and a museum volunteer. Although my roots run all over Tennessee, this area feels like home to my soul. Never mind how stunningly beautiful it is or how wonderful the people are, or that I can say, “Oh! Yes! I think we are related! I am so and so’s great-granddaughter.” Knowing how far back my blood is tied into this place reminds me that Bon Air is MY mountain. My family has been here since before the Civil War. Before the coal mines came and went. Before and after The Depression. Before and after the factories roared in, then disappeared overnight. They all came for a chance at something better, and most stayed because they believed that better things would come again. Some of them left, only to return. Home is not just a place but also a feeling of belonging to something. Home isn’t something you just give up on.
I am grateful for organizations like the Bon Air Historical Society, the White County Heritage Museum, and the Pioneer Hall Museum, in Pleasant Hill. These places are committed to preserving our history and bringing it to life year after year. The number of people who are involved in keeping these things going is truly astounding. I am so glad there are passionate people who are committed to remembering, even if we sometimes try to forget. I would encourage you to stop and visit our local museums and sites and take it all in. You won’t just learn about the area. You might even learn something about yourself.