Hopkins County Folk Lore
An Afternoon in ShakeragBy Contributing Editor, Carolyn Buntin Eveland
A few months ago, I had the honor of accompanying one of Hopkins County's most knowledgeable historians, Mr. Leroy Veazey, on a tour of the Hopkins County Historical Society and the Shakerag Community near Hanson, KY. Mr. Veazey was Vice-President of the Society for 20 years and remains a charter and board member today. It was indeed a wonderful opportunity for me as Mr. Veazey was to take us to my ancestor's original homestead, which I had never visited and knew only that it was in Shakerag.
It was a bright sunny day as my daughter, Tamara Stephens, and I pulled into the Senior Citizen's Center in Madisonville to meet him. He met us with warm handshakes and a friendly smile, putting us right at ease. Mr. Veazey displayed such charm and consideration for our comfort that we knew instantly he was one of a dying breed, the true southern gentleman. I liked him right away and knew this day was going to be a treasure I would never forget.
On the short drive to the Historical Society, I was handed a folder containing an old poem written about my great, great grandfather, William Buntin, a Hopkins County Surveyor in the late 1800's. The author was Crafton Ashby. Also included were two old surveyor's maps of the Shakerag community we were about to visit. It was truly a thoughtful gesture on Leroy's part. I was and am sincerely appreciative to have this information in my collection.
We started with a tour of the Hopkins County Historical Society. The place is virtually teeming with old artifacts, farming and household equipment of days gone by. Manuscripts and old photographs are everywhere. The building has that lovely old smell of musty paper that comes with age.
There we met two lovely women, Winola Mimms, and LouAnn Wolford, whom I called "historians". They modestly informed me that they were "just Jacks of all trades". They would have to be, considering everything they do and all they are required to know. They shyly posed for pictures at my request. Afterwards, we made our way upstairs to the main room.
Among the countless displays upstairs, including a copper moonshine still, Mr. Veazey showed us a blanket that his own grandmother had made on her loom. Mrs. Elizabeth Veazey was born in 1845 and her grandson remembers her with loving nostalgia. We were shown her "weasel" or Flax Wheel. He explained that the wheel "pops" every 32 turns. He entertained us nicely by singing the song "Pop Goes the Weasel" as he stood in front of his grandmother's old yarn making tool.
Next my daughter and I were shown an old school bench that came from the second Buntin School operated in Shakerag. My great-great-grandfather William Henderson Buntin had donated the land for the Buntin school. Seeing this bench was priceless to my daughter and me. It was something from our ancestor's time that we could actually touch and feel. It was an amazing moment. Flash, flash went our tiny camera.
Our next stop on the tour was actually in Shakerag near Hanson. We piled into his car and made our way along Stagecoach Road a few miles north of Madisonville. As he drove, Mr. Veazey gave us the history of this road. Running parallel to the pavement were widened stretches of land which was the actual "artery north one hundred years ago" or south as well. Leroy said there were few people who knew of the old road and the significance it had played in the development of Hopkins County. Slowing the car, he pointed to a short stretch of flattened ground beside the highway. "That's part of the old road there. See how the grass is a little more yellowed there? You can tell the road was really rutted out here by all the traffic it got". He also stated that the old Stagecoach Road was a public road until he was about seventeen years old when the new highway was put in about 1937.
We traveled past Olive Branch Church and Cemetery on the way to view his former home. Leroy had been a deacon there for thirty years before he and his wife moved to Madisonville. We were informed that the present church, along with new additions, was the fourth one to stand on that spot. I had been to the cemetery several times before as many of my ancestors are buried there including the patriarch previously spoken of above. Leroy spoke of my great, great grandfather as "Old Uncle Billy", a term I have often heard before.
My daughter remarked that the road was very familiar to her as she had traveled here many times in her work with the Hopkins County Head Start Program. Leroy asked her if she had run across any Veazeys during her visits there. She answered, "Not unless you had small children in Head Start." While we were chuckling about that, my daughter and he continued in their discussion of Shakerag families. Our host knew the families of almost everyone my daughter mentioned.
