Dispatches from Southwest Virginia
Daily Dispatch, Volume 7, Number 143, 18 June 1855, pg. 1
SOUTH WESTERN VIRGINIA.
Departure from Wytheville—Return of the Lynchburg Company— A Delicious Breakfast— The Dividing Line between the Waters of New and Holston Rivers—The Town of Marion—Seven Mile Ford and the Bottoms of the Holston—Bad Roads in old times—Abingdon—A touch of Geography — Fertility and Mineral Resources of the Southwest— The Hospitable Treatment of the Company in Abingdon.
On Wednesday, June the 6th, we were all up at an early hour and ready for departure from Wytheville by 5 o’clock in the morning. We regretted that our Lynchburg friends, except Col. Garnett and Mr. Gill, had to leave us at this place, and return.— Our party, consisting of twenty, were comfortably seated in two of Summerson, Kent & Co’s fine stages, drawn by fine teams, and at the appointed hour started off in the gayest style of staging—our pleasure being enhanced by the cool temperature, and the clear and bracing mountain air, which gave new life and spirit to the mind, as it did to the bodies of our travellers. Under the inspiration of this delightful morning, and the sociable travelling in the stage, there began that flow of humor and of wit, which was kept up almost without cessation until the party had, in retracing its journey, hove in sight of the dreary lands of the South side ridges. Those old acquaintances, gullies, galds, broom straw, hen-nest grass and sassafras, were too sombre for humor, and there seemed to be too much delicacy of feeling to indulge an unbecoming levity in what now seemed to those who had been to the South west, the venerable presence of Misery.
Leaving Wytheville, where our railroad for the present terminated, we travelled by the splendid Macadamized road towards Abingdon, the point of our destination. Three miles from Wytheville we crossed Reed Creek, a tributary to New River and very pretty stream, winding its way, where we crossed it, between high banks, covered with richest foliage, to which the hemlock with its delicate fringe seemed to give the finishing touch.— At other points, however, Reed Creek is bordered by wide flat lands that are exceedingly rich. We travelled rapidly along the fine road, parsing rich fields and meadows, and forests of noble trees, and came to our breakfast house, a distance of 14 miles from Wytheville, in good time. This house the party will never forget. It is called Rural Retreat, and is kept by old Mr. Jonathan Aker—(I spell it right; for I have it from the old gentleman himself.) The breakfast was soon ready. It consisted of fried ham, fried chicken, beefsteak, scrambled and boiled eggs, coffee, milk and butter, with honey and other things—and the bread was excellent; indeed, all was delicious, but most of all, the butter was the subject of eulogy.— Fourteen gentlemen spoke for a pot of it on their return; but all seemed to fear that they might not meet such butter again, and therefore ate as much as they could! The milk was the richest, the eggs the freshest, the bread the nicest, so every body said, that anybody had seen. Mr. Aker and Mrs. Aker apoligized: they had not sufficient notice to prepare for so many—“if we hat only hat a little more time we would a done petter”— said Mr. A. “No apology necessary,” said one, and an egg disappeared. “A capital breakfast,” said another, and away went a glass of milk. Butter had not time to melt in the mouth, and had there been a chicken in any of the eggs he would not have had time to chirp as when swallowed by the Frenchman. Mr. and Mrs. A. had to talk against twenty, and as only one could talk at once, they lost little time. At the conclusion of the meal I came to the conclusion that a better breakfast, more promptly disposed of, had never been. The appetite of the guests had been whetted by the travel and the delicious morning breeze. They certainily needed an excuse. Mr. and Mrs. A. were delighted to see their guests so hearty, and begged them to eat more: as much as to say that as bold as had been the charge of the fifth of one hundred, the larder of the Rural Retreat was yet unconquered.
Bestowing many thanks and a thousand blessings on our good Landlord, we bade him adieu and went on, feeling as though we could travel a thousand miles without eating again. Three miles from Aker’s, or 17 from Wytheville, we came upon the dividing line between the waters of New River and those of the Holston. The place is called Mount Airy, and only about half a mile sepirates the head springs of each. Thus we have waters rising within this half a mile, running off in opposite courses, and after travelling many hundreds of miles, meeting at the mouth of the Tennessee river, near the junction of the Ohio with the Mississippi.
Twenty-six miles from Wytheville, we passed through Marion, the county seat of Smyth county—a very neat village, with several stores and a number of comfortable residences. Seven miles from Marion, we reached the Seven Mile Ford, where two small streams uniting, form the Middle Fork of the Holston River. Our journey to-day has been through an open and undulating country, whose tallest hills even appear to be fertile and well cultivated. Seven Mile Ford is a lovely spot, and is at the head of a series of the richest bottom lands which border this branch of the Holston. For three miles, this rich domain is the property of the same gentleman, who owns the Seven Mile Ford Tavern and its appurtenances! The Tavern is occupied by a tenant, the son of our old friend Aker, who gave us a fair dinner, and we were again on our way to Abingdon, a distance of 22 miles. Here we met with Col. Thos. L. Preston of Smyth, who had started for Lynchburg; but who turned back to accompany us to Abingdon, and to extend to us that elegant hospitality which added so largely to the pleasure of the journey.
