Now and Then ...
Article Author: By Ben Harris McClary
(Revised from 17 Jan. 1996)
The focus of everyone’s bemused gaze, I finally stammer: “On what do you base your statement?”
“I have been to Ocoee where you claim to have been born.” Then he began to chuckle, “and I do not believed it possible that anyone has ever been born there!”
Relieved to realize that he was joking, I retorted, “I, sir, sit here as living proof of the depth of your ignorance,” and began forthwith to expand on the facts of my birth on July 8, 1931, on my grandfather Kimbrough’s farm on the Ocoee River in the Ocoee post office community. I soon learned that my “accuser,” Bill Free, had spent many summers growing up at Camp Ocoee, then very isolated and primitive indeed.
In 1995, putting together a Tennessee Humanities-Lee College sponsored seminar on “Changing Rural Life,” the organizer asked me to talk on opening night about the history of the Ocoee River before Whit-water rafting. In getting my thought in line for that, I came to realize that my brother, Tom, and I have a rather unique relationship with the Ocoee River.
After the removal of the natives in the 1830s, our great-great grandfathers on both sides, Robert W. McClary (1793-1866) and Isaac Kimbrough (1788-1868), settled on opposite sides of the Ocoee River west of Sam Parks’ Mill. Robert and his wife are buried in the Cookson Creek Cemetery; Isaac and his wife are in what was a private Kimbrough graveyard in a not-easily reached location between Highway 64 and the Zion Church road.
Years later, before the construction of the dam had begun, our mother was born dangerously close to the river across from Sam Parks’ Mill. Our Grandmother Kimbrough used to tell about twice hearing flash floods roaring out of the mountains, causing her to rush to higher ground with her young children. The first time the structure escaped any damage, but the second time a few inches of water got into the kitchen area. The high point of the flood passed so quickly that she was able to get back into the house before the bread she had been baking in the wood stove oven had had time to burn. Shortly thereafter, with work started on Parksville Dam, they moved to a higher elevation to a house still occupied in the 1970s, but since torn down.
Our grandfather, Tom Kimbrough, always said that he believed his team and wagon hauled the first load of rock and dirt beginning the construction of the Parksville Dam. After the dam was finished, he bought and moved about five miles downriver to the river bend farm where I was born in 1931 and where he and our grandmother lived until they moved to Benton in 1957.
As it turned out, Bill Free admitted that, his many summers at Camp Ocoee notwithstanding, he didn’t really know much about the river or the place called Ocoee!
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