The country setting couldn't have been more beautiful and our new acquaintance fondly called the area where he had lived for so many years with wife Eleanor and sons David and Carl, "Veazey Country" and rightly so. He pointed out the homes of his son, Carl, and wife Becky Veazey, and those of his deceased parents and sister. Generations of his family had lived here. Upon viewing the house he still owns there, he says with a deep breath, "This is home". Leroy was born in 1920 and Shakerag was his home, then and now. My daughter and I knew that we were on sacred ground for Leroy Veazey.
Turning off onto Antioch Church Pike, we continued on our way to the old log cabin that Leroy now owned. His father bought three farms together long ago and this cabin had already stood upon this site for many generations.
We pulled into the yard of a very old, but very well kept log cabin and grounds. When the door was unlocked, we stepped into the cool interior. I gasped. The place looked exactly as if someone lived there, as if it was still occupied. It was like walking into a time warp. In fact, it appeared to my daughter and me as a mini-museum of the Veazey family. Each article, photograph, and item of furniture represented a piece of family history. I remarked that he was fortunate to have this place and all the memories it holds, not just for him and his family, but for those of us who were privileged to visit there.
The place in fact hadn't been occupied since 1941. We were given the personal histories of many of the items placed around the room. There was a banner that son Carl had made for one of the many Veazey family reunions and a container holding the Confederate Flag, a Kentucky flag and as Mr. Veazey said "One of Old Glory". A picture of the old Buntin School painted by his sister was displayed as well. Next, we were told the story of Leroy's sailor cap.
He was in the Navy, stationed in San Diego, CA. While attending the First Baptist Church there, he happened to meet his future wife who was also enlisted in the Navy. Leroy and Eleanor were married in that church three months later in 1944. The sailor cap is the one he wore that day along with his navy uniform which is on display at the Historical Society. Leroy and Eleanor eventually moved back to Hopkins County and raised their sons in Shakerag.
We viewed a woven cloth made by his maternal grandmother on her loom along with a map made by his great, great nephew. The map included Maryland and Delaware. Leroy pointed to a place on the map labeled Veazey Cove where his ancestors had originally lived before coming to Kentucky. Standing against a wall was an old kitchen cabinet, which had been handmade for his mother. Pictures taken by his son while in the Air Force in England and photos of his wife, mother, grandmother, and great grandmother adorned the walls. Every nook and cranny of that cabin was filled with loving treasures of his family, past and present. Another photo showed us the face of a nice looking man who was Lee Veazey, father to our Leroy. Lee Veazey had been a schoolteacher and had taught at the old Buntin School for thirteen years.
Another photograph shows Martha L. Collins, former governor of Kentucky handing Leroy a check from the state treasury for four thousand dollars. This check was made out to the Hopkins County Historical Society.
Next we were guided to a section of the tiny home he called "My Dad's side of the house". Pictures of his father and paternal side of the family were hung here. Of particular interest was one of his grandfather, George Veazey, Sr. This is the man who Leroy quoted with saying this about the Civil War, "Brother against brother, father against son, don't make no sense to me". He refused to participate in a war that pitted families against each other. Leroy states that his grandfather fished the Atlantic Ocean all through the Civil War. Originally from Orange County, VA, George Sr. settled in Shakerag in 1866, proceeded to marry, and reared nine children there.
In this same little room stood the cast iron bed where his grandfather George Veazey had breathed his last.
Outside we walked upon an old outdoor toilet in the back yard. This facility would have been very important to the settlers of the old days for obvious reasons. Those types of necessary structures were always plainly built and naturally unassuming. This one stood tall with a rectangular shape but something was different about this outhouse. It had been modernized! It was covered with siding and a window had been installed over the tall door. We had a few good laughs as Leroy tried to convince my daughter and me to pose for pictures standing inside the door.
