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- This time on "Tennessee Crossroads", we highlight the works of a Middle Tennessee stone carver, then venture across the Mississippi state line to explore the legendary Borroum's Drug Store. We'll visit an Italian Inn, in Hickman, Tennessee. And finally just in time for Halloween, we'll explore the supposedly haunted Brushy Mountain Prison. Hi everybody, I'm Joe Elmore, welcome again to another "Tennessee Crossroads". Our first story this time is about an award winning stone artist who also considers himself to be a storyteller. Well, actually he lets the rocks do most of the talking. Like his father and grandfather before him, his motto is let the stone speak. Miranda Cohen introduces us to stone carver Charlie Hunt. - [Miranda] Since 1928, the Hunt family has been known for their highly skilled and exquisite stone memorials. Creating loving, and lasting legacies for nearly a century. Charlie Hunt is the 3rd generation to run the family business, but was the first to pick up a hammer and was certainly not guaranteed a job. - I don't think you grow up saying, "I wanna be a tombstone maker." My dad made me apply and interview and he asked me if I had any experience, and I said, "Dad, I've been driving the truck for three or four years." He said, "I know and you're horrible truck driver." And so I started, and I worked my way through the shop. Swinging a hammer, carving stone intrigued me. - [Miranda] While Hunt's father and grandfather were astute businessmen, Charlie was the first to show a real artistic talent for design and hands on carving. - We had a really good carver named Sam Dorsey who'd come through the depression, and he would let me watch him carve, and I needed some extra money 'cause my dad was paying me what I was worth, and so I started doing an art show here and there, started out making birdbaths, and so it just grew. - [Miranda] And grow it did. Charlie Hunt unique, one of a kind birdbaths became in demand, quickly selling out. - I got titled the birdbath man for years, I don't know that I'll ever shake it. - [Miranda] And Hunt, who prefers to be thought of as a Carver rather than a sculptor says often the most challenging part is picking up the hammer and staying out of the way. - Isamu Noguchi who was a Japanese sculptor, he said, "Let the stone be the stone." And I think what he was saying was just kind of follow it a little bit. I'm a stone Carver, not a sculptor, sculptors are, God makes sculptures. I can teach you be a stone Carver. I remember I had a young fellow kind of looking over my shoulder, learning the carving everything, and he said one day as we were carving, he goes, "Where's the head?" And I said, "I don't know it hadn't turned up yet, "but it's in there somewhere." Early on, I tried to control it, now not so much. I want the stone to kind of remain the stone. I see some sculptors and they twist and turn, marble and polish, and do all this, that's just not me. - [Miranda] In fact, Hunt does teach stone carving, the way he learned it, the old fashioned way, in a series of classes, he calls the school of hard rocks. - I teach this workshop, our motto is don't take a giant step backwards because I think that for me, that's the root of it all. - Alright, Charlie a classic owl here. - [Miranda] Now Charlie is passing along the tricks of the family trade to his sons. The 4th generation Hunts are helping the business branch out, but the family values remain the same. Charlie even found himself repeating his father's words to his oldest son. - [Charlie] Did you want to get a job? And he said, "Well, I don't know how to do anything." I said, "Well, that's just it about job, "if you do something, nobody knows how to do "or something nobody wants to do you'll have steady work." So we decided he'd sell driftwood. - [Miranda] And just like that, the works he calls Sticks and Stones took off. Harvesting driftwood, drying it out, and then coxing its natural beauty to be revealed. Then meticulously mounting it on granite. - [Charlie] These wood pieces come from little rivers in Tennessee. People will ask me, I'll tell them "Did you do those?" And I'll say, "No, actually God did them, "but I am a Southeast distributor." - You will know you have an authentic piece of Charlie Hunt's work when you see the initials, J W H. Those aren't his initials, he signs every piece with his grandfather's initials for John William Hunt. For Charlie Hunt, stone carving is more than a family business, it is in his blood, his work ethic is chiseled in stone, and a beloved family heirloom that is under his watch to pass on. - [Charlie] My granddad used to say, "You can build a reputation for 90 years "and run it in about a month." So it's critical that we give it our best effort every day, and so I've always approached it that way, and I think he would appreciate that. - Thanks Miranda. Despite our name, sometimes the road we travel crosses a state line, In this case, Mississippi, a few miles South into the town of Corinth. And I'm glad we did, it was more like time travel and highway travel, all thanks to the old time charm of a 7th generation family attraction. - [Joe] Founded at 1853, Corinth has been called Mississippi's gateway city, due to its location in the Northeast corner of a state. It's got a town square that's loaded with history, including our destination, which is across from the Alcorn County Courthouse. Established in 1865, Borroum's is the oldest family owned drug store and fountain in the state. A step back in time, well, that's an understatement. With its art deco bar, antique soda fountain