Fall for me just wouldn’t be the same without a trip to Ramsey House for the annual Country Market. And since last fall came and went without the annual celebration, I was feeling a bit of withdrawal. The Country Market celebrates so many things I love about East Tennessee: colorful fall flowers, homemade cobblers, homey crafts of spinning and quilting, and primitive antiques on burlap-covered tables. It’s fall at its finest, and I was glad I had the morning to myself to meander the fields and talk to the people who make it happen.
The focus, of course, is on preservation. Ramsey House was built in 1797 by Knoxville’s first builder, Thomas Hope, for Francis Alexander Ramsey, one of the founding trustees of Blount College, now the University of Tennessee. With its signature red trim, this gray stone home boasts some of the prettiest exterior and interior decorative art in East Tennessee. The Association for the Preservation of Tennessee Antiquities purchased the house and the 101 acres upon which it stands in 1952.
It was fitting, of course, that Col. Ramsey (who closely resembles Jerry Griffey, owner of Gentry-Griffey Funeral Home) would greet guests to the property on this pleasant, but rather warm, first day of fall!
I parked my car in the field and headed straight for the antiques and crafts booths set up in tents on the grassy expanse between the Visitor Center and Ramsey House hoping I’d see some familiar faces and a few new vendors, too!
Barbara McDonald who specializes in antique quilts had several quality pieces on display as well as bowls, pottery, and a child’s rope-tied bed.
I was drawn to this table of red and white mostly kitchen items displayed on a graphic antique quilt in Joe Wolfenbarger’s booth. Joe owns both Gertie’s Commissary and Whistle Stop Antiques in Cumberland Gap, so we chatted about the influx of tourists to his area now that the leaves are getting ready for their big fall flourish.
Hugh and Barbara Webb have been painting and setting up at craft shows for almost 45 years now.
I own several pins and driftwood pieces, but I couldn’t resist the almost stony face of this yellow tabby!
She’s known for drawings of old Knoxville homes as well as paintings of animals. But there was a surprise this time — tiny little birds Barbara fashioned from leftover building materials.
Albert and Sandra Davis of Clinton put out collections of thimbles and buttons. But sometimes Albert just demonstrates how comfortable his old lawn chairs can be!
Roger Farneth of Louisville brought his hand-carved canes and walking sticks as well as his best asset and the “brains of this outfit”: his wife Madilyn. Roger agreed to come out into the sunshine to hold his “food chain” walking stick bearing a snake coiled to attack!
Under the name of Paw Paws Woodturnings, Joe White of Friendsville hand-turns bowls and vases of must-touch woods that I dearly love. Black cloth contrasted the grains and colorations of the various types of wood.
Craftspeople set up a bit closer to Ramsey House eagerly shared their love of what they make from what they find.
Gloria Felter of Oak Ridge had come upon a stash of scraps last January and set about to make a Log Cabin lap quilt with a tiny inset piece featuring — would you believe? — Elvis!
Linda Avery and Lalena Stewart take pride in making authentic quilts under the name Tennessee Quiltworks. They’ll be back for the October 20th Second Annual Quilt Show right here at Ramsey House — a sight to behold, they said, since so many quilts hang gracefully on clothes lines for viewing on the grounds. (Put that one on your calendar!)
Nancy, a spinner since 2007, gave a demonstration using the vermillion piece she was spinning of cotswold and mohair. Nancy is an advocate for Pick Tennessee Products, noting that the wool comes from sheep in Tennessee.
Right behind her was Mark who researches and faithfully replicates powder horns with turned wood tops. It’s not easy, I gathered. Mark described how he heats up the irregularly shaped horn and molds it on a wooden form prior to fitting it with the top. Many, many steps, but worth it when you see the beauty of true craftmanship.
Inside the Visitor Center were appraisers offering their services for a mere $5.00 donation. Darryl Mackley, who owns Mackley and Company in Knoxville, and Selma Burgin stood ready to evaluate jewelry.
Joe Rosson, News-Sentinel columnist who answers readers’ questions each week, was on hand to appraise antiques. We talked a bit about the state of antique collecting and wondered if the next generation feels as strongly as we do about keeping family pieces in the family. We didn’t have any answers, but we did do some head shaking and even more wondering!
Autographing her books was Dr. Lin Stepp, who writes modern fiction set in the Smoky Mountains with each book set in a different locale: The Foster Girls — Wear’s Valley; Tell Me About Orchard Hollow — Townsend; For Six Good Reasons — Greenbrier, and Delia’s Place — Gatlinburg. Her book covers feature paintings by celebrated artist, Jim Gray, and Dolly Parton has given her stamp of approval to someone she says “believes in all the things that I do.”
Lin’s husband J. L. has a book coming out Spring 2013 outlining easy hikes anyone can enjoy: The Afternoon Hiker: A Guide to Casual Miles in the Great Smoky Mountains. Click here to read more about their publications. Click here for Lin’s books on Amazon.
In another area, flowers and farm goods beckoned. Carefully arranged mums, cuttings of Sweet Annie, paper-wrapped bouquets of dried lavender, and white and orange pumpkins artfully positioned on hay bales added a fall touch to the Ramsey House booth.
Stuart and Martha of Strong Stock Farm brought their signature grass-fed beef to their artfully arranged booth flanked by white-blooming hydrangeas and fall foliage.
In the children’s booth, little Kendall waited patiently for Mickey, the volunteer tattoo artist, to peel off the stencil and reveal a much-anticipated glittery heart.
And in the background, I heard the bluegrass stains of an old-time string band, Boogertown Gap.
By this time, I had worked up an appetite for either the beans and cornbread or the bar-b-que served by Janet Oakes, Charlotte Brown, and Miriam Anderson, three Ramsey House board members. I chose the bar-b-que smoked by John Wallace whose wife Connie is also on the board.
You’d think that would be enough, but not so. Two men had piled the goodness of dough and the richness of peaches into a black kettle that sat simmering over hot coals for almost half a day. When I got there, they scooped out the steaming goodness into a cup, topped it with homemade ice cream, and watched me smile!
Full and oh-so-happy, I joined Dr. Charles Faulkner for my last act of the day — a tour of Ramsey House!
Fall festivals in East Tennessee showcase the very best in area crafts, food, and the heritage of a land we love. But you don’t have to wait until next year’s Country Market to visit Ramsey House. It’s open year round Wednesday through Saturday.
You can have that Country Market experience every time you walk across the grounds or peer into the rooms or sit a spell on a bench and just imagine what life was like back then.
It was good then . . . and it’s still good now.
2614 Thorngrove Pike
Knoxville, TN 37914
Leave me a comment about a fall festival you’ve attended or you’ve got on your to-do list. Or just let me know what your favorite part of a country market is for you! Thanks for reading!