OUR OLD KENTUCKY HOME
A Painting by Roger Bansemer
Five years ago, in January of 2011, I began writing about Kinniconick. This blog and the miracle of the internet put me in touch with many folks who still live there, or have memories of the place, and those contacts have made this project worthwhile. Their love for that unique valley in Eastern Kentucky matches my own. Whether we live near the creek or a thousand miles away, Kinney will always be our Kentucky home.
My memories of the place go back more than eighty years (my parents took me along on trips when I was a baby!) Now I’m concerned that few of us are old enough to remember the early days, the family names, their houses, the beauty of the creek, the big timber. Hopefully, old and new readers will add their stories about those golden days.
The golden days of my youth were associated with a stretch of Upper Kinney from the farm of Jim Stafford and his wife to the Bathiany cabin at the lower end of Pine Eddy. Three farms existed back then, Stafford’s, McCarty’s and Bate’s. No other habitation was to be found in those hundreds of acres, along those five miles of the creek. Miracuously, the scene was basically the same during all of my years there, before and after I built the cabin.
(click to enlarge the map)
The Staffords were up in years when I arrived on the scene but almost immediately invited me to lunch. Their farm house was on top of a hill overlooking the valley, and I recall the view from the dining room window as we sat together and became acquainted. I was asked to say grace and though I was never very good at it, I attempted to prove my credentials as the new neighbor, just over the hill. They won my heart that day and are unforgettable.
My first encounter with Henry Bate was one day while fishing on Pine Eddy, when he stood on the bank and watched me casting for the elusive musky. He was not in a good mood. A few days before, several Wildlife agents had used electrical equipment to stun muskellunge prior to stripping them of roe and milt. Henry saw that activity as an invasion and I had to agree with him. Not long after, I drove into his family farm and visited. I asked for and was given permission to land my canoe on a perfect picnic spot above the eddy, on his property. We were always friends, from that day, but met infrequently.
I have a story as yet untold about a visit to Kinney in about 1937 or 1938. There is an element of deja vue in this, because I actually walked on the old logging road that leads to Shabo Mekaw when I was a boy! It’s also a story about some wonderful people who lived there. This is a tribute toJoe and Calley McCarty.
In earlier chapters I wrote about my family’s connections with Kinney. My Dad’s sister, Flora, was married to Dr. Oscar Schuessler, and they loved the valley, too. They got to know the McCartys, descended from original settlers who came from Ireland during the potato famine. Joe and Calley owned the farm at the head of Pine Eddy, the one that Herbert Zornes purchased later on, and the one that included the sixty five acres that became Shabo Mekaw.
In the spring of 1937 or ‘38, Aunt Flora and Uncle Oscar and their son, Bob, planned a trip to Kinney and asked me to go along. We stayed over at the McCarty farm in a small guest cottage near the big house. Bob was six or seven years older than me, and he was like a brother. We set out one morning to explore the creek, and we followed an old logging road upstream. It was the road to the Swirl Hole, a road that was to belong to me twenty years later. We climbed the hill above the creek and discovered the old cemetery where the original settlers had buried their dead. Only recently, thanks to Sharmon and Todd, we have photos to share of that ancient place. Apparently the pioneer families were Kilgallins and Coopers. It would be wonderful to hear from anyone who is descended from those Irish immigrants who made their home in our Kentucky hills.
Photos of the old cemetery taken by Sharmon Davidson
(click to enlarge)
Joe and Calley were fabulous hosts. They typified the strong but gentle people who lived up and down the valley, devoted to the land and proud of their heritage. Their kids were grown and had left the nest and within a few years the couple moved to Portsmouth, Ohio. Again, I had the privilege of visiting them in their new home, along with Aunt Flora and Uncle Oscar. I’ll never forget the night I slept there because I sank into the depths of a feather bed!
Somewhere on Upper Kinney is another ancient cemetery where generations of McCartys are interred. I’m hoping to hear from someone who remembers the location or is descended from the clan. It would be comforting to know that Joe and Calley are resting in the hills of their original home, their old Kentucky home.
A great Kentuckian died a few weeks ago and I had the privilege of meeting him and talking to him about the Kinniconick valley, many years ago. Marlow Cook was the U.S. Senator from Kentucky in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I was invited to a small gathering of Kentucky State Senator Clyde Middleton’s supporters in Covington back then, and Senator Cook was there. He was very familiar with Kinniconick and with many folks in and around Vanceburg. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act had been enacted the year before and I had the opportunity to describe our stream as a perfect candidate because of its unique geology and marine life. The Senator was enthused and promised to work for that ambitious goal, but unfortunately the stream was never protected by the Act. It isn’t too late for the people of Lewis County to save the stream. We hope and pray that Kinniconick will always run clean and clear, through a valley where forested hills are uncut, where so many distinguished Kentuckians made their homes and were laid to rest.