The Mount Airy and Eastern Railroad
Page Four: Stuart's Birthplace To Clark's Creek
Confederate Major General James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart
The railroad passes by Patrick County’s most historic site, the birthplace of James Ewell Brown “Jeb” Stuart, Laurel Hill. Named for the Mountain Laurel that dominates the cliff above the Ararat River, this 1500 acre farm was the home to Stuart’s family beginning with his great-grandparents, William and Elizabeth Perkin Letcher. William lost his life to Tories (Pro-British) during the American Revolution in August 1780 and is buried on land preserved by the J. E. B. Stuart Birthplace, Inc in the oldest marked grave in Patrick County, Virginia.
The Birthplace property is opened dawn to dusk for visitors to enjoy a self-guided tour along with walking trails down to the Ararat River. Fifteen interpretive signs tell the story of the property from Native-Americans, African-Americans, American Revolution and the antebellum farm that was home to “Jeb” Stuart. Archibald and Elizabeth Letcher Pannill Stuart came here in the mid-1820s to live on her inheritance and remained until 1859.
James Ewell Brown Stuart, the eighth of eleven children, was born here on February 6, 1833. He spent his first twelve years here at the foot of Groundhog Mountain. In 1845, he went to school in Wythe and Pulaski counties until 1848 when he entered Emory and Henry College. In 1850, Stuart was appointed to the United States Military Academy. He graduated in 1854 after spending two years under Superintendent Robert E. Lee. Seven years in the United States Army mainly in the First U. S. Cavalry stationed primarily in the Kansas Territory. Stuart fought Indians, helped captured John Brown in 1859 at Harper’s Ferry and married Flora Cooke in 1855, just after his father died at Laurel Hill.
In 1861, J. E. B. Stuart resigned his commission and offered his sword to Virginia, where he rose in rank as Colonel of the First Virginia Cavalry to Major General commanding Robert E. Lee’s Cavalry Corps in the Army of Northern Virginia during the War Between the States. Stuart rode around Union armies three times, took the place of the wounded Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson at Chancellorsville. Stuart’s actions during the Gettysburg Campaign are still controversial. He died on May 12, 1864, after being wounded at the Battle of Yellow Tavern and rests today in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.
Click Here To Learn More About The History Of Stuart's Birthplace
Above is a view of Stuart's Birthplace and the Blue Ridge Mountains from the bed of the "The Dinky" Railroad
Above the washed out trestle of the railroad across the road from Stuart's Birthplace.
The railroad now leaves the Ararat River and follows Clark’s Creek crossing it several times before reaching the headwaters near the Squirrel’s Spur Road at what we call The Crossroads. From there it will follow Fall Creek to the Dan River.
Left, Kenney in the bed of the railroad. Right the railroad is to the right of the old roadbed in the brush.
Our friend, Porter Bondurant at age 92 in 2006, shown above, rode "The Dinky" as a child and was the source on infinite information about it during our search along with his sister Carrie Sue Bondurant Culler. Kenney learned many things from Porter about the railroad while he drove us around on his John Deere Gator among them was when a man offers you a watermelon, you take it. Porter descends from the Pedigo family on his mother’s side. That family has lived in the valley where Clark’s Creek flows into the Ararat River for more than two centuries. They were neighbors to J. E. B. Stuart’s family and while the Stuarts are long gone, Porter’s family still lives here. The railroad cuts across Porter’s property above the confluence of Clark’s Creek and the Ararat River. Some of the things we learned about Porter was that there use to be a dam on Clark’s Creek that backed up the stream into the bottom below his home. During the winter people would get off the train and ice skate on this very shallow pond.
The railroad crossed this pasture. Bondurant home is on the right bottom of the photo.Continue on the Dinky Railroad Up Clark's Creek
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