As the local food movement gains momentum and dreams of self-sufficiency percolates in the back of many minds, Jackie Sloop casts a realistic view of what it meant to be self-sufficient 125 years ago while raising a family along what is now the Blue Ridge Parkway. As she worked the treadle with her foot and fingered flax fiber through a spinning wheel, she explained to visitors that subsistence farming was much like any other small business venture. It required considerable planning, lots of hard work by all members of the family, and offered very little leisure time. She said that Caroline Brinegar, wife of Martin, likely considered spinning yarn as near a leisurely activity as came along.
Jackie’s path to Brinegar Cabin is as winding as the Parkway itself. From Caldwell County, she went off to college and received a degree in interior design. As children came along she was a stay-at-home mom. While devoting herself to her family, her outside interests circled around three seemingly different topical areas: natural science, arts, and history. For 25 years she devoted those interests as a board member and seamstress at Fort Defiance, the home of General William Lenoir who fought with the Overmountain Men at the Battle of Kings Mountain.
Then life made a series of twists and turns for Jackie. In 1988, she desired to broaden the view her children had of life and the country so they struck out on a 10½ week RV trip. They focused their stops on national parks. Some time later she moved to the Winston Salem area and put her degree to work with Village Interiors in Clemmons. Another curve led her to Rose Furniture where she worked in design sales.
Then as many do at midlife, Jackie took stock of her life and considered what she wanted to do in the upcoming years. The thought of opening a bed and breakfast in the mountains appealed to her. But, under the surface the love of natural science, art and history continued to bubble. A job with the National Park Service (NPS) seemed the perfect path to spin all of her interests into one strand. Jackie volunteered with the NPS for while and then in her mid-50s she was hired as a seasonal ranger assigned to the Doughton Park. Her focal area was the Brinegar Cabin.
While Jackie came to the cabin knowing how to weave and make baskets, she had to learn to spin yarn. As she works the spinning wheel in the cabin, children often ask Jackie if she lives in the cabin. Jackie leans in as to share secret – “No, I play here,” she says with a smile.
Jackie considers herself a cultural ambassador for southern Appalachia. While many have a romanticized view of all mountain folks living in small log cabins, Jackie points out that in the early 1900s there were actually three distinct cultures along the ridgeline that became the Blue Ridge Parkway. Roaring Gap had grown into a community of summer getaways for affluent textile executives escaping the heat of the Piedmont. The clapboard home of the Woodruffs near Laurel Springs is representative of the larger working farms found across Alleghany County. And finally, the Brinegars’ home place exemplifies the small subsistence farms scattered throughout the mountains.
A key point that Jackie makes is that there is no single attribute or family dynamic that describes Alleghany County. Families like the Woodruffs and Doughtons in Laurel Springs, the Brinegers along the edge of the escarpment, and the Hanes, Reynolds and Chathams of Roaring Gap all contributed to the tapestry that make the county Authentically Alleghany.
On September 8, 2018 Ranger Jackie Sloop and others will host Brinegar Day at the cabin. There will be cultural demonstrations, storytelling, and recognition of the Brinegar family for allowing us to share in their family’s history.
This blog originally appeared in www.absolutelyalleghany.com.