The Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad
Page Three: White Sulphur Springs To Virginia
The railroad passed through the pasture shown below that is now the entrance to the White Sulphur Springs.
Willis Gap Road
Jeb Stuart’s mother, Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart, noted in the 1850s during her time at Laurel Hill that people were coming to “take the waters.” Originally known as “Gunpowder Springs” the White Sulphur Springs Hotel would become a major resort stop for people traveling the roads to Mount Airy, North Carolina. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad “the Dinky” came by the White Sulphur Springs Hotel along the Ararat River downstream from Laurel Hill carrying picnickers, Sunday school groups, and courting couples sitting in chairs on flatcars. The hotel had a dance pavilion, horse racing, tennis, and croquet. People thought that taking the waters would cure kidney and bladder ailments by drinking the water with the “smell of rotten eggs.” The 165-room hotel closed in the 1930s due to the depression and the building became a chicken coup and burned in 1955 killing over 28,000 animals. The rock supports for the hotel’s columns are still present along with access to the Sulphur smelling water. The J. E. B. Stuart Birthplace has preserved part of the old roadbed at between Laurel Hill south to Mount Airy and northeast to Stuart, Virginia. Traveling down the “Old Springs Road” to Mount Airy would give the rider an intersection with the Willis Gap road across the Ararat River from the hotel. Much to the chagrin of those of us in Ararat who drive to Mount Airy, the roadbed is much the same as it was in the time of Jeb Stuart Traveling closer to Mount Airy today the old roadbed would turn and go by WPAQ. Traveling up or north and east to Stuart today follows an off shoot of the main road until you reach the present community of Ararat where the old main road turns left and travels due west to Carroll County. The road to Stuart would continue along towards Claudville crossing the Dan River near the site of Carter’s Mill and then across to not following the present route of 103, the Claudville and Dry Pond Highway. Studying old maps for this part of Virginia is difficult as few exist, but there is an 1821 map of Patrick in the Library of Virginia and a reproduction hangs in the Patrick County Historical Museum. This map along with United States Geological Survey maps from the early 1900s, which make you appreciate how much our roads have improved, but something seems lost as well especially for those who still are nostalgic for dancing with their sweetheart at the White Sulphur Springs Hotel.
Click Here To Learn More About The History Of The White Sulphur Springs
Near the White Sulphur Springs Chiropractor Clinic shown above we found evidence that the railroad crossed the stream to the right.
Next the railroad passed by the Sparger House owned today by Craig (shown above) and Jane (shown below with Kenny) Tesh. Jane’s mother Nancy and my mother are very old friends from their days working together at Quality Mills (Cross Creek Apparel). Craig and Jane invited Kenny Kirkman and I over one afternoon to talk about the railroad and in their yard were the two rails shown below.
Remnants of the "The Dinky" Railroad are still visible at the home of Jane (shown above with Kenny) and Craig Tesh, who live in the Sparger Home, the site of a once thriving tobacco farm and factory along Riverside Drive.
The Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad continued on following the west bank of the Ararat River. Across this field it came into my life once in almost a disastrous way near the home of Totsy and India Hill, grandparents of my childhood friends Teddy and Ann Guynn. As a young boy Teddy’s father Theodore took his across the ford in the Ararat one day one at a time. He told me to wait as he carried one of his own children across, but being inpatient, I dove in and thus almost drowned in the Ararat River near where the railroad passed by.
Totsy and India Powell Hill
Totsy Dunkley Hill (November 13, 1894-September 29, 1961) was born in Patrick County to Jesse Manning Hill and Mary Alice Cranford. He was inducted into the U. S. Army at Stuart on June 23, 1918, and honorably discharged on March 8, 1919. He married India Ethel Powell (December 27, 1900-August 4, 1989), the daughter of Reeves and Lucy Alberta Hubbard Powell, on December 27, 1919 in Claudville. They farmed in the Little Dan River section until 1938 when they moved to the White Sulphur Springs area of Surry County, North Carolina.
