The Cragmont house that came from far away
Black Mountain native Regina Lynch-Hudson went looking for her roots recently and found them by the banks of the Broad River in a small Rutherford County community called Grassy Knob.
The Atlanta resident’s three uncles (Wallace, Winfred and Worth Lynch) live in the Cragmont section of Black Mountain now, but the house where they and their two sisters were born in was beside the Broad River between Lake Lure and Rutherfordton. Lynch-Hudson, who grew up in the house after it was moved to Black Mountain, wanted to see where her great-grandfather William Lynch (1851-1951) and her grandfather Blanch Lynch trapped and harvested, made whiskey, shingles and molasses on the 58 acres that William Lynch bought beside the river in 1906.
Lynch-Hudson, 59, is a semi-retired travel writer and publicist who has traveled the world to see the sites on her bucket list. “If there’s a world landmark, I’ve been there,” she said in a phone interview last week. “The Colosseum in Rome, the Eiffel Tower in Paris – I’ve been there. Sitting in gondolas in Italy and on safaris in South Africa, I’ve done it. But when you go to a humble place where your ancestors toiled, that moves you more than the Eiffel Tower. There’s joy in reaching back to the land from which you came.
Her great-grandfather’s 58 acres are now part of a 755-acre tract owned by a Florida-based company and leased out for hunting. Lynch-Hudson got permission to walk the property with her oldest uncle Wallace Lynch, 83. One day in early March, they set out from a parking place on the line that divides Rutherford and Polk counties to find the homestead where Wallace had spent the early part of his childhood.
“My uncle, a lifelong woodsman who has hunted and fished throughout Western North Carolina, wore his snake-proof chaps,” Lynch-Hudson wrote in an email describing the adventure. “I was dressed like GI Jane, in camouflage pants, a black leather beret, orange hunting vest, and black lace up canvas combat boots, a bracelet depicting the faces of five generations of foremothers that’s accompanied me all over the world, along with the essential oil combination of sage and bergamot applied to feet and pulse points to bring a sense of calm, in a woodland possibly filled with critters.
“To steady our balance over the hilly terrain we carried walking canes, which my uncle handcrafts from sturdy hardwood native to the mountains, such as locust, rhododendron and mountain laurel. He also told us that the canes would be useful if we needed to fight off coyotes. But fortunately, that battle never materialized.”
Lynch-Hudson and her uncle had been guided into the woods by a nearby homeowner, who before turning back directed them toward an area in which he thought the old Lynch homestead might be. He told them to listen for and walk toward the Broad River. During their two-mile hike in, Lynch noted where bucks had rubbed their antlers on trees. He noted the changes in the land that the forest, river and logging had created since he had been a boy there.
“When we arrived at the Broad River, bordering the area where my uncle grew up, it was a virtual paradise ─ and a welcome reprieve from fast-pace Atlanta,” Lynch-Hudson wrote. “A stillness hung in the air, and there was silence, other than the sound of teal waters racing over big boulders. My uncle stood by the river and told stories about his father, Blanch Lynch, tossing him and his brother Winfred out into the waters to swim as young boys. He talked about his father gathering herbs in the woods surrounding the river. He reminisced about the family birddog that came to their rescue if their mother Juanita attempted to whip them, and (of) the cow that would graze all day before he went to fetch him come his feeding time.”
On the thorny ground where Wallace Lynch thought the homestead might be, he showed her where the family’s watermelon patch was. Lynch, who had tilled the ground as a child (as had his father and his grandfather), pointed to where the family grew sweet potatoes and other produce.
Wallace Lynch recalled the time in 1944 when, barely 9 years old, he and father Blanch dismantled their 10-year-old house there – shingle by shingle, plank by plank – to move it to Black Mountain, where Wallace’s mother, Juanita Burnette Lynch, had been born. Using dynamite to blow out trees, Blanch carved a homestead out of thick woods a quarter mile north of Old U.S. 70 and a quarter mile west of West College Street in Black Mountain. And, with the help of Wallace and his 7-year-old brother Winfred, he reassembled the house and dug a 35-foot well. (The house is now Worth Lynch's home.)
Lynch-Hudson said she and her uncle didn’t find the precise spot of the Lynch homestead in Sunny View, though they estimate they were about 600 feet and one hill away. They plan to go back, after hunting season.
It pleases Lynch-Hudson that her three uncles live near each other on or near the family property in Black Mountain (the men outlived their sisters, Gladys and Geneva). Winfred, a retired Master Sergeant, built a two-story brick house where pig pens once stood. Wallace, the oldest, and Worth, the youngest, are a stone’s throw away. Uncle Wallace “still grows tomatoes, peppers, and assorted vegetables including Bonitas, the best white sweet potatoes that I have ever tasted in my life,” Lynch-Hudson wrote.
“In the early days, apple trees, a cherry tree, an abundance of berries and fields of perfectly laid-out rows of vegetables filled much of the Black Mountain property,” she wrote. “Come springtime, the area was white with dogwood blossoms and crimsoned with the red buds of Grandma Juanita’s roses, amid other native flora. A singular chicken house and a blockhouse also dotted the landscape."
“The woods, with their mysterious depth and mammoth trees, offered a hideaway for us grandkids. We’d fearlessly climb and curl into the cradling limbs of massive oaks, peering down onto the country compound my grandfather had created.”