Thursday, April 29, 2010

Research Reminiscing

Several years ago, while researching my 1790s historical, Kindred, I took a road trip with my friend, Doree. We made quite a production of it, driving from Wisconsin to Cade's Cove, Tennessee, then to Asheboro, North Carolina, the Piedmont area I'd chosen for the setting of Kindred. Actually, just a little west of Asheboro, in what is today the Uwharrie National Forest.

Contained in this small national forest and recreation area are the Uwharries, what are thought to be the oldest mountains in North America. I wanted a setting that gave the feel of mountains and rural isolation without actually being as far west as the Blue Ridge, and having visited this area several times in my childhood, knew it was the perfect spot to set my 18th century mid-sized tobacco plantation, Mountain Laurel. On my 1775 map of North Carolina this range of worn, heavily wooded ridges and hills is called the Carraways, and that's what I've chosen to call them in my novel.

Scattered through these hills are the crumbling remnants of homesteads, gold mines and graveyards (it's been a national forest just since 1961), so I knew this landscape had once been settled. While exploring the area gave me a good sense of the land's physical contours and characteristics, I needed a model for the two-story farmhouse in which many of Kindred's scenes unfold.

I hunted on line for historic homes in the North Carolina Piedmont that Doree and I might be able to visit within the confines of our trip, and quickly zeroed in on The Alston House (aka The House in the Horseshoe), as the likeliest candidate. This two-story white farmhouse, built around 1772, sits in a bend of the Deep River, and was the scene of a brief skirmish during the American Revolution. The walls of the house still sport the bullet holes.

While the layout of the Alston House isn't exactly that of the farmhouse at Mountain Laurel, walking the grounds and rooms of an actual 18th century home as near to my fictional plantation as this one is helped cement my sense of setting for Kindred like nothing else could have done.

A few photos of the house's interior (red was considered a sign of wealth at the time):

 Whoa! How'd he get here? Well, since he's here I suppose he can stay. :)


  1. Anonymous11:58 AM

    LOL Lori, that guy does pop up every so often, doesn't he. :-) What a nice post. And beside all the inspiring landscape and fascinating history I will always remember: driving in that whirlwind of chicken feathers, seeing my very first cotton field, and spending those moments and hours with a treasured friend who, I can personally attest, lives and breathes what she sets her heart to doing. A joy to share in that!

  2. Doree, I had not thought about that chicken truck in a long time! Oh my. I'll never forget how you, ahem, acquired that cotton while I kept the car running and hummed Johnny Cash's "But I Never Picked Cotton". I have the bole you gave me sitting on the bookshelf here. What a fun trip, so glad you were able to take the time for it. Maybe we'll do something like it again one day.

  3. Oh, this makes the travel bug bite even harder:) Your pics are wonderful! Love that red room! Sounds like quite a memory. And I agree that seeing a place makes it come to life much more vividly. Kudos to you and Kindred!

  4. Haha...Lori, that happens on my web site too! I don't know how that happens...

    Beautiful pictures, and I don't just mean the last one. :-)

  5. OH! And I just have an agency now! Congrats! I hope this is the start of big things for you!



  6. What fun research! And the setting sounds so unique. Those are beautiful pictures.

  7. Laura,

    Now if only I could get to the Mohawk Valley! I have some hope of visiting Locust Grove on my trip to ACFW in Sept. Will be driving from their back down to Nashville and it's right in our path. We'll have to see how we are feeling, whether the conference leaves us any energy left, but I'd sure like to see it. 1790s house!!

  8. Thanks Maisey! I'm looking forward to checking out your first release. I'll have to visit your site again and see if there's a date posted.

  9. Cindy, Thanks! I was a lot of fun. On all those displays in the house were signs saying Do Not Touch. You can guess how hard that was to obey. I wanted to touch everything. In fact I did touch something I wasn't supposed to, before I registered all those hands off signs. Thankfully it turned out to be a replica so no harm done. My brain skipped right over those signs, didn't even see them at first, too busy taking in all the historical stuff.

  10. Ah, I love a good research trip! Funny that you said before you wrote you were an artist--- before I was an 'artist' I was a writer! Mostly newspaper/magazine stories, but arent all journalists closeted novelists?
    This house looks amazing. I am so in love with this period of style. Not too ornate and gaudy, but full of history and simplicity.

  11. Wonderful pictures. I love visiting historic places and what a great research trip. I like that cool writing desk.

    Whoa, indeed! You're too funny!

  12. Heather, that is funny. I wish there were two of me. A little part of me will always long to be painting. I wanted to be Robert Bateman (a Canadian wildlife artist), or at least to paint like him. I'll never forget the time a collection of his work hung at the Natural History Museum in the fall of 1986 (a month after my summer stint as an intern in the graphic art department there ended). I took the bus and metro down to DC many times to stand in front of his paintings and drink them in.

    But I love writing every bit as passionately, and just enough more so to have kept at it for the past 19 years.

    And that 18C style was just perfect. Not too cluttered, elegant, simple, gorgeous fabrics. That was such fun visiting that house. Wish we could have sat on the furniture! But rulz is rulz.

  13. Carla, That's a shot from one of my favorite scenes in Amazing Grace. :)