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The Last Days of Big Grassy Fork recounts newspaperman Hunter James’s attempts to save his 100-year-old family farm and homestead from extinction. Wise, irreverent, pugnacious, and often hilarious, James fights back against the galloping urbanization of his beloved North Carolina Piedmont. Interweaving current affairs and family history, James details the growth of the Winston-Salem area as a center of Moravian piety and later as the world’s largest tobacco manufacturing center.
This personal history shows he is not the only James to have had a difficult time fitting in with the neighbors’ idea of progress; his family’s trouble in the Piedmont began early. In 1904 his grandfather was flooded out of a brothel in his birthday suit, and he later scandalized the local Baptist church with drunken sermons, exposing the dark secrets of the congregation. James’s unique sense of the absurd, and his willingness to play the fool, make for entertaining reading as each of his efforts at preservation fail miserably. He accidentally torches a neighbor’s barn in an attempt to burn off his best pasture land, as was always done in the past; he squanders enormous amounts of money vainly trying to save his farm by becoming the Piedmont’s preeminent lord of the manor, vintner, wine snob, and horseman; and he finally seals his own doom when in alliance with his neighbors he inadvertently creates the “world’s largest garbage pit.”
The book ends with an eloquent plea for a true agrarianism in the modern South, for the need to strike a balance between the call for industrial expansion and the desire to preserve the land.
"In peeling away his romantic illusions, James offers an endlessly entertaining account of his own ill-conceived endeavors and his rather unromantic but highly entertaining family history."—North Carolina Literary Review
"The author—part Thoreau, part John Crow Ransom, part Wendell Berry—is, perhaps more than any of them, Mark Twain—or, more precisely, the self-deprecating, often hapless persona Twain often cultivated in his early autobiographical works."—Southern Cultures
The University Press of Kentucky
Place of Publication
James Hunter, North Carolina, Piedmont, Winston-Salem, Urbanization, Agrarianism
United States History
James, Hunter, "The Last Days of Big Grassy Fork" (2002). United States History. 93.