Kentucky Living Home

50 Years Ago in Kentucky Living

By By Nevyle Shackelford from April 2014 Issue

50 Years Ago in Kentucky Living

The first step in maple sugar-making is tapping the tree, which, depending upon its size, will produce between 15 and 30 gallons of sap. Here Tom Eversole collects sap which will be boiled into syrup and sugar.

Attesting to the extent and scope of a bygone Kentucky mountain industry, there's scarcely a section that does not have a place designated as Sugar Camp, Sugar Branch, Sugar Grove, or Sugar Gap. In fact a guide to Kentucky place names lists no less than 136 such places. In olden times in this sugar maple country there was hardly a neighborhood where, in a sort of a community enterprise, folks failed to get together each spring, set up a central camp, and haul in maple sap which was boiled down into syrup and sugar.

But in the passing of the last half century which saw the vast maple groves of the mountains cut away for lumber and the ascendancy of cane and beet sugar for table use, home manufacture of sweetening from maple sap declined in proportion and now, except in extremely isolated instances, is little more than a nostalgic recollection. Only the place names remain.

One exception to all this was found this spring on Puncheon Branch in Owsley County. Here, starting in late February, retired banker Tom Eversole and nearby neighbor, Jim Buck Mays, tapped sugar trees and boiled down the sap into delicious dark syrup and incredible sweet sugar. What is a bit more unusual, Eversole said this activity had been going on more or less in this vicinity every spring for the past 100 years.