Thursday, July 18, 2013

Weather in the Time of John Sevier

Thanks to our volunteer, Kristin Brig, who researched and wrote this blog entry for us!

Today, the sun is shining, the clouds are scattered across a silky blue sky, and the weatherman, who predicted rain this morning, turns out to be wrong in his prediction. But we still have a weatherman we can rely on in dangerous weather, just a click away on the living room television. In John Sevier’s time, no weathermen existed in times of danger, no less televisions to issue warnings. Instead, Sevier, like so many other American colonists, personally had to learn the art of predicting weather, colonial style! 

Unlike today, the colonists had only a few weather tools to use for predicting the weather, among them weather vanes and thermometers. Although the first thermometer reached America in 1715 in Philadelphia,[1] people along the frontier usually solely used wind vanes and almanacs.[2] Almanacs attempted to accurately predict the weather through use of temperature and wind direction tables, which helped farmers decide where and when to sow seed and put plants in the ground. Yet colonists along the frontier like Sevier could more easily find out wind direction via wind vanes: “The settlers often found the weather of their new home rather challenging, so they made ample use of weathervanes to predict the weather and improve their farming practices.”[3] In large towns or cities the town hall usually held the wind vane for the town. If not, farmers would own their own wind vanes, as Sevier might have done at Marble Springs.

From entries in his diaries, Sevier probably had neither a thermometer nor an almanac, as he often recorded daily weather patterns but not exact predictions or temperatures. At times, he solely records the day’s weather from his own observations; for example, in March 1799 Sevier writes about the daily weather and nothing else for nine days straight![4] As a farmer, Sevier had to watch the weather closely. As such, he put weather descriptions in his diaries every so often to keep up with the ever-changing frontier weather. Sometimes, it wasn’t even for the farming- he would also remark on the weather during his time as a Congressman in Washington, DC. During his time in DC, many times he focuses more on the weather than visiting with foreign ministers and heads of state! On March 13, 1813, he wrote “Visited the President [Madison]. Cold and windy.”[5]

If you want to see the weather descriptions for yourself (in edition to a few “cures” Sevier had for ailments), you can access his diaries here:

[1] Thomas L. Purvis, Colonial America to 1763 (New York: Facts on File, 1999), 1.
[2] Fae Moller, “Predicting Weather in the Eighteenth Century,”
[3] “History of Weathervanes,”
[4] John Sevier’s Diary, March 1799,
[5] John Sevier’s Diary, March 1813,

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Gardening at Marble Springs

Thanks to our volunteer, Kristin Brig, who researched and wrote this blog entry for us!
Is this a watermelon or a pumpkin?

Is that a watermelon?

We’ve been hearing this question a lot at Marble Springs, in regards to our garden. What you’re actually seeing is a pumpkin!

Our garden isn’t only full of these (currently) green beauties…  We’ve also got corn, squash, onions, tomatoes, and more. In growing true colonial foods, we try to think about what John Sevier might have grown back in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. After all, not all historic preservation has to take place in a museum, or the cabins that you visit here on site; in fact, much historic preservation goes towards maintaining gardens!

Gardens served several purposes in the colonial era. For instance, if you travel up to Colonial Williamsburg or Charleston’s historic homes, you will find gardens teeming with some of the most colorful flowers to be found in the South. In these instances, gardens served a purpose of beauty, of giving serenity to a bustling household, and of showcasing the stately nature of the wealthy inhabitants of said households.[i] Today, much as the colonists did three hundred years ago, visitors to such places enjoy a stroll along the garden paths, studying the colorful flowers and remarking on the geometry used by the colonists.

Yet John Sevier’s gardens went beyond just cultivation of flowers. For Sevier and other colonial settlers along the frontier, gardens meant food, a form of self-sustaining farming. And today, unlike the colonists of three hundred years ago, visitors often wonder why such gardens have fewer flowers and more crops than townhomes do, especially for a man as politically active as John Sevier. Visitors instead should take away a different message from these maintained gardens: the colonists put a lot of work into producing much of the same food for their tables that we only have to purchase at our local grocery stores. According to Therese Ciesinski from Organic Gardening, “What [colonists] grew and how they grew it reveals the differences between then and now…and emphasizes how difficult it was to coax food from the ground.”[ii] As a result, maintaining the gardens here at Marble Springs not only gives visitors something delectable (and sweet-smelling) to look at, but also something to make them think about how difficult the life of a colonist truly was, even in aspects of simply getting food to eat. 

Our herb garden is also undergoing a transformation, as we are currently expanding it and removing the walk-in areas. For a colonist, herbs provided flavoring for food as well as medicine for basic illnesses. Typically, colonists raised their herb garden beds so that water would drain quicker and the soil would warm quicker in the spring and summer.[iii] As such, our herb garden beds here at Marble Springs are raised, as is our vegetable garden. (They are also raised due to the archaeologically sensitive ground that the gardens sit on).

A big thanks to our fantastic volunteers, Jim Buckenmyer, who helps us out with our gardening workshops, and Fran Brown who has been helping us with weeding and cutting back the herbs.

