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The Stone House

Posted by groundhogpeggy on Sunday, June 27, 2010

 My husband and I, and all of our friends, were always poor.  At one point, we actually had two cars, both licensed, yet neither running, and couldn't get food stamps because of the two cars.  yeah, it works that way sometimes.

During that time, we would take long walks around Whitley County, KY, our home, along the Cumberland River.  We walked hollers and banks and ridges and ledges.  One ledge just inside of town was a special place to us.  You could sit up there and watch the entire town of Williamsburg: the downtown streets, the railroad tracks, the river, the bridge, the clouds pouring rain over the town, everything.

Just on the opposite side of that ledge overlooking town was a handbuilt, very mysterious stone house.  The stones were hand-carved and hand-laid, not entirely finished.  The house was all closed up.  We wandered around the site quite a bit, dreaming about living there one day.

Well I'm not sure how it happened, but one day we met the owner of that stone house.  We talked about how much we loved it.  The man showed us the inside of the house and told us the story of this house.

It looked like the house Snow White lived in in the forest.  Even the windows opened the same way... they tilted inward about 2 inches, so that you could have them open while it was raining.  The big stone fireplace was big enough that my husband and i could sit in there together.

This feller that owned it had bought it from the husband and wife who had hand-built it together: Frank and ? (Anna?  forgot her name) Ackermann.  The Ackermann's were anthropologists/explorers/lecturers in the early part of the 20th Century.  They sought out a nice spot to make their retirement home, that ledge overlooking the Cumberland River in Whitley County, KY.  We found old photos of the two of them heaving huge stones with chains and pulleys and putting them into place.  They weren't retired yet, but had planned on going there when they could retire... in the photos, they were older looking to us (we were in our early 20s, so they probably weren't really THAT old!!!!), but apparently not yet at retirement age.

We found old posters of their travels and their lectures.  They had made one lecture from their travels through Whitley County, and had posters with scenes familiar to us, entitled, KENTUCKY, LAND OF ROMANCE.  

The feller who owned the house says when the highway went in, just below the cliff, they were horrified by that and quickly sold the house as it was, unfinished, for a very good price.  He happened to have come on the scene to know about it and snatched it up for his own retirement, which would come in a few years from when we were looking at the house.

His plans were to tear the house down and build his own dream house on that cliff when he could retire.  But he found our love of the house interesting, and struck a deal with us.  We had no money, but were hard workers and very willing to work.  He said if we'd do a certain amount of labor each month, we could live in the house... handshake deal.

So our goal was to put in water, electricity, finish up the stonework, and put in a good-working woodstove that would heat the place.  We had no money, but knowing people at nearby Alma Mater, Cumberland College, we had free access to stuff the maintenance department regularly threw away... old galvanized water pipe, old shower stalls, old toilets and sinks, thrown out lumber, etc.  We scavenged and worked hard and made the house a finished place and enjoyed living there.  it was tough, snow would blow in on us in a few places (particularly annoying when snow kept blowing in so as to fall directly into the frying pan when I cooked), the stone work was heavy and hard... but we did it.  We insulated the walls with cardboard egg cartons friends from a nearby restaurant gave us.

Hubby found old tools all over the house... he figured out their uses and made a lot of stuff from them.  We enjoyed living in the house and fixing it up.

About a year into that, the owner suddenly died... never made it to his retirement.  We didn't know his family, and since we just had a handshake agreement, we picked up our belongings and moved on, so that the family would have a sellable place without any problems.

I often remember life in that stone house.  Nothing much to eat but beans and cornbread...a lot of hard labor, in all kinds of weather.  But a chance to live in Snow White's house for a year.



16 comments on “The Stone House”

cheekee Says:
Sunday, June 27, 2010 @2:42:12 PM

thank you.

BC Says:
Sunday, June 27, 2010 @3:20:13 PM

What a great, great read! Thank you very much.

Ozarkian DL Says:
Sunday, June 27, 2010 @4:17:25 PM

With pen and quill.....from your mind you depart
Wonderful writings .....that come from the heart.

You'd make a great childrens book writer Peggy.
Enjoyed the read.

bj Says:
Sunday, June 27, 2010 @6:03:27 PM

Some of the best in life comes to us when we least expect it and when we need it the most.

Cyndy Says:
Monday, June 28, 2010 @5:20:58 AM

What is it about the heart of some houses that makes them so wonderful to live in? Francis Adrian Van Der Kamp (a scholar that few people have heard of) had a small house in upstate New York and we had the privilege of living in it for a short time. Somehow, the spirit of that place was good for my soul. I very much enjoyed reading your post.

groundhogpeggy Says:
Monday, June 28, 2010 @5:50:12 AM

Something contagious to live where very thoughtful people have previously lived and cared deeply for.

