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After 42 years, 'Mrs. Cobb' decides to leave past behind

Max Hrenda • Apr 19, 2014 at 9:39 PM

PINEY FLATS — After 42 years of living in 1791, “Mrs. Cobb” has decided to leave the frontier.

On Saturday, Emily McClellan made her last appearance as Barsheba Cobb at the Rocky Mount Living History Museum before her retirement from educating and performing for visitors.

Rocky Mount, located at 200 Hyder Hill Road, has preserved the home and farm of William and Barsheba Cobb, which was built between 1770 and 1772. William Cobb is known for his role in supplying the Overmountain Men with weapons and supplies, and for his participation in the Battle of Kings Mountain. Additionally, the house also served as the first territorial capital of the Southwest Territory after President George Washington named William Blount governor while he was living with the Cobbs.

McClellan, who has played the part of Mrs. Cobb since 1972, said that, although she still spent her last day working as a historical interpreter, her colleagues and admirers helped make it memorable.

“They have just been great to me today,” McClellan said. “They’re coming and bringing me things, and telling me that I’m wonderful. And I’m believing them.”

A Johnson City native, McClellan graduated from East Tennessee State University in the 1950s with her master’s in education. After spending some time teaching in Georgia and South Carolina, McClellan eventually made her way back to the Tri-Cities and, after a time, was invited to teach again, this time as an interpreter at Rocky Mount.

“They hadn’t made this into a historic site for very long,” McClellan said. “A friend of mine was on the board, and she said, ‘Come up here; you’ll just love it.’ I came up here and looked around, and wondered ... who was interested in old log houses. (But) the more I learned about it, the longer I stayed and the better it got.”

In addition to the site itself, McClellan attributed the duration of her tenure as Mrs. Cobb to her “husband,” Grant Hardin.

“We admire each other greatly,” McClellan said. “Grant is great as Mr. Cobb. He is wonderful at what he does.”

For the past 24 years, Hardin has played the part of William Cobb and, in that time, he and McClellan became close. They are so close, in fact, that neither of them refer to the other by their given names.

“I can’t think of her as Emily,” Hardin said. “Even when I call her on the phone, I call her Mrs. Cobb.”

Their relationship grew so close that, at times, visitors, and even other re-enactors and interpreters, mistook them for an actual married couple.

“One time, a man came down from Mount Vernon who was playing George Washington,” McClellan said. “While he was here, I called, ‘William, something-or-other,’ because we act like we live here. He looked at me and said, ‘Are you all really married?’

“Mr. Cobb said, ‘Well, I should hope we are. We have so many grandchildren.’ ”

In Hardin’s mind, their steadfast portrayal of the Cobbs has produced one of the best historical interpretations in which he has partaken. Hardin, who has portrayed characters from the eras of the 1770s to the 1880s, said McClellan’s work as a historical interpreter is unparalleled.

“I’ve never seen her equal, and I’ve done this for 40 years,” Hardin said. “I’ve seen people ask her questions that would trip a lot of people up, or at least make them hesitate, and she’d be on it like a steel trap. She knows a thing so well, that she doesn’t even have to think about it. That’s something you very rarely ever see.”

With McClellan’s retirement, that type of performance will become even rarer. Though she said she was looking forward to going home and enjoying herself, she added that it occurred to her that there was more work to be done at home than there was at Rocky Mount.

“I’ve been in this house more than I’ve been in my own home,” she said. “I’ve found out there’s so much to do at my home. A lot of things need cleaning ... and there are a lot of things I’ve neglected because I’ve been working out here.”

Despite the potential for more work at home, and the love she said she feels for Rocky Mount and her fellow interpreters, she said she knows it’s time to say goodbye to the Cobbs.

“I love it out here ... but I think it’s time,” she said.

Follow Max Hrenda on Twitter @MaxLHrenda. Like him on Facebook at facebook.com/jcpresshrenda.

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