Dispatches from Southwest Virginia
Daily Dispatch, Volume 7, Number 148, 23 June 1855, pg. 1
SOUTH WESTERN VIRGINIA.
Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, its commencement and progress, its triumph over difficulties, and its excellent and economical construction—Its Chief Engineer— The People of Wythe—Great Fish in New River—The Montgomery White Sulphur Spring, and other watering places—A Scene and a Dialogue at a Shantie—Last night in the mountains.
I could not of course conclude these numbers without making some particular reference to the Virginia and Tennessee Railroad, a work of great magnitude, located through a mountainous country, whose difficulties have been surmounted with a masterly engineering skill. The survey and location of the road was commenced in 1849, and the first dirt was moved about the middle of January, 1850, under the Presidency of O. G. Clay. Gov. Floyd was present on the occasion, and threw up the first spade full of earth. It has since progressed, with occasional partial suspensions from limited means, and is now extended 133 miles. It has crossed the Blue Ridge and Alleghanies in this distance, at a grade of 63 feet on the eastern and 60 feet on the western slope. The mountain section is marked by many deep cuts through solid limestone, and an extensive tunnel near the summit. There are, in the part of the road finished, five tunnels, the aggregate length of which is 2000 feet.— Seventy miles remain to be completed to the Tennessee line. The embankment for this whole distance is ready for the rails, with the exception of about $20,000 worth of masonry and grading. The superstructure and bridging is all under contract, and there is iron enough purchased and received to lay the road complete. Money is however wanted to go on; but it is hoped and believed that, under the new loan, enough will he obtained to press on the work. It would have been finished a year ago, but for the difficulty of obtaining money. Neither the engineer nor the officers of the road could go ahead without this sine qua non; for, as wise as was Solomon, and as strong as was Samson, neither of them could pay money if they did not have it. Mr. John R. McDaniel succeeded Gen. Clay in the Presidency of the road, and he has devoted all his practical energy to its interests. He has accomplished wonders—combatting difficulties that would have appalled a man of less energy and financiering ability.
Notwithstanding the road passes through a mountain country, it is only 29 miles longer than an air line—a loss of little more than 14 per cent, in distance—while the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad loses 70 per cent. between Baltimore and Fredericktown, and 50 per cent. between Baltimore and Cumberland.— Of the 203 miles, 110 are straight, and only 16 miles of that part which is curved are considered as slightly retarding the motion of the trains. It is estimated that the road, completed and equipped with an ample supply of locomotives, &e., will cost about $25,000 per mile. Few roads of similar character have been constructed for less than $50,000 per mile.
These facts are highly creditable to the engineering skill and energy of Col. C. P. M. Garnett, the Chief Engineer—a gentleman who, in addition to his professional accomplishments, commands alike the respect and esteem of all in the circle of his acquaintance by the courtesy and kindness of his disposition and his true Virginian frankness and generosity.
We passed the night of the 10th in Wytheville, in the afternoon observing the solid and stalwart yeomanry of Wythe who had gathered in the village to attend Court. There was no sign of dissipation—no vulgarity—no loaferism— no vagabondism to be seen. Everybody seemed to have some business to attend to, and was attending to it, and everybody seemed to be well to-do in the world. It is a good sign of the welfare of a community to see such men assembled together.
Sauntering about under the long porch of the hotel, we took one more thorough inspection of the immense fancy show-bill of the circus and manegerie, which we had seen at every store as far as Abingdon, and whose portraits of learned horses and ponies, clowns and equestrians, and dashing riders holding females with gauze wings aloft—had called back in some grey beards the spirit of boy hood and inspired an intense desire to see the show! I confess to some sympathy with much older men than I (!) in a wish to see how the lion would demean himself in the mountains, what sort of capers Merryman would cut before the graziers, and how the lady in short dress and butterfly wings would shine before those modest damsels, the true roses and lilies of the Western vallies! Alas, we had to leave before the circus came !— Was ever man so happy that he wished for nothing more ?
We breakfasted at New River where we saw a catfish weighing forty pounds put in a box surrounded with clover, kept wet to keep him alive, and labelled to Thompson of “Our House.” [I was apprehensive from the size of his mouth that when he came to Richmond, if he were still alive, he would swallow Thompson—and I felt relieved at seeing that gentleman in the street yesterday !] — These cats are abundant in New River, and have a monopoly of its navigation. They are so enormous and powerful that if they could be reduced to submission and employed as tugs a vast transportation could be conducted by them !
Our party was destined for the Montgomery White Sulphur Springs, by invitation, and left the railroad near the summit of the Alleghanies, the road that leads to them turning off at that point. We were very cordially received by Mr. Mosby, one of the proprietors, and with him proceeded to the Springs, only a mile and a half distant. There we found a vast number of workmen engaged in erecting the buildings for the place. The Springs and some 1300 acres of land were purchased by the company last fall, and the work of building was only begun in November. They expect to receive visitors early in July—though one half of their extensive place will not have been touched. On each side of the beautiful valley is to be a row of cottages corresponding with each other, and in the centre, not far from the spring, is the house where the guests are received and registered. Only the row on the Eastern side is now in course of construction. This embraces the spacious dining hall, ball room, etc. When completed, it will be one of the most spacious as well as comfortable watering establishments in the State. The company is spending money freely, and their plans are judicious and elegant. Henry Exall, of Richmond, is the Architect.
