- [S104] Cocke County, Tennessee, and its People, Cocke County Heritage Book Committee, (Walsworth Publishing, 1992), 188, 208.
- [S47] Sevier County, Tennessee and its Heritage, Sevier County Heritage Book Committee, (1994, Don Mills, Inc.), 37.
- [S106] The Mountain Press, 27 Dec 2010.
UPLAND CHRONICLES -- Historic flax wheel here has colorful story to tell
by THERESA WILLIAMS
A recent photograph of the flax mill built by David L. Reagan over 150 years ago.
Nancy Ruby Ownby Williams, left, present owner of the old flax mill, is pictured with her mother, Mary Lydia Ogle Ownby and her daughter, Theresa Williams (front).
Nancy Elizabeth McCarter Ogle was given the old flax mill by her father, David L. Reagan, because she spun the most flax thread among her sisters.
I sat, somewhat neglected, in the living room near the couch. Every so often someone sitting on the couch will reach over and with their hand caress me between their fingers, and give me a push. I do not wish to call attention to myself, but I do have a lot to brag about.
I am a flax wheel. At one time, I was used regularly, as folks would need the thread I made to weave into cloth to make clothing.
From the plant of the flax you can make not only fabric, but dye, paper, medicines, fishing nets, hair gels and soap. The seed is the source for linseed oil, which can be used as a nutritional supplement and mixed with other ingredients; flax makes a fine wool refinisher product.
Once the seed is separated from the plant, the straw is scraped away and then pulled through a comb to bring out the fibers. The fibers are then stretched and twisted together to make a thread which is wound around the bobbin of the flax wheel.
I started out in the community called White Oaks Flats — which is today Gatlinburg — as a tree. I was sawed down by the hands of David L. Reagan, who was born in 1812. His parents were Richard and Julia Shults Reagan. Both of David’s grandfathers were soldiers in the Revolutionary War. This is why David chose to join the Union Army during the Civil War.
He joined Capt. William J. Trotter’s 9th Regiment, Tennessee Cavalry, Company H, which was commanded by Cornel Joseph Parsons. David was with this company for three years in Sevierville. He participated in the Battle of Knoxville, where he was mustered in the unit on Oct. 18, 1863.
His company transported Confederated troupes to Kentucky and marched back to Gallatin. He became ill, died and was buried there. David was a farmer and the church clerk at White Oak Flats Baptist Church.
I am so old that I cannot remember the exact date, but I do remember he promised to give me as a prize to the one of his daughters who spun the most flax thread. His daughter, Lydia, won me.
Lydia was born in March 1885. I loved working with Lydia. She could make my wheel run fast. She and I made millions of yards of thread and she wove it into cloth.
Alfred McCarter was attracted to such a hard worker, so he asked her to marry him. They were wed on Sept. 11, 1856 by Elijah Ogle. Since David L. Reagan gave me to his daughter before her marriage, I was built sometime between 1835 and 1856.
So, I went to live with Alfred and Lydia. Alfred was quiet an unusual man. He loved to make corn liquor. It has been said that he possessed a fine copper still which was enclosed with a white picket fence to keep the children and animals out. He grew roses and morning glories on the fence.
On Saturdays, Alfred would dress in his Sunday best and travel to Market Square in Knoxville. He would carry a jar of his finest ‘shine in a shoe box, stand on a corner of Market Square and sell his “shoes.” A potential buyer had to know the right password in order to make a purchase from him.
When Alfred and Lydia broke up housekeeping, Lydia went to live with her daughter in Coal Creek. While there, she became ill. She told the family that she wanted her daughter Nancy E. McCarter to have me when she died.
Nancy McCarter was born on Sept. 3, 1877. She married William Alson Ogle on Feb. 12, 1896. Alson rode to Coal Creek when his wife, Nancy, received a letter from her mother, and brought me back to Gatlinburg on the back of a horse. Nancy and Alson had six children: William, Isaac Luther, Noah Robert, Mary Lydia, Oliver and Wiley Ogle.
Nancy and Alsonwere sharecroppers. Because they did not stay long in one place the practice of growing flax became nonexistent. It also became easier to purchase cloth in the local general store. So, I was retired to a back room where I sat idle. To supplement her income, Nancy made baskets from white oaks splits and willows. Three of her sons: Isaac, Oliver and Wiley inherited her woodworking ability.
Isaac, along with his wife Josie, became known for their kitchen chairs and rockers. Isaac, along with his son, Wade, produced some of the finest furniture in Sevier County for many years. Wade’s son Randy has a chair shop on the Glades Arts and Crafts route, making his work the fourth generation of Sevier County craftsmen in the same family.
Wade’s sister, Arbutus “Bea” Barkley, operates a business called Spinning Wheel Crafts in the Arts and Crafts community as well. She is the third generation of weavers of rag rugs, placemats and table runners. Her husband, Elmer, carves wooden folk toys and country dolls.
Nancy’s son, Oliver, made fine chairs and carried on the basket making. His daughter, Jannavee, along with her husband James “Lum” Ownby and their children, are proprietors of Ownby’s Woodcrafts, which is also located in the Glades Arts and Crafts Community. Since the late 1800s, the Ownbys have a family tradition of working with native wood. They make wooden fruit and more.
Nancy’s son, Wiley, and his wife, Mamye, did not have children. Wiley became a noted wood worker and worked at Mountain Made Crafts Shop; which was once run by E.J. Ely, who owned an antique business and sold mountain crafts. Wily was also a gifted dulcimer craftsman.
Mary Lydia, the only daughter of Nancy and Alson Ogle, married Thomas Brazelton Ownby. I was passed down to Mary Lydia. I was no longer used and cast aside under the floor of Brazelton and Mary’s home.
A bright day came for me when Shannon Otis “Ode” Williams, son-in-law of Brazelton and Mary, was cleaning under Mary’s floor and discovered me. Ode asked his mother-in-law what she was going to do with me. I was heartbroken when I heard her reply: “Bust it up for kindling if you want.” Ode examined me, and realized that I was a priceless antique.
He asked Mary if he could take it home for his wife, Nancy Ruby, and daughter, Theresa. Therefore I came to be here in the home of the great-great-great-granddaughter of David L. Reagan. Maybe I am not used very much anymore, but I shine with pride when Theresa tells my story.
— Theresa Williams is a genealogist for the Sevier County Library System. The Upland Chronicles series celebrates the heritage and past of Sevier County. If you have suggestions for future topics, would like to submit a story or have comments, contact Carroll McMahan at 453-6411 or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- [S94] Sevier County, Tennessee Census, family 265, page 404a, line 35, 29 Aug 1850.