Cannery Springs

Block Number: H 10

Submitted by Kimberly McDaniels, (Property Resident & Historian) and Ginger Todd, Contributor (McDowell Quilt Trail Association)


On June 14, 2013, Cannery Springs Farm owners Jennings and Peggy Smith became the latest McDowell County residents to join the Rural Heritage Trail. Their quilt block features a pitcher and bowl to represent the pure water that the Eplees discovered when the farm was purchased in 1913. The block’s pattern was copied from a quilt owned by the Eplees which was displayed at the installation.

Earlier this year Cannery Springs Farm officially became a centennial farm. Adney Eplee, Sarah Ann “Sally” Dalton and their 10 children moved to Marion from Cedar Creek in Rutherford County. When they bought the 116 acre farm from the Ward brothers they were thankful to have clean water because contaminated water had contributed to the deaths of two of their children. Cannery Springs Farm was named for the farm’s communal cannery at the spring.

Two log houses were made out of native timber on the farm property on which an old wagon road ran from Marion to Rutherford County. As a young child Adney had been hired out to work on a farm so he learned farming early in life. Great grandson Kelly Eplee said “I always heard he could work so hard that he would plow all morning with a mule and while they were cooling down, he would take a scythe blade and cut weeds off the side of the garden”. Grandpa Eplee was still working on the farm up into his 90s and the original farmhouse is now remodeled.

Hard work and ingenuity allowed the Eplees to diversify and succeed. The lot was heavily wooded when they arrived, but his grandson Herb Eplee said “Grandpa was forward thinking. He would use dynamite to clear the trees. It’s amazing that he was able to make a living and raise so many kids on a red clay farm. Farming was physical and slow.” They raised wheat and hand harvested it with a cradle. All the wood for cooking and heating had to be cut with a crosscut saw. Plowing had to be done with a team of mules; everything they did was labor intensive, incuding building of the barn, grainery, corn crib and milking station.

Even though Adney only had a third grade education, he was a shrewd businessman and a good steward of his property. He terraced the land to prevent flooding and conserve the soil. His cash crop was sweet potatoes. He cured potatoes for neighbors and they kept them in a “tater shack”. He traveled two days by horse and wagon to sell sweet potatoes in Asheville, and he bartered with neighbors on other produce and items.

Later he took vegetables to the mill villages in Marion in an old Ford Roadster. He also operated a sorghum mill and developed an innovative process to make his molasses sweeter. The dark soil by the creek was good for growing sugar cane and they also grew soybeans, wheat and corn. They raised chickens and pigs and kept dairy cows for milk and butter.
One of the sons, Kelly, later ran a milk route for Carnation. Herb Eplee remembers renting land from his grandpa and planting corn by hand for his Future Farmers of America project at school. Grandpa Adney bought the first McCormick reaper in this area and harvested wheat for his neighbors for a fee. The Eplees also leased property to C & O Railroad to supply water for their steam engines.

Sally would trim the trees and work hard in the house and garden. She also collected herbs, managed the books, kept bees, shared food with her neighbors and made quilts for each of her children. “Grandma Sally had more sense than most people. She knew when you had a good freshwater spring you could make a living. She was more or less the brains of the family” said Herb.

By the time the children were six they got up before daylight to do their chores. The girls did the gardening and cooking and the boys hauled wood, cut timber and plowed. However, it wasn’t all work and on Sundays they attended Bethel Baptist Church. The children had plenty of fun even as they worked. When the kids shucked the corn, whichever boy found the red ear of corn got to kiss the prettiest girl. They also played on grapevine swings, caught crawdads in the creek and played tag in the top of pine trees.

Now two of the Eplee grandchildren, Peggy and Bonnie Jean, live on the farm full time. Their brother Herb owns part of the property and a great granddaughter, Kathy Lewis, bought the original homeplace and renovated the tater shack to us as a guest house. Two of Adney’s sons stayed in agriculture. Elbert was put in charge of the school farm for the Battle Creek, Michigan school district and Bob earned a PhD in agronomy.

Most of the Eplees come back each year for a reunion, a tradition that started in 1944 when all the children could get gas to come home after the war. “The roots of our family draw us back to the land” said granddaughter Peggy Smith.

The Smiths are committed to continuing the Eplee tradition by engaging in the community, protecting the environment, and continuing to learn new farming techniques. Cannery Springs Farm is a self-sustaining farm. They raise organic beef and use non-GMO and heirloom seeds. In addition to a vegetable garden, they plan on planting an orchard and growing cherry, apple and pear trees this year and adding black raspberries, dewberries and blueberries.

Rural Heritage Trail Block #10 is unique and different in that it functions as a bat house. Great grandson Keith Smith farms the property and proposed the idea to volunteer Mike Lucas, builder and painter of the quilt blocks, in order to help control the mosquito population. The mosquito is one of our most annoying and despised insects and bats are the most efficient and eco-friendly method of keeping their population under control. The only true flying mammal, one bat depending on the species, can eat more than 1,000 “skeeters” and other insects in an hour and are an important part of our wildlife.

Following instructive specifications and requirements acquired online, Mike incorporated a special panel that slides up into the body of the modified quilt block. It has an opening at the base for the bats to get in and out and provides a 2-chamber place for up to 36 bats to take shelter and sleep during the day. A landing ledge is provided, painted the same color as the barn, and is barely noticeable.

The 6’ x 6’ block was installed on the diamond by volunteers Mike Lucas, Jack Raker and Alan Scholl. The bowl and pitcher are in shades of blue and white similar to those on the original quilt. The background is a tan and the four points of the border are highlighted by a dahlia-like star in shades of matching blues. Chairwoman Jill Lucas presented the Certificate of Authenticity to Peggy Smith and Keith Smith held the Centennial Farm Certificate.
The block may be seen in the distance at the intersection of Mudcut and Old Neal Road.

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