Paths Crossed: Where my kitchen tiles come from

Following up my delight with the names given to the tiles I’ll be applying as a baseboard in my kitchen…

I returned to Nemo Tiles on East 21st Street and sat down with Vlad to order my 4 by 12 (with bullnose) porcelain tiles in a color called Private Eye, one of the intriguing colors in a collection called Notorious.

As Vlad did things on his computer, I mentioned how entertaining were the names Notorious, and Private Eye. “Who comes up with these names?” I asked him.

“Oh, the company making those tiles always does great names,” he said.

“What company is that?” I asked.

“Crossville,” Vlad said, and I jumped out of my chair. “Crossville, Tennessee!!” I semi-yelled. “OMG, I’ve been there!” And I have, when climbing back up to the Cumberland Plateau from Dayton, Tennessee, in the valley 2000 feet below, on my way home to Nashville.

Well, perhaps I should have said driving, not climbing. Wouldn’t want you to envision me  hauling myself up via ropes, pitons and handholds. No, it was a small white rental car which did all the work when I drove into Crossville, on a hot August day in 1995. I mention August because one thing I discovered about Crossville is an annual event: the biggest flea market in the entire universe, which takes up every inch of available land in and out of the town. Miles and miles of flea tables which stretched along the main road westward, possibly into Arkansas, but I couldn’t see that far.

Another Crossville spot was the Cumberland General Store, the sort of spectacularly rural emporium urbanites like me never get to enter. I did, and picked up a catalogue which I just pulled out of my Tennessee file box. The catalogue I have is #395, an oldie but since the cover says “Old Time General Merchandise,” and “Goods in Endless Variety for Man and Beast,” I’d hope the latest catalogue hasn’t changed much.

Flipping at random through the catalogue, I found Potpourri, Spices, Herbs & Herbal Teas & Accessories; Lamp Parts and Accessories (including a Gone With The Wind Lamp). Moving on, I found a chair caning kit and Franklin Hide Glue (“can hold 3,500 pounds!”).

Let’s see. What else: Here’s a “chemical indoor closet,” i.e., toilet below “Turn of the Century Water Closets,” tank up on the wall with a pull chain. Later, fencing tools (not épées), tomahawks, and “trainer nipples” (“This is the no mess way to train calves to drink!”).

There are musical instruments, too. Dulcimers, mandolins, banjos…and an Oonee-Can, “an extremely fun musical instrument for the young and the young at heart.” Also an ocarina, next to a kazoo and a recorder.

Here’s the Windmill Department! Yes, you can build your own with a “complete mill package!” My current favorite, though, are the pages with horse carriages and buggies, including a “Surrey With the Fringe On Top” and a three- seater — the seats lined up behind each other.

I thought these were do-it-yourself kits but I see a note saying the buggies are built to the customer’s specifications, so never mind the Ikea problem of no enclosed Allen wrenches or the wrong screws.

And how about Farm Houses For Down To Earth Living! Yes, Cumberland General Store sells building plans for DIY homesteading, with a bit of cheerleading, “You are considerably more capable than you can imagine!”

Well, I know my capacities. After all, I’m going to stick the tiles onto my kitchen wall as soon as Crossville delivers. And I’ve been moving around with my drill, making holes and pushing in anchors to hang some things. But I don’t think I’m capable of building “The Santa Fe,” plan number 3769, with what looks like more outdoor space than indoor.

One plan, though, is important historically: the Authentic Homestead House Plan! If you’re driving west, before you get to Crossville itself you’ll pass through Homestead, Tennessee which will cause you to pull over to learn how this odd, strangely lovely place came to be.

You can read the full story (it’s worth it) at the link above, but the very short answer is… Franklin Delano Roosevelt who, along with creating the TVA 100 years ago during the Depression to give the Tennessee Valley electricity, gave Cumberland Plateau land to starving Tennessee farmers and coal miners and other unemployed workers, along with the wherewithal for them build their own family homes out of local stone, stone which turns golden red as the sun sets.


I have learned the Cumberland General Store is no longer in Crossville, Tennessee. Due to road work or some such, the store has changed hands and moved to Georgia.

I leave it to you to click on the above link to see about getting the catalogue. Or maybe a windmill. I’ll be here, waiting for my Notorious Private Eye tiles, which have been promised for the beginning of September.





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