Cemeteries, Cemeteries, and more Cemeteries
Today would be the beginning of a period with almost daily visits to cemeteries. Today we started out by visiting five cemeteries, and followed up in Jamestown, and Arlington, Virginia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Boston, Massachusetts, and we completed this part of our journey in Providence, Rhode Island. One of the places we were going to visit today was the Dula Family Cemetery in Wilkes County, North Carolina, where Tom Dooley is buried. I had finally located the place in the fall of 2013, and now Tim wanted to see it as well. As somebody may have discovered, Tom Dooley is one of my main interests, and there were more cemeteries in the area, that I wanted to visit. Beside cemeteries, wine and a play was on today's program. But first we had to get out of Tennessee!
We left the hotel around 8 am, and headed north towárds the interstate. The interstate in question was I-40, on which we had driven around 20 miles the day before. Earlier on we had used it for a short stretch in Arkansas, going from Memphis, TN to Saint Louis, MO. I call this interstate "our mother road", because we have driven on it, on every single trip to USA, except for the one in 2008, where we only visited New England and New York. We have used it in the east, the west and in central USA. This time we had to stay on I-40 for 275 miles, before leaving it again. On our way north we tanked gas and ice for the cooler. The Interstate took us through the Appalaches through interesting landcapes, of which we saw almost nothing, as the weather was foggy and a mild rain poored down, sometimes raising to more than just gentle poor. At times it rained so much, that we had to slow down considerably.
The first 20 miles was rather dull. The interstate leads east, but around Dandridge it splits up in two. I-81 leads north while I-40 turns southeast and later south trough the mountains. It was here the rain and the fog hit us, when we passed Douglas Lake, a reservoir on the French Broad River. The road winds through the mountains, through narrow valleys, but the weather made it difficult to enjoy the sights. I-40 leaves the mountains around Lake Junaluska and continues east. As soon as we were through the mountains the weather improved a lot. The sun broke through the clouds and the temperature rose from the 60 - 62 degrees to around 88 - 90 and even higher as the day went on. When we passed Asheville, Tim almost got tears in his eyes when seven UPS vans entered the interstate in front of us. Unfortunately he was not able to get a picture of them all, but at least he photographed some of them.
50 miles after Asheville, at Morganton, we left I-40 for the last time on this trip. Instead we headed north to Lenoir on NC Route 18 to Lenoir, country seat of Caldwell County. We could have stayed on NC 18 all the way to Wilkesboro, the goal of the day, but we didn't. Instead we took NC 268, the first stretch of which, I personally call "The Tom Dooley Highway", because it leads through the area, where the events around Tom Dooley and Laura Foster took place, and most of the involved lived within 2 miles of this road (that didn't exist at the time). There is an official Tom Dula Road, namely NC 1164 (funny thing about this particular road is that the road signs number it 1134, but Goorlge Earth as well as Google Maps, number it 1134), who used to be a part of the main road between Wilkesboro and Lenoir and we would drive on that a bit later. Out first stop was at Fort Defiance, which has nothing to do with the Tom Dooley story. This was the old home of General William Lenoir, from who the town of Lenoir has it's name. It's not a fort, but a simple fort once stood at the place. Here we saw our first cemetery of the day, the Lenoir Family Cemetery, where the general himself and other interesting people from the late 1700 and early 1800's are buried, like the general' son in law, another militia general, Edmund Jones. The cemetery is still in use.
We continued east past Laura Foster's grave to Grandin Road. Here we left NC 268 for a while. Around 2,000 feet down this road, on the left hand side, is a small chapel on a hilltop. This is Moriah or Mariah Chapel, the first religious building to be build in what was then and now known as Happy Valley. The chapel is from 1879 and on the National Register of Historic Places. The name has nothing to do with Virgin Mary - the chapel is actually named after Moriah Ernest, the woman who financed it. Until the chapel were bulit, many religious ceremonies took place in her nearby home. But it was not the chapel, that I wanted to visit, but the cemetery. Here, Dr. George N. Carter, the phycisian who examined Laura Foster's body, when it was found, and his wife are buried. Also Francis Melton, Ann Melton's brother in law is buried here and I got some nice pictures of their tombstones. If you don't know who these people are, and want to know, I recommend that you read my Tom Dooley pages. After our visit here, we continued south on Grandin Road for about 1.2 miles. On another hill on the right hand side is Grandin Baptist Church. A small road, Howell Farm Road, leads up to the church. This church has a cemetery on two sides of the building. On the left hand side, when you staind and look at the front of the church, are some graves, the are older than the rest, and also older than the church. These graves are the remainder of the Isbell Family Cemetery, where Tom Dooley's eager pursuer, James Isbell and some of his relatives rest. Also this place was duly photographed. Back on Grandin Road we continued 1,200 feet to a small gravel road on the left hand side. In 2012 there were no signs here, but now a street sign tells, that this is Tom Dula Road or NC 1164.
