Maple Hill Farm, home to Jewell and Robert Hamm of Shady Valley, has been recognized as a Tennessee Century Farm. The Century Farms Program was established to recognize the efforts of Tennesseans who have owned family land with some type of agricultural production for a minimum of 100 years. This program has recognized 1,427 farms throughout Tennessee since its inception
According to Jewell, applicants for the Century Farms Program must prove the family line of their home place. For each generation that owned the farm, a description of the land location, deed, name of family members, the date the land was acquired, the acreage, history of the area, type of crops and livestock grown must be provided in order to be deemed a Tennessee Century Farm. Additionally, information about all buildings and their purpose must be provided.
Maple Hill Farm, named for two massive maple trees at the entrance to the property, was acquired in 1901 from land that belonged to the Empire Mining and Manufacturing Company. William Avery Mays, married to Sidney Ann Hutchinson, moved to Shady Valley in 1901 to work for Empire Mining and Manufacturing Company. When the company had finished cutting the trees across Holston Mountain, Mays purchased their land.
According to records provided by the Hamms, Mays worked the land and had cattle, horses and chickens. They raised oats, straw and corn. Everything that was necessary to keep their farm in working order was made by hand. They made everything, said Hamm. Mays worked as a blacksmith, making all of his tools and parts needed for any farm machinery. Even the fat from hogs was used to make soap mixed with lye and ash. The farm included their home, two barns, a blacksmith shop, machine shed, washhouse, cement root cellar, a smokehouse, as well as a woodshed for storing grain.
According to the Hamms, people often made use of the barter system for payment of services or goods instead of using money. Mays could use his blacksmith skills to receive other goods, such as a wooden toolbox, molasses or ground wheat. Throughout the many buildings, visitors will find evidence of this system including a small, wooden casket used as an end table with plenty of storage, as well as a small but beautiful chest that was given to the Mays by a woman who had once been a slave as payment for help in delivering a baby.
The 16-acre farm was acquired by Clyde Blaine Mays, son of William and Sidney Mays, in 1933. The farm eventually expanded to approximately 31 acres. Clyde and his family grew wheat, hay, beans, apples, cattle, hogs and chickens.
In 1982, Fannie Mays McQueen, daughter of the original owners, Willie and Sidney Ann Mays, took over the farm. The McQueen's farm produced tobacco, strawberries, apples and beans, as well as cattle, hogs and chickens. In 1985, Maple Hill Farm was acquired by Robert Hamm and Jewel McQueen Hamm. Jewell is the daughter of Fannie and Elmer McQueen.
Today, the Hamm family has worked diligently to restore the farm and the buildings. Jewell grew up just down the road from the family homestead. The old farmhouse has been lovingly restored, utilizing many of the original items. The Hamms have managed to blend the old and the new, giving the farmhouse a feeling of continuity.
The wood used in a restored building on the property are from an old church in Shady Valley. The old meat house is now part of the current house and still contains original pieces of wood from years ago. Robert Hamm explained that the water race that still remains in the older section of the house was used to keep milk, meat and dairy products cool. Ice-cold water was used to keep foods cool and safe for consumption before the days of refrigeration. Jewell continues to make use of the old root cellar to store the vegetables she cans each year.
The house itself is full of family antiques and primitives. In the fireplace, a tomahawk found on the property is mixed among the stonework. When I grew up, you got what Granny handed down, said Jewell. Throughout the house, those treasured pieces of furniture from Granny can be found in the bedrooms, in the converted buildings and in the kitchen table itself.
The old buildings still stand on Maple Hill Farm. Many of the hinges that still are in working order today were made by Mays. The Hamms are continuously reminded of their ancestors, their hard work and dedication every day. Since 1901, Maple Hill Farm has continuously produced some type of agricultural product, be it fruit, vegetables or hay. The Hamms maintain a small vegetable garden and grow hay for the cattle and horses with the help of their children and grandchildren.
In 2001, Maple Hill Farm was certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a Wildlife Habitat. In Shady Valley, an area rich with history, cranberry bogs and the bog turtle can be found, a throw back to the Ice Age. Approximately 3 acres of Maple Hill Farm has been allowed to return to its natural state, an area of wild berries and vegetation for the birds and animals that make their home in Shady Valley.