Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fincastle Bluegrass Festival, 1965

Fincastle was home to the very first multi-day bluegrass festival, way back in 1965.

Here is a youtube video showing some of it:

And here's a write-up about in Banjo Newsletter.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

MCDonald House Photos

Here is a link to Virginia Department of Historic Resources photos on the Bryan McDonald House.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Mad Gasser of Botetourt

The Mad Gasser of Botetourt, VA (and Mattoon, IL)

The unexplained "Mad Gasser" attacks began on December 22, 1933, in Botetourt when the home of Mrs. and Mrs. Cal Huffman, near Haymakertown, was attacked by a mysterious figure. At around 10:00 p.m., Mrs. Huffman grew nauseated after smelling something strange that apparently had been sprayed into her home.

A half-hour later, another wave of gas filled the house and Mr. Huffman went to the home of his landlord, K.W. Henderson, where he telephoned the police. Officer Lemon responded. After he left, another gas attack hit the Huffman home, filling both floors of the house. All eight members of the Huffman family, along with Ashby Henderson, were affected by the gas.

According to reports, the gas caused the victims to become very nauseated, gave them a headache and caused the mouth and throat muscles to restrict. No one could determine what kind of gas was used or who could have sprayed it into the house. The only clue that Lemon found at the scene was the print of a woman’s shoe beneath a window.

From then on, similar attacks occurred in Cloverdale (about 10 miles away)  on Christmas Eve;  December 27 in Troutville (also nearby); January 10, again in Haymakertown as well as one in Troutville; January 16 in Bonsack; January 19 in Cloverdale, January 21 (Cloverdale); and three more on January 22 in the Carvin's Cove area over a two-mile area.

On January 23, an attack occurred in the Pleasant Dale Church area (Lee's Gap). Other attacks occurred in Nace and Lithia, but after about 20 more reports in nearby Roanoke County, police decided that only the original few incidents were real and the rest hysteria. Newspapers reported the the unconvincing theory that faulty chimney flues and wild imaginations had caused the entire affair. Those who were attacked and police officers involved, like investigator Lemon, never accepted this explanation.

Similar attacks occured in Mattoon, IL, in 1944.

(As an aside, my great aunt, Ruth Harris Morris, remembered this incident, as one of the "gassing attacks" occurred in her neighbor's home).

