Today is Thursday, August 24, 2017

Watermelon Moon ripe for picking

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Emily and Harold stand in the backyard beside the massive window frame she rescued from the Methodist Church in Gordonsville that she attended as a child. The couple swapped wedding vows standing in front of the window. Photo submitted
Goats enjoy a grassy brunch in the front yard of the Watermelon Moon Farm. Dogs, cats, chickens and guinea hens also make their home on the farm. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Harold Cash and Emily Steinberg-Cash pose before their circa 1835 house at Watermelon Moon Farm which sits on the Wilson and Smith County line. Built by William Washington Seay, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday during the "Moon's" spring fling event. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Harold Cash and Emily Steinberg-Cash pose before their circa 1835 house at Watermelon Moon Farm which sits on the Wilson and Smith County line. Built by William Washington Seay, the house is on the National Register of Historic Places and will be open to the public Saturday and Sunday during the "Moon's" spring fling event. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
On a blustery March morning, Emily Steinberg-Cash stands beside a charming potting shed in her backyard. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Harold Cash shows off one of the two hand-hewn limestone chimneys on the west side of the house. The work was carried out by African-American slave artisans, and local tradition has it they received their freedom for their labors. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Emily Steinberg-Cash bought the Watermelon Moon Farm 25 years ago. Most of the restoration work went into the summer kitchen in back, which now serves as a bed and breakfast. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Watermelon Moon Farm hostess Emily Steinberg-Cash stands beneath a tree decorated with birds and other whimsical trinkets that will be for sale during the spring fling event. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
Harold and Emily enjoy their morning cup of coffee on the long veranda of their home. They met 13 years ago when he came to the house to repair her computer and married about a year later. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post
William Washington Seay, who built the circa 1835 house that is now called Watermelon Moon Farm, died March 24, 1874, at the age of 72. He was buried in the Seay Cemetery about 250 yards east of the house. KEN BECK / The Wilson Post

Historical farm holds two-day spring extravaganza

Twenty-five years ago an overpowering whim redirected Emily Steinberg-Cash to her Middle Tennessee roots. In the process of settling in a circa 1835 two-story Southern plantation house, she found her future in the past.

"You have to have a true appreciation for history to live in an older house. You have to love it cause you freeze to death in the winter, but I like people," said Miss Emily, whose home is where her heart is, a special place she opens periodically to the public.

"I do three home tours a year," says the artist, craftsperson and businesswoman. "People are intrigued to come here because I decorate and have some unique products."

Indeed, her 18½-acre Watermelon Moon Farm presents its inaugural spring fling, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday at 10575 Trousdale Ferry Pike, about 12 miles east of Lebanon on Highway 141.

Inside three rooms of her amazing abode she will decorate and have a variety of items for sale that reflect such themes as birds, gardening and spring; angel wings and concrete statuary; and boutique clothing and jewelry.

Meanwhile in tents in the front and side yard more than 25 vendors from across the midstate will display their wares at the free event.

Dozens of vendors offering crafts

Spring fling marketing director Rachel King of Carthage said, "We will have a mix of different type of vendors who will have art, handmade items, jewelry, children's clothing, antiques, repurposed furniture and handmade signs."

Watermelon Moon Farm Spring Fling

Watermelon Moon Farm plays host to its first spring fling, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, April 2, and noon-4 p.m. Sunday, April 3, at 10575 Trousdale Ferry Pike, about 12 miles east of Lebanon on Highway 141. The event takes place on the grounds of a circa 1835 mansion and features more than 25 vendors, a home tour, decorating ideas, antiques, a box luncheon (catered by Eclectic Elegance) and other refreshments. Admission is free. For more info, go online to watermelonmoonfarm.com or call (615) 444-2356.

Directions: Take I-40 to the Linwood Road Exit (mile marker 245), go north a half mile and turn right at Tuckers Crossroads on to Highway 141 and go four to five miles until you reach the "Moon."

She said among specific vendors represented will be Vintage Farmhouse with vintage items; Dancing Cow Creamery with handmade cow milk soap, lotions and candles; Gypsy Moon with a European clothing line; Gypsy Soul with herbs and architectural garden elements; Blackberry Crow with folk art and primitives; and Pomona Hill Farms with plants and goat milk soaps. Lebanon's non-profit New Leash on Life also will have a booth.

"Guests can sit on the veranda and enjoy the day and the animals (goats, chickens, guineas, dogs and cats). It will be just a fun day in the country with shopping, eating and soaking up the atmosphere," Miss Emily said of the spring fling.

'Time to come home'

A Smith County native, the Watermelon Moon Farm hostess was born Emily Gill in Gordonsville. She worked at Vanderbilt University for several years as the secretary to the head of the chemistry department. Later, she migrated to Gainesville, Florida, where she opened a crafts shop and taught painting and crafts classes for 25 years.

In 1991 while driving from Florida to visit her mother in Gordonsville, inspiration struck, and she made a split-second decision.

"I had just passed Monteagle, and I had a revelation. 'It's time to come home.' It was not in my game plan, but there was no indecision about it. I moved home, back to Tennessee," she recalled.

At the moment she had no idea where she would settle, but she had a keen vision of what she wanted in a place.

"I had a complete list of exactly what I was looking for. It had to be architecturally interesting, have wood floors, at least five acres, a wood-burning fireplace, and I wanted to see the sun rise and the sun set."

Finder her dream home

She looked at homes with a realtor but none seemed to ring her bell. After clipping some pictures of 10 or so homes from local real estate magazines, she honed in on one that caught her fancy.

