Jason Skinner was a farmer, preacher, construction worker, road builder, traveling man, semi-pro undertaker and held a variety of jobs in the timber and lumber industries.
For six years, he was also the caretaker of the Old Log Jail in Nashville.
Jason, “Jase” to his friends, was born in Brown County State Park on March 28, 1886. But, of course, it was not park land then.
His father, James Skinner, was a minister and a farmer whose folks came from Madison County, Ohio, and settled in Van Buren Township. James inherited 40 acres of his father’s property at Kelp, bought 40 acres each from two other heirs, and moved there before Jason was born.
James Skinner died in 1929, the same year the state park was established.
For a time, Jason became a minister himself. He picked up a four-church Baptist circuit and went to preaching at each location once a month. He’d hold services Saturday evening and Sunday school the following morning. But he had to give up that activity when he started traveling extensively for a lumber company during the 1930s.
Jason’s mother was James Skinner’s second wife, Anna Roberts Skinner, from West Virginia. She had two children from a former marriage and James had one.
Jason was raised on his father’s farm at Kelp and worked the farm for five years after he married in 1907 to Stella Read, also a Kelp girl. They went to grade school together, but there was no high school for them to attend.
Their children, two girls and two boys, were born between 1910 and 1922
In 1918, Jason left the farm for the lumber business. He estimated and bought timber stands and cut, yarded, sawed, stacked and sold lumber most of the time until he retired in 1954 at the age of 68.
When Jason was born at Kelp, the community consisted of a few homes, a corner store, school and a church, all about a half-mile south of Strahl Lake.
Besides the Skinner family, others who lived at Kelp were the Chafins, Reads, Bradleys, Mullises, Hobbses, Ayneses, Deavers, Kritzers, Taylors, Bruces, Shephards and Saphels. Those hills and hollers were full of people at one time.
Whenever anybody died, they would come to Jason for a casket. He would get the caskets from Richard Culp, the undertaker at Nashville, and haul them to Kelp.
Residents never knew much that was happening outside Kelp; the only way they knew when someone died was someone would ring the bell on Mount Zion Church. They’d toll the bell first to notify the people who’d come in and dig the grave. Then when they had the funeral, the bell would toll once for year of age of the deceased.
After Jason retired, the Brown County Commissioners asked him if he would take care of the Old Log Jail after Raymond Lakin quit because of illness. He kept the jail swept and let people in to see the jail for 20 cents each. On Monday mornings, he would take the money to the county office where it was counted and divided. The county kept half, and Jason received half.
Jason was asked if there was anything among the antiques in the Old Log Jail that would be of special interest to the caretaker.
“Nope,” Jason said, with a twinkle. “I grew up with that kind of stuff.”
— Pauline Hoover, Brown County Historical Society