Dispatches from Southwest Virginia

Daily Dispatch, Volume 7, Number 145, 20 June 1855, pg. 1



Departure and last sight of the Salt Valley— Chilhowie Sulphur Springs—Our friend Aker—Demand for Maple Sugar—Arrival at Wytheville— Summerson, Kent & Co’s stages—A Visit to a Model Farm— The Lead Mines of Wythe.

Saturday, June 9 -- We had a good night’s rest at the Lick -- a night of sweet sleep, induced without rocking, and continued without interruption, until the golden light of the sun had tinged the sky of the beautiful valley. The charming songs of the birds and the cheerful chatter of the feathered domestics of the homestead, were peculiarly delightful to ears unaccustomed to them, and helped rapidly to dissipate the lingering drowsiness of sleep. We arose refreshed and invigorated, feeling ready for another day of active observation.

Immediately after breakfast, our whole party mustered, and accompanied by our kind host, Col. Preston, and Mr. Robertson, we started on our route homeward. We ascended Little Walker’s mountain—which rises immediately behind the mansion of the Lick--while the stages proceeded without passengers. Reaching a prominent point in the oblique road on the mountain side, we took a last view of the Salt Valley. Oh, how lovely it was! It was one of those enchanting scenes in nature which one always wants his dearest friend to be at his side and with him to admire. It was such an one as we see not often in our pilgrimage, and is not soon to be forgotten. I could talk of it longer; but I well know that the beauties which never could be tiresome to my eyes are very different from my description of them, and I will take leave of the Salt Valley, simply advising everybody who happens to have the chance of visiting it to do so.

“O vale, within your mountain urn, Smiling so tranquilly, and set so deep! Oft doth your dreamy loveliness return. Colouring the tender shadows of my sleep With light Elysian.”

In a few miles we crossed both the Walker mountains—neither of which is large—seeing some very pretty farms, and traveling through fertile lands all the way. Our road ran within a few hundred yards of the Chilhowe Sulphur Springs, which we visited.— They are about four miles from Seven Mile Ford, and perhaps two from the line of the Wa. and Tenn. Rail Road. We found them remarkably strong with sulphur—an analysis making them as strong as the White Sulphur of Greenbrier. They have not however, the elevation and bold flow of that yet unparalleled fountain. But the Chilhowe is a very strong sulphur, and might become a much frequented watering place. It is understood to be in market, and with a reasonable expenditure and some trees, which have to be planted to supply the place of those the heedless axeman has cut down, might be made a very pretty place.

Here we parted with Col. Preston, sincerely grateful for his kind and courteous hospitality. The brief sojourn under his roof, and the ramble over his princely estate, were hours of satisfaction and pleasure, that will be cherished in the recollection of his guests.

We entered the Abingdon Road about two miles from Seven Mile Ford, and there we bade adieu to our kind friend Mr. Robertson, who had treated us so hospitably, and had contributed so much to promote the pleasure of the South Western tourists. The cordial manifestations and attentions of that noble hearted gentleman, were such as to command our warmest gratitude.

At last we turned our horses’ heads directly homewards, and soon reached Seven Mile Ford, where we swapped the rough and rugged mud pike for the excellent Macadamised Road. Getting our dinners at a somewhat early hour, and taking a last look at the grand valley of the Holston, we were again on our journey, and re-traced our way over the road already described—by the Three Culverts, (not before spoken of,) which are under the embankment of the Railroad, through which gush the cool, pure waters of a mountain stream and where our company on the outward voyage, with the aid of spirit-rap-pers, took the mysterious third degree— thence by Marion, Mt. Airy, and our good old friend Aker’s, to Wytheville. As we passed his house, Jonathan Aker was ready to greet us. “Where is our butter?” cried fourteen gentlemen. “Couldn’t save a bit—had to send it all way.” “How could you serve us so?” “Couldn’t help it.” “Where is my maple sugar?” cried a councilman. “Oh, you shall have that.” Ten gentlemen jumped out of the stages and besieged the doors of Rural Retreat. The Landlord appeared with three large cakes of the sugar, and a hammer to break it up—the ten gentlemen seized him—he scuffled his way to the block before the house, and there laying down two cakes, they were immediately seized upon by two of the ten, who fled and others after them, while the third cake was broken up by our host and distributed among those who remained. Never did school boys show such avidity for maple sugar.