The couple had eleven children. Their six daughters were as follows. Evelyn Alice Hill born on November 19, 1923, married Harvey W. Wall of Ararat, North Carolina, on October 12, 1940, and had three children, Bonnie, Ray and Barbara. Mildred Eloise Hill born on October 20, 1925, married Alvin Marsh in 1942 and two children, Eliza Jane and Ronald. Bertie Elizabeth Hill born on March 28, 1928, married Theodore Culbert Guynn on October 8, 1947, and had two children, Theodore Martin and Elizabeth Ann. Essie Aliene Hill, born on June 28, 1929, married Richard Badgett and had a son named Richard. She was married to Warren Cox and had a son named Ronnie. Essie died on November 26, 1993. Susie Lee Hill, born on December 1, 1935, was deaf. She married Bascomb Gambill, who she met at the North Carolina School for the Deaf. They had two children: Caroline and Nelson. Susie died on March 5, 2004. The last daughter born to Totsy and India Hill was Nelda Gay on January 28, 1937. She married Jerome Ira Fink and had three children: Terri (mother of Kara), David and Kevin.
Five sons were born to Totsy and India Hill. Herman Powell Hill, born on December 20, 1920, married Georgia Louise Hill and had two children Norma Jean and Sammy Hall. Herman served in the U. S. Army Air Force during World War Two and died on June 19, 1993. Harry Booker Hill, born on February 1, 1922, married Maude Gunter and had three sons, Dean, Gary, and Roger. Harry served in the U. S. Navy during World War Two and died on April 20, 2000. Jesse Warren Hill, born on January 30, 1927, married Elizabeth Brown and had two sons, Timothy and James. Jesse served in the U. S. Navy during World War Two. Kermit Harley Hill, born on June 3, 1932, married Loraine Davis and had three children, twins Ann and Scott and Ben. Kermit served in the U. S. Navy as a jet pilot during the Vietnam Conflict and flew planes for Delta Airlines for thirty years. Bruce Wayne Hill, born on November 28, 1939, married and had four children Judy, Joyce, Dawn and Mark. He served in the U. S. Navy during the Vietnam Conflict.
Totsy Hill in his World War One Uniform
Below are remnants of the railroad directly across Riverside Drive NC104 from the home of the Hills.
Below are remnants of the rock crusher as marked on the map above.
The Ararat River looking south (downstream) from the White Sulphur Springs bridge on the left and on the right looking north.
The Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad crossed the Ararat River near the present day highway bridge on Riverside Drive NC Hwy 104.
Click Here To Learn More About History Along The Ararat River
In the summer of 1749, William Charton and Daniel Weldon of North Carolina met Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson of Virginia on the banks of Peter’s Creek in Patrick County. Their mission was to extend the boundary line between the two colonies from the spot William Byrd II had stopped in 1728. Joshua Fry, born in England in 1700 and educated at Oxford, taught math at the College of William and Mary. He served in many capacities such as magistrate, County Lieutenant of militia and Surveyor living in Albemarle County. Peter Jefferson, described as a strong and quiet man, married into the Randolph family. He named his home, Shadwell, in Albemarle County after the parish where his wife, Jane, was christened. He learned surveying from William Mayo, who accompanied Byrd on the survey twenty years earlier. The party crossed the western section of today’s Patrick County and extended the boundary line 90 miles west to Steep Rock Creek in present day Washington County. Unlike Byrd’s survey, no diaries or journals of the trip survive, but the “hardships” endured became something of legend in the Jefferson family. They crossed the Dan River near present day Claudville and the Ararat River on land that would a century later belong to Archibald Stuart. The Blue Ridge Mountains and the New River awaited the party. On December 13, 1749, they reported to the Council of Colonial Virginia with maps and expense reports. Virginia rewarded the two men with 300 pounds sterling for their “extraordinary trouble.” In 1750, Acting Governor Burwell commissioned the two “to draw a map of the inhabited part of Virginia,” which was completed in 1751. The map shows landmarks those of living in Patrick County today would recognize such as the Irwin now Smith River, Wart Mountain in Virginia and Mount Ararat, now Pilot Mountain in North Carolina. Three years later, Virginia appointed Fry Commander-in-Chief of Virginia forces in the French and Indian War with Lieutenant Colonel George Washington as second in command. Fry died on May 31, 1754 after being thrown from a horse leaving the future father of our country in command. Peter Jefferson became the County Surveyor and Lieutenant in Albemarle and a member of the House of Burgess. Sadly, he died on August 17, 1757 leaving a wife and children among them a fourteen-year-old son, who said “his father’s mind was naturally strong, but that his education had been neglected.” Peter Jefferson made sure his oldest son was well educated by local teachers and at William and Mary. The son inherited 7500 acres near Shadwell that included a place he called the “Little Mountain” or Monticello. Thomas Jefferson wrote one book in his life called Notes on the State of Virginia with a map based on the one his father had surveyed while traveling through Patrick County.