and original showcases, it's also a museum of local history, a gathering spot and a destination for far away visitors. - We've had people from everywhere. Everywhere you can think of somebody come through here and we often wonder how they find this place, but they do, it's amazing. - [Joe] That's Lex Borroum Mitchell, a 5th generation to operate this remarkable downtown landmark. The first two family owners were doctors, AJ Borroum and his son JA Borroum. Then came gen three, James, followed by Lex's mother Camille who still works here occasionally as a pharmacist. All the Borroums apparently loved history, the walls are filled with artifacts that include an assortment of civil war guns and rifles, hundreds of American Indian arrowheads, mostly from nearby Pickwick Lake and early photos of life at downtown Corinth. - [Lex] That's a lot of old medicine over there that they've mama or some of them have kept over the years, and so you can look back at it like Pluto Water, you know-- - [Joe] What was that? - A laxative, and a quinine, and then she got a quinine bottle over there, but there's a lot of interesting stuff in there, which we don't know much about. - [Joe] How about this 1926 model cash registered that still works. No doubt the most popular and busiest attraction is the soda fountain. Now when's the last time you had a fountain drink with syrup and soda water? Or a handmade fountain milkshake? Those machines are pretty old too. - [Lex] Oh, those things I've got a bunch I got probably 30, 40 of them. Some they date back to the 40s, some of them, I've got some in the late 30s. Most of the ones I've got work, the winding goes bad in them, what typically happens to them and I have to send them off, and then, you wonder, "Well, I wonder if it was really worth $200 "to get the toy rewound." - [Joe] Get this in 2010, Lex had the vintage fountain disassembled and shipped out for a complete restoration. - Well, I wanted to keep it. We wanted to keep the history here, we wanted to keep the soda fountain. Part of this soda fountain dates back to the late '30s, and part of it dates to the early '40s. - [Joe] By noon the place is packed with thirsty and hungry customers. And they can order everything from chicken salad to cheeseburgers. Today's special was cornbread salad, which includes beans, fresh greens and a secret sauce. Whenever they order, they must like it because they keep coming back. - We love it here, we-- - We love, yeah, everything in here-- - The girls call us by our first name, and we'll sit down and talk to us and we just, we enjoying it, it's a real good family atmosphere, you get to talk politics and nobody gets my mad. - [Joe] Did you know that Corinth is home to a legendary sandwich called the slugburger. Yeah, this is a Borroum's store menu item you gotta try at least once. - It started during the depression, and they did that because the meat was so high they put a substitute in there, like soybean meal or whatever they put in it, as an extender, I guess you'd call it. And it's deep fried and it doesn't have a lot of meat in it. The one we've got it got pork in it, but it's pretty good. Most people eat it with mustard, onion, and pickle. - They're good, they're cheap, They're like different than a cheeseburger. I liked the texture of 'em. - [Joe] Do some newcomers and wonder about that name? - Oh, they do, they do, but it didn't have anything to do with snails, and that's what they come for, some of them will come here just to try the slugburger. - Well, here it is the onions, pickle, slugburger, it's time for initiation. It's good. By the way, two other generations are involved in the family business, Lex's daughter, Leslie is here full time, her brother Alex pitches in when he's not running his construction company, and then there's 11 year old Lexi, who is quickly learning the ropes of the soda fountain. Borroum's Drug Store is a bonafide historical landmark, still thriving, still a family tradition that just possibly could endure another century and a half. - I would hope so, but you know, you can't ever tell. Yeah, but I would hope so. Yeah, I think it will. - Well, do you love to travel? What's your favorite destination, Hawaii, Paris, Italy? Well, the love of the Italian countryside, Tuscany to be exact, is the subject of our next story. Cindy Carter meets a couple of retired teachers who got together to create a little Tuscany in Tennessee. - [Cindy] Smith County Tennessee is home to some pretty dazzling scenery. With its beautiful sloping hills and countryside, a place where you can close your eyes and think to yourself, "Ah, feels just like I'm in Italy." At least that's what these ladies are hoping you'll think. - It's very Tuscan themed, I've got a vineyard for people to look at, that's part of it. - [Cindy] Tamara Hassel and Esther Zaccone are the proud owners of this Italian inspired inn, they call Tuscany Inn Tennessee. - There's just something about looking up and going 36 acres and we own it, it's ours, that land is ours, it's just kind of just a really good feeling. - [Cindy] Since opening their doors in 2014, these best friends have worked in tandem to entertain their guests in an atmosphere that reflects Tuscany's Chianti region. - We have some guests and they would like some pasta bolognese and we have our famous bolognese sauce that we make. I'm going to chop some garlic. - [Cindy] From the food, to the wine, to the guest rooms with a view, creating this cozy inn didn't happen overnight. - And I'm putting the right amount of pepperoni, I'm not going to skimp like you do. - [Cindy] This partnership started after Esther moved