Attic WindowBlock Number: 106
By Nora Worthen
Nestled in a valley in the southern portion of McDowell County surrounded by mountain ridges with peaks known as Turkey Mountain and Camel Knob and Conaway, sits a 250-year old two-story farmhouse.
This farmhouse sits on a hill between South Muddy Creek and a gated community today known as Grandview Peaks.
The house still stands, having sheltered my family through three generations, with its bookend stone chimneys that were built by slave labor in the late 1700s. The chimneys on the east and west sides of the house are flanked by small cabin windows. Looking out through the attic windows in this Brackett Town farmhouse, where I grew up smack dab in the middle of the twentieth century, kept a little girl in touch with the goings on of farm life and was the perfect vantage point for observation and daydreaming.
During this time, traveling up or down the long driveway that connects the old farmhouse to Brackett Town Road, one had to ford South Muddy Creek, as a bridge had not yet been constructed. During long rains, common in Western North Carolina, the creek would “get up” and escape its banks, and until it receded, made it impossible to cross for several days, except via the backs of Ole Hanna and Liza, the farm mules.
Looking out the west-facing attic window one Easter Sunday morning, after about a 24-hours siege of continuous rain, a little girl I am familiar with was mightily disappointed to discover South Muddy Creek had escaped its banks, flooding the road and the bottoms to the point where there would be no going to church wearing her new Easter frock.
In September, 2011, while attending a McDowell Quilt Trail committee meeting at its studio in Historic McDowell House, Mike Lucas showed me two new 2x2-foot quilt blocks just completed in preparation for the Mountain Glory Festival. One block was the traditional “Attic Window” quilt pattern, in a design featuring a three-dimensional window frame, while showing a partial full moon and two twinkling stars peeping through the smaller segmented windowpanes. Memories of that flooded creek and my new Easter dress came rushing back. I knew I had to have that quilt block hanging on my utility building where I could see it every day.
On November 11, Mike and Jill Lucas drove out to Brackett Town to install the “Attic Window.” As I pointed out the old home place located across the creek and up the hill from 667 Brackett Town Road, I told them the story of my attic window, and the flood, and the new Easter dress.
This old farmhouse began as a two-story log cabin built around 1760 by Jobe Upton. In the late 1800s my grandfather, J. J. Sprouse, bought the farm and the cabin from Mr. Upton and farmed it until about 1930. At that time the property was turned over to my father, J. Henry Sprouse, who, along with the two prior owners, provided for his family through his daily labors and what he could produce on that farm. In the early 1900s, my grandmother acted as postmistress out of a little room on the front porch, with the mail being delivered from the Vein Mountain station for distribution to the residents of the Bracketts Township. Up until 2003, the Sprouse home place had the distinction of having been continuously occupied for over two centuries.
During the late 1800s the area had a booming gold mining operation of which my grandfather was the overseer. This property that is now a farm was once riddled with rocks and gold mining pits. It was these rocks that were used to build the two chimneys. When my dad was about 97 years of age, Doug McCormick of Lucky Strike Mine in Vein Mountain brought a group of recreational gold mining folks for a visit to meet Dad and hear his stories of the gold mining days in Brackett Town. Dad informed the group, as they were preparing to leave, “I spent my youth picking up rocks and filling up those pits [to make this land suitable for farming] and nobody is going to mine for gold on my farm!”
In 1961 I left the farm and the home place and McDowell County to go out in the world and get an education and build my life. Having accomplished that, in 1998 I returned to assist with the care of my 96-year-old father, who continued to bail hay until age 94, and who was born in the farmhouse in 1902 and died there in 2002, just two months shy of his 100th birthday.
Presently, as I look out through my second-story sunroom windows to the opposite side of “that creek that ruined my Easter,” I see the “Attic Window” quilt block on the utility building. My eyes travel out across a small expanse of woodland, on past South Muddy Creek, and over pastureland to the old two-story cabin turned farmhouse on the hill with the bookend chimneys. I can see the little black square beside the west-facing chimney that was my favorite attic window and I reflect on all the history of that farmhouse and of what has been and what is yet to come.
Since my retirement, my participation with the McDowell Quilt Trail and my newfound interest in quilting has provided me much pleasure. As the quilt trail progresses into its third year, there are more interesting stories and more histories to be told using the vehicle of a traditional quilt pattern or a special design on a handcrafted quilt block constructed and developed right here in McDowell County.