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Rutledge: City’s farm fertile ground for growing local history, Bluegrass

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Saturday, January 7, 2017

It has been nearly eight years since Johnson City purchased a large farm just down the road from my family’s home place. The new owner has yet to plant the first row of corn.

The Tennessee city, of course, did not buy the 55-acre Keefauver farm with farming in mind, but for parks expansion. Proposals have included everything from ballfields to Bluegrass music.

I hereby cast my biased vote for the Bluegrass.

Ballfields certainly are important and needed. My three daughters spent a large portion of their early lives at the Sara A. Law Complex, home of the Pitt County Girls Softball League. Any success my oldest daughter might see this season playing for Daniel Boone High School can be attributed to those fields of dreams in Pitt County.

With the most recent pitch, however, Johnson City has an opportunity to blaze a mixed-use trail that could be a home run for everyone.

The Boones Creek Historic Trust is seeking a home for its “treasure trove of historic artifacts,” according to recent news reports. To that end, it would like to lease the beautiful brick Keefauver home, portions of which were built in the early 1800s. The group envisions converting a large barn at the farm into a music venue that might be named “The Boones Creek Opry House.”

Any effort toward celebrating and promoting this region’s history, culture and traditional music is in line with the mission of the Department of Appalachian Studies at East Tennessee State University. It’s not surprising, then, to learn that administrators for that program have said they support the proposal for a museum and music venue.

That support naturally would include establishing the farm as a regular performance venue for the numerous student bands that make up ETSU’s world-renowned Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Program.

This proposal by the Boones Creek Historical Trust should finally bring Johnson City’s vision for its idle farm into focus.

I must note here that my father would laugh out loud at this talk of “focused vision” coming from me regarding the Keefauver farm. Shortly after our family bought into the beautiful little valley of farms along Hales Chapel Road in the 1970s, I saw something at the Keefauver farm that Dad had never noticed there: giant hogs.

In my defense, neither heads, legs nor tails were visible among that row of cattle feeding deceptively low beside the road as I drove past. Dad corrected my rousing eyewitness account, but I stood my ground and insisted they were the biggest hogs ever raised. He never let me live it down.

Teenagers are loath to admit they are wrong, even when the truth is staring them in the face chewing cud.

This idea to use facilities at the Keefauver farm to preserve and promote the rich history and culture of Tennessee’s first community is right. I love to play and promote Bluegrass and old time music, but even if this proposal involved some other historic farm in the area — one that is not just down the road from where I live — it still would be right.

I just returned from a visit with my old Bluegrass band, Morgue Sessions, in Greenville. My buddies there want to come over for a picking session in my barn. Maybe we’ll get to play down the road in my neighbor’s barn — once home to the world’s biggest hogs.

Contact Mark Rutledge at mrutledge@reflector.com.

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