Lovelace Gardner’s Museum

currently closed

Lovelace Gardner’s Museum is located in an outbuilding behind where he lived, on Bell Road, just west of Fountain. It was maintained by Mr. Gardner in memory of his good friend and fellow collector Joe Exum, who liked calling it Exum’s Wanabee Museum.

Adam Lovelace Gardner was born December 3, 1914 in the farmhouse he lived in his entire life. The driveway is still marked by two “postees” that Lovelace said dated to the Civil War, and he told a good story about NC DOT workers knocking one of them down and wanting to replace it with something other than the original. The farm was bought by his grandfather in 1884.

Lovelace was the youngest of three children born to Mary Jane Owens (1878-1921) and John Thomas Gardner (1878-1931).

About 90% of the items in this collection were used by Lovelace on his tobacco farm, which he worked until about 1978; the other items were donated by friends.

Gardner’s collection was highlighted in a display at the Town of Fountain’s centennial celebration in 2003.

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I took notes while talking to Lovelace and his daughter, Jewel, on February 21, 2006

Summary of an interview with Adam Lovelace Gardner (born Dec. 3 1914) and his daughter, Jewell G. Williams (born 1939), in his sitting room in the Bell Road farmhouse where he has lived all his life. Several full bird feeders are in view in the yard. After reviewing the original notes from the interview with her father, Jewell wrote a few additional comments.

A census-taker, who chose to have his interview on the front porch, once commented on how quiet and pleasant the surrounding area was.

Lovelace believes some of the house existed when his grandfather Gardner bought the farm in 1884, but it was expanded probably three times since. There is evidence that the kitchen started out half its present size. He was born in the house, but doesn’t know whether a doctor was present. Being the youngest of the three children, he couldn’t know first hand the circumstances of their births.

Lovelace’s grandfather worked as a carpenter when the crops were in, sometimes traveling great distances with his oldest boys and being gone for days. Working hard enabled him to buy more land; he wanted a farm for each child.

Lovelace’s father, John Thomas Gardner (1878-1931) died when Lovelace was 16. He was 6 when his mother, Mary Jane Owens (1878-1921), passed away. John and his brother Jim had married sisters, so Lovelace’s aunt and uncle, who lived next door, provided another family for him.

Lovelace and his Uncle Jim Gardner operated a grist mill on the property in the 30s, 40s, and early 50s. The milling machine was “a box concern” with “two rocks” in it, an upright one that turned against a stationary one parallel to the floor. It ran by a gasoline motor with a belt. The mill stones were purchased from Meadow Milling Company in Statesville by Uncle Jim. The motor was under a shelter and another building was used for storage. Farmers would bring, by mule and wagon or truck, what they wanted ground for their own use, maybe two months worth. The Gardners would “toll it,” which meant they’d take a quarter of the grain in exchange for the grinding service, for instance 12 lbs out of 48 lbs. Very little cash was exchanged, since there wasn’t much around. They ground it into chicken feed or cracked corn, or made corn meal for human consumption. Since it was ground between rocks, it was finer than that produced at Fountain Milling Company, for example, where hammers were used, Lovelace thinks. They ground mostly corn, occasionally mixed with wheat for hog & chicken feed.

The milling machine had to be periodically taken apart to chip the stones. They used extra-hard, tempered tools to “peck at” the 32-inch circular rocks to make them rough. If they got too slick, the stones would burn the corn instead of grinding it properly. The Gardners took their chipping tools to Wilson Iron Works for tempering and sharpening when needed. The chipping of the stone was a “bad” job. You could chip all morning and do about a third of the stone. The mill was down for days when the stone had to be chipped.

In the early days, a farmer brought corn from the field to his barn in a wagon, raked it into a large “ride-up” (right-up?) basket, and hand shucked it with his with his children in the barn. They picked out the best ears and nubbed them – cut off the bad little kernels on the ends – and saved the best for meal and seed corn. They used a smaller feed basket slung over the arm to carry the proper amount of grain out to the farm animals. Later the Gardners had a shuck and sheller to remove the husks and take the corn off the cobs.

