A busload of fourth-graders got a rare opportunity Thursday to see the home of northeast Kentucky’s most famed author.
The Crabbe Elementary students walked the grounds of the Jesse Stuart home in W-Hollow outside Greenup during a tour of sites important to the legacy of the late author and Kentucky poet laureate.
They didn’t go inside; the home still belongs to Stuart’s daughter Jane, who lives there and seldom grants tours. The closest they got was making friends with a gray tabby cat that meandered from the house to investigate.
They did get to poke their heads into an outbuilding Stuart once used as a refuge for writing when admirers and visitors threatened his solitude and concentration.
Their visit was enriched with commentary, anecdotes and yarns by Stacy Nelson, Stuart’s nephew and Jane Stuart’s cousin. Nelson, an experienced historical reenactor, wore period clothing while regaling the children with tales like the account of the boys who tossed shotgun shells in the coal stove of the one-room Plum Grove school attended by more than one generation of Stuart kin.
When the shells ignited, the stove lid blew off and got the hoped-for result. “School was out for the day,” he said, to a chorus of appreciative laughs.
Among other things, the children learned that children, even first-graders, in Stuart’s and Nelson’s generations walked to the school, which is about three miles away from the home.
The rambling gray house, surrounded by the trees and lush greenery that nourished Stuart’s literary imagination, struck a chord in the children, who peppered Nelson with questions about rural life. “If I could live here, I would,” said Scott Hapney, who said he lived in the country before moving to Ashland.
“I like the old barn,” said his companion Nick McKenzie, who had hung back from the crowd with Scott to chat with Nelson before boarding the bus.
The tour fits in with the fourth-grade emphasis on Kentucky history, said their teacher, Cheryl Barber. Several of Stuart’s juvenile books, like”Old Ben” and “A Penny’s Worth of Character,” are on the shelves in her classroom and taking the children to his home reinforces their own rich Appalachian heritage. “To see where he worked, lived and wrote will have a huge impact,” she said.
Nelson and the Jesse Stuart Foundation arranged the visit, the first time a school group has been allowed on the grounds since Jane Stuart discontinued allowing tours seven years ago.
The visit precedes by two days the annual Jesse Stuart Weekend commemoration that will bring admirers to Greenup County to discuss Stuart, buy and swap his books, and make their own pilgrimages to W-Hollow.
Nelson and the foundation hope to be able to bring more children from more schools out in subsequent years to see the home and hike the trails at the nearby Jesse Stuart Nature Preserve.
“It will bring new blood into the foundation,” said marketing director Tony Stephens. Eventually the foundation would like to stretch the yearly celebration to a week and make it a family affair.
MIKE JAMES can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2652.