A grand feature of the place is a railway, which is constructed from the Virginia and Tennessee road along a gentle inclination down the valley to the hotel, and the cars in which the passengers are conveyed will pass under the roof of the building before they get out! That will be indeed superbly comfortable.
Dr. James Kent, Col. Thomas and Mr. Amiss of Blacksburg, members of the eompany, joined us at the Springs and treated us most courteously. An excellent dinner was served up at Mr. Mosby’s for our entertainment, which of course under the stimulants of the water, the mountain air and exercise, we enjoyed heartily.
The locality is very picturesque. Opposite the main building is a tall hill covered with the noblest forest trees of richest foliage, in which are to be promenades. It will be a delicious concomitant of the pleasures of the place. The opposite acclivity, back of the main building, is not without its beauties— one of which is a remarkable semi circular table of earth about a fourth of the way up its side. At the back and on the straight line of this semi-circle, is a spring of delicious water, gushing pure and cool out of the hilside. This little fountain it was which made the table, as it has deposited on every hand as it changed its course, the calcarious tufa by which it was formed. This flat semi-circle is called the “Devils Armed Chair,” the original name of the Valley being the “Devils Den.” I do not know why these names were given, except upon the principle that luxury is an auxiliary of old Scratch, and that when man is very comfortable he is not so apt to think of the future. There when seated on the Devil’s armed chair and gazing on the noble forest opposite, a man is not apt to think of his “latter end.” It is very possible that old cloven foot strewed these beauties around hoping to beguile some poor people in this way. I acknowledge the enjoyment of a temporary obliviousness in that same chair!
The cars arrive at the stopping place for this Spring about 5 o’clock in the afternoon, and the guests are immediately conveyed by the company’s Railroad along the deep valley for a mile and a half, to the Hotel.
When I remember how the watering places in the mountains were overwhelmed with visitors last year, and how very uncomfortable it was at most of them in consequence of this excess, I am glad to see that there is an increase of the places and the means for the accommodation of the immense and growing throng which seeks relaxation and health in our mountains.
The Springs I have just mentioned, are said to be efficacious in several forms of disease. Then there are the Alleghany Springs in Montgomery, about four miles from the Railroad—the Yellow Sulphur Springs, about three and a half miles from Christiansburg— and Koiner’s Springs, about a mile from Bonsack’s, in Roanoke. There are an abundance of mineral springs any where in and beyond the mountains on this line—in fact they are more plenty than Rattlesnakes; but only those I mention are fitted with buildings for the reception of guests, and these can accommodate several hundreds. For instance, our venerable friend Buford has various Sulphur and other Springs on his land; but he prefers to devote the meadows where they rise to grass instead of making watering places of them.
Late in the afternoon of Tuesday we repaired to the Railroad to take a hand car upon which we were to proceed to Dr Kent’s, four miles distant, to spend the night.
While our party were preparing for the descent by hand car to Dr. Kent’s, three of us walked on through the big Tunnel, to a place where stood a shantie on a high bank, in front of which was an Irishman beyond the middle age, and near by an Irish girl with rosy cheeks, bright eyes and a beautiful mouth, standing over a tub industriously testing the influence of soap, water and hard rubbing, on soiled linen.— A dialogue between one of our party and the Irishman took place, partly as follows: — “Col. Garnett is going to carry us down to Dr. Kent’s and may want one of these cars?” “What d’ye want with the car, if Col. Garnett is going to carry ye down to Dr. Kent’s?” “Well you had me there—You are smart up this way. What’s your occupation ?” “Well, I do nothing.” “Where do you liv?” “Well whin I lie down and cover meself at night, me house is thatched.” “Now, I know you’re an honest man and not ashamed of your business—What do you do ?” “Well I do nothing, and have a dom sight to help me.” The cars were again mentioned, when the venerable Pat continued: “What do you want with the car ?— Sanner and his men (the hand car men) are not here, and ye could’nt get anybody to fetch ye down to Dr. Kent’s.” “What do we want with anybody to fetch us down to Dr. Kent’s if we have the car?” “Oh ho, well done Pat, (said the Irishman) ye’re a slick fellow.” And our party appearing we bade adieu to our communicative Irishman, observing as we turned off that the lass, who enjoyed the dialogue wonderfully, showed in addition to bright eyes, pretty mouth and pearly teeth, a firm foot and ankle, guiltless of either shoe or stocking!
We proceeded down the grade at a rapid and delightful speed, to Dr. Kent’s, whose house we found to be the beautiful dwelling nestled in the mountains, which we saw and admired in our upward trip. Here we realized those comforts indicated by the external beauties and taste of the locality, enhanced by the gentleness and grace which adorn and preside over this charming retreat. There was passed our last night from home, in a journey all of whose recollections are delightful, and the reminiscences of whose conclusion in the mountains of Montgomery are among its brightest. By 9 o’clock next morning, we caught the last glimpse of them, and our best wishes for the good of those they look upon, sprang unbidden as they faded from the view :
“Ye banks and braes and streams” that grace
The county “o’ Montgomery !
Green be your woods and fair your flow’rs
Your waters never drumlie.” C.