The road up to the mill was sandy dirt, Jewell recalls. The farmers would come in their wagons and back up to the to the hopper to unload their corn and wheat. They used seed forks to load the shuck and sheller. When they cranked up the engine, the mules would “have a fit.” She remembers the odor of the milling machine. First the smell of the gas engine when it was cranked up, then the smell and feel of the warm, freshly milled corn. The hopper, for pouring in the shelled corn, had a screen to keep out cobs and such. The ground meal was caught in barrels. When the first one was full, they’d switch to a second. If a handful of meal squeezed in the fist stayed compressed when you opened your hand, it was fine enough for table use. If not, the operator adjusted a screw to push the wheels a little closer together, until the meal passed the test. The Gardners kept water for the motor in stone lard crocks buried in the ground to keep the water from freezing. Anti-freeze wasn’t available in the early years. Even for cars, they would draw out the water in the engine at night in winter, or park it close to the house with a blanket over it to prevent freezing. A rice mill on the property was never used in Lovelace’s time.

Jim Gardner bought from a Richmond salesman 10-, 25-, and 50 lb. bags imprinted with a design and his name, J.W. Gardner. Uncle Jim and Lovelace drove a 1940 blue Ford truck to deliver bags of meal in Fountain, Farmville, and Greenville. He sold to individuals who liked his meal, rather than stores, including a Greenville barbecue restaurant. Greenville was about an hour’s drive from home.

Wednesday was shuck and shell day. Saturday was mill day. The Gardners also farmed their own tobacco, peanuts, cotton, corn, beans, wheat, oats, and rye, and ran a sawmill. If they had no customers, they worked on the farm and watched for wagons and later the trucks. Lovelace also drove a combine to cut grain for customers as well as harvest his own crops.

The Gardner’s sawmill could be moved from place to place. They did custom sawing for others, sometimes on halves, or were paid per thousand feet of lumber. Lovelace could “look at a tree or log and tell you how long to cut the log, then how to saw it to get the most lumber. You put in your order for how many 2×4, 2×6, 2×8, 2×10, 4×4, or whatever you wanted, and Daddy could look at the log and figure the cut. It is now done by computer,” wrote Jewell. “Sawing for $10.00 a thousand feet. Such hard work! Daddy worked so hard all his working life.”

Social life consisted of visiting at church on Sunday. During the week “we’d put out a hard days work, come in, wash our feet, face, and hands, and go to bed. Get up (early, early), eat breakfast, and do the same thing next day.” They washed with an old piece of ragged underwear in a basin with water from the pump or well. For “luxury in the summertime” a tub of water might be drawn to let warm in the sun. The children would be bathed in the tub behind or in an out building. “Bathe ‘em a little; slam ‘em in the bed.”

Other mills existed in Fountain. Besides Fountain Milling Company, Heber Gardner operated one near slab town. Heber’s brother Lilly had one in the area of Hemby funeral home. Mill Street in Fountain was named for Marcellus Owens’ sawmill operated by steam. The steam engine also powered a dynamo that charged batteries to operate electric lights for Fountain at night.

There were two or three streetlights in Fountain. A couple of Lovelace’s mischievous uncles managed to “put out the lights.” They put some Irish potato barrels over the ends of some “scantling,” long boards such as 2x4s, and hoisted the barrels straight up into the air. They slid the barrels right over the top of the vertical streetlights, then pulled out the scantling, effectively putting out the lights without damaging them. The townsfolk wondered how the barrels had got there and used ladders to get them down.

Fireworks were not allowed in Fountain, except on Christmas day at 9 p.m. That was “an open hour to burst all fireworks.”

Lovelace attended the Carraway School, two miles down Bell Road from his home. Cornerstone Church now occupies the land where the school stood. Two teachers, one Ms. Johnson, taught 50-60 children in grades 1-7. The teachers boarded with the Lewises who lived in the (recently restored) Lewis home on Stantonsburg Road, and were brought to school each day by students driving a surrey. The horse spent the day at the Tugwells across the road, then Herman Baker and his brothers would hook up the surrey again at the end of the day and deliver the teachers back to the Lewises. The Bakers lived in the old Ward house behind the Lewises.

