Chestnut Connections: Stories
Article Written by Paul Nunn
I am 85 plus years old and was born in Blount County, Tennessee. I came into this world about the time the last of the American Chestnut trees were dying. My Daddy worked all his life at sawmills.
I grew up in chestnut country. My family moved several times but we were always in the mountains of eastern Tennessee, eastern Kentucky, and southwestern Virginia. We always lived in lumber camps.
Until 1935, we could always find chestnuts. Many Sunday afternoons were spent gathering chestnuts. My Daddy worked six days a week at the sawmill, so Sunday afternoons were the only time he could go with us.
We moved to Pathfork, Kentucky (Harlan County), in 1927 where Bringardner Lumber Company had built a sawmill. Nearly the entire lumber camp was built of sound wormy chestnut wood. This included about 25 houses, the company store, the boarding house, and the shop. In addition, the timbers for the mill and the crossties for the railroad were built using wormy chestnut.
Mountain people used chestnut for most everything; to build houses, barns, split-rail fences, picket fences, fence posts, furniture, and coffins.
In 1935 while still in high school, I worked the summers helping ship air-dried lumber. We shipped railroad boxcars loaded with up to 30,000 board feet of sound wormy chestnut - boards up to 20 inches wide and 16 feet long. I did this through the summer of 1937.
In the 1930's, the hills and mountains were well freckled with bleached and gray chestnut giants. When I came back from World War II, they were all gone. You could find those that had fallen. It took years for them to rot. Some can still be found but they are soft and falling apart.
I left my mountains in 1946. I always go back at least once each year. I am a product of Appalachia and those mountains will always be a part of me, and I, a part of them.