The Macadam Road ends at Seven Mile Ford, and for the balance of our route, we had a specimen of the rough roll and tumble travelling of other days, along the old mud pike, which was then the great thoroughfare for transportation and travel to the South West! What a time they must have had of it! Who can wonder after seeing this road, at the constant clamors of the people, of the South West, at the long delay in granting them some improvement! I feel much gratification at the recollection that I always seconded to the best of my abilities, the appeals of this people; believing that they were greatly grieved, and that an improvement through their country would contribute incalculably to the wealth and general prosperity of Virginia.
We reached Abingdon after a very rough afternoon’s travel. Our company was soon quartered. A part went to the residence of our good friend and former townsman Wyndbam Robertson, Esq, (about a mile distant,) another part to Col. Preston’s, and the remainder stayed at Cumming’s Hotel, (none of the best.)
Abingdon is a village of some 1200 or 1500 inhabitants —is a place of considerable trade in merchandise—is handsomely situated, with some very fine buildings, and there is a great deal of wealth among its citizens. The surrounding country is very beautiful, adorned with rich and well cultivated farms, and some of the finest private mansions in Virginia. I propose to look back at our route West of the Alleghany, and give my readers a little Geography.
We have passed through Montgomery, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth, and are now in Washington. More than 100 years ago, in the year 1738, Frederick and Augusta counties were formed out of Orange, and embraced the whole of Virginia, west of the Blue Ridge. In 1769, Botetourt was formed out of Augusta, and embraced all Southwestern Virginia. In 1772, the county of Fincastle was formed out of Botetourt, and extended from New River Southwestwardly — In 1776, Fincastle became extinct, it being divided into three counties: Kentucky, Washington and Montgomery. Washington county then included parts of Wythe, Grayson and Tazewell, all of Smyth, Scott, Russell and Lee. Wythe was formed in 1790, from parts of Montgomery and Washington. Smyth was formed in 1831, out of parts of Washington and Wythe; and Pulaski, from Montgomery and Wythe, in 1839. The railroad crosses the Alleghany in Montgomery, and following the small tributaries of New River a short distance, obliquely crosses that stream into Pulaski. The counties of Pulaski and Wythe are open and undulating; the hills being, often tall, but generally handsomely rounded, presenting a softened outline, compared with other portions of transmontane Virginia. The same features mark the county of Smyth. Throughout Montgomery, Pulaski, Wythe, Smyth and Washington, the finest grass lands prevail—the limestone formations so favorable to grasses, existing with slight interruptions throughout the whole of their length and breadth. Passing the boundary between the waters of New River and the Holston, our route ran with the waters of the latter, as does the railroad route. The country seemed brighter, and the landscapes were what the painters call warmer. Indeed, this tendency to mildness and brightness grows certainly, but almost imperceptibly, as the traveller proceeds Southwestwardly— the latitude getting lower, and there seeming to be a better shelter from the sharp Northeaster. The lowlands of the head waters of the Holston are surprisingly wide and as fat as land well can be. The hills rise gracefully and are very fertile, while the picture presented in our whole route always seemed to be set in a frame by the admirable lines of mountain ranges at a distance on either hand.
These noble counties, so finely adapted to agriculture, are also rich in minerals; and of these I shall have more to say. What a country is it to be thus endowed with lands so fruitful, overlaying minerals of great value for inexhaustible extent! What a country for a railroad!
But revenons a nos moutons—i. e. if we may be excused for the quotation, let us return to the Board of Trade and our other friends. I said we were all quartered at night—some of us in royal style. On the morning of the 7th, by invitation of Colonel Preston, all of our party in Abingdon repaired to his splendid mansion and breakfasted. I will not, in fashionable parlance, call it le de jeune a la fouchette; for in Washington county they don’t get up anything with that name; but they spread before the guest what is much better than anything that ever bore that French phrase. I shall not go into particulars, but content myself with saying that the taste and liberality of the entertainment, and the delicacy and grace of the attentions paid them, drew largely upon the gratitude and admiration of the guests.
The forenoon of the day we spent in Abingdon. Col. Preston shewed us the interesting parts of the town, and told us many interesting things. I called to see our brother editors, Coale & Barr, of the Virginian, and Brunette of the Democrat, and spent a pleasant hour with them, talking of matters and things in general, and their grand country in particular. I am obliged to them for their kind manifestations. Great plans were formed by them for future enjoyment and I accepted all their invitations, as I have made it a point to do with regard to all others.
Our company dined with Wyndham Robertson, Esq., at his delightful residence near Abingdon, called the Meadows. I can say nothing to give a better appreciation among my Richmond readers of this noble hearted gentleman and true Virginian. He was evidently greatly delighted at receiving his old friends from Richmond and nothing that he and his most estimable lady could do to minister to their comfort and pleasure, was left undone. The dinner spread before them was a sample of the luxurious country in which we were. It was served with an elegance not to be surpassed in the city. The enjoyment of the viands was followed by a flow of wit and sentiment remarkable for its exuberance and appropriateness. This concluded the day in Abingdon, a day that will be cherished, 1 am sure, in the memories of all present, as one of the most pleasant of their lives. At night we were all lodged at Mr. Robertson’s, Col. Preston’s and Gov. Floyd’s, (in the absence of the Governor, those who went to his house, accepting the kind invitation of his amiable lady.) In the morning—i. e.—the 7th June, our party went to visit the Salt Works—an account of which we will give in our next. C.