'Clear Springs' farm in proposed road's path: Author Bobbie Ann Mason Seeks Protection for Family Homestead
by Jim Warren
Lexington Herald-Leader Staff Writer
Mayfield Kentucky - Bobbie Ann Mason has written many books and stories describing the difficult and often painful adjustments imposed on folks in her native Western Kentucky by the rapid changes of modern society.
Now, the internationally known writer finds her family homeplace on the edge of this Graves County seat caught in the path of just such a piece of progress.
The Kentucky Department of Highways wants to reroute a stretch of the two-lane Macedonia Road that runs in front of the Mason family farm. The project would swallow part of the yard in front of the old farmhouse and eliminate one or more of the shade trees under which Mason sat and read as a child.
The new right-of-way would run within about 20 feet of the front porch and cut through a large field west of the farmhouse, which Mason's grandparents bought about 1920.
State officials say Mason isn't being treated any differently from anyone else affected by a highway project. The Mason family will be paid for the land, but Bobbie Ann Mason insists the issue isn't about money.
Never received notice
Mason lives in Anderson County with her husband, Roger Rawlings. But she, her sister, LaNelle Mason, and her brother, Don Mason, still own the family farm. Don Mason's son, Justin, 21, lives there.
Bobbie Ann Mason maintains that the family never received formal notice of the road project, saying she learned of it by accident about two years ago. But the family didn't become alarmed until blue right-of-way markers suddenly appeared on the property late last month, she said.
"My sister LaNelle went out to visit the farm and saw the stakes," Mason said. "Then, she frantically called me and said we had to do something."
Now, the family hopes to persuade state officials to change the road plan to keep the farm intact. Mason said they are contacting state legislators and have e-mailed senior state officials such as Commerce Secretary Jim Host and Education Secretary Virginia Fox.
Mason said Host advised her that acting Transportation Secretary Bill Nighbert is looking into the matter.
State officials said yesterday that, at least for now, the farm doesn't qualify as historically or architecturally significant, which could offer some protection.
"I can fully appreciate where she's coming from," said Keith Todd, public information officer with the highway department's district office in Paducah. But Todd added that "just because somebody famous lives somewhere doesn't necessarily mean it's a historic site."
Blackberries and bypasses
Bobbie Ann Mason's grandparents originally occupied the farmhouse. But her own parents later lived there until they built a home of their own nearby, when she was about 5. Mason basically spent her childhood on the farm until she left for college and a writing life.
The farm, which now is inside the Mayfield city limits, is vividly described in Mason's non-fiction book, Clear Springs: A Memoir, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in biography in 2000.
Out-of-town visitors who have read the book still stop at the Mayfield Chamber of Commerce requesting directions to the farm.
Mason's other writings include novels, In Country, which became a movie, and Feather Crowns; short fiction, Shiloh and Other Stories; and biography, Elvis Presley. She is writer in residence at the University of Kentucky.
Bobbie Ann Mason and Don Mason gave a visitor a tour around the family farm Thursday, pointing out the smokehouse, the corn crib and the stable, which still contains their father's old Ford tractor. Bobbie Ann Mason pointed out Kress Creek, near the back of the farm, where she used to pick blackberries.
"By this time of day, I'd already be back from the berry patch," she said.
But times have changed.
"When my grandparents bought the farm, one reason they picked the location was because it was only a mile from town," she said. "Little did they realize ..."
Todd, the highway information officer, said the rerouting of Macedonia Road is an "incidental improvement," intended to provide a safer intersection of Macedonia Road and U.S. 45, which passes west of the Mason farm. It was authorized in 2000 and is part of a larger bypass project for the south side of Mayfield, he said. The projected cost is $11.2 million.
The state has offered to pay the Masons $3,700 for the three-tenths of an acre of their land that would be taken, but Bobbie Ann Mason said money is not the issue.
"If you have an expanded road coming right past the front porch, it's no longer the same farmhouse that was once such an idyllic setting," she said.
A few weeks or a few months
Mason said she learned about the Macedonia Road realignment about two years ago when she went to Mayfield City Hall to ask whether the south side bypass project might affect the rear of the Mason farm. While there, she noticed a map indicating that Macedonia Road would be rerouted in front of the farm.
Mason said she was told a state appraiser visited the property last summer and was supposed to have mailed the family all the details. If no owner could be found, the appraiser was supposed to post a notice on the property, she said. But no notice was seen, and the family received no letters, she insisted.
"None of the family heard of this," she said.
Now, she said, the highway department has indicated that property acquisition might have to be completed in a few weeks or a few months, although construction isn't scheduled to start until 2010.
The family's options might be limited.
Rebecca Turner, historical preservation coordinator with state Transportation Cabinet's department of analysis, said yesterday that a department review has concluded the Mason farmhouse couldn't qualify as architecturally significant. The house, built about 1916, has been altered too many times over the years, she said.
Meanwhile, David Morgan, historic preservation officer with the Kentucky Heritage Council, said the National Register of Historic Places rarely accepts properties associated with famous individuals who are still living.
Morgan noted, for example, that Kentucky author Jesse Stuart's W-Hollow Home in Greenup County wasn't listed until shortly after his death in 1984. And Morgan said that since the Macedonia Road realignment is a state highway project, national listing might not help anyway.
Still, Morgan said the heritage council would urge the state Transportation Cabinet to give the case all possible consideration.
"Obviously, Bobbie Ann Mason is a tremendously important person in literature and in Kentucky history," he said.
And Bobbie Ann Mason -- whose new novel, An Atomic Romance, is due out Aug. 23 -- isn't giving up.
"I know that eminent domain is the law of the land," she said. "But we think there should be some leniency here. It doesn't seem fair that they could just come in and take our front yard."
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