from New Jersey to Florida where she met Tamara in church. - Actually at first we did not like each other that much. - [Esther] We actually did not at all. - Despite first impressions, the ladies eventually became friends. They even wound up teaching at the same school in Tampa, where they spent a lot of time in the teacher's lounge dreaming about retirement. - I know it probably sounds cliche, but God just kind of gave me the vision. And he kind of gave her the same vision like a couple months later. And we weren't really sure about where. - [Cindy] And so every summer off they looked for 20 years. - Believe me, it was hard for me especially, thank God she was the level headed one, and I was the one, we'd look at properties and I'm like, "We could do this and make this work." And then her and my realtor were like, "Nope, Nope." - [Cindy] In 2008 Smith County country road led them to an old Tennessee pig farm. - [Tamara] And we walked in and there was stalls, there was original posts and then there were all stalls, and I remember looking around and I just could see it. I'm like we can do something with this. - [Cindy] Turning a ramshackle hugged barn with dirt floors into a livable home takes work, and a lot of friends and family willing to help. - What we basically did is we built an insert into the original barn, and that's more of the facade than everything. Except some of the things are original, like the posts are original. - [Cindy] After the main house was completed, our innkeepers built the two room building that houses their guests. - The large room is grande. - [Cindy] The Grande room, true to its name, sleeps up to seven, has a full kitchen, a loft and access to a private hot tub. Next door is The Piccolo room, an intimate space that includes a fireplace, small kitchen space and sleeps two. - Our 3rd room is The Combo and it sleeps nine people. We have this sliding barn door and it opens up, you slide it open and it helps with the soundproof of the rooms, but this is all soundproofing and this is a fire proof door, and then when you open it up, it goes to our smaller room, The Piccolo. - Guests have full access to the Piazza and fire pit, common areas in the house and this, peace and quiet. - So it's a real good celebration place, and at the same time, very relaxing and rejuvenating. - [Cindy] So, what's the difference between a bed and breakfast and an inn? - We have our welcome gift for you. Welcome to Tuscany Inn Tennessee. - Thank you. - [Cindy] Well, our innkeepers say they don't just offer breakfast, they also offer lunch and dinner at their guests request. Not surprisingly, the menu lists Italian meals with a dash of Tennessee thrown in for good measure. - Uh my, thank you. - Landscape check, Italian inspired cuisine check, but come on, let's face it, when we hear Tuscany, we think of wine. Well the ladies are on it, they've planted 108 grape vines in their vineyard and like everything else, it's been a lot of trial and error. - [Esther] While we may own grapes one year, but they actually turned to vinegar the first year. - [Cindy] The ladies kept at it and believe they got it right this time, with Baco noir and Geneva Red grapes, ripening on the vines, it'll take three to five years for them to be wine ready. - 7:00 o'clock and then take a sip. - [Esther] That's good - [Cindy] Savoring their success, Esther and Tamara may have started out as uneasy acquaintances, but today they literally finish each other's thoughts. - She does the organizing. - I'm real organized fanatic, - Very, very, good - so I'm the organizer. - [Cindy] It may be more than two decades in the design, but this Tuscany Inn Tennessee teacher retirement plan is working out pretty well. - Thanks a lot, Cindy. You don't usually think of a prison as a good vacation destination, especially one like Brushy Mountain State Prison. For more than a century, the worst of the worst criminals were sent there, but of course it was closed in 2009. Now though, it's been reopened, not for inmates, but for visitors. Rob Wilds takes a look at this once infamous lockup. - [Rob] All Brian May knew about prisons was that he had no desire to go to one, then he got his first look at Brushy Mountain. - The first thing that strikes you when you come around the bend and you see it for the first time, is this almost castle like structure, but then it's surrounded by Frozen Head State Park and these mountains that look like they spring up from out of the prison. And it's really difficult to describe until you see it for the first time, it's just absolutely gorgeous, and that's something that we felt like should be seen by as many people as possible. - [Rob] So Brian and his company decided to reopen the prison as a tourist attraction, which includes a museum containing some unusual artifacts. - There's a Bible right here where they've cut the inside out to hide some homemade needle stuff and a homemade weapon and find it interesting that they decided to use Proverbs 10:7 as one of their marking points for the cutout. "The memory of the just is blessed "and the name of the wicked shall rot." That's pretty interesting. - That is interesting, kind of ironic. It's ironic too about the Tennessee code here I guess. - Yeah, there's some cutout Tennessee code here out of a book that holds some drug paraphernalia. - Right above the robbery section. - Yeah, right above the robbery section, which is kind of fitting for this place. - [Rob] The museum has plenty to show, by the time the prison closed in 2009, administrators had collected many artifacts and confiscated even more. - [Brian] When I say we have three or 