Dispatches from Southwest Virginia

Daily Dispatch, Volume 7, Number 142, 16 June 1855, pg. 1


Some Account of a Journey performed by a party of Gentlemen from Richmond, through a part of South Western Virginia — Some notes of its fertility and mineral Resources — and of that great Improvement, the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad.

I am about to undertake a sketch of a journey performed within a few days, by a party of gentlemen, through one of the fairest and most highly favored regions of our beloved Virginia — a journey the object of which was practical, and the incidents of which were full of satisfaction and delight. I feel how utterly incapable I am to convey to my readers an idea of what was seen and enjoyed by this party; for this land of verdurous hills and meadows and sweet waters, although full of delight to the passenger, becomes to the sketcher a Jordan of the hardest kind to travel, since its beauties are indescribable, and in the language of the tourist, “must be seen to be appreciated.”

On the 5th inst., by invitation of the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad Company, a party composed of the following gentlemen, left Richmond to travel over the work of that company and to see the country to which it is to afford an outlet to market:

Members of the Board of Trade — Horace L. Kent, President; R. B. Haxall, 1st Vice President; H. W. Fry, 2d Vice President; Wm. B. Isaacs, Secretary; Wm. Bell, Treasurer; and Samuel Mordecai, Thos. R. Price, Lewis Webb, E. B. Bentley, John Purcell, W. H. Haxall, A. S. Lee, and Wm. F. Butler, Directors.
Dr. Charles S. Mills, President of the City Council.
Samuel Ayres, member of the Council.
B. Johnson Barbour, of Orange, and B. W. Haxall, of Richmond.

The writer of this accompanied this highly respectable party of gentlemen, as a quasijournalist and member of the Board of Trade. In his slip-shod account of what transpired and what he saw in the route, of course he speaks not officially—but for himself and on his own hook.

Leaving Richmond at 6 o’clock by the Danville Cars, we reached the junction of the Petersburg and Southside Road at a fair breakfast hour, and breakfasted with Capt. Burke, who keeps an excellent house at that place, where the traveller who thinks half past five too early (as we do) will find good fare.

After breakfast we took the Southside train for Lynchburg. I am happy to record the fact, that in doing so we did not leave the car in which we started from Richmond— that car being run on to the Southside Road and attached to the train of that Road. We were informed that it was the first time such an interchange of a passenger car between the roads had taken place, and it was quite gratifying to the party that it happened with the car in which they were travelling. The hope was expressed that the event was the precursor of an amicable interchange of cars that will be just to all parties and to the trade of Richmond.

Without any incident worthy of note, we were transported to Lynchburg at a highly satisfactory railroad speed—passing in our route over that remarkably High Bridge, on brick pillars, over the Appomattox, to avoid which a friend of ours, to this day, takes the canal route! For nearly two years the Southside Company have been engaged in raising an embankment at each end of the bridge to take the place of the tall and ticklish tressle work which was kept steady by iron chains from posts in the ground to the top rails on either side. The traveller used to feel somewhat uncomfortable at seeing these fastenings swagging and tightening as the tall timbers swayed under the weight of the train, and he will be glad to learn that the clay embankment has buried the greater part of the very long stilts on which the bridge formerly danced not at all to his amusement!

When I last visited Lynchburg the Southside Road was not completed. I was much interested with the work, near Lynchburg, which crosses the James twice and encounters some considerable difficulties. Its location in this part of it is highly creditable to the Engineer, Mr. Sanford, and it appears to be very well built. It passes along the centre of the fertile island, known as Percival’s, and striking the Southern bank, not far below the depot of the Tennessee Road, continues up the river until it forms a junction with that road.

At Lynchburg, we remained half an hour for dinner. Undertaking to write a letter while there, I missed dinner as did another gentleman of our party; but there was one who thought of us, and who, when I was about to get on the cars in obedience to that starling cry of “All aboard!” I discovered bearing along wrapped up in many newspapers, enough meat and bread for a dozen men! His timely arrival and his grateful budget, saved us from the dire exigency of crossing the Alleghany hungry; and while unfolding his newspapers —which contained material so much more valuable than newspapers generally do — we mentally passed a high eulogy upon the benevolent friend who had thus given, in a small way, a striking proof of the true gentleman, whose pleasure ever is to promote the comfort and enjoyment of others.

At Lynchburg we were joined by a delegation of public men and citizens of that place, among whom was only one editor (Mr. Paxton, of the Republican,) who accompanied us to Wytheville, and who added largely to the pleasures of the journey, while they laid our party under obligations by their kind attentions. Col. Garnett, Chief Engineer and E. H. Gill, Esq., General Superintendent of the Va. and Tenn. Road, were among those who joined us. We hailed them with pleasure as they were to take charge of us and we resigned ourselves with alacrity to their direction.

Leaving Lynchburg we found ourselves penetrating farther into the dark redlands, which we had struck just below the town, and which grew richer as we advanced, until we reached the heart of Bedford county. These lands produce finely, and though neglected in years by gone, they are now receiving the benefit of a more careful husbandry and are rewarding the farmer richly for his labors. The construction of the Virginia and Tennessee road through this country has doubled, and in many instances quadrupled the value of the lands. In this respect does the Railroad soon return to the pockets of a people, the cost of its construction. It is a surprising fact, however, to find the holders of real estate sometimes refusing to extend any aid to improvements from which they derive so much benefit. This was especially the case in the rich and fertile county of Roanoke, whose teeming lands are traversed by the Virginia and Tennessee road, and which did not subscribe enough money to the work to pay the land damages which were assessed upon it!

