Last original homesteader passes away at age 104 local news gasco abu dhabi

Life began for Fanilou on Christmas Day in 1912 in the Poplar Grove community located five miles outside of Cookeville. Like her older siblings, Fanilou was expected to get an education at Poplar Grove School and help in the fields of her parents’ large farm.

When she was a teenager, she met her future husband, James Jackson Blaylock, who was hired to help out on the farm.The two wed in September of 1932. They settled in Poplar Grove until news broke that families were being sought for a new development in Cumberland County that would give them “an opportunity to purchase small equipped farms…[and] cooperate with the management and other families in building a new community and a new way of living,” wrote Charles Tollett, local resident and historian, in his first of many articles on the Homesteads for the Chronicle.

The Blaylocks met all the criteria and were told in 1935 that they would be assigned to 29 acres of land adjoining the Cumberland Mountain State Park at #9 Pigeon Ridge. They packed their belongings and moved in to the upper floor of another Homesteader’s barn until their own was eventually built on their land.

“Until she went with Daddy to Crossville to be a Homesteader, I doubt she had been more than five or 10 miles away from home,” said Joyce, who was born prior to the move. “I thought that it was amazing she was brave enough to go out and do that.”

Fanilou’s father saw it differently. He could not understand why anyone would want to move to such an isolated area, especially when they didn’t own a gun like her husband. That didn’t pose a problem and they "made it pretty well," according to Glenn, who was born in the family barn in 1937.

“She told me they had killed a little hog and had it in a little building that was probably a hundred feet away from the house… and a wild cat came up smelling that fresh meat and sniffing around. Daddy didn’t have a gun but he took an old iron stove poker… and ran the wild cat off,” he said.

"Daddy kept up with everything as they paid the money back to them," said youngest son Wayne Blaylock, who was born in 1944 in the family home, "and when they got the money all paid back, I know Daddy had a calf and went ahead and gave them the calf as interest on the loan."

"They built it with hand tools,” explained Glenn. “They didn’t have any electricity then and he would go down and up Pigeon Ridge and back to Mail Road to Coon Hollow. He filed saws for three building crews everyday, I guess, going from one job to the other."

Memories of their mother working in the kitchen stand out the most for Joyce and Wayne. Both described how Fanilou would wake up early to prepare breakfast and lunch for James before he left to work as a carpenter years later at the Crossville POW Camp and then in Oak Ridge.

She remained in good health and good spirits for several years after that. She could be seen often in her yard mowing or tending to her garden, attending services regularly at Cumberland Homesteads Baptist Church or socializing with her neighbors and friends.

One thing no one saw was Fanilou behind the steering wheel of a vehicle because she always refused to get her driver’s license. She chose to rely on her own two feet, family or friends to get around. One of those good friends was Myrtle Norman, and it was a trip for groceries in 1999 that changed these women’s lives forever.

She underwent rehabilitation therapy after the accident and it helped for a time. However, her stability started to gradually decline a few years later until she found herself lying on her concrete porch, calling for help on a sunny but cold February day. She had walked outside to toss out some food scraps, lost her balance and couldn’t get up.

"She was mowing her own lawn. She was still making a garden and everything up until that time, too," Wayne explained. "I don’t think she was able to make a garden then after that. I mean it just injured her too much, you know. But she continued living at home and taking care of herself and everything."

Fanilou had regained her strength from the porch incident to the point that she was able to use a walker and return home. Local home health personnel would come by a few hours a week to help with some chores. Fanilou lived this way until June 17, 2016, when another health issue forced her to leave her home at the age of 103.

It started out as a normal day for Fanilou. She got up, made her bed, went to the kitchen and ate breakfast and then went to the living room to relax in her recliner. She realized something was wrong with she tried to get up to use the restroom. She couldn’t move.

Because of her health, Fanilou’s mailman, James Taylor, would deliver her mail on her porch and check in on her from time to time. While making his usual delivery that day, he saw what had happened to Fanilou and immediately called for Glenn and Wayne for help.

"That came on just quick because I know she was just down that morning to get her hair fixed…and she was able to walk down there by herself with her walker and she went ahead and ate lunch and [came] back to the room and something happened from there and she wasn’t able to ever walk again after that," said Wayne.

All three children admitted that their mother had "lived longer than she wanted to." She was a strong Christian woman who would often express her anticipation about seeing Jesus. Fanilou even wrote a song about it in 1994 called "Walking the Golden Streets."