400 weapons that were made by prisoners, we have three or 400 weapons made by prisoners. They kept everything tubs and tubs and tubs of shanks and shivs and knives and random weapons made out of everything from toothbrushes to parts of beds. You'll see photographs of James Earl Ray, when during his booking process, we've got all the files for him. You'll see log books that go back to the early 1900s. Boots and uniforms and hats, and if you can think of it and it was in this prison over the years, we have it. - [Rob] There's a restaurant here, and the old exercise yard is now a concert venue. - What they would do is you was given one bucket to use the bathroom in and he was getting a bucket of water. And when they put you in that cell and closed that door, that's what you had. - [Rob] What makes the place really interesting is the tour guides, former guards like William Harvey and inmates too like Wayne Davidson, a convicted burglar who first got a taste of the harshness of this prison in 1969. - I remember saying to myself cellmate, once the man gets out of here, they ought to kill him, if he came back to prison, six months later, after getting out, I was in Georgia doing a seven year sentence in the max security prison down there. - [Rob] Wayne spent a total of 32 years in prisons, a big hunk of it at Brushy Mountain. He has vivid memories of the place, going back to the very first meal he was having in the chow hall. - I watched this guy, jumped up with a knife, threatened officers and inmates, he wanted to kill them all. I'm scared, I'm thinking he's a tough guy, And I asked my cellmate, I said, "what's going on?" He say, "Be quiet, I'll tell you when we get in." So later on he told me what the term checking-in in prison meant. That means an inmate was scared he does things on purpose just to get locked up. When you see an inmate do that in front of an officer, he's asking for help. - [Rob] Different views of this place where the most dangerous and most notorious criminals went, criminals like James Earl Ray who murdered Martin Luther King. The tour guides are all part of the story of the place like Debra Williams, who came here to an all male prison in 1980. - The inmates were very respectful, they were just glad to have a young female back here that they could speak to. A lot of the ones that didn't get visits from family and so forth, they were just happy to have a female back here. My big challenge was being accepted by the other officers. Of course, this being a maximum security prison at that time and all the violence that was going on, they felt like it was putting their lives in danger and my life in danger by being back here. - [Rob] Of course, Wayne Davidson, who was imprisoned here for many years has his own view of Brushy. - This here probably's one of the harshest prison I've ever been in, but the guards did run this prison, guards had control of this prison and that made it a little bit safe because really inmates want the guards to be in charge of the prison. They're not going to tell them that, but if you got out of line here, they were straightened up. - [Rob] Whatever side of the bars they were on the floor, prisoners and guards are glad they're getting to share Brushy Mountains history, good and bad with visitors eager to get a glimpse behind the wall. - People are interested and the history of this place, both the atrocities and the good things that happen here, because I like to tell people a lot of the times a prison mirrors society. It's just that all the good things, all the bad things, all the secrets, everything you can think of that happens out in society happens here, but it happens in very, very small confined environment. - [William] There's a lot of good about Brushy, there's some black with Brushy, but there's a lot of red with it too them this prison had a purpose and good or bad, what happened here it served its purpose, what it's meant today. - [Rob] Remembering being enclosed with the worst of the worst Tennessee criminals brings back a nostalgic feeling to William Harvey. - It was like a brotherhood, whether they liked you or disliked you, they took care of you. If you had a fight on a yard and you was attacked, they'd come running, I ain't drones, you never had to worry about yourself, someone always had your back. - [Rob] For Wayne Davidson being back here, telling the stories of his life at Brushy Mountain is well, it's therapeutic. - I remember I used to have dreams, at least twice a week, I have nightmares. But since I've started working here, it's sort of like counseling, just being here and talking to people and telling my story, and I haven't had a nightmare yet. - [Rob] Some of the stories Wayne and the other guides tell may at times disturb the sleep of the visitors who are flocking here, but Brushy Mountain was a prison for better or worse. Now it has a reprieve, a pardon, if you will, and the chance to serve as a reminder of the history of its notorious past. - Well, I can't believe it, but our time is just about up. Only time enough left to remind you of our website, TennesseeCrossroads.org. Of course you can follow us on Facebook. And of course, join me here again next week. We'll see you then.
October 29, 2020
Season 34 | Episode 16
This week on Tennessee Crossroads, Miranda Cohen meets a Nashville stone carver. Joe Elmore ventures across the state line into Mississippi to explore the legendary Borroum's Drug Store. Cindy Carter visits an Italian Inn in Tennessee. Rob Wilds visits Tennessee's notorious Brushy Mountain Prison, which has a new life as a tourist attraction. Join us on Tennessee Crossroads and NPT.