The Spring House is a small place on the earth. A tiny 1/3 of an acre and a home.
At first glance, it appears to be a simple home in a neighborhood that might be found any where, but The Spring House is a place with a story to tell.
It is a place of flora and green; of living on the edges. A place of growing, healing, music, art, and history. And most importantly, it is a place of peace and love.
Since we moved here in late 2018, The Spring House has slowly been in the process of transforming from a typical 1950’s neighborhood suburban property, to its current status as a botanical sanctuary and urban farm. We tend the land using organic, permaculture and biodynamic principles to grow plants for ourselves and others, while creating a habitat, as well, as for the pollinators, birds, and other creatures living here.
When the house was first built in 1951 the house and property seem to have been well cared for for a number of years, but then later, it saw years of neglect. This was a blessing in disguise, since the “weedy” lawn showed no signs of having chemicals used on it any time in the recent past, giving us a good start to growing things organically and chemical free here.
Previous to that, it had been pasture land for a large farm, and before that forest. Although high above the Cumberland River now, at one time before the river carved its way deep into the land, it had also been part of the river flood plain. All these factors resulted in a rich alluvial soil; the perfect canvas for what we are doing here.
Although this parcel is small, we have everything from the dense shade of a narrow strip of woodland in the back, to full sun in the front yard where we grow most of our food, as well as a little of everything in between. This great diversity in a small space allows us to grow a wide variety of plants and trees.
The Spring House is a little corner of the world that we hope that we will tend well, as we share it with you.
– Robert & Joni McKeown (East Nashville TN)
The Origin of The Spring House
Several years ago, I was in a coffee shop brainstorming ideas for a project that I was working on, and was using a small notebook that had a Pegasus on the cover it. The notebook cover got me wondering about the story of Pegasus, so I decided to read about him. After reading the story, and because of my love for art, music and all things creative, I decided to jot down some notes about what I had read for possible future use.
As I read the myth, I discovered that Pegasus had been given to the Muses on Mount Helicon, which was their sacred mountain. While there he struck his hoof on the ground, to create a spring, which was named Hippocrene (Horse Spring). That spring was thereafter considered a source of creative inspiration, and thus, Pegasus became a symbol of creativity.
In addition to its special springs, Mount Helicon was also known for its many medicinal herbs, which were considered to have divine healing powers.
HELICON, a mountain range… in ancient Greece, celebrated in classical literature as the favourite haunt of the Muses… On the fertile eastern slopes stood a temple and grove sacred to the Muses… Hard by were the famous fountains, Aganippe and Hippocrene, the latter fabled to have gushed from the earth at the tread of the winged horse Pegasus, whose favourite browsing place was there. … many of its herbs possessed a miraculous healing virtue.”– 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Project Gutenberg, 1911
Flashing ahead to 2017, Robert and I had started discussing relocating back to an area that I had lived in previously, and in 2018 we finally decided that it was time. We talked about the things we would each like to have at our new home. One of the things that I hoped for was a place with a creek or stream on the property or at least nearby, because water has always held a special place in my soul. And of course it goes without saying – we wanted a place where we could do our music & art, and to grow things.
We looked at many houses, but none were quite right. Finally at the most unexpected moment we found “home”. We both knew as soon as we stepped foot on the property that it was where we were meant to be. A simple brick ranch in need of some love, built in 1951, it was just what we had hoped for, with space for all the things we loved to do.
Although there was no visible water on the property, the neighborhood had many springs and small creeks running through it (many which are now even piped underground), including a stream on the property right behind us. There were also signs that there had been springs on the property in the past, including the willow and sugarberry trees with their deep thirst for water, so I was contented.
Since we are big believers in naming houses, we began searching for a name for our new home. Several ideas were tossed around, but nothing was quite right, still the theme of water kept reoccurring.
As these threads finally started coming together to slowly form an idea for a name. The themes of healing, of water, of horses and history, and of our love for all things creative and growing, brought to remembrance the story of Pegasus. It was then, finally, that the name became clear. It would be a place of Heliconian Muses, where waters of inspiration would flow, and healing plants and trees would be grown.
It would be The Spring House.
The History of The Spring House
When we moved to The Spring House I was also started researching the history of the house and land; which is something that I always love to do when moving to a new place. That interest is born of a deeply curious soul, as well as a need to connect to a new place.
This place is the ancestral land of the Shawandasse Tula (Shawnee), the ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East), and the S’atsoyaha (Yuchi) people. Before them it was a sacred space for the mound builders, and close nearby to The Spring House there was an ancient mound.
Later this area was colonized by European settlers, who divided up land that was not theirs to divide. The mound had a house built on it by one settler, and the place where The Spring House now is became part of a large plantation called Maplewood Farm, whose enslaved people gave their lives working the land and making it prosperous.
(Our back boundary is actually an old fence-line dividing up that farm; old wire emerges from the sides of the towering trees that have long since grown around it.)
The farm was eventually owned by railroad man Jere Baxter and became a been a place of wealth and luxury. Prize-winning horses and cattle were raised on its fertile pastureland. Some of them had even traveled across the globe to come here. It was he that later sold and divided up the land to become a suburban neighborhood.
Eventually, the houses were all built, the mound and settler’s house on top were razed to make way for a store, and the history was whitewashed and buried.
Still you can feel the presence of all of these people if you are quiet enough. It is our hope that, in our stewardship of the land, we can honor these people.
From the Heliconian Muses let us begin to sing,
Who hold the great and holy mount of Helicon,
And dance on soft feet about the deep-blue spring…
When they have washed their tender bodies…
In the Horse’s Spring…
Make their fair, lovely dances upon highest Helicon…
and utter their song with lovely voice.
– Hesiod, Theogony and Works and Days