Wineka column: The mysterious fork of Rowan County's Mount Vernon

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 16, 2012

WOODLEAF — This is not your average fork in the road. More to the point, the fork came from under a house, a place you probably have heard of — Mount Vernon.
No, not George Washington’s Mount Vernon. This Mount Vernon off Cool Springs Road used to be the focal point of a Scotch-Irish community that included a store, the Rock Hill Academy and a flour mill.
Mount Vernon had the first electricity in these parts and, for awhile, the only telephone. The home’s front hall served as the Mount Vernon post office — Rowan County’s second oldest — from 1821 to 1908.
During the Revolutionary War and before Mount Vernon was built, Lord Cornwallis camped in a grove of trees where the old springhouse is today.
Though it’s a quiet piece of country now amid the spreading shade trees, Mount Vernon once was the backdrop to horse races, fairs, festivals, dances and picnic suppers that made up the social life here.
The late Jeanette “Miss Nettie” Current lived at Mount Vernon mostly her whole life, and she taught generations at Woodleaf School.
She once said of Mount Vernon: “People were coming and going all the time. Mom never knew who to expect for supper or how many.”
Those were the real days of social networking.
But back to the fork.
Centuries old
Brad Hartle and Mike Butler found the wooden fork one day last week, and they figure it has to be close to 200 years old.
It was immersed in dirt being scooped out from under the house in efforts to give the men, who work for contractor Al Wilson, more crawling room.
They are handling the major stabilization work going on under Mount Vernon — a dirty, exhausting enterprise that should even out floors and give the historic home a sound base for the next 100 or 200 years.
The men found the fork near a chimney on the north side of the house. It looks to be hand-carved out of cedar or heart pine.
As Hartle and Butler have held and inspected the fork, they’ve made up stories to go with it. They picture the men who were building the house, sitting on the joists they are now replacing and eating their lunches.
One of the men dropped his fork near the fireplace and forgot to retrieve it. It was lost for good when the flooring went in.
Sounds plausible.
Other finds
The fork has three good tines left and a broken fourth one. Butler says he would like to take a crack at carving a replica, just to see how difficult and time-consuming it might have been.
The neat thing about working with old houses, Butler says, is never knowing what you might find left behind by others. Open up a wall, and you might come across a half-eaten sandwich — or a fork, he says.
Butler and Hartle have found other, less interesting things under Mount Vernon, such as pieces of glass and pottery.
“Of course, anything we find during the course of work is the owners’ — except the gold,” Wilson says, smiling.
Clark Current and his wife, Jane, live in the house, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Current connection
The Current family has owned Mount Vernon since 1898, starting with Clark’s great-grandfather, Richard. Three Currents own the house now: Clark, Anthony and Richard, though the latter two live elsewhere.
While most histories have put Mount Vernon’s construction as starting in 1817 and ending in 1822, Current says he has found some records suggesting the construction period may have been 1814-1819.
In the past, the house has been a Rowan County stop on the annual OctoberTour of homes, sponsored by Historic Salisbury Foundation. In 1991, the last time it was on the tour, Mount Vernon had 1,367 visitors.
Wilson’s crew is replacing sills, joists and beams that have incurred termite and water damage over the years.
Some grading is being done next to the house to guide water away from the foundation.
Current made things easier for Wilson by having white oak timbers sawed to the correct size for 24 replacement joists under the house.
He removed boards of the porch floor on both sides of the front door so Hartle, Butler and others could have better access under the house.
Current also provided “The Great Escape” track of metal rollers, making it easier for Hartle and Butler to move in and out of the tight quarters with the heavy boards.
The men lie on their bellies on a piece of board and pull themselves through the darkness, much like the movie World War II prisoners did in building their escape tunnel.
Sections of Mount Vernon’s main beam, running the width of the house from chimney to chimney, also were eaten up with termites and have to be replaced.
Wilson said the Current family should be applauded for its commitment to preserving this place.
Prominent planter
Jacob Krider built Mount Vernon. He was grandfather of Hodge Krider and great-grandfather of Jim Krider, both of whom were Rowan County sheriffs.
Krider reportedly named the Federal house “Mount Vernon” because it reminded him of Washington’s plantation house.
Jacob Krider was a prominent planter and leader in western Rowan County. He also was founder and publisher of the Western Carolinian newspaper.
Mount Vernon was sold to Emory Teague in 1892, then to Teague’s brother-in-law, Richard Carmi Current, in 1898. Various additions have been made through the years, such as a dining room and kitchen on the rear around 1900 and a den, two more bedrooms, a back hall and another bathroom in 1937.
Mount Vernon’s chimneys represent striking features, especially the double chimneys on the north side.
The weird part about the important work going on at Mount Vernon this summer is that when the porch boards are set back in place, you won’t see all the new structural supports underneath the house.
Pretty much, the only thing left behind and visible will be a fork.
Clark Current can live with that.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@