Leaving the cabin, we headed for the homeplace of my Buntin ancestors. Parking in a fork of the road, our courteous host produces a small stepladder from the trunk. Just across the road is the home site. A little bank has to be climbed to get to the place. Leroy lays his ladder upon the bank and assists us while we step, ever so conveniently up the steps.
It was a poignant moment for me as we stood in the leaves in what would have been the middle of the house. There is nothing left of it or the outbuildings now. My daughter and I took "shots" of each other and Leroy standing where our ancestor had lived a hundred and sixty years ago. William Henderson Buntin traveled from North Carolina to Indiana and finally to this place in 1839. Now I, his great-great-granddaughter, my child Tamara, his great-great-great-granddaughter, reverently stood where he had made his home so many generations ago. Leroy remarked that his grandfather, George Veazey, Sr. would have been friends with Billy Buntin. There we were, three people who had just met but were connected through our families over a century and a half ago. My great grandfather, Thomas Manly Buntin, had grown up here along with his siblings. My own grandfather, William Manly Buntin would have played here as a boy himself. Leroy must have read my mind for he said, "This is kind of holy ground to me too". I couldn't have expressed it better myself.
Leroy then led us to another portion of the property. The leaves crunched under our feet as we fell into step behind him. Soon he removed a log and knelt on the ground. It was an old stone well. "Here it is, the Billy Buntin well" he announced. Tamara and I knelt beside him and looked down into the opening, which was still big enough for a person to fit inside. Years of deterioration and fill-in debris had altered its depths, although we could still see quite a few feet down. Hand lined with stone; it had taken backbreaking work to make this well. It boggled my imagination to think of the many hours, no days, it took to dig that well, then afterwards came the hammering all those rocks into the steep sides by hand. The gray stones were smooth and rounded from years of being submerged in water I supposed, although it is dry now.
I thought of my great-great-grandmother Elizabeth Groves Buntin, carrying water from the well to her house. I wanted desperately to know what she had looked like, how she had spent her days, but mostly what she thought about life. I was experiencing an odd homesickness for a woman that was impossible for me to ever know. I want to go back there very soon. I want to sit on the ground in the middle of the now vanished house or perhaps by the well. I would hope that some feeling of homecoming would fill me again as it did on this very special day.
Soon we were on our way to the site of the first Buntin School. Along the narrow road, Leroy pointed out the location of where Billy Buntin's "log tobacco barn" once stood. His own father had shown him where the old log building had been many years ago. Now there were large oil tanks sitting there.
We pulled almost immediately into a dirt road that Mr. Veazey said used to be the entrance to the first Buntin Schoolhouse. The road was now the entryway to the oil fields, so we could only travel a few feet into it.
Standing in the late afternoon sunshine, Leroy gestured to a deep wooded canyon to our right. "Old Uncle Billy had a big pond down there at the bottom. In the winter, they would cut ice from it and store it in his little ice cellar right down there." He stated that he knew where the "hole in the ground" was, which is all that remains of the ice cellar today.
"That's where it stood, the old log school. That's where my Daddy went to school at," said Leroy, now turning to face his left. "Either Billy Buntin or his heirs sold this land to a Gus Gates. Cates wanted to build his house where the log school was standing." According to our guide the structure was then torn down and a house for the Cates family was erected on that spot. The new school was built across the road.
Mr. Veazey spread his arms and next spoke of the "Buntin Apple Orchard". "Right down through there. There must have been a hundred acres of Apple Trees. There were Apple Trees galore. I've heard it said how many trees there were. I don't know how they handled them all or if even they did."
Mr. Veazey remarked that his grandmother Elizabeth had come from this area as well. She knew how to read and write and taught her husband, George Veazey, Sr. how to sign his name. Leroy says that he sometimes entertains the thought she may have gone to school there too.
It was a short drive back to the site of the second Buntin Schoolhouse. It was little more than turning the car around it seemed. It would be described in this part of Kentucky as a "skip, jump and holler".