"One day, I said, 'Mama, let's go find that house.' We drove in the driveway, and (owner) Cliff Wilkin came out, and he showed me all around. There were things about it I liked. This was the place. It had the architecture, the history and an old barn for my manufacturing plant. I made an offer and threw it out there. It was meant to be and here I am," she laughed with ease.

"Later, a friend, Sharon Eden, said, 'Emily, why don't you offer some little sandwiches and sell your gift products? I'll help you.' I told her, 'Let me think about it.'

"We opened our historic home to the public to show the ambiance of farm life. Really this was my private home, and friends came. That's how the dining by reservations and gift shop started and that was about 13 years ago," said the creative soul, who enjoys decorating and buying so much so that she now rarely has time to be an artist.

Food and lodging by reservation

Watermelon Moon Farm is closed during winter months. It opens April-June, closes July and August and then opens back September-December. Gift shop hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday-Saturday during the open months.

Miss Emily offers dining for groups by reservation, typically a ladies luncheon. She can feed up to 40. She also holds crafts workshops and will host a Mother's Day luncheon on May 7 and a Downton Abbey Tea on May 18. Her summer kitchen also serves as a B&B. For details check out the watermelonmoonfarm.com web site.

As for restoration of the architectural wonder in which she resides, she says, "All I've done is paint and re-plaster and decorate. You don't want to destroy what is original. I spent most of my time and money on the summer kitchen. It was in shambles.

"I was a single when I bought the place. Thirteen years ago my computer had died. A friend in Carthage gave me the name of a guy that she had wanted me to come to church and meet. That was Harold. He knocked on the front door to repair my computer, and now we've been married for 12 years."

Sunrise with coffee, sunset with a beer

In Miss Emily's backyard sprouts a massive window frame rescued from the Methodist Church in Gordonsville that she attended as a child. She and Harold swapped wedding vows standing in front of the window.

Fortunately for Emily, Harold could do more than fix computers. He's a handyman as well. Last summer he replaced many of the banisters and wood on the front porch.

"Harold loves it here, too. He loves older homes. He gets up for sunrise with coffee in his hand, and he watches sunset with beer in his hand," she said.

The couple's residence, the William Washington Seay House, sits in the Flat Rock community about halfway between Tuckers Crossroads and Grant. Bordering the Wilson County and Smith County line, the house is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The marvelous craftsmanship, inside and out of the vernacular I-house with a slight Greek Revival influence, likely was performed by slaves. Resting on a limestone foundation, it was constructed circa 1835 by Seay, who owned a 600-acre tobacco plantation.

Chimneys, verandas and painting set it apart

For nearly 40 years he transported his crop via flatboat to market in New Orleans. Family tradition has it that he had this place built after a home he admired on a Louisiana plantation. Among the star attractions are six fireplaces and three chimneys, two hand-chiseled from limestone on the west side of the house and one made from brick on the east. Around 1850 stucco was applied to the brick chimney and outlines of blocks were etched in so that it would match the limestone block chimneys on the west.

The house boasts two-story verandas on the front and rear, a tin roof and its original root cellar. The columns, railings, spindles, decking, joists and sill timbers are solid Tennessee red cedar that have been painted.

The Seay House gains further significance for its decorative interior painting. Much of the extant historic woodwork retains its original hand-painted wood graining and marbling. It is the first house identified in Wilson County with decorative painting that may be attributed to the antebellum period and dates to probably between 1835 and 1850.

Even the walls of the attic carry evidence of long-ago farm life as they bear grease stains where the Seays reportedly stored hams in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

The carefully cut and carved limestone block foundation and chimney, and the huge cut and carved limestone steps at the front and rear of the dwelling are additional outstanding examples of folk craftsmanship.

Local tradition among whites and African Americans was that this limestone work was carried out by African-American slave artisans, who belonged to Jonathan Bailey, a neighbor of the Seays.

Haunted from history?

The house also may or may not hold ghosts, but there are stories for sure. Miss Emily reports that a woman hung herself from a transom and a duel was held on the front porch.

She says she has smelled the strong odor of tobacco, and a friend told her she felt somebody or something tugging on her ankle while sleeping an upstairs bedroom.

Music is also a legacy of the place as the family of Louise Certain Scruggs lived here 70 years ago. Louise was the wife of banjo legend Earl Scruggs, famed as a co-leader of Country Music Hall of Fame bluegrass band Flatt & Scruggs and the Foggy Mountain Boys. Earl made a trip to the old home place two weeks before his death in 2012.

Miss Emily appreciates every little detail about the 180-year-old home she inhabits and notes that its builder, Seay, who died March 24, 1874, at the age of 72, is buried less than a quarter of a mile away in the Seay family cemetery.

"This is the perfect time of year, for the sun will to hit William Seay's tombstone and shine back to the house like a mirror reflecting," she said.

"This is a beautiful property. We're blessed. People love coming here. We love showing it. I moved here with one dog and now have three dogs, four cats and 40 goats and a husband," said Miss Emily, bursting with pride over the Watermelon Moon Farm that's ripened into her home, sweet home.

Source material for this story came from the National Register of Historic Places Form compiled in 1995 by Martha D. Akins and Carroll Van West.

Writer Ken Beck may be contacted at kbtag2@gmail.com.

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bed and breakfast, crafts, feature, historic, history, Ken Beck, spring fling, tours, Watermelon Moon Farm, Wilson County
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