Bee Skeps and Fieldstone
A Country Place in the Heart of Carolina
By Ray Owen » Photos by G. Frank Hart
Growing up in Randolph County, Joyce and Gary Fields came to love the storied countryside and its history. So strong was their interest, as a young married couple they began recreating a 19th century farmstead on a rolling meadow west of Asheboro, situated at the end of a wooded drive off a winding hardtop.
They named their place Fieldstone after the rocks they’d collected since the late 1960s – old field stones, chimneys and foundations – materials they eventually used to build their home. “Every spring it was like a ritual, Gary and me out finding rocks,” says Joyce. “We both worked full time and when we got home, we’d hunt rocks. It was a fun thing to do – and it was our thing.”
“Way before we even had our first cabin we were gathering rocks. Now, some of the stones mean as much to me as the buildings,” she says laughing. “These rocks have faces and those faces are like old friends. If I ever had to leave here, I’d have to take some of these rocks with me – isn’t that funny!”
Fieldstone reflects years of devoted study and collecting. Of her passion for history, Joyce says, “it’s just in your blood. It’s the character of early things that I find charming, like seeing an old bowl a mouse has chewed on. It tells a story and it makes me think about the one that crafted it.”
Remarkable in its authentic appeal, Fieldstone incorporates several log houses moved to the site, along with a smokehouse, barn, well house, and potting shed. Their main cabin, the 1840s Allison-Kearns house, came from over near Mount Shepard. “We hauled it intact from its original location 10 miles away,” says Joyce.
A full two stories with an attic, the cabin was covered in clapboards when the Fields found it, having never been exposed to the elements and for some reason the logs never chinked. Adapting the structure for contemporary living, bathrooms were added back-to-back to hide the plumbing and a modern kitchen was added at the rear of the building.
“Of course, our parents thought we had lost of minds when we first started,” Joyce continues. “We told Gary’s grandmother to watch for the log cabin we were hauling home. Washing dishes, she looked out the window, saw the pile of logs heading down the road, shook her head and just went back to washing dishes.”
Coming through the Great Depression, the older generation had to “make do” with early pieces and they couldn’t understand why anyone might want something that looked old and dirty to them. “They didn’t much care for it,” explains Joyce. “In a way, they actually despised it. They couldn’t see our vision, but finally came around once they saw the finished product.”
“We were young and happy-go-lucky and didn’t worry about things. And we’re certainly odd birds, in any case. We’ve never brought a new piece of furniture. When I say I’ve never been in a furniture store – I really haven’t. I may have gone in looking for a sofa, but a sofa’s about the only thing, or maybe a wing chair.”
After restoring the first log house, the Fields moved a cabin that had been owned by Joyce’s sister to Fieldstone. A stone on the chimney was inscribed: “Solomon Williams and Rich Suggs Dec 7D 1849.” Suggs was an enslaved stoneworker and Williams, being a Quaker abolitionist, included his name. Suggs was later freed and eventually worked on the Carthage Courthouse.
“My sister Vivian and her husband Walter first got me interested in all this,” recalls Joyce. “I was 18 and Gary 21 when he went off to war in Vietnam. Vivian and Walter kept me preoccupied hunting antiques until Gary returned home in 1968. We didn’t even own a house yet, but I’d go to auctions and shops, buy things and send him pictures.”
When they were finally reunited, the couple began collecting together in earnest. They’d take trips up into Pennsylvania and New England – to Brimfield Antique Market and Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts, Shelburne Museum in Vermont, back through northwestern Delaware and the Winterthur Museum.
“Early antiques were easier to find back then,” Joyce recalls. “We would get something, scrub it down with steel wool and then wax it up, cleaning things a lot more than we should have. Over time, we learned through trial and error, and our taste has evolved over the years. In some cases, even just waxing a piece can decrease its value.”
“I think my grandmother had the biggest impact on me. She lived in an old clapboard house with no running water, no electricity and an old well. She cooked on the hearth even after they got power. I would spend a week with her in the summer when I got out of school. I loved her – she was a saint. I can still remember the smells in that kitchen, that house.”
Another big influence was an early Randolph County collector named Maude Cox. “Her house had the warmest feeling,” says Joyce. “It dated from the early 1800s, and wasn’t far from to the North Carolina Zoo. I’ll never forget the feeling I got walking into that place. It was more like the early New England homes with its hand-hewn beams and stone hearth.”
“Everyone in the Cox family loved handcrafts. They had the most beautiful hooked rugs you could imagine, and they got my sister Vivian into hooking rugs. For some reason, they were all just somehow driven to that stuff – they loved it.”
After Maude Cox passed away, a neighbor ended with her house and burned it down. Before the demolition the Fields got permission to salvage floorboards, beams and wainscoting – everything they could – and the couple utilized these materials in the creation of Fieldstone.
The Fields ultimately obtained a few pieces from Maude’s collection including a birdcage candle stand, ladder-back chair and a pine cupboard from the early 1800s. Perhaps the best piece they own, the cupboard is painted red and decorated with black hearts, fylfots and rosettes.
“I really like paint-decorated things,” admits Joyce. “I love primitives and they just fit with the cabin. A cherished piece is a heart pine corner cupboard that we found in an old barn after Gary returned from Vietnam. The structure had settled down on the cupboard and we actually had to dig out from under it to move the piece. We ended up paying two dollars for it.”
Other significant pieces in at Fieldstone are three pine blanket chests from Chatham County that date from the mid-19th century. They are paint-decorated by the same person, but the chests are by different makers. The chests are embellished with neoclassical urns, plaited baskets and delicate floral designs similar to motifs found on needlework produced in female academies.
Joyce recommends for those starting out to educate themselves – talk to people, get proper books and visit museums. To avoid fakes and reproductions, she advises building relationships with knowledgeable dealers that have been in business for years who you can trust.
“If I really sat down and thought about it I’d probably collapse,” says Joyce, looking back on all their efforts. “We had a lot of help, but still you have to do a lot it yourself. I cleaned every board by hand – it’s just an unbelievable amount of work.”
“My favorite thing is the whole look,” she says in conclusion. “In spring the grass is so pretty and everything is so fresh and alive. It’s wonderful in early morning, seeing the sun come up over the trees and flowing into the house – we are so blessed to be in a place this beautiful.”