Sunday, July 8, 2012


Joe Natural's for lunch at Leiper's Fork

Last week, a friend in Louisiana wrote to me about a small town near Franklin, Tennessee called Leiper’s Fork, knowing well that this information would incite my peripatetic senses. It seems the town was showcased in a recent article that appeared in Country Living magazine and is one of those quaint back roads villages that has been rejuvenated and caters to Franklin and Nashville citizens who look for a place to spend a week-end in the country. I let the message from my friend sit on my desk for two full days before setting out to see why Leiper’s Fork had filled several pages of Country Living.
Like Bellbuckle, another small town in Tennessee that I often visit, Leiper’s Fork is one long main street lined with galleries, gift shops, and wonderful restaurants. We stopped at Joe Natural’s for lunch because the restaurant advertised fresh, natural ingredients and organic, homemade cuisine. Some of the fare included gluten-free breads and cookies and grass-fed burgers, but I opted for a cold soup containing pureed avocado, celery, and tomato, seasoned with homegrown herbs. The piece de resistance was a home-baked cookie made of beets and chocolate. I know the ingredients sound not-so-palatable, but it was one of those “give me more” occasions!
My book addiction led me farther down the street to Yeoman’s In the Fork, a rare book and document gallery inside an old mansion with the traditional four white columns on the porch. I was surprised to discover a gallery with over 50,000 rare books, documents, and maps. The bookstore features rare antiquarian books from many historical periods, with a special focus on Colonial America, including historical documents hand signed by some of America’s founding fathers.
Randal Bedwell explaining bookbinding at
Yeoman's in the Fork
I wandered toward the back of the gallery and discovered a man sitting at a desk engaged in bookbinding who offered to help me if I needed information about the gallery. Instead, I struck up a conversation about his bookbinding work, and he showed me a large book with leather binding that he had just finished cleaning and mending – it was a copy of the works of Euripedes, a Greek tragedian living in the 5th century B.C. The volume was published in 1694, and the print was as clear as the day it was published on fine, unblemished paper resembling parchment!
Bedwell established a Guild Bookbindery in 1987 in the basement of his parents’ home in Paris, Tennessee and reports that he began his business repairing and rebinding old Bibles, as well as Civil War volumes. We found that we had a mutual acquaintance in Oxford, Mississippi --Richard Howorth, owner of the famous Square Books bookstore in Oxford. Bedwell pursued his Masters in History at Ole Miss and later started a publishing house called the Guild Bindery Press and a literary magazine, Southern Reader. He published his own books through the press, authoring many books on southern history and culture and later sold his May I Quote You, General? Civil War Biography Series to Cumberland House Publishing and three other titles to Random House in New York City.
Bedwell showed me a copy of General Lee and Santa Claus: An Adaptation, a children’s book that he authored with Louise Clack about the unlikely pairing of General Robert E. Lee and Santa Claus, which he plans to reprint this year. However, his real passion is bookbinding, and he’s searching for more bookbinding equipment as this service will soon be expanded at its present location so that the work of conserving, preserving, and bookbinding rare books continues at Yeoman’s.
Bedwell also teaches History at Nashville State Community College and is working on his doctorate at Trevecca Nazarene University, but his dissertation isn’t concerned with bookbinding – it’s about online learning. He authors a blog, one of which tells the story of the loss of the famed jeweled book, The Rubaiyat by Omar Khayyam when the Titanic went down a hundred years ago. This book, with more than 1500 gems in its cover and worth $45,000, was recovered and then lost again. But I won’t retell the story because interested readers can read the complete story on Bedwell’s blog Sinking of Titanic Spawns Bookbinding Legend -- The Great Omar.
As I’ve said before, no telling who or what will turn up when you take a trip through the hills of Tennessee, and Yeoman’s in the Fork is one of those rare places where you’ll find serendipity.

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