|Mt. Juliet Homecoming celebrates rich, rural heritage|
|Friday, November 2, 2012|
Friends reunite for fellowship, music, food
By KEN BECK
MT. JULIET -- West Wilson County’s best-kept autumn secret may be the Mt. Juliet Homecoming, a gathering of hundreds of folks, young and old, who share music and meals but mainly take a day to reminisce about the town’s agrarian roots.The big event, which organizers describe as “a miniature version of the Museum of Appalachia with lots of old-time, bluegrass, country and gospel music,” takes place Saturday at the Circle P Ranch, behind Cloyds Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Mt. Juliet has undergone tremendous changes since 1972, when the then-unincorporated community numbered 2,030 souls. Its population in 2010 was 23,671, thus this gigantic block party of sorts offers the local folks a chance to reflect on the good old days when physical labor ruled the day, but the pace of life, and certainly the traffic, did not move so quickly.
The 13th annual homecoming honors a group of a dozen or so local men, who hitch-hiked and hopped trains to the Midwest in the 1940s and ’50s to work in the migrating wheat harvests that ranged from Texas to Montana.
The inaugural homecoming on Oct. 29, 1999, was organized by Nealon Agee, Jim Bell, Bobby Butler, Bob Jones, George Page and James Page, while reminiscing about their days in the wheat fields. They decided to start a reunion and share it with the community. That first festival was held at Charlie Daniel Park with 50 attendees.
Since then the homecomings, which have drawn upwards or more than a thousand guests, have taken place on an historic farm, which was settled in 1791 by the Ezekiel Cloyd family. It was Cloyd who built Cloyds Cumberland Presbyterian Church (first called Stoner’s Lick Church) in 1795, a year before Tennessee became a state.
“It’s about remembering the past. It will be a gathering of friends, and we’ll enjoy eating barbecue and fish, turnip greens, white beans and cornbread,” said coordinator Rufus Page, who has made his home on the Circle P Ranch for the past 25 years and is the younger brother of event founders James and George Page.
“It started as a little informal thing with a few people and has just become a good little event for the town,” said Joe Tomlinson, a co-organizer and Mt. Juliet native, just like Page.
“We enjoy meeting old friends, some that we’ve not seen for years and years, and listening to people older than I am talk about what happened back here during their day. When Rufus started putting it on down there with the old-time atmosphere, I knew I wanted to be a part of this.”
Page’s Circle P Ranch, also known as Happy Hollow, could almost serve as a park and museum. It features a barn, a log corn crib, the Mt. Juliet train depot from turn of the century, perhaps the only windmill in Mt. Juliet and a foot bridge that crosses the crystal clear waters of Stoner Creek.
“This was the perfect place to hold such an event. It already had old buildings, barns and a small pavilion on the property. Rufus also has many old tools, farm equipment and other general items for visitors to enjoy,” Tomlinson said.
“I began grinding cornmeal three years ago, just for the adventure, I reckon,” said Page, who works for Jones Brothers Construction and has two children, Jeremy and Jennifer, and two grandchildren.
His 24-inch Meadows Mill, about 100 years old, is powered by an International Cub Farmall motor, while his 18-inch Meadows Mill runs off a 6-horsepower hit-and-miss motor. He can run a mill for three hours and make 250 pounds of cornmeal, which he sacks and sells for $5 for a two-pound bag.
The picture of the 5-year-old girl on his sacks of Baby Cakes Cornmeal is his longtime friend and neighbor Belinda Brewer, a cornbread fanatic. Brewer works in the office of the Wilson County Trustee's Office, and she and Mark, her husband of 30 years, have two children, Jeff Brewer and Nancy Keaton.
“I gave her the nickname Baby Cakes, but why, I don’t know,” Page said.
“I think he needed some help,” Brewer said, also one of the Mt. Juliet Homecoming organizers. “So I help him scoop it when it comes out of the hopper and put in the bag. We make the cornmeal for fun. We don't make any money.”
