A common thread in Madison County’s culture, its economy and its history is agriculture. The tools may change. The people come and go. The structures rise and fall. But the process of harvesting and raising plants and animals to nourish people lives on.
Agriculture is the fiber of this county’s identity.
This week, the Madison County Journal spoke with four people who have some perspective on life in Madison County in bygone years and how agriculture shaped their experience:
Ed Adams has worked over the years to maintain his Madison County family homes off Minish Road: the one he grew up in, which was built around 1914, and the much older house in the nearby pasture, which sits on a stone foundation.
That house was built by John Adams, who is buried on the land, which has remained in the Adams family since the 1830s. In 1835, Adams and his wife, Loudicie, moved from Pickens, S.C., to Madison County. He was 33 and she was 18 and they had two children, with another on the way. A milk cow pulled a big barrel, which was packed full of their possessions. When the barrel started wearing out, the couple would stop at willow trees and cut new strips to bind it.
For nearly two years, the family lived in a brush arbor or tent, while John hauled timbers and smoothed by hand the wide boards to build their home. When supplies ran short, John traveled all the way to Augusta, one of the closest big towns, to the store.
Ed Adams says many people living in the area today have some family tie to John Adams, whose headstone indicates that he lived to the ripe age of 103.
“I don’t know (how many descendants there are),” said Adams. “But there are people sometimes that want to come look at the graveyard and say ‘These were my ancestors.’ Well, it’s news to me.”
Adams said the life of John and Loudicie Adams was certainly tough. He marvels at how John managed to construct the cabin, which has stood for over 175 years.
“They (the logs) cut at an angle where they lock together and how he (John) got that stuff up there is beyond me,” said Adams.
Those on the Adams property have seen significant changes over the past 175 years. Now, Adams’ 8-year-old granddaughter enjoys free time playing “Minecraft” on a Kindle Fire. It’s a far cry from Ed Adams’ days as a young child, when he spent summer days barefoot and the family got by without a car, TV, running water or electricity.
His earliest memories include milking cows before being picked up by bus for elementary school in the old Ila school house.
“I remember when I got old enough, one of my duties was to go milk every morning before I went to school,” said Adams. “So I had to go, the cow was usually there. And I had to feed her and milk her and bring the milk back to the house and get ready for school.”
Once that milk was inside, his mother got to work.
“She strained it and put it in a churn,” said Adams. “Some of it she saved for sweet milk. A lot of it she put in a churn to make buttermilk. And it sat pretty close to the heater until it clabbered. Then you had to sit there with a little dasher and churn it up and down until the butter separated from the milk. Then you got the butter off the top. The rest of it was buttermilk.”
After school, Adams helped take care of the family’s cows, chickens and pigs, and also picked cotton — a job he doesn’t miss. He shakes his head with some disgust.
“You’ve never lived until you had to go to the cotton patch and dig out the grass and pick cotton,” he said.
Ed’s father, Roy, was one of the first chicken farmers in the area, putting up a chicken house in the early 50s.
“When we built the first chicken house, it had 2,000 chickens in it, which was unheard of in that day,” he said.
Adams remembers the feed trucks bringing food for the chickens in cloth sacks. Those sacks were used to make family clothes.
“They were soft,” said Adams of the sacks. “So my mother would take the seams out and open them up, wash them and then she sold a lot of them. People would buy them to make shirts or dresses, whatever. And I wore a lot of sack shirts for a while. They had all kind of patterns, stripes and plaid, some flowers, whatever.”
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