The two cakes were cribbed by the two gentlemen, and to console those whose long faces showed they had none, the kind hearted old gentleman said, “Never mind poys, you can get a blenty at a store three miles from here.” Where? Where? What’s the name? Whose store? roared out eleven stout voices. Getting the needed information and exchanging hearty good wishes with the landlord of Rural Retreat, we hurried on to the aforesaid store, where stood forth a sign upon which was writ the long name of some of the numerous family of hisers, and where trade in sugar was wound up by exhausting Millhiser’s, or Strackhiser’s, or some-name-ot-that-sort’s stock. Every body, however, got enough, and it was swept off before the retailer had time to advance the price! which was entirely unjust to him—a perfect swindle. People were amazed to see such a run on maple sugar! It is but just, however, in this truthful and just history, to state that there was nothing selfish in this episode in the journey of the honorable company. It is generally believed that no other number of gentlemen, picked up promiscuously, could boast of as many children as they could; and it was to gratify the dear little ones at home that this skrimmage, so honorable to all who participated, was indulged. Long ere this their glowing little hands have clutched the coveted lumps, and more than once, with cloyed appetites and smeared faces, bless their little souls, have their mamas been asked to “put it way till to morrow.”

We arrived at Wytheville Saturday night about 9 o’clock, after a week of as much activity and real enjoyment as ever it fell to the lot of a company of gentlemen. In thus ending our staging, it is but just to speak of the kindness of Messrs. Summerson, Kent & Co. in placing two of their fine teams and stages at our command. To them, and their obliging and efficient agent, Mr. Wm. M. Gilliam, the party is much indebted. Messrs. Summerson, Kent & Co. have very superb lines of coaches in the South West, which run as far as Knoxville, Tennessee.

There being no train from Wytheville on Sunday, the 10th, we rested there on that day. In the afternoon, by invitation of Mr. E. McGavock, a portion of our party drove down to the farm called “Fort Chiswell,” on the Macadamised Road, nine miles from Wytheville. It is owned by his brothers, Messrs. S. and J. C. McGavock and their two sisters. It is a very large estate, of remarkable fertility and beauty, having upon it one of the finest mansions in the West. It is noted for having been the site of a Fort, (whose name the place bears,) occupied by the British in Braddock’s war. Here resided Col. Chiswell, an Englishman, under whom, before the revolution, the Lead Mines of Wythe were worked. Some remains of a brick office, the brick for which are said to have been brought from England, are still seen on the farm.

Fort Chiswell is a model farm. Wide and extensive as are its medows and fields, they are all under good clean fences, free from the slightest mark of neglect, and having not a single spot, as far as the eye could see, that was not only not poor, but extremely fertile. And yet we were told that the season had been very bad; that last year, in addition to the drought, the meadows had been eaten bare by swarms of locusts, and that the green mantle which now covered them, was but a feeble and imperfect specimen of what, under favorable circumstances the land would exhibit! And here I must say what I have omitted before, that this was the universal complaint in the Southwest. Everywhere the season was said to have been the worst, and the crops the poorest samples of what the country could show with good seasons. Yet we were enraptured with the ever recurring scenes of fruitfulness and abundance—the fields of living green, which waved luxuriantly with the breeze, covering both the hills and the meadows. If what we saw be the bad looks of the country, what must it be when it lets on its brightest smiles and gayest attire? It were well for the Board of Trade not to see it under more favorable auspices—the mental effects might be disastrous!

A sudden and heavy rain prevented us from going over the fields; but we were favored with a sight of two three year old fat cattle, intended for the Virginia State Fair. More beautiful animals could hardly be imagined. They weighed 2200 and 2300 or about, were admirably formed; and fat as they were, their action was lively and good. If they do not take the premium, there must be some better cattle here than ever came to the Fair before.

The crop of wheat on the farm was a very large, and seemed to be a very fine, one; but the Messrs. McGavock were very apprehensive that it had been nearly destroyed by a heavy frost, which happened the Monday preceding. The injury from that cause is not fully ascertained until the crop is reaped.