During our conversation, Leroy mentioned that my great-great-grandfather had manufactured brick from his own brick mill. This bit of knowledge absolutely astounded me! In all the years of researching my family's roots, I had never run across this information before. I was eager to see the property when Leroy told me that original bricks could still be dug from the ground. I could not wait to explore it.
The brick kiln existed on this property before the second school was built there just a few yards away. This school was built sometime in the 1870's and existed until 1937. Therefore, my daughter and I were in for a double-whammy of a treat.
Soon we were tramping through the woods again, just a few paces off the road. Leroy called our attention to a patch of raised ground with trees and small shrubs growing from it. That was where the original brick kiln had once been I was told. Turning behind him, he showed us a "drop off" in the lay of the land. "That is where the dirt was dug from. Then it was carried right here and fired into bricks right where we're standing."
Then Leroy further amazed us. Taking a stick, he began to dig in the ground. Soon he was pulling broken chunks of brick out of the earth. The original Buntin bricks! Handled, formed and fired right here by my ancestors! To say I was overcome would not have done justice to the emotion I was feeling. These bricks were not the usual red color, but exhibited more of an orange hue. My daughter and I each took a small chunk and one extra for my son and gingerly snuggled them into our pockets. Somehow, I did not want to take anymore of them. I wanted the bricks to remain there for another century or more as a tribute to my past family. Those very bricks had been touched by them, their hands had held them for inspection, their feet had scuffed right here, in this same dirt. It was part of them and now a part of me.
I want to bring my grandchildren here someday and let them poke reverently beneath the soil, finding their own little chunks of family history. I'm hoping they will experience the same wonderment that I did upon holding those little pieces of the past, our past, in their hands.
A few yards away one could see the foundation of the second schoolhouse. All that remained were four piles of bricks the structure had sat on. In front of where the building would have faced, lay two large stones a few feet apart. "See this rock right here"? Leroy asks as he pecks on one of those two stones with his walking stick, "That was the steps to the doors. The teacher would ring the bell and we children would line up. The school had two doors, you see. We would go in then and find our seats".
Leroy stepped behind the stones a few feet and exclaimed, "This is where the pot bellied stove used to be, and see that stone over there? That was the fire wall", We were very privileged to get a first hand account of how the old school had been laid out. Mr. Veazey then paced off the steps to the blackboard location and the "recitation bench". That particular bench was not used as space for student's desks. Whatever class the teacher was instructing at that time would come forward and sit at the bench for personal attention. Grades taught there were from first through the eighth. We were even shown where all the bases to the ball field once were.
The school as well as the church filled many functions in the early days of Hopkins County. Indeed one building often served as the church and the school. Community gatherings were held in schools such as revivals, celebration of holidays, dances, box dinners, neighborhood meetings, etc. The students who attended the county school also conducted Spelling Bees, "Ciphering Matches", Christmas and Thanksgiving programs there.
This stop had been a most rewarding and fulfilling one for me.
Soon we were heading for our final destination, the Jackson Stage Stop. The original house, which is still standing, was erected in 1830 from clay found on the site. Mr. Beckley Jackson who came from Virginia in 1815 was the owner. He provided changes of horses for the stagecoaches while weary travelers used the facilities provided for them. Mail could be dropped off here or sent either north to Henderson, Kentucky or south to Nashville, Tennessee. The Jackson Stage Stop was the stop between Hopkinsville, Kentucky and Henderson.
In no time at all, we had arrived. Walking toward the little structure, Mr. Veazey explained that this was the oldest house by far in that end of the county. "Its walls are three feet thick"! Leroy exclaims enthusiastically, then repeats the phrase again. An addition of a small white enclosed porch and other rooms had been added but the structure of the original house was intact. Almost immediately, we were met by the present day proprietor, Mrs. Millie Pool.