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Brief History of Greenfield

Historic structure at Greenfield, 2006

Historic Structure at Greenfield, 2006
BRIEF HISTORY OF GREENFIELD (And the Lewis and Clark Connection)
The Preston Family home in Botetourt County, VA, (now (2016) called The Botetourt Center at Greenfield), is an example of one of Botetourt's long-ago plantations. Originally named Greenfield by Colonel William Preston, the remaining 900-acre property is now a multi-use area consisting of industrial sites, an elementary school, and recreational facilities.
William Preston, Sr., (1729-1783), the original founder of Greenfield, played a crucial role in surveying and developing the colonies going westward. Preston exerted great influence in the colonial affairs of his time, ran two large plantations (Greenfield in Botetourt and Smithfield in Montgomery County), and founded a dynasty whose progeny would supply leaders for the South for nearly a century. He served in the Virginia House of Burgesses and was a Colonel in the militia during the American Revolutionary War. He was one of the thirteen signers of the Fincastle Resolutions, a predecessor to the United States Declaration of Independence. He also was a founding trustee of Liberty Hall (later Washington and Lee University), when it was made into a college in 1776.
His son, William Preston, Jr. (Billy) was born in 1770, one of six children born at Greenfield. Billy joined the Botetourt County militia at age 18. From 1791 – 1796 he served in various positions, including captain in the United States Army. By 1796, he had been assigned to the 4th. U.S. Regiment of Infantry where he met and served with Meriwether Lewis & William Clark. They became best friends, and this friendship brought Lewis and Clark to Botetourt County.
The following is a chronology of some of the documented relationships and public events the explorers experienced in Botetourt:
1798 - Billy Preston resigns his Army Commission, returns to Botetourt where he served as a Major in the local Virginia Militia.
March, 1802- Billy Preston marries Caroline Hancock of Fincastle. December 1806 –William Clark returned to Botetourt County after the Expedition.
January 8, 1807 – Citizens give Clark a “Welcome Home” Address & Clark Responds
November 1807 – Meriwether Lewis visits Fincastle for a hoped for social encounter with Letitia Breckinridge. Unfortunately, Letitia looked elsewhere and six months later married a man from Richmond.
January 5, 1808 – William Clark & Judith Hancock were married in Fincastle. Billy Preston assisted in obtaining the marriage certificate by pledging the required $ 150.00 marriage bond. William Clark and Billy Preston have now become brothers-in-laws.
Summer 1808 – Billy Preston wrote a letter to Meriwether Lewis informing him of the marriage of Letitia Breckinridge. Meriwether responded, expressing his heartfelt hurt over the rejection.
There can be no doubt about the strong connection between the Preston Family at Greenfield, and in particular, the relationship between Billy Preston and Meriwether Lewis & William Clark. In William Clark’s detailed description of his 1809 journey eastward from St. Louis, his “Memorandum Book, 1809” provides these travel accounts: “November 12, Col John Preston breakfast, $ 4.25, Abbington; November 19, At Major Prestons.” (Billy and Caroline Hancock Preston's home).
Other descendants of William Preston, Sr. also played a large role in the establishment of early America. Prestons' son James Patton Preston was governor of Virginia from 1816–1819 and he helped charter the University of Virginia. Grandson William Ballard Preston was a Congressman, Secretary of the Navy under Zachary Taylor, and later a Senator from the Confederate States of America. William Ballard Preston also offered the Ordinance of Secession to the Virginia Legislature that resulted in Virginia joining the Confederacy, and he co-founded a small Methodist college, the Preston and Olin Institute, which became what is today Virginia Tech.
The legacy of leadership and patriotism left by William Preston is very long and storied and makes him a true American hero.
The original manor home of Greenfield burned in 1959. Botetourt County purchased the land in 1995.
Sources: The Fincastle Herald, February 2016 (answers to FAQs by Friends of Greenfield Preston Plantation)

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Places on the National Historic Register

Botetourt County is full of history and historic places. At one time the county stretched to the Mississippi River and up into Wisconsin. It's not so large today but we have many historical structures on the National Register of Historic Places.

Here are 13 of them.

The Phoenix Bridge
1. The Phoenix Bridge. This is a truss bridge near Eagle Rock.

2. Greenfield. Currently (2015) a major source of controversy in the county as the property was purchase by government officials 20 years ago. They want to move the historic structures to build a shell building in hopes that some big company will come in.

Botetourt Courthouse Steeple
3. Fincastle Historic District. The entire town of Fincastle is mostly a historic district. The town was established as the county seat in 1770. Fires took out a few blocks but many old buildings still exist in the town, including a number of historic churches.

4. Breckinridge Mill. An historic grist mill that no longer works. It has been turned into apartment complexes but the structure is still intact.

5. Bessemer. This is an archeological site of prehistoric Native Americans. The site was first discovered during road construction.

6. Buchanan Historic District. While not quite as old of an incorporated town as Fincastle, Buchanan has been around a long time. It was originally known as Pattonsburg and because of its location along the James River was an active port town. It was also a site of Civil War activity.

7. Lauderdale is a huge home located outside of Buchanan. It has been undergoing restoration for a number of years.

8. Santillane is a historic home located just outside of Fincastle. It was constructed around 1835. The family who originally owned it was the Hancocks, and daughter Julia married William Clark (of Lewis & Clark fame).


9. Wheatland Manor. This historic home is located between Fincastle and Buchanan.

10. Wiloma. Another historic home located near Fincastle, constructed in 1848.

11. Nininger's Mill. This is also known as Tinker Mill. The grist mill was originally constructed about 1847.

12. Greyledge. Located near Buchanan, the original structure was built around 1842.

13. Bryan McDonald House. This is one of the older homes in the Troutville area. It was built in 1766.

You can find more listed at this Wiki article.