We stayed to supper at Fort Chiswell, and had a sample of what the dairy of the South West affords, as well as its excellent housewifery. The coffee and the tea, the varieties of bread, the butter, (ye people, was ever such eaten out of South Western Virginia?) the cream! all—all were excellent beyond description. After these came strawberries and cream, (when I use that word I wish it distinctly understood I mean it literally; for we bid good-bye to milk when we went over the mountain, and never drank it except when at least half and half.) I never saw finer strawberries—indeed, they were generally pronounced the finest any body had seen. As a well known friend of mine says, “ I merely mention” these things now as samples—as planks in the platform of social comfort in the South West—a platform I shall always swear by, whatever be the mutation and changes of parties!

Duly acknowledging the kindness we had received, we left Fort Chiswell, and made the nine miles to Wytheville in a little over an hour. Wytheville has the best location of any of the transmontane Virginia towns we have seen, as far as the surface of the land is concerned, it being gently undulating and affording a good view around it. The streets are wide and well laid out, and the houses are very good. It is, indeed, a very pretty place, and there is a good deal of wealth about it. We were treated kindly there. We are especially obliged to Messrs. E. McGavock, Wm. Gibbony, and their good ladies, for their hospitalities.

Monday a good part of the expeditioners left us; but there were ten yet on hand to keep up the important investigations for which they started, as well as to enjoy the good things which seemed ready for us, turn where we might. We who remained spent the day in visiting the Lead Mines of Wythe, which are located on New River, 16 miles from Wytheville.

In the language of a friend, who commenced an Editorial for us at the Lead Mines, “among the most remarkable features of South Western Virginia, are its mineral resources;” and upon its remarkability in this respect, we may pile up the language of praise a great way without exaggeration.— The mines we visited are called the “Wythe Union Lead Mines,” and are owned and worked by a company. The lead ore is gotten out of a high hill near the river. It is washed and smelted at the works immediately on the river, whose machinery for lifting water, crushing the ore that is blended with rock and keeping up the blast, is worked by water, the river there having a fall and being also dammed to give this power.

The ore occurs in a silicious limestone, generally of a white or grey color, though sometimes blue. The veins are irregular in dip and direction, frequently turning abruptly and sending off leads or branches. On either side of the ore, the enclosing material is soft; on the upper side of the vein is generally a reddish clay, while the bottom is firmer, containing crystals of phosphate of lead. The vein proper is generally 12 inches thick, and yields compact sulphuret or blue ore; compact carbonate or grey ore; crystalized carbonate or cat’s tooth; carbonate and oxide, brown and red; and finely divided sulphurat or black ore; (according to Rogers, Wm. B ) The blue ore occurs in irregular masses or cups. The yield of the rough ore from the mines is estimated at 50 per cent.

A horizontal shaft has been wrought into the side of the hill from the plain below, at great expense; but it struck below the lead veins. A perpendicular shaft has been sunk to it, a distance of 220 feet from above, and used as a Shot Tower. The shot are conveyed along the horizontal shaft (to which they fall in making) by a rail way.

A great many shafts have been sunk in getting out the ore—the veins being so irregular. These are all distances from 20 to near 200 feet deep. It is strange that the ore is raised chiefly by hand. A like primitive system prevails at the works, where a great many processes easily adapted to machinery, are still laboriously performed by hand. The sweeps at the buddles or vats, for washing, are worked by hand; and it is strange enough to see men and little boys, each holding on to the end of a sweep, jumping up and down rapidly and stiff, like beings possessed! A cam wheel would do the thing so easy!

The ore in the vats of running water is rapidly disengaged from the earth, and the heavier particles settling to the bottom, the layers, according to weight, are as distinctly marked as could be. The operative scales off each and separates it. The coarser ores blended with stone have first to pass through the crushers; which are grooved rollers fitting into each other.

These works produce about 500 tons of lead per annum, which is wagoned across the country eight or ten miles to the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, at Mack’s Meadows, where it is put on the train for market.

Satisfied with an investigation, we returned to Wytheville, on our way getting dinner at Raper’s Tavern, and a capital one it was, concluding with a variety of pastry, and cream and strawberries, all for twenty five cents. With this for the reader to ruminate upon, I bid him adieu till my next. C.