The Okefenokee Swamp was strangely silent last Saturday. The only sound was a pinecone dropping from a towering conifer, first snagging in the filmy Spanish moss, then ricocheting off the tin roof like a shot. No gators bellowed their mating song; even the raucous woodpeckers seemed reserved.
But 75 years ago at this homestead in Georgia, the air was filled with the sounds of children playing, chickens cackling, and dogs barking. People bustled about attending to the everyday chores that go with rural farm living … in a swamp.
After our up-close-and-personal encounter with one of the resident alligators, we took the pine-needle covered path, bordered by a split rail fence, leading to the Chesser Island Homestead.
When we emerged in the clearing, a simple board-and-batten cottage stood, surrounded by a crude picket fence set on white sand that mimicked snow.
Tom and Iva Chesser spent $200 to build this rustic cabin in 1927, on an island surrounded by the swamp. They raised their large family here; then moved on in 1958 and the house became part of the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge. In those 30 years they never had electricity.
“The Chessers were a rugged family, carving out a life in the often harsh conditions of the area. Their history is typical of many area settlers; they ate what they could shoot, trap, catch and grow on the sandy soil. Cash crops were primarily sugar cane, tobacco, and turpentine. They lived simply, worked hard, and played hard, when possible.” –Wikipedia
As we entered the farmhouse it took a while for our eyes to adjust to the low light in the simple parlor, where forked branches served as hatracks.
It was like stepping back in time, reminding us of childhood visits with our grandparents. The house had that country feel; you could almost smell the bread baking in the oven, knowing there would be cousins and puppies to play with in the yard.
Doorway after doorway lead to tidy bedrooms where beds were draped in colorful quilts fashioned by loving hands from old shirts and dresses.
It takes plenty of beds to handle a family with 7 kids!
Finally, as we made our way to the back of the cabin, we discovered the heart of the home, the kitchen. The wood stove held center stage, flanked by the massive dining table and green pie safe (my personal fave)! My grandmother was a world-class pie baker and I spent many a day gazing into the depths of her pastry cupboard, longing for a bite of cherry or blackberry.
And this improvised newspaper “shoo fly” helped to keep flies off the food!
The finishing touch was the screened back porch that housed the pump … and the family bathtub! The Chessers were livin’ large!
The Chesser Homestead was a good reminder that as much as I value simple living, I also treasure my creature comforts.
I just heard from my cousin Anita that my Grandmother in Indiana (the awesome pie baker) had the same print of the little girl beside the hatrack. Anita now has it. I knew there was something so familiar about that scene, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. It truly is a small world!
Off the grid for a while,
This post is part of our “Slice of Americana Series” for July.