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A VIEW from LICK SKILLET: Lick Skillet has lost a good man: Larry Alford

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By Gerald Largen

Our friend and neighbour, Larry Alford died on Friday, 28 March, 2014. Larry had fought a long and courageous battle for some long time and died way too soon, inasmuch as he was only three days short of his 71st birthday on April First.

Aiding him, assisting him, and nursing him, was his beloved wife and helpmeet, Ruby.

Those of us who have observed this devoted lady can only wonder at her strength and untiring effort which she displayed in taking care of Larry, but which she had also demonstrated for so long during the declining years of Larry’s mother, Thelma, the beloved first lady of Lick Skillet for so many years.

When we first heard of Larry’s death, we thought that this event must be the end of all the original inhabitants still living here who were residents when we first moved into Lick Skillet in 1963.

At the funeral home, we spoke to Larry’s cousin, Harlan “Bud” Thomas, whose place borders ours and is one place over from the original Alford settlement, and Bud confirmed our recollection that Larry was the last survivor living here from when we came, so that we now are the longest residing person here.

These thoughts bring back many memories which we think some of our readers might like to know about inasmuch as the neighbourhood has, like so much of the county, changed dramatically. In 1963, what is now called Bowman Bend Road carried various different names, including the old Knoxville-Nashville highway.

Incredible as it may seem, this narrow, unpaved country lane was for many years the principal east/west highway over which passed stage coaches, dispatch riders, Indian groups, military detachments, westward settlers, etc.; while even more transportation and commerce was moving parallel to the road on the waters of the main channel of the Tennessee River, including for a time steam boats and packet boats which refueled just down and across the river at Hood’s Landing.

Larry’s home with Thelma was at the foot of the hill on which the last producing Roane County peach orchard was located, this being John Bowman’s last orchard, which began just above the joint Bowman/Alford line and ran almost to the top of the hill. In the spring time it was a regular bouquet of pink blossom.

At the time of which we write, the old Casey Ferry Road still ran down to the water’s edge where the ferry once docked to cross over to Hood’s Landing; and on the South side of the road was an old home place bought by Mr. and Mrs. Walt Gary, where they lived at the time; and on the north side a bit westward was the old homeplace of Paul and Rose Alford.

Paul and Bob had inherited the Alford farm and divided it up, with Bob and Thelma taking the western section, and Paul and Rose the eastern.

Rose, being an Eblen, was a descendant of the original John Eblen and thus a cousin of the late Frances (Mrs. Bill) Roberts, Judge Elmer Eblen, Judge E. Eugene Eblen, Trustee Wilma Eblen, and the old curmudgeon, as well as countless others.

Paul and Rose had three sons. Gene, Jack, and Don. Don later moved back to Lick Skillet for some years, but as we recall was not living here when we moved here.

As best we recall, these were the only families living here when we were forced to move from Ash Cabin Hollow/Emory Gap, by the building of Interstate 40, which took our homeplace there. However, the Schuitens built their home and moved in very soon thereafter, not far from the Garys.

To the north there was a small house owned by Alice Corley which she used as a weekend cottage, with her prime residence being in Oak Ridge.
Later, of course, she built a splendid house especially suited to her love of entertaining, which she did virtually until the day of her death.

The only other residence to the north on the road before the Brown Ellis settlement was the old Captain Allison house, lived in by his daughter, Ethel Mae Bates and her husband. As we heard the story, the Captain, who captained steamboats on the Tennessee for years, chose the site for his home on this bluff in a bend in the river so that he could see the boats as they steamed both up river and down. We also understood that for years his fellow captains never failed to salute their colleague by sounding their whistle when they approached his house on the bluff. The Allison farm was later subject to a partition lawsuit in chancery court and sold, at which Millard Oakley bid it in and later subdivided it into Lake Forrest and Allison Woods, where many homes are now located.

Much of the land on the west side of the road to the intersection with what is now called Bluff Road was planted out in trees for sale at Kent McClain’s Nursery. (Incidentally, it was due to Mr. McClain’s overplanting the then-new Bradford pear trees and being unable to sell them until they had grown too big to transplant that all these hills and hollows are abloom this week with “volunteer” seedlings from these original trees. The Bradfords are a hybrid and so the seeds of the little pears reproduce the various parentage from the original lines used in the hybridization. So, some are big, some are little, some are erect, some are weeping, etc., but all have the fault of splitting at the crotch as they age.)

To the south there was only the John Bowman homeplace and one or two tenant houses, inasmuch as all the land downriver from the Alford holdings belonged to Mr. Bowman, all the way to Caney Ford. His son John Owenby Bowman, known to all as “Hoss,” later subdivided and sold the property, and it is now covered in houses.

One feature of our community that some find unique is the fact that our mail comes from Harriman; our electricity comes from Rockwood; our telephone comes from Kingston; and our water, now that we have it, comes from Midtown. Thus, Lick Skillet Flats may be considered the most representative area of Roane County that exists.

Since the time of which we reminisce, two dozen or more families have built homes and moved into our neighbourhood and become part of our diverse community. But there is one characteristic of our community that we found when we first came here, and that as far as we know is still here in full force, and that is the strong feeling of cohesion and community. Not unlike Monsieur Dumas’ Musketeers, we are all for one, and one for all, and Larry Alford personified that feeling on the first day that we met him, and we felt that he continued to personify that feeling on the last day that we saw him. And from all we have see from his off-spring, we will be able to rely upon that strong community spirit as long as an Alford continues to live in Lick Skillet Flats, even into generations yet unborn.