Edith Brown’s Pasture
The address 3514 Riverside Drive is the last address in North Carolina before you cross into The Old Dominion traveling from Mount Airy, North Carolina, to Ararat, Virginia. It is owned by Edith Brown. Today it is just a grass pasture that has been a tobacco field and one of the more historic pieces of property in our area because it was a crossroads for many historic people and things. The first thing you can notice about the pasture is the dividing line between North Carolina runs east to west or vice versa across it. This line first surveyed in 1749 brought two men from Virginia of note through Edith’s pasture. The first Joshua Fry (1700-1754), who was born in England and when he died by falling from his horse on campaign, a young Virginia took his command and rode it to greatness. His name was George Washington. The second was Peter Jefferson (1708-1757), the father of our third President, the Author of the Declaration of Independence, Governor of Virginia, Founder of the University of Virginia, amateur architect and surveyor, and the author of one book Notes on the State of Virginia, which this author paraphrases to get Notes From The Free State Of Patrick for his monthly email newsletter. These two men traveled with commissioners from North Carolina William Churton and Daniel Weldon along with surveyors and slaves to extend the line ended in 1728 by William Byrd II along Peter’s Creek in Patrick and Stokes Counties respectively. Byrd left a journal and a “secret” journal of his experiences. Peter Jefferson may have, but his home Shadwell burned in 1770 and most of his papers were lost. This group extended the boundary line between North Carolina and Virginia ninety miles from Peter’s Creek to Steep Rock Creek near Damascus, Virginia, and through Edith Brown’s pasture. Less than a hundred years later a young redheaded boy on a horse rode through Edith’s pasture on his way back and forth to Mount Airy to pick up the family mail or to accompany his mother to church or shopping excursions in the “Granite City” long before it was a city. The mother stopped at Linger Longer, the home of the Fultons just a few miles closer to town and changed into her best bonnet from the everyday bonnet she wore at home. From 1825 until 1859 this family owned the land in Virginia at the site. His name was James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart. Born across the line on February 6, 1833, Stuart grew up on this land, spending his first twelve years at his parent’s home Laurel Hill, before traveling to Wytheville for three years to continue his schooling, then two years at Emory and Henry College and four years at the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York. Seven years followed in the United States Army mainly in the First U. S. Cavalry in Kansas and then three years in the Confederate States Army serving as Robert E. Lee’s cavalry commander and rising to the rank of Major General before his death on May 12, 1864. Forty or so years after the Stuarts sold the land across the state line from Edith’s pasture anther bit of history came jugging along powered by a steam locomotive. The Mount Airy and Eastern or “Dinky” Railroad came through this pasture from Mount Airy on its way to Kibler Valley to haul lumber to furniture factories. It carried people to the White Sulphur Springs just south on the Ararat and sometimes just north in Virginia to Pedigo’s pond, which froze in the winter to allow ice skating. The pond’s dam was about where the present bridge on Clark’s Creek is on the Ararat Highway, Virginia Route 773. The railroad ran for about twenty years 1900-1920 with various owners running about nineteen miles along the Ararat River, to Clark’s Creek, to Fall Creek to the Dan River and into the Kibler Valley. Tracking the route of the railroad over the last two winters has been a diversion for me and others. Just across the line in Virginia facing Edith’s home is an older home that faces as if to meet the railroad or maybe it is just a coincidence. From the porch of that house in 1990 you could have seen in the driveway of 3514 Riverside Drive, Joe Bill Brown, Edith’s late husband, and I coming to an agreement that the Brown family would give the J. E. B. Stuart’s Birthplace an option to purchase seventy acres of the 1500 acres owned by Archibald and Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart that today is the private park preserving Stuart’s Birthplace. Edith Brown’s pasture has seen history made and history preserved. Sometimes on a quiet evening if you are driving through that part of the world slow down and take a moment to imagine all this history coming across this small part of our region. It might seem a stretch to imagine all this happening on one small piece of ground, but that is why we should preserve history so that these stories are not lost to our children and especially to mine.
Above, Kenny walking the path of the railroad across Edith Brown's land and below finding a rail used to support a farm bridge on the Brown Farm. This was the first rail we discovered on the path of the Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad.
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