On Friday I helped transplant about 100 chestnut seedlings on a farm in a
rather remote area of Unicoi County, TN, which is just north of Asheville on
modern Interstate 26, but in the old days this was really backwoods country.
The field was only 32 miles from my house in Asheville — almost all by
interstate highway now. So this was a much easier drive for me than for
any member of the Tennessee chapter.
This is land long owned by the Tilson family, and it's just off Tilson
And it's got a neat story behind it that connects backwoods Tennessee with
John Quillin Tilson of this family managed to enroll at Yale University in
the late 1800's, and wound up as Majority Leader of the US House of
Representatives as a Congressman from Connecticut. He retired to New
Hampshire, where his descendants still live, but he requested to be buried
back on the family farm in the mountains of Tennessee. Here's his biography
One of his descendants, an elderly lady from New Hampshire, drove all the
way down to North Carolina to attend the Chestnut Saturday event at
Cataloochee Ranch last fall, where she got to see the beautiful chestnut
orchard there. And she asked her sons to plant a chestnut orchard on the
family farm in Tennessee.
So my helpers in the planting were all from New England — two from New
Hampshire and two from Maine! In the attached photo, Ken (far left) and
John (far right) Murray are the New Hampshire guys, and Ryan Hawkins and his
grandmother Kay in the middle are from Hartford, Maine. Ryan is finishing
college in Portland, ME, and Kay grew up on a dairy farm there. Ryan and
Kay's “Down East” accents were very strong to my southern ears.
And then, to add to the fun, the caretaker of the farm showed up with his
kids — all with equally strong East Tennessee accents (example: a chicken
lays “aigs” in East Tennessee!)
It makes for a good chestnut story.