The road follows King's Creek for a while, and when you enter Wilkes County, it becomes paved. About 3.7 miles down the road, Tom Dooley's grave is on the right hand side of the road, but it can't be seen from there. You have to find a place to park the car, then walk a narrow path to the grave, and if you don't know how to find it, you may very well miss it. I did so twice before I finally found out how to get there. The grave is on private property and signs are put up to prevent trespassing, but I was told, that it's illegal to prevent access to a cemetery, so I should just ignore the signs, which I did. Tim got his view of the grave, and then we continued to Ferguson, which consists of a gas station and a few scattered houses. We filled up the car at the gas station, and then tried to locate the Allen-Foster Family Cemetery, where Ann Melton's brother Pinkney Foster is buried but with no luck. Instead we drove a few miles back west on NC 268, and visited the Dula-Horton Cemetery. This old cemetery is also on the National Register of Historic Places, and here a lot of Tom's more wealthy relatives are buried. After this visit, we continued to Wilkesboro with only one more stop at the W. Kerr Scott Reservoir Visitor Assistance Center. I had read on the internet, that here you could buy a certain CD, that I was interested in, but they had never heard of it, let alone sold it, according to the man behind the counter.
We hadn't booked a room in Wilkesboro, as there normally are plenty to get. We started by visiting Holiday Inn Express, where we had stayed two times before, but everything was occupied. The same was true for Hampton Inn, but on Red Carpet Inn, they had two free rooms. Both were smoking rooms, but we decided that for one night we were willing to suffer a bit. One had a kingsize bed and one two doubles. I took the latter, because even if Tim and I are related, were are not that close :-). We later discovered that an open-air market were held in Wilkesboro, probably being the reason for the occupancy. After having carried our luggage to the room we took of again. We drove east on US 421 for about 20 miles to exit 267, where we left the highway and continued to 6726 Old Highway 421.
Some may wonder, what we were doing at this specific address? Well, it's easy enough. This is the address of Laurel Gray Vineyards, my favorite winery in the USA, and the one I have visited the most times. Actually I visit whenever I'm in this part of the country. The wines are good and so is their other products, especially their BBQ sauce. Also the treatment you get there is nice and friendly, and on my first ever visit back in 2004, the owner, Kim Myers, kept the place open for almost 1½ hour after normal closing time, so that me and my wife could get there. At that time we were introduced to her husband and a couple of locals as well. That's the kind of treatment, you don't forget. Anyway ,this time the tasting room was manned with a guy we had never seen before, but he was as friendly as everybody else on the place. We bought a tasting, and so did a couple of other people, and while we were tasting, Kim Myers ame out of the back room so we had a chat with her, and later we siad hello to her husband as well. Among other things Kim told us, that Windy Gap Winery, which we had visited only once, in 2004, were no longer in existence. Tasting done, we spent a fortune on their products. I bought six bottles of wine, 3 bottles of BBQ sauce and a couple of bottles of vinaigrette, and Tim bought something similar, and then we hoped that we could find room for it in our luggage when we were flying home, in which we succeeded. I'm particular fond of the Viognier and the Cabernet Franc, so that's what I bought. Tim also bought some red and some white and also a bottle of Black Diamond, a sweet blackberry wine.
After the visit to Laurel Gray we headed back towards Wilkesboro on smaller roads for the first part of the trip. Well before Wilkesboro though, we returned to the highway. We continued past the hotel and through town continuing west. Our goal was Fort Hamby Park, around five miles west of town. Fort Hamby Park is the home of Forest Edge Amphitheater, where I was going the same night. I wanted to find out, were I could change my mail confirmation of the reservation to a ticket. A friendly guard at the entrance to the park told me, that the ticket office in the booth next to his, would open af 6 pm, so there would be plenty of time to get my ticket before the show started at 8 pm. We returned to the hotel, and relaxed for about an hour before heading out to dine. After dinner, I returned Tim to the hotel; he didn't want to go to the theater at this time. Then I headed back to the park, got my ticket and drove to the theater. I got there early and was one of the first, but as time passed more and more spectators arrived. When the performance started at 8, I guess a couple of hundred people were present. It was one of the last performances of the season, so a lot of people had already attended the play.
Which play you may ask? And the answer is of course: Tom Dooley - A Wilkes County Legend by Karen Wheeling Reynolds. It was the first time on all my visits, that I had to time to see the play, and I wouldn't miss it. As the got darker, mosquitoes and other singing insects came out in large numbers. The theater is located only 300 feet from the banks of W. Kerr Scott Reservoir, but the insect repellant that I had used worked well. The play of course, retells the story of Tom Dooley, mostly as the legends know the story and not so much as the real story was, but thats OK, as it is fiction. As a play it was good, and the actors from Wilkes Playmakers did fine. Non-factious were the age of Tom's sisters, the age of James Melton, that much of the story revolved around Martha and Calvin Cowles, and so on, but artistic freedom is important when writing fiction :-). The show lasted to 2½ hour, and it was after 11, when I got back to the hotel, after a long day, with many great experiences.