Reminds me of another great place... around here, in Northern Kentucky. In the academic library where i worked for 20 years, one of the best times I ever had was when they transferred me to the archives department for about 4 or 5 of those years. Here I cared for hand-written documents by Daniel Boone, among other famous early Kentuckians... slave registries and correspondence among early Kentuckians. We had a lot of Ohio River stuff in our collection, and the best of that was the shanty boater stuff. The shanty boaters were drifters or bank dwellers that lived in homemade boats (sort of looked like floating, junk-derived patch-work house boats), survived by fishing and hunting, gathering (and often stealing, apparently), paid no taxes and just didn't "count" in our culture. One local Northern Kentuckian, Harlan Hubbard, an artist and carpenter, lived just about 4 miles from where we are now, often watched and dreamed of the carefree, yet rugged lives of the shanty-boaters. He was also a fiddler, by the way... LOL. He didn't meet a wife until in his late 40s, and then met Anna, who worked over at the Cincinnati Public Library across the river. She was just retiring when they married... she loved his shanty boating dream, and told him she felt she was up for it. So, together, they quit everything and started collecting junk, dragging it down the steep banks and to build their own shanty boat. They got a lot of advice from local shanty boaters, who seemed to think they were crazy, interesting, and maybe just nutty enough to be good potential shanty boaters too... built their shanty boat and lived along the shore just under the cliff that runs beside our house, for about 6 years. Then they cut loose and slowly drifted their way down the Ohio, until it meets up with the Cumberland... went down the Cumberland a little ways and came back to the Ohio until it meets up with the Mississippi. Drifted down the Mississippi until they got to the delta. From there, they came back to Kentucky and bought a place they'd loved from the river, Payne Holler... and lived the rest of their lives out there. Harlan wrote it all in the best book I've ever read, and would never have known about to read if I hadn't worked in archives... it's a special collections book there... anyway, if anybody wants a good read, the book is called SHANTY BOAT: A RIVER LIFE, by Harlan Hubbard. I read it, and when I got to the last page, took one sip of coffee and turned it back to page one again!!! I believe you'll do the same if you get yourself a copy of that book!

groundhogpeggy Says:
Monday, June 28, 2010 @5:54:14 AM

By the way, the Hubbards shanty-boated in the 50s... I believe the last of the Shanty boaters on the Ohio River died in the 60s (remembering back from our collection in archives), and now, of course, this lifestyle is illegal and impossible to do...

bj Says:
Monday, June 28, 2010 @7:18:59 AM

That's too bad it's illegal, it sounds wonderful, especially building the shanty from found objects, which is right up my alley! Sounds like a very romantic way of life. Well, at least until you find out all your underwear smells mildewed . . .

I'm gonna have to find a copy of that book, sounds like a must-read.

groundhogpeggy Says:
Monday, June 28, 2010 @8:52:45 AM

Fortunately, there's the river for underwear washing and the sun as a great dryer... of course, it's usually damp around rivers... we've seemed to have almost always lived very close to one.

hardykefes Says:
Sunday, July 4, 2010 @6:00:14 AM

I love the story and hope you are doing much better now. Btw, Ackermann is a German name (translated would mean 'fieldman'). This family name is common in the area where I grew up, Sauerland and Nordrhein-Westfalen. In my childhood I knew a few Ackermann families. Would have been nice if you could have kept the house.

brya31 Says:
Wednesday, July 7, 2010 @6:17:02 AM

Do you ever go by the stone house and have temptations to buy it?

john timpany Says:
Tuesday, August 3, 2010 @7:56:53 PM

You made me laugh and crfy together.
cheekee said it all.

Thank you.

nancymae Says:
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 @7:59:43 AM

What an awesome story! Thank you so much for sharing that!!

nancymae Says:
Tuesday, September 21, 2010 @7:31:39 PM

Also, you are a wonderful writer. I read this to my hubby tonight...who is also a writer. You should send this in for a short story competition. You have many gifts!

fiddlepogo Says:
Friday, November 19, 2010 @12:35:05 PM

I read this a while back- read it again, and realized I forgot to say how much I enjoyed it.

groundhogpeggy Says:
Saturday, October 6, 2012 @12:33:58 PM

Update: Brya31 asks if we ever go by there now..for whatever crazy reason, the city of Williamsburg, Ky chose to dynamite the cliff out of existence...on the other side of the river, where we have great memories of living in a little house we rented from a woman who had done everything from cooking for a mining camp to helping root out and shoot up moonshiners for the sheriff, and where we raised our daughter and caught catfish for supper just out the back door...the city tore that whole bank out and built a floodwall. Between the coal mining destruction, blowing away major land formations, the jailhouse burning to the ground, new floodwalls and bridges...blowing up hollers and mountains to straighten highways, and Cumberland College going greedy and buying up half the town...it no longer looks much like home. Home is gone forever.

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