Reminders of What Once Was at a Place Called Mossy Springs

Joseph Stephens

On the last day of May in 2015, as a gentle off and on rain fell upon the tin roof of an open air shelter, a window into times past opened at a place called Mossy Springs. While seated in the picturesque setting, overlooking the clearing near the spring from which the sacred place takes its name, time seemed to come to halt and at times flow backwards-to the time before “the move”- to the time before the “water came up”.

Former residents and descendants of those who rest beneath the soil at Mossy Springs and numerous cemeteries scattered about the depopulated area meet twice a year to renew the ties of kinship and neighborliness, to remember generations who lived and died on the now forsaken land as well as the old, the young, and everyone in-between who was uprooted, disposed, and dispersed in conjunction with the Tennessee Valley Authority's first project.

The phrases “the move” and “when the water came up” were familiar phrases to them and continue to resonate among their descendants. Of course, the water never came up to Mossy Springs, but I suspect that the large flow of water that opens from the side of a ridge and reenters the earth at the bottom of a deep sink hole, empties again somewhere beneath the surface of Norris Reservoir.

On a day that descendants outnumbered former residents at Mossy Springs, little imagination was required to recreate the one room school upon its stone foundation, behind the circular steps as Flonze Sorey, only eight years old at the time of “the move”, shared stories of his schooldays at Mossy Springs. As Sorey remembered his classmates, some of the older boys must have been practically grown but trailing far behind their chronological age academically. I strongly suspect that many of them had been held out of school at critical times to perform essential farm work for their families-an all too common social ill of the times. Sorey also recalled that the one room structure was transformed into two classrooms by a curtain drawn across the floor.

Sorey's childhood memories before the move also include the tragic death of his young niece, Joan Arlene Boruff, is a house fire near the adjoining community of Privy Flats.

Unlike Mossy Springs, Privy Flats is mostly, if not completely submerged beneath the waters of Norris Reservoir. As youth my brother and I, snickered at the mention of Privy Flats. According to my Grandmother's cousin. Mary Bolinger Snodderly, the community was named for a plant, but practically anything involving privies is funny to young boys.

The strong clear spring from which Mossy Springs took its name never runs dry and served a practical purpose for the pioneers and successive generations. Later captured in a series of at least two tanks, it provided water for a Civilian Conservation Corps camp in between the time of “the move” and the Second World War. Obviously, the spring continues to be fertile in nutrients that facilitate the growth of moss as much of the lower tank is covered in thick moss.

Descendants continue to return for a drink or to cool their hands and splash their faces with refreshing water on hot days. Others come from a distance to bottle up water from the spring to take home for consumption.

The picnic area at Mossy Springs is one of my favorite places to go for contemplation and prayer much as the pioneers must have done years ago. The surroundings have an unworldly air about them. Perhaps therein is a place where angels ascend and descend such as Jacob of old dreamed in the 28 the chapter of Genesis. In the seventeenth verse we read that Jacob declared that “this is the gate of heaven.” Years ago, when I was a student at Cumberland College, a long-neglected spot, behind Johnson Hall, known as the Garden of Gethsemane, was said to be a place where angels ascend and descend.

Before the move, one church building set across the glen from the spring below the largest burial ground at Mossy Springs. Another was on out the ridge from the spring near the McCarty Cemetery. The steps to the second church in the woods nearby are also remain as a reminder of what was once at a place called Mossy Springs.

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