[i] “The Lure of Colonial Gardens,” JSTOR, 455.
[ii] Therese Ciesinski, “How We Grew,” Organic Gardening.
[iii] “Colonial Herbs,”

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Marble Springs Storytelling Festival Coming Soon!

A Festival of Storytelling for the whole family will take place on April 20, 2013, from 12-7pm at Governor John Sevier’s Marble Springs State Historic Site. This event is sponsored by the Governor John Sevier Memorial Association and the Smoky Mountain Storytellers Association. Professional storytellers will perform live all day, with humor, traditional, historic, Appalachian tales, & tall tales. Food and drink will be available. Guests should bring chairs and/or blankets to sit on.

Youth Storytelling Showcase will take place from 12-2pm, featuring Rebecca & Sarah Bird, National Youth Storytelling Showcase Torchbearers, and students from local schools.

At 3pm, our special guest, Jack Neely, author of Knoxville’s “Secret History,” will share stories.

Fee: $5 per adult, $3 student (age 7-18), under six free. Parking is free.

All activities take place at the Marble Springs State Historic Site: 1220 West Governor John Sevier Highway, Knoxville, TN 37920.

Programming assistance for this event is provided by the Arts & Heritage Fund and Knox County. Marble Springs is funded under an agreement with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennessee Historical Commission, and supplemented by additional funds raised by the Governor John Sevier Memorial Association.

Information found at 865-573-5508

Website problems

We apologize for anyone having issues with our website currently. Our website was hacked two weeks ago, and we have to provide our developer with all the information that was previously on there before it can go back to normal.
Until then, we will post information about events here and on our Facebook page.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

2012 In Review

Ashleigh's Note: December 2012 marks 7 months for me at Marble Springs, and I wanted to highlight everything that happened during 2012, since we didn't post that many entries since my hire! Here they are, in no particular order.
  • CAP: We completed the Collections Assessment Program in the fall of 2012, which brought in 2 assessors to evaluate the buildings and collections here at Marble Springs. We will be utilizing their report this year to improve the state of our collections.
  • Arboretum: As noted in the last post, we are now officially a TUFC Level 1 Arboretum!
  • Successful Programming: One reason that we had fewer posts was because of all of the programming! We had our annual events, such as the Storytelling Festival, Statehood Days, John Sevier Days, Halloween Haunts & Haints, Candlelight Tours, and a wide variety of workshops. We want to thank EVERYONE who helped out or attended any of these events and helped us make them a success.
  • Farmer's Market: We had our second successful season and look forward to a third. We brought on an intern, Jessie, to serve as the manager of the market, and are very pleased with her enthusiasm and ideas for making the 2013 season even better.
  • Transit of Venus: Over 300 people came out to see this once-in-a-lifetime event!
  • HHK Founder's Day Luncheon: Collaborating with the other Historic Homes of Knoxville, we enjoyed the 2nd year for this event, which celebrated the 211th birthday of Knoxville. Senator Lamar Alexander was the guest speaker, and reminded us why the historic homes are important to the city. He said, "If you really want to understand the history of our country, you've got to know about Knoxville and these homes here are a celebration of that time. One of the reasons Knoxville is important is there's no city in the eastern United States that was a more important gateway to the west than Knoxville, Tennessee at the time the United States became a country."
  • Video Grant:  We received a $2500 grant from the United States Federation of Friends of Museums to produce a video tour that will be accessible through QR Codes. We should be completing production some time in 2013.
  • Eagle Scout Projects: Eagle Scouts installed bluebird houses, made recycling bins for events and rentals, and created a compost bin and fire pits to protect the ground from being scorched.
  • Twitter: Our cats found their way into social media, thinking that it was about birds. We are learning so much about them and how they see the site through their account. It seems that John Sevier is now interested in learning more about his namesake, Cinnamon loves the vet but doesn't like going there, and Boots likes to take pictures of himself (or for us to take pictures of him).
Thanks for a great 2012, and I look forward to seeing everyone out here in 2013!

Friday, January 4, 2013

Arboretum Certification

As some of you may have noticed on our social media pages, we were recently designated as a Level 1 Arboretum by the Tennessee Urban Forestry Council.
Groundskeeper John Gammon with Jim Cortese, receiving our official sign.

"Guidelines define an arboretum as an area with a significant amount of woody vegetation in tree form that is cultivated for educational, scientific or aesthetic purposes. To be certified, an arboretum must be open to the public, the trees must be properly labeled for educational purposes, and they must be properly protected and maintained during the period of certification." -TUFC guidelines 

To become an official Level 1 Arboretum, our Groundskeeper, John Gammon, had to identify at least 30 different types of trees (note: we now have over 40!).

We are also on our way to Level 2 (though it may be a few years before we try for that certification). We created a map and numbering system for the trees, which will soon be available to visitors.
Look for these labels around our property and on our trails!

We plan to offer future programming based around the arboretum, including something for Arbor Day in April.