FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Nov. 7, 2008
CONTACT: Caneta Hankins, 615-898-2947
PROGRAM HONORS McBEE FARM AS KNOX COUNTY’S 1st PIONEER CENTURY FARM
223-Year-Old McBee Farm Recognized for Agricultural Contributions
(MURFREESBORO)—The McBee Farm in Knox County has been designated as a Tennessee Pioneer Century Farm, reported Caneta S. Hankins, director of the Century Farms Program at the Center for Historic Preservation, which is located on the MTSU campus.
Pioneer Century Farms are a new category of the program that further recognizes farms that were founded prior to or in the year 1796 when Tennessee became a state.
“The farms that have been designated Pioneer Century Farms are among the most significant historic places in the state,” Hankins explained, “and the founders and heirs of these family farms represent the pioneer spirit of the state and nation.”
In 1785, Col. John Sawyers of Augusta County, Va., established a farm about 12 miles east of Knoxville. A veteran of the Battle of King’s Mountain, where he served in a regiment commanded by Capt. Isaac Shelby, Sawyers used his wealth and military reputation to gain political prominence in Knox County. He served as a justice of peace, a position appointed by Gov. William Blount in 1796. Sawyers also served as a militia commander and a Knox County representative in the Tennessee House of Representatives. Married to Rebecca Crawford, Sawyers was the father of 10 children.
In 1831, one of the sons, William Sawyers, inherited 333 of the family land and by the following year, 1832, he had built the first portion of the extant family home. Although later remodeled in the 20th century, the dwellings retain several original features, especially the original hard-carved walnut stair rail of the staircase. According to a survey of extant Knox County architecture, it may have been the first Greek Revival-influenced dwelling in the county and was probably one of the finest frame houses built in the county before 1850.
In addition to farming, William was a miller and had a gristmill that he operated just east of his house from about 1840 to 1945. He wed Elizabeth Cassady and they had seven children.
The third owners of the farm were Nancy Ellen Sawyers and husband G. C. McBee. McBee was locally noted as a Greek and Latin scholar and served in the Confederate Army during the Civil War. In 1890, the couple’s daughter, Sallie Bell McBee, became the owner. Allie McBee’s capable management of both the land and mill kept the farm in operation during learn years and provided the framework of 20th century improvements and modernization by son Walter and grandson Charles McBee.
Sallie’s son, Walter McBee, eventually became the sole owner of the property in the 1930s. He was the first in the family to embrace the progressive agriculture movement and left his mark on the landscape. Accepting the advice of extension agents, he planted burley tobacco and built an extant burley tobacco barn. He later launched the family’s dairy business in the 1930s and modernized the family home in 1957. At that
time, Walter was planning for his retirement as a farmer and as a rural mail carrier for 30 years. The remodeling of the circa-1890 kitchen wing into a modern kitchen, utility room, bathroom and garage later was cited in the January/February 1961 issue of The Business of Farming as a model example of modernizing farm living.
After Walter McBee retired from active farming, son Charles McBee began managing the property. As a graduate of the agricultural program at the University of Tennessee, Charles was eager to implement new farming ideas and expand the farm’s dairy production. He worked with advisers from the University of Tennessee Extension Service, and then in 1966 the McBee Farm became one of the first six family farms in Tennessee to become part of the UT-TVA Rapid Adjustment farm-demonstration program. The program used computers to better monitor production costs and outcomes. Charles eventually built on his successful experience with the program to become an acknowledged leader of the dairy industry in Tennessee.
In the late 1970s, McBee became board chairman of the American Dairy Association in Tennessee. By the 1980s, he served on the boards of the Knox County Farm Bureau and the Knox County Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Committee and was the president of the Knox County Farmer’s Co-op. Today, Betty McBee Sloan, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Walter McBee and sister to Charles, lives in the 19th century farmhouse, her brother noted.
“The McBee Farm is one of the six certified Tennessee Century Farms in Knox County and the only ‘Pioneer Century Farm’ in the county,” Hankins confirmed.
About the Century Farms Program
The Century Farms Program recognizes the contributions of Tennessee residents who have continuously owned, and kept in production, family land for at least 100 years. Since 1984, the CHP at MTSU has been a leader in the important work of
documenting Tennessee’s agricultural heritage and history through the Tennessee Century Farm Program, and continues to administer this program.
The Tennessee Department of Agriculture began the Tennessee Century Farm Program in 1976 as part of the nation’s bicentennial. Today, the TDA provides a metal outdoor sign denoting either 100, 150 or 200 years of “continuous agricultural production” to Century Farm families.
To be considered for eligibility, a farm must be owned by the same family for at least 100 years; must produce $1,000 revenue annually; must have at least 10 acres of the original farm; and one owner must be a resident of Tennessee.
“The Century Farmers represent all the farm families of Tennessee,” Hankins said, “and their contributions to the economy, and to the social, cultural and agrarian vitality of the state, both past and present, is immeasurable. Each farm is a Tennessee treasure.”
For more information about the Century Farms Program, please visit its Web site at http://histpres.mtsu.edu/histpres. The Center for Historic Preservation also may be contacted via mail at Box 80, MTSU, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 37132, or by telephone at 615-898-2947.
ATTENTION, MEDIA: To interview the farm’s owner or request jpegs of the farm, please contact the CHP directly at 615-898-2947.