One classroom accommodated grades 1-3 with a line of desks for each grade. The teacher moved from line to line as she taught each group. Grades 4-7 were taught in another room. Besides the two classrooms, the school had a cloak room, where the students left their heavy coats and “lunch pail, bucket, or basket, whatever you had.” After seventh grade, the students finished school in Farmville.

Visits from the health nurse made the children “scared to death” when she came to administer immunizations for typhoid, small pox, and eventually diptheria. All the students from one room were gathered in the cloak room and given shots one by one, chosen according to whoever they could “grab by the arm.” When a child emerged from the cloak room, he or she had received their shot. Lovelace remembers hiding in the corner until the very last.

For amusement and to raise money for the school, the neighbors put on Box Parties. The ladies put together meals in boxes and auctioned them off. They sold cheaply, since there was little money around. Lovelace’s father bid fifty cents on a box and told him to go eat with the lady that made the food. He remembers there was some candy in the box. One box sold for $20. It was made by a teacher, Miss Green, that several of the men wanted to eat with. After the meal, the $20 had not been paid, and Lovelace went with his father who was sent to collect the bid. The bidder was just getting home when they got to his house. “Oh, I forgot,” he said.

Neighbors attended Sunday school at the Carraway schoolhouse, taught by John Hill Paylor, a Farmville lawyer that Lovelace admired for making the weekly trip. Much later, Carraway’s Church was built there. The traditional woodframe church building still stands, and is now occupied by Cornerstone Church.

The school was funded by the county, whose administrators eventually wanted to consolidate the schools and send the Carraway students to Fountain, but “the neighbors (especially the Carraways and the Bakers) wanted to keep their little school” which required no special transportation to get them there. The neighborhood was allowed to vote on whether to consolidate, which they repeatedly turned down. But after Lovelace finished fourth grade, his father insisted that he and his sister Walena attend school in Fountain with a couple of neighborhood boys, despite Lovelace’s wishes. They rode a Reo bus, #41. Soon after, the Carraway School burned down and all the neighborhood children rode the bus to Fountain.

Lovelace remembers a time that 10-12 children had tonsillectomies at Fountain School. The health nurse had examined the students and determined some to have enlarged tonsils. When she looked at Frank Carraway’s she declared his were “as large as a guinea’s egg.” As Frank walked back to his seat, he mumbled to the other students, “I don’t [care] if they’re as big as a goose egg,” he didn’t intend to give them up. A clinic was set up at Fountain School. High school students served as nurses, and each patient had a family member with him. Dr. Beasley put the patients to sleep by means of a mask with ether pumped in. “It got so heavy, I quit breathing.” Dr. Beasley came to check on Lovelace and lifted the mask. Beasley plopped the mask back down on his face, and that’s the last thing Lovelace remembers. After each operation, a high school student would pick up the patient and move him to another room for recovery. Lovelace remembers waking up to the sound of door hinges creaking again and again, and feeling sick to his stomach. The patients spent the night at the school and were sent home the next day. Some of the others who had their tonsils removed at Fountain School were Gatsy Killebrew Owens, Bruce Horton, and Hardy James Killebrew. Lovelace nevcr heard of any cost associated with the operation. Nobody had any money anyway.

One of the high school students working at the clinic made off with a can of ether. He and some other kids, including Lovelace, got a notion to put a cat to sleep. The boy took his housecat in a sack out to a tobacco barn down a dirt path not far from the present location of Mickey’s restaurant. When they poured the ether on the cat, instead of falling asleep, he scratched and fought and got thrown in the briars.

Crime was not a problem in those days. Occasionally, they’d “miss a chicken or a watermelon.” The solution was to try to plant enough the next year for themselves and the ones who stole. Now the crime rate in Fountain “is not good.” “I certainly would like to help the people whose intentions are not good. I pray they would improve.”

Did Lovelace ever think about leaving? “I was scared to leave—‘fraid I’d never get back!” The draft board gave him a 1AF rating because he farmed and had a child. He was farming peanuts, the oil from which was used by the military in explosives. He used a sewing machine as a desk to write to his friends in the service, including R.D. Jefferson and Tony Gay.

