Lou Ann McCulley Moore and her husband Tom restored the original barn on the McCulley Family Farm in 2012. (Credit: Ned Jilton II)
When Lou Ann McCulley Moore was applying for Tennessee Century Farm status for the McCulley Family Farm in Sullivan County, she hit a roadblock. She wasn’t able to prove the connection between the founder of property, Stephen Easley, and his son Robert.
She knew the Easley lineage, and knew that Stephen Easley, her fourth-great-grandfather, had come from Virginia in 1782-83 and settled with his wife and children on a 1,733-acre plantation in what is now the southwestern part of Sullivan County.
She knew that Stephen and Mary Ann David Easley had one daughter and several sons, including Robert. But she couldn’t prove it. And she needed to prove it to finish the application for the Tennessee Century Farm program, administered through the Center for Historic Preservation at Middle Tennessee State University.
So Lou Ann made a trip to nearby Blountville.
“I had never been to the archives before. I just walked in off the street,” she said.
At the Sullivan County Department of Archives and Tourism, she met Executive Director Shelia Steele Hunt, who led her to the Easley/David family Bible. And there she found the handwritten proof: “Robert Easley, son of Stephen Easley.”
Armed with deeds, death certificates, birth certificates, marriage certificates, land transfers and photographs, Lou Ann submitted the application to the Center for Historic Preservation in January. In February, she received confirmation that her farm had been certified as a Tennessee Century Farm and a Tennessee Pioneer Farm. The farm is the second-oldest certified Tennessee Pioneer Farm in Sullivan County and predates the founding of the state of Tennessee.
“So even though we knew we were Stephen’s relatives, it took all that to prove it,” Lou Ann said. Lou Ann also used genealogical information from two books written by Easley researchers, “Ancestral Sketches,” by Le Roy Reeves, and “Easley: A Genealogical Record,” by James Easley.
To qualify for a Tennessee Century farm, the applicant must prove that the farm has been in the family continuously for at least 100 years; that the farm includes at least 10 acres of the original founder’s land; that the farm produces at least $1,000 in annual income; and that least one owner is a resident of Tennessee.
To qualify for a Tennessee Pioneer Farm, the requirements are the same as for a Century Farm, but the applicant must prove that the farm has remained in the family since 1796 or before.
Lou Ann and husband Tom started the application process about two years ago. She and Tom live and farm a 96-acre tract that was carved out of the farm founded by Stephen Easley. Lou Ann is the 11th owner of the farm, with the land transactions passing to her through both lineal and collateral-line ancestors.
Lou Ann’s father was born on the property and she was raised there with her parents, grandfather and uncle.
“Some of my early memories of the farm are split rail fences, an orchard with pear, apple and cherry trees, a garden with rows of flowers mixed with the vegetables, sweet-smelling peonies in the yard surrounding the log house, and the orphan lambs from my grandfather's small flock of sheep, which I raised by bottle feeding,” she said.
Lou Ann graduated from Sullivan High School and holds a degree in home economics from East Tennessee State University and a master of science degree from the University of Tennessee. In the early 1980s, the couple decided to reside on the McCulley Family Farm with her parents. Tom, who was raised in Memphis, retired from the Environmental Protection Agency in 2003 and Lou Ann retired from the Department of Children's Services in 2006.
In 2002, Lou Ann inherited the property from her mother, and she and Tom now farm and co-manage the operation.
“It’s a dream come true,” Lou Ann said. “It’s very peaceful. You can sit on the porch and hear the birds, the wind, the leaves and the water trickling in the water feature.”
When Lou Ann and Tom moved to the McCulley Family Farm, they wanted to restore and enlarge the Thomas Easley House, a hand-hewn, two-story log home. Thomas Easley, son of Robert, was the property’s third owner. Construction costs were considerable, however, so the logs were sold to a local landscape architect. Lou Ann and Tom built a new home on the site of the Thomas Easley House.
Thomas Easley also built a large log barn on the property around 1845. That building was restored in 2012 and is still in use today.
While son Andrew resides in Colorado, daughter Heather and her husband live in a second house on the property and help Lou Ann and Tom maintain the cattle. Both Lou Ann and Tom are certified Tennessee Master Beef Producers and are members of the Tennessee Cattlemen’s Association.
To date, 25 farms have been certified as Tennessee Century Farms in Sullivan County, and five of those have also been certified as Tennessee Pioneer Farms. Founded in 1775, the oldest Pioneer Farm in Tennessee is the Masengill Farm in Sullivan County.
For further information about the Tennessee Century Farms or Tennessee Pioneer Farms program, visit www.tncenturyfarms.org