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Old Tisdale House In North Barren Steeped in History


This is an abstract of an article of unknown source. Cited by Michelle Gorin Burris in Barren’s Black Roots Volume 2, Submitted by Sandi K. Gorin, Gorin Genealogical Publishing, (c) Aug 1992.


First a description of the house:


The Tisdale house was originally owned by a white Tisdale family, well known for lavish entertaining. The old house was built of logs, weather boarded and built low on the ground; there were two very large rooms on the first floor and two in the half-store above stairs, each having its own staircase; there were few windows with small panes; the doors were low but very wide. A huge chimney stood at each end of the house, one each side of which upstairs were small windows and the family room down stairs was the sewing window. The chimneys downstairs had great cavernous-looking fireplaces, each of which would hold a half-wagon load of wood at a time. The slaves, many belonging to this family, were kept busy cutting and carrying food for their ever devouring mouths, when the winter winds howled and moaned around the house and seemed to play a sad, plaintive requiem in the branches of the leafless trees nearby and passed over the hill with that particular soughing sound so productive of sleep. In these fireplaces stood great, tall brass “dog-irons”, which ever shown as though just polished.


In the summer, these same fireplaces were decorated with great bunches of asparagus boughs intertwined with the darker green of the cedar. These people have their out-of-doors living room, but it was not so called. The long, summer evenings were delightfully spent as they sat beneath the full-leafed trees, through which the gentle harvest moon looked down as if pronouncing a benediction upon the scene. The soft notes of the fiddle and banjo could be hard from the nearby slave cabins and not infrequently the musical voices as they sang their weird, uncanny songs. Surrounding this house were stately oak trees, the never omitted locust, a magnificent hickory, in which “Old Hundred,” the pea-fowl of enormous age roosted and gave warning of anyone’s approach, and two cedars, one of which was almost covered with a trumpet vine.


Close by was the never-failing orchard in which were wring-jaws, maiden’s-bush, horse-apple, cheese apple, janet, limbertwi? And many other of the old time favorites. There was a row of cherry trees, where the blue jays and the blackbirds held wonderful feasts when the fruit came to perfection. Two very large bell-pears stood just at the entrance to the old garden; there were plums and damson trees in profusion. Around the yard and garden was a split-paling fence. Instead of a gate to enter the yard, there was an old-fashioned stile-block, the most delightful and tempting place in the world to pause and rest, especially if they were lovers. Some thirty, or forty feet from the house, there were a cluster of one-story log houses, which held the dining room and kitchen, so placed for fear of fire. The farther back were the slave quarters, from which almost any time, day or night, one could hear “The Old Ark Is A Moving” or some similar song.


After time has passed:


Death played its part; new houses were built of brick or frame; many conveniences were necessary after the freeing of the slaves and living conditions had to be re-adjusted. The Tisdale House finally became a tenant house where the Negroes lived.


The horrible scourge:


Next, the greatest blow of all befell it – a great scourge of that, then most dreaded of all diseases, small-pox, swept the country; the Negroes in the Tisdale House became its victims; it was quarantined; no one was allowed, or wanted to go near the house; all its inmates had the loathsome disease, except one, Jim White, a great, burley giant of a Negro. He waited upon the sick and by himself buried the dead. The white neighbors arranged to place food and medicine at a certain place, then leave and Jim would come for it. Among the number who died was Jim’s wife. No one could come to his assistance, so he dug a grave in the edge of the nearby field, wrapped her in a blanket and carried her in his arms to the grave in which he placed her and shoveled the earth back in place. So he did with the others who died. For a number of years these graves were marked with common Barren rocks, but the woodland was clear up the plow and harrow passed over the graves and they were lost. After the scourge passed, the old house fell into disrepute; everybody was afraid some germ of small-pox might linger there still. Then the doors, windows and floor were taken away and tobacco housed there; the chimneys soon followed in the desecration; all outbuildings were torn away and a thicket of locust trees grew up around the lonely old house, once the scene of so much happiness and such lavish hospitality. Bats, owls and snakes made it their home. Then Dr. White, its owner died; the land changed hands and it became the property of Mr. P. L. Terry, Cave City; the old house was razed and today, no one would ever know a house had ever stood here, where once was the center of much of the social life of Northern Barren County. Many ghost stories clustered around the house and the cave a short distance away. All the actors in the life of the place have gone West and only tradition and a few memories remain of the once delightful old house.