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Monday, August 22, 2016


Well, that was serendipity

by Tom Sullivan

NC State Representative John Ager and wife Annie.

So much serendipity in seeing this Sunday afternoon Slate post by David Rosenberg that I had to comment on it (especially after where we were Saturday night) . Photographer Ken Abbott published a photo study of scenic Hickory Nut Gap Farm in Fairview, North Carolina. See the photos here. The more Abbott dug into the history of Sherrill's Inn, the more its recent history intrigued him:

That story began in 1916, when Jim and Elizabeth McClure, a wealthy couple from Lake Forest, Illinois, fell in love with the house on first sight while honeymooning and offered to buy it. Jim, a minister, eventually founded the farmers federation in 1920, a cooperative that helped farmers market their products. Elizabeth was a painter who studied in Giverny, France; during breaks, she and her classmates would watch Claude Monet paint haystacks in the fields next to her school. Although they weren’t from the area, they quickly became in important part of the community.

“It was a real Americana kind of story,” Abbott said. “One of the portraits in one of the pictures in the dining room above the fireplace is a portrait of Elizabeth’s grandmother, which was painted by Abraham Lincoln’s portraitist [George Peter Alexander Healy].”
The photos are worth checking out. What the Slate post doesn't tell you is that the family also has a rich political history. "Jamie" McClure Clarke was once the Democratic congressman for western North Carolina:
Born in Manchester, Vermont, Clarke grew up in Asheville, North Carolina. Clarke graduated from Princeton University in 1939 and served as a Lieutenant in the United States Navy during World War II in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945. After his service, Clarke worked as a dairy farmer and orchardist in western North Carolina. He became president of the Farmers Federation Cooperative in 1956.

In 1976, Clarke was elected to the North Carolina House of Representatives as a Democrat. In 1980 he was elected to the North Carolina Senate. In the 1982 election Clarke was elected to the 98th United States Congress representing North Carolina's 11th congressional district. He was reelected to the 100th and 101st Congresses. In Congress, he was known as an advocate for the environment.

In the 1980s Clarke's congressional campaigns became nationally famous due to his long-running rivalry with Republican Bill Hendon. In 1982 Clarke defeated then-Congressman Hendon by less than 1,500 votes. In 1984 Hendon gained revenge by defeating Clarke's bid for a second term by just two percentage points. In 1986, Clarke defeated Hendon's bid for re-election by only one percentage point.

Although Hendon then retired from politics, Clarke's seat remained competitive. In 1988 Republican Charles H. Taylor came within one percentage point of defeating Clarke; in 1990 Taylor unseated Clarke in another close election. Given his age (he was 73 at the time of his loss to Taylor), Clarke decided to retire from politics.
Giving "Chainsaw Charlie" Taylor the boot is what got me into this business. Him and George W. Bush.

Hickory Nut Gap Farm is a prominent part of the farm-to-table network in restaurants here. From the website:
The land of Hickory Nut Gap Farm is jointly owned by the six children of James and Elspeth Clarke. In 2008 the land was put into a conservation easement with the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. Protected for eternity, the land will remain managed by the family and in the production of their agricultural pursuits.

Some of the six children, now grown with children and grandchildren of their own, remain here at the farm and in the area, while some have moved away to pursue a different course in life. This large farm family gathers often as the draw of the family home and its agricultural heritage is still strong.
John Ager married into the "Clarke Farm" family in 1971. Seeing what a T-party legislature had done to North Carolina since 2011, John ran in 2014 for NC House 115 and defeated Republican incumbent Nathan Ramsey by 500 votes. His first run for elected office was a close race like some of Jamie Clarke's before him. John's seat was one of the three net Democratic state legislative pickups in North Carolina (and across the South) in an otherwise dismal year for Democrats. During the course of the campaign, the family did eventually get John to show up at events with shoes that weren't muddy and to occasionally wear a tie.

This year, John Ager is running for reelection against anesthesiologist Frank Moretz. We were among 300 friends Saturday night at a fundraiser barbecue and barn dance down the road from Hickory Nut Gap at the farm's store. Ager will need the financial help. Moretz is expected to attract outside money. Also, Americans for Prosperity is on the ground here trying to prop up incumbent Gov. Pat McCrory. The Republican who signed NC's notorious "bathroom bill" and the voter suppression bill just overturned in court is running behind in the polls. Down-ticket races this fall are going to be hard fought.