Liberty, a distance of 24 1-2 miles from Lynchburg, with five stoppages on the route is reached in 58 minutes. This is a specimen of the general time on the road, and the hour of arrival and departure from the beginning to the end of the route both ways, and at all the stations, is most faithfully observed. Liberty is a very pretty village—possessing an air of comfort and good taste, and showing signs of industry which give proof that it is a live village. It is agreeable to look at such. There are places in Virginia where the people have gone to sleep, and in such they don’t wake up generally until their towns are past redemption and reach the low condition of Dumfries in Prince William, which is so poor that a credible tradition with regard to it, is that when kildees fly over it they carry saddle bags filled with food, as they can get nothing about Dumfries!—and yet Dumfries had once a great foreign importing trade, and her dilapidated and untenanted warehouses still mark the spot where was in former days a considerable commerce!

From Liberty onward is a flourishing country, presenting a grand view of whose outline the Peaks of Otter and other fine mountain ranges are the graceful features.— Onward, and onward, through the rich fields, we go, admiring all around us until we pass through the gate of the Blue Ridge, where the towering mountain has been cut down and borne away by the action of the waters, with other conspiring agents, leaving nothing but the strata of rocks to mark the line where it is supposed the once unbroken chain existed. Just at this point is the well known Buford’s Hotel, 37 miles from Lynchburg.— In old times it was a great stopping place for travellers. The venerable proprietor still resides there, and his portly figure may be seen in summer almost every time the train passes, looking hearty and hale, in his summer fashion of shirt sleeves, and a bandanna tied over his left shoulder and around under the right arm. His broad acres teem with crops and herds, and he seems to be the jolliest and happiest of old men, preserving his old notions along with his good humor and indomitable energy. Last fall he came all the way to the Fair, in Richmond, in a buggy!

We soon pass through the solid county of Bedford — solid for its rich lands, and sober, industrious and good people. We now enter the yet richer valley of the Roanoke—one of the most lovely and fruitful vallies of Virginia. It is watered by the Roanoke and its tributaries—a stream which rises high up amidst the spurs of the Alleghany mountains, passes through Roanoke, and becomes Staunton River immediately it passes the Blue Ridge, without receiving any tributary of note to justify the change. It always seemed to me that the name Roanoke ought not to have been given to the river at all, but that it should have been Staunton, all the way to its source. There are two other Roanokes beside it: the Roanoke and the Little Roanoke. The Dan River is the main tributary of the Roanoke, and that ought to be called Roanoke to its head. If these names were changed in this way, it would render our geography less confused.

What tributaries these counties will be to the Virginia and Tennessee Road! The county of Roanoke is fertile beyond measure, to its boundary, where the road passes into Montgomery, and as we penetrate the Alleghanies, the steep acclivities are still rich, and the gorges abound in green meadows and bright streams that go rejoicing on to leap into the floods below. Beautiful farms, and comfortable, and often elegant mansions are seen on every hand. As we ascended the mountain, and not far from its summit, we beheld on our left a handsome mansion, on a graceful elevation, embowered in true native forest trees. The building was new; the yard enclosures were white; tbe surrounding fields and meadows were clad in living green, while a mountain, waving with richest foliage, formed the back ground, and was separated from the mansion by a lovely valley. It was an enchanting spot, and it added no little to the interest of the locality to learn that the honey moon of those who dwelt there occurred not many months since. As we shall learn more of the graces and comforts of this happy home in the mountains we shall say no more about it at present.

The Virginia and Tennessee Railroad crosses the Alleghany mountains at a grade of 68 feet to the mile on the East, and 60 feet on the Western slope. It is a work of great labor, much of it being deep cuts through the solid limestone. Near the summit is the big tunnel—a work of considerable magnitude. It is work creditable to the skill of its chief Engineer, and would do credit to the enterprise and energy of the people of any country. West of the Alleghany we entered a yet finer grass country than any we had seen. The vallies were very narrow till we reached New River, after which the country was more open. The hills were nevertheless verdant to their very tops, and cattle were grazing among the trees on the abundant grass that grew there. The New River, which I had before seen, struck all that had not with admiration. It is, indeed, one of the most beautiful and graceful streams I ever saw. The oft-recurring rocky bluff gives new direction to the tide, and adds its own grandeur to the graceful curves of the river. More water passes over the bed of New River, at the point where it is crossed by the railroad, in twelve months than passes along James River at Cartersville for the same time! Yet the many rapids which interrupt it make it unnavigable. By locking and daming it might become a great medium of transportation. On Peak Creek, in Wythe, about 116 miles from Lynchburg, the road passes through a forest of white pine, which, it is anticipated, will become an article of commerce with Richmond. Immense forests of the same timber are upon New River, above the road, and can be floated down to the Central Depot.

At Mack’s Meadows (one of the richest vallies on the railroad) we saw the copper ore and the lead from the mines of Carroll and Wythe— that being the depot to which they are brought for shipment by railroad. We arrived at Wytheville before dark, 132 1/2 miles from Lynchburg, and 257 1/2 from Richmond! That is a feat that shows the go ahead spirit of the times. Four and five days were required in old times for the journey. Here I found my old friend, L D. Hancock, the former Delegate from Wythe, keeping the hotel, which he does in excellent style. He gave us a good supper, and being tired and having to make an early start, the Board of Trade and guests sought early beds. All were in raptures with what they saw during the day, and from fatigue they were soon wrapt in sleep at night.— Our Lynchburg friends followed suit, and though the number of strangers in Wytheville was very considerable, we venture to say the village was never more quiet—a fact creditable to the sobriety, if not indicating the youth and spirit of the strangers within its gates! C.