Alfred Reagan House and Tub Mill
Historic Structures Report
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There are two things that are inescapable when you stand on the front porch of the Alfred Reagan house: the towering, wooded ridges that surround the small house, and the sound of the Roaring Fork rushing down the narrow valley. There is a third element, one of solitude—empty, depressing loneliness.

The valley of the Roaring Fork is an extremely narrow, rock-strewn hollow that heads beneath Mount LeConte and ends near Gatlinburg. Rock is more common than soil. The pitifully small, overgrown fields, where corn was once planted, are poignant reminders of man's willingness to sacrifice for the right to live in a forlorn (beloved) land. The slope of some of the abandoned fields is so steep that it is difficult to believe they were ever farmed, but they were. As the old mountain adage goes, oft times a handful of soil was placed between the rocks so the corn could be planted.

The Land

When sold for inclusion in the park, Alfred Reagan's home place consisted of 134.5 acres on Roaring Fork in Sevier County, Tennessee. [1] Reagan purchased the first 90 acres from N.E. King on December 15, 1892. [2] Additional tracts of 25 and 20 acres were acquired respectively from J.W. Bales on March 20, 1907, and R.G. Ogle on February 15, 1908. [3] All three tracts were adjoining, and were purchased for a total price of $300. [4] Family tradition says Reagan once owned at least twice as much land, but gave about half of it to his son, Giles. [5] Confirmation of this was not found in existing records. Approximately 35 acres were cleared and some was fenced for farming, while the remainder was in woodland and pasture. [6] Reagan's holding represented a fair-sized farm for that time and place, but much of it was too steep and rocky for cultivation. As Herb Clabo said, "hit went straight up and down." [7] The steep land that was suited to farming produced sufficient food for Reagan's table and for his stock, and in good years provided a surplus and a source for money.

With no exception, the main crop was corn. In many respects, Roaring Fork was a twentieth-century frontier, and corn retained its position as

foremost of the frontier crops . . . . from tender roasting ears to flinty, dry grain it was highly edible. As a tender, milky grain it could be roasted in the shuck, piled under live coals and ashes and then gnawed from the cob; more mature grains were grated from the cob on coarse pieces of perforated iron and pounded into journey cakes or 'gritted breas' . . . . One of the grain's greatest virtues was the fact it could be crushed into coarse meal . . . by water mils. [8]

As did most mountain farmers, Reagan ranged cattle, hogs, and a few sheep on his land. At various times he used horses, oxen, and mules as work animals. [9] The land supported small numbers of apple, peach, pear, and plum trees, and grape vines. The most common apple was the "Winter John," and the grapes were "Blue Concords." [10] Reagan's wife and children cultivated a garden located just below and to the right as you face the front of the house where the common vegetables and herbs were grown. [11] His wife also labored to add beauty and color to the grounds. Many flower beds containing "zinnias, marigolds, touch-me-nots, lilacs, violets, just a regular run of flowers," [12] were located all around the house and in the immediate area.

Perhaps Reagan found the forest that grew on the land and the stream that flowed through it to be nearly as valuable as the land itself. He sold his timber to Andy Huff who cut and milled it in the 1920s. [13] It was during this time that Alfred's son, Giles, lost his leg in an accident at the Huff mill. The leg is buried in a cemetery located nearby, and was interred only after the fitting funeral rites were held. [14] The stream provided power for a small grist mill.

The Man

Alfred Reagan was a farmer, miller, storekeeper, blacksmith, gunsmith, carpenter, and one-time lay preacher; but he must be considered simply as a man with average ability for his time and place. [15] He left no great mark on the land in any of the roles listed above; his deeds were common, and are not found among those many told tales that are the lore of the mountains. Except to his family and neighbors, Alfred Reagan was merely an old man who lived, worked hard, and died.

Alfred Reagan was born November 6, 1856. [16] His father was probably David Reagan, who is listed as a 37-year-old farmer in the 1850 Census of Sevier County. [17] Alfred's birth place is not known. His son, Wesley, said he thought his father lived for a while on Little Dudley Creek, which is about one mile east of Roaring Fork. He also claimed that Alfred's father, his grandfather, "was killed by a rebel when my daddy was just a small boy." [18] Herb Clabo, one time resident of Roaring Fork, claimed Alfred's parents lived on Baskin's Creek, which is roughly one mile in the opposite direction. [19]

At an unknown date, Alfred married Martha Bales, who was born December 1, 1864. [20] They had seven children; Giles, Luther, Wesley, Mertie, Delilah, Mae and Louisa. [21] It must be assumed that most of these children were born in the house on Roaring Fork.