A memorable snow March 3-4, 1927, created an 8-10 foot drift around the Gardner’s tobacco pack house. Lovelace’s Uncle Buddy Owens cut a notch on the building to show how deep it was. Buddy and Lovelace jumped into that drift off the stage over the door (for handing tobacco up to the second floor).

Lovelace married Odell Killebrew of Fountain in 1937. She had played basketball at Fountain School. After they were married, the Gardners were visited by a lady who wanted Odell to referee basketball locally. They had to light a lamp to let her in. Not long after that, the Gardners got electric lights. They had two children, Jewell in 1939, and “Buster” (Adam Lovelace Gardner, Jr.) in 1947.

John and Jim Gardner, Lovelace’s father and Uncle, laid out Queen Anne Cemetery for the town of Fountain. “They smoothed it out and made it right level with a smoothing harrow. It was half the length it is now. They lotted it off” and numbered the lots. The town needed a blueprint of the cemetery to file with the state. Since Lovelace and his friend, Lloyd Gay, were traveling to the state fair, Town Clerk Claude Owens had him drop off a drawing at a Raleigh office “with 30 secretaries, lines of them.” This office made the blueprint to be picked up later. Queen Anne’s was enlarged three times since then. Originally, there were walkways through the cemetery, Jewell recalls. Now people are buried in them. She finds it ironic that after helping to build the cemetery, John Gardner could not afford to be buried there when he died.

At the back of the cemetery was an unlocked box for storing spades and shovels, since farmers did the digging themselves in those days. Lovelace can’t imagine leaving tools unlocked now. “It’s sad.” His father would often help at the cemetery. One day he asked Lovelace to stop and pick up a shovel he had left leaning against a monument. He was “not fond” of stopping at a graveyard at night and “left the Model T a’running” while he went to get the shovel. About the time he grabbed the handle, the Model T choked-off. He started thinking which was the quickest way to run home. He was relieved that the Model T restarted when he turned the crank.

Nowadays Lovelace spends a lot of time watching birds out his sitting room window. He doesn’t look at much TV. His hearing and sight have weakened, things we take for granted earlier in life. “I realize now how precious they are.” He no longer gives tours of his museum in an outbuilding behind his home. But he would not forbid visitors to see the exhibits of tools and articles of rural life he collected and labeled. “They might find a squirrel carcass in there, or maybe a human.” “It’s so true what my wife said: ‘Lovelace, you started it too late.’” But before he started the museum, he was working and didn’t have time for the hobby.

“It’s been good,” says Lovelace of his 91 years. “These are my opinions,” he makes clear, regarding his stories. “Other people might have different opinions.” Others may remember things differently.

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his obituary, as published in the Greenville Daily Reflector Nov. 20, 2009

Adam Lovelace Gardner, 94, passed away Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2009 at his home. The son of Jane and John Gardner died in the house he was born in, on the land he loved, with his family by his side. Funeral service will be conducted Saturday at 11 a.m. from the Church Street Chapel of the Farmville Funeral Home by the Rev. Frank Cockrell, the Rev. Allan Van Meter, and the Rev. Glenn Van Meter. Interment will follow in Queen Anne Cemetery in Fountain. The love of his life, wife of 62 years, Odell preceded him in death, June 8, 1999. He was also preceded in death by his sisters, Linda G. Gardner and Walena G. Bell.

He is survived by his children, Jewell W. and Clifton Williams and Adam “Buster” Gardner Jr. and Marie; grandchildren, Cindy W. Cobb and Tommy, and Karen W. Corbett and Allen, John Gardner and Melanie; great-grandchildren, Tommy Cobb, Jordan and Jamie Corbett, Layla and Kara Gardner. The family will receive friends at the Farmville Funeral Home, tonight from 6 until 8. The family will always be grateful for the love and care he received from Dr. R. Douglas Barrow and Helen Chase of Physicians East, Community Home Care and Hospice, Meals on Wheels, and family and friends. Online condolences may be made at