I was lucky enough to be born in the southern Appalachian Mountains, in a small, rural town surrounded by some of the oldest mountains in the world. Tourists flock here to experience the very things the locals take for granted. I see these sights every time I go to work and most of the time, I don’t even see them. They are simply the backdrop of my life, have always been there, and always will. Perhaps.
For the past few years, I’ve toyed with the idea of photographing the old barns in the area, possibly for a book. This idea recently morphed into a book about not just the barns but all of the old buildings that are fast disappearing. Just within easy walking distance of my home, there are four structures that are 150 plus years old. At least one will be gone in a few years, unless someone restores it. All of these places have a story, one that I want to tell.
Many of these places are not easy to get to. They are not places the casual traveler will ever see. When my ancestors settled this area, they built their homes in the folds of the mountains, places the locals call “hollers”. These homes were built near the creek, or near a natural spring for access to water. If you see an old log cabin on top of a mountain, it was probably moved there recently. The hilltops were where the cemeteries were placed. The dead have no need for water or easy access.
A week ago, I got the camera out and, with my sister for back up, started visiting the neighbors. So far, they have been very agreeable, granting me access to their property and houses. They’ve told us stories about the places, how one house was built during the Civil War, completed just in time for the owner’s wife to give birth to their son in it. One barn was the site of a murder a hundred and twenty years ago, when a man killed his brother in a fight over a pair of socks. They’ve listened to our stories of growing up near these places, about the outhouse built over the creek that fascinated two little girls. It was destroyed in the flood of 1977, and now exists only in memories. I like to think we’ve all learned something.
This project will not be quick. It will involve knocking on doors and explaining, especially to the locals, that I want to take pictures of the buildings that are falling down and no use to anyone. I hope there will be more stories, words to make these places come alive in the mind of the reader, to keep alive the memories of the people who came here and carved a life out of these mountains. Someday, the photos and the stories will be all that remains.