At the past Wilson County Fair, Page and Brewer sold 3,200 pounds of Baby Cakes Cornmeal.
“When you stop at the grist mill (their exhibit at the fair), you will leave with a bag of cornmeal ’cause Baby Cakes will put the sales pitch on you,” he said.
“I make cornbread almost every day. Every night I eat a corn muffin. I love cornbread, so that’s why it’s so easy for me to sell it. It’s something everybody should eat,” Brewer said.
While Brewer makes a variety of cornmeal dishes, Page is no slouch in the kitchen. “I like hot-water cornbread, hoecakes. I make ’em whenever the urge hits,” he said.
The cornbread man is also the publisher of his annual Mount Juliet Homecoming magazine, which runs more than 80 pages and sells at the event for $10. It is filled with historical articles, photographs and interviews with local folks.
In the publication, edited by Melody Jennings Griffin, readers will discover such facts as the only Mt. Juliet in the United States likely took its name from “Aunt Julie” Gleaves, a ministering angel of the community during its early years and because the village, when it was founded in 1835, stood on a high hill half a mile south of North Mt. Juliet Road on the old Nashville and Lebanon Dirt Road.
And did you know there is one other Mt. Juliet in the world (albeit spelled Mount Juliet)?
The Mount Juliet Golf & Spa Hotel is a golf resort on the Mount Juliet Estate in Thomastown, County Kilkenny, Ireland. The original estate was named in the 1760s by the Earl of Carrick in honor of his wife Juliet, and today consists of a Georgian manor home set on a hill overlooking the River Nore, surrounded by over 1,500 acres of land. It features a par 72, 7,300-yard Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course that opened in 1991 and is considered one of Ireland’s best courses.
Getting back to the American Mt. Juliet Homecoming, Page said the event is “drawing more and more young people.”
He said that Saturday, he will be “everywhere. I have a lot of good helpers, about 30 of them, and it would be impossible to put this on without them.”
Fellow organizer Tomlinson concurred, saying, “With the help from many volunteers, beans and greens, along with other items, will be cooked in iron pots and kettles. A large crew of men cook a large smoker full of pork barbeque, and fried and baked cornbread will be cooked on old wood stoves. Local talent will play music (starting at 10 a.m.), and several of the people attending will tell old stories and a few tall tales.
“Some of the men will bring their old tractors, cars, threshing machines and farm tools to exhibit. Several of the older people who have grown up in the area will show up from surrounding towns and states. We all agree this is definitely better than seeing each other at funerals,” Tomlinson said.
The 13th annual Mt. Juliet Homecoming, starring bluegrass, old-time country and gospel music, heritage craft demonstrations, Southern cooking and the reunion of friends and neighbors, begins at 9 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27, at the Circle P Ranch, 563 Main Street, behind Cloyds Cumberland Presbyterian Church on West Division. Admission is $5. Ages 10 and younger admitted free. Music will be performed by The Straight Arrow Boys with Steve Myatt, Karen Wheeler, Rob Pearcy and Rebel Road, The Jimalong Josies featuring Riley McClain, The Gallinippers, Lacy J. Syler, Kendall Paige Parker and Savannah Godwin. There also will be cornbread, dessert and cross-cut saw contests, a corn hole tournament and horseshoe pitching contest (hosted by the 2012 ladies' horseshoes world champion, Mt. Juliet's Joan Elmore). Prizes will be awarded in all contests. The Mt. Juliet Homecoming is a “picnic-style” event, and food is sold on the grounds. Seating is not provided, so attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn/camping chairs and blankets. No pets or alcohol allowed. For more info go online to www.mtjuliethomecoming2012.com or call 957-5600.
(for stone ground cornmeal)
1½ cup of milk
¼ cup of oil
1½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ cup of self-rising flour
Mix eggs, milk (can use buttermilk), oil and stir in cornmeal, salt and baking powder. Add flour (only what you need to make a good texture (thick cake batter). Bake in hot greased iron skillet at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.