Life on the Mountain

Farming a way of life for the earliest settlers of Bays Mountain

Kingsport Times-News

Sunday August 31, 2008

Editor’s note: In 1914, Kingsport Waterworks Corp. purchased 1,300 acres atop Bays Mountain and Holston River Mountain to build a dam to create an impounded water supply for the city of Kingsport. As the city grew, the reservoir failed to meet the needs of the expanding population. The use of the late at Bays Mountain as a water supply was discontinued in 1944. In 1965, a committee was appointed to study the feasibility of making the watershed area a city park. Today, Bays Mountain is a 3,500-acre nature preserve. But long before there was a lake and a park, as far back as 1750, Bays Mountain was home to settlers who built homes, farmed the land and raised their families.

By Leigh Ann Laube
last of a two-part series

The first Steadmans to reside in Sullivan County likely came from Virginia in the early 1800s, and it was John Nelson Steadman, born in 1856, who was the first from that family to live on property on Reservoir Road at the foot of Bays Mountain.

John Nelson had six children with Lizzy Ella Easley, whom he married in 1878. One of those children was Samuel Patton Steadman. When John Nelson died, the property – part of which belonged to Easleys – was divided three ways and Samuel ended up with a share.

Robert Nathan “Bob” Steadman was born in the shadow of Bays Mountain in 1930 to Samuel and Ocia Ethel (Ketron) Steadman. Bob was nicknamed “tail light” because he was the youngest of 11 children and was always bringing up the rear.

Bob spent his early years on the land. “He farmed it,” Bob said of his father. “We had cattle, hogs, horses, chickens, geese, turkey, sheep. Back then you raised everything you ate except sugar and coffee. We raised corn, wheat, cane for molasses. We had a big vegetable garden. We had apples at that time.

Bob remembers his mother slicing apples and laying them on the barn roof to dry.

“She used apples every way possible. She would dry the apples on the roof of the barn. Let the sun dry them. They’d lay there for two or three days,”, he said.

The house had four bedrooms to sleep the family of 13, and they slept on feather beds in the winter and straw tick during summers.

“Mother was a big quilter. Wasn’t any material went to waste at my house,”, he said.

Some of Bob’s older siblings attended the one-room Bays Mountain School, often referred to as the Piney Flats School and constructed, according to some sources, as early as the late 1700s. The schoolhouse was moved around 1915 to accommodate construction of the dam that created the city of Kingsport’s reservoir. Other of Bob’s siblings attended Horse Creek Academy, located near the present-day Glen Alpine United Methodist Church.

During the early years of Eastman Chemical Co., logging took place on and around Bays Mountain for the purpose of producing wood alcohol.

“Eastman ran a railroad parallel to Reservoir Road to Beech Creek to haul timber into Eastman,” Bob said. “They ran a spur line into our farm and on over to the next-door farm. A spur line is not the main line. It’s an off-line that goes up and dead ends.”

The line is long gone from the Steadman property.

“I never remember it being in there. It was in there before my time,” Bob said.

When Bob was 8, the family moved to the Sullivan Gardens area, where the children attended Sullivan High School and Samuel had opened a country store. Bob still lives in Sullivan Gardens, but two of his three sons are back on the farm.

When Samuel died in 1964, he left 120 acres. Bob bought out the other heirs, and the oldest of his three sons, Joe, has lived in the original homestead since 1978. Son Jeff built a log house on the property in 1988.

For 20 years, Joe’s water came from the spring, located about 900 feet from the house.

Though Bays Mountain Park has no property belonging to Steadmans, it is home to the Harry V. Steadman Mountain Heritage Farmstead, named for Bob’s late brother.

Harry, born in 1917, was an original member of the Bays Mountain Park Commission who wanted future generations to understand more fully what life was like on Bays Mountain near the turn of the century. The farmstead was dedicated in 1989, a year after Harry’s death.

Now retired, Bob spends most of his days back at his birthplace, helping Joe maintain the family property.

“It was a wonderful life, really looking back on it,”, he said.

Kingsport Times-News - Aug. 31, 2008
Kingsport Times-News – Aug. 31, 2008