Standing on her front porch Mrs. Pool was a picture of loveliness in a pretty pink dress. Right away, she displayed a wonderful sense of humor, sending us into instant laughter. We were delighted when she invited us to come inside.
The first rooms was the actual stage coach stop. Mrs. Pool explained that although the house had been added on to throughout the years, the woodwork and doors in those rooms were original to the building. Although some paneling had been put up on the walls, the rooms retained the charm of the past. Mrs. Pool said that she "wouldn't change it for nothing." She and her family had moved here in 1942 and she never left.
Leroy pointed out the staircase leading upward. Hardly the size of our staircases today, being steep and narrow. Mrs. Pool remarked that the staircase had been moved but wasn't sure who did it. It was done before she and her husband moved here. From the look of them, the original stairs had been reused in the move. Upon the wall hung an old box type telephone. Of course, the house was built before telephones were used, but Mrs. Pool seemed proud of the old antique phone and rang it several times for us.
We were led into the sitting room where we were introduced to numerous family portraits mounted on the walls. Mrs. Pool gently presented the picture of her husband who had passed away twenty-three years ago. Her husband had been a farmer but his "hobby" was playing the fiddle. "He was an old timey fiddler", said our sweet hostess. My daughter wondered aloud if he had played at all the country dances. "Yes he did", Mrs. Pool laughed, "but he never would let me go. I never got to go to a thing." That brought on another round of hearty laughter from the three of us. Leroy made us aware that Marion Pool had been a very gifted musician indeed.
Pointing to a picture of a handsome young boy, my daughter exclaimed that whoever it was, looked exactly like her own son. And it did! They could have been twins, that's how close the resemblance was. The boy was Mrs. Pool's grandson Jacob, who she said was a wonderful boy. Jacob James is now twenty-three years old. Tamara and I both agreed that the Jacob in the boyhood picture could have been our own Myca Scott.
Much too soon for us, Leroy announced that it was time to leave. Mrs. Pool graciously invited us back saying that she "loved to meet people and wished we had longer to stay". We loved meeting Mrs. Pool too. Our visit with her was one of the many highlights of an already exciting day.
Once outside Mr. Veazey showed us a window on the front of the house. The brick over this window was a different color from the rest of the house. He was sure that this window had once been a ticket door. At the bottom of the window was a large stone which appeared to have been a base for a door. He surmised that the first owners of the stage coach stop had used this door for an entrance to the lobby.
The conversation was light and gay on the way back. Local landmarks and people were discussed back and forth. All too soon, we arrived at our car. Having said goodbye to a very exceptional person and perfect host, we drove away in the late afternoon sunlight.
It had been a uniquely marvelous day, a one of a kind day. This experience had exceeded even my most hopeful expectations. Somehow I felt amazingly full, as if I had just eaten a very expensive and delicious meal.
I would like to thank Mr. Veazey for generously sharing his great store of knowledge with me. Your kindness will always be treasured. Without you, a window to my past would never have been opened. For this, I am humbly grateful.
I hope to meet again with Mr. Veazey sometime soon. His expertise of the people and places of Hopkins County should be recorded for future generations to share. I don't know if I will be the fortunate person who accomplishes this or not, but it surely must be done.
My thanks to Mr. Carl Veazey, Leroy's son, who managed to put the two of us in contact with each other. I also want to thank him for verifying certain information that a temperamental tape recorder didn't pick up. Carl, you have been a big help.
The old times, events and people of our past are an integral part of us. Write down your family stories; document those old tales even if they seem unimportant to you. Your own descendants will appreciate them some day. All of our history doesn't come from textbooks; a good deal of it comes from ordinary people like you and me. Record it, tell it to your grandchildren, and pass it on to others. As individuals we are a necessary link in the history chain. We are the doorway from the past, to the present, and forward into the future.
It is up to each of us to preserve our history, our personal history, for future generations.
Photos compliments of and © by Carolyn Eveland.
Copyright © 2000 by Carolyn Buntin Eveland
Nancy Trice, © 2000