There is nothing to suggest that Alfred Reagan's character was anything more or less than what was accepted as normal by mountain standards. He was, according to Herb Clabo, a respected but not outstanding member of the community. [22] His children, especially the boys, remember him as a kindly man, who was always willing to take time to teach them the facts of mountain existence. [23]

Reagan was apparently a master carpenter. He made most of the furniture for his house, built a number of the buildings on his place and was the coffin maker for the neighborhood. [24] His son remembers that when "anybody died, they'd bring him the dimensions of everything, and he'd go in the shop there and make a coffin. He'd line it with whatever they wanted it lined with . . . . He wouldn't never charge nobody a dime for work he did like that." [25]

During most of his mature life Alfred was a very religious man. Some remember him as a lay preacher in a church he helped build on land he donated. [26] Something happened during the last decade or two of his life and he abandoned the church. [27] The forces that drove him from the church are not known.

Reagan was a hunter, and the one tale told about him in the interviews had to do with a bear hunt. Herb Clabo recalled, "Alfred was quite a hunter. Best I remember, he killed the first bear on Roaring Fork. He was a tellin' me one night that I stayed all night with him. He was a great talker. He was a tellin' me about shootin' this bear, and he didn't kill it dead at the time, but he follered it on until it went on and he found it in a sink hole, where it had made it to the sink hole. It had got wounded so bad that it couldn't go on, but he said it'd just chewed laurels off, you know rhododendrons stalks off and just sort of piled them in there. He was a usin' what they called an old hog rifle, and you only shot them once till you took time to reload which was a matter of, I'll say, five minutes, owin' to, I'll say, how bad you needed to reload. He follered it on and found it in that sink hole and shot it second time, which killed it. Fur as I know or remember, that's the only bear killed up in there." [28] Wesley told much the same story about his father.

Reagan is remembered as an excellent blacksmith. He was the smithy for most of the people on Roaring Fork, but there "wasn't enough 'custom work' to make a livin' smithin'." [29] Wesley recalled that his father made a rifle for him by welding together two sections from older gun barrels. [30]

Alfred provided other services for his neighbors. He built and operated a tiny "tub" or grist mill across the road from his house, and ran a small general store. [31] The store building was apparently located between the grist mill and the house.

Obviously Reagan kept busy; he was a man of many talents. However, his life is probably best summed up by Herb Clabo's remark that "he never did do anything much greater than anybody else." [32] He was just a man who once lived, and died.

The Buildings

Originally, the Alfred Reagan house was an unpainted split, hand hewn log cabin of the type so characteristic of the mountain area. Definite knowledge about the date of construction or the builder is not available. However, R.G. Ogle, one of the previous owners, stated in a 1932 affidavit that "the house was probably built by T.R. Myers." [33] If so, then the date of construction is between 1886 and 1894, the period of Myers' ownership. [34] At any rate, it is almost certain that the log structure predates Alfred Reagan's ownership.

At an undetermined date Reagan covered the exterior and interior walls with sawn boards. Information is not available as to when the front porch and kitchen ell were built. Wesley Reagan stated that the roof was raised and two attic rooms were added at the same time the log walls were covered with sawn boards. [35] The house has two first floor rooms, two attic rooms, and had a kitchen on the back of the house. The kitchen has been removed. The only source of heat was a double fireplace located in the center of the house. There was a wood-burning cook stove in the kitchen. [36] When standing on the front porch facing the house, the room on your left was the living room; the room on your right a bed room; and both attic rooms were bed rooms. [37]

Other known buildings on the Reagan place included a 4-pen barn, blacksmith shop, grist mill, corn crib, woodshed, and store building. [38] Little is known about the dates of construction of any of these buildings, but the grist mill was probably built around 1900. We must assume the builder was Alfred Reagan. [39]

Today the house appears rather forlorn, but in its day, "it was the very finest of house. They told me if the wind come hard enough, why the house would roll, by it bein' a log house boxed." [40]

The grist mill was a turbine or "tub" mill, the most common type found in the mountains. Water was channeled to strike a primitive horizontal wooden turbine wheel, which turned and provided direct drive power to the mill stones. The only unusual feature known about the mill is that it had a hand-powered, homemade bolting machine. [41] Apparently some wheat was ground there, and the bolting machine was needed to remove the chaff and separate the ground wheat into different grades. Herb Clabo recalls that Reagan's mill toll was one gallon to the bushel of corn. [42] This was not the only mill on Roaring Fork, but according to Wesley Reagan, it was so well constructed that it would operate when other mills were shut down due to lack of water. [43] Wesley credited this to a special type of small vaned turbine wheel constructed by his father. One of the other mills on Roaring Fork was owned by Alfred's brother, Aaron, and was located a short distance downstream. [44] Aside from grinding his own corn, Alfred was able to "pick up a few extra gallons of meal a week as toll." [45]

Only the house and mill remain, objects of curiosity now to old people who remember how it once was, or to young people who wonder how or why anyone would live there.

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Last Updated: 03-Nov-2009