Bedford Area History

Historical Diary of Bedford, Virginia, U.S.A.
from Ancient Times to U.S. Bicentennial

Peter Viemeister



Bedford, Virginia is a beautiful place.



It is unique. Because of its special geography and culture, it is a world of its own. But Bedford is part of Virginia, a part of the United States, and a part of the world. This book shows Bedford in relation to happenings that shaped our state, our country and the world.



Chronicle of life; in peace and war. People and events. Revolution. List of militia men. Jefferson's Poplar Forest. Civil War. The Depression. D-Day. War times. The 50's and 60's. Smith Mountain dam. Valuable reference: 2500 item index. A graphical treasure: 256 pictures.



Historical Diary of Bedford, Virginia, U.S.A.
          from Ancient Times to U.S. Bicentennial

132 big pages. 8.5 x 11
Cloth hardcover.   ISBN 0-9608508--8-8  



History of Bedford - With Family Histories and
Roster of Civil War Soldiers




From 1884 Hardesty’s Encyclopedia for Virginia.



Great for genealogists. Includes 217 family histories, as of 1884.
Service info for more than 800 soldiers, by military unit.




 History of Bedford -  From 1884 Hardesty's Encyclopedia for Virginia.
4th printing.   40 pp.   8.5x11   Flex cover.
ISBN 0-9608598-1-0  



Parker's History of Bedford County 


 Lula Jeter Parker



Details of early villages, churches, schools, turnpikes, taverns, homes, social life, and wars. First published in 1954. This new edition includes 15 pages of index. Essential for genealogists.



An essential reference of Bedford, VA history.


Parker's History of Bedford County  by Lula Jeter Parker
Useful 15-page index. 6x9,
Flex cover   152 pages   ISBN 0-9608598-4-5 




Peaks of Otter - Life and Times



Peter Viemeister



One of Peter's Signature works! A history of Virginia and America, with the Blue Ridge Mountains as the stage. Indians, Frontier Days, Civil War, the full story about Union General Hunter’s Raid, Ghosts and Murders, Herd of Elks, the missing Town,  C.C.C. boys, building the Blue Ridge Parkway, Wildlife and Plane Crashes.


Table of Contents

The Beginning Artists C.C.C
Why Otters? War Coming Build Parkway,
The First Americans Hunter's Raid    Raze Hotel
White Man & War The New Order Evidence of Indians
Big Families & Roads Auction Peace & Radar
First Owners Yankees Buy In The Concession
Slavery Community of Mons Lake & Lady Bird
Real Estate Slump A New Century Full Time Lodge
Wills, Wives & Wool Locals Expand Hotel The Eighties
The Wilkes Monopoly Crash & Depression What Next?



Here are just a few excerpts



The First Americans



Native American human beings, Indians, inhabited the Peaks of Otter thousands of years ago; they left artifacts that attest to their presence.



The Mountains are an Emotional Anchor



And they will continue to be important to people who know them, important as a place to go to gain perspective and feel closer to God, important as an emotional anchor.



A former resident wistfully recalls, "Those mountains were an important and 'always there' part of our family life." Another asserts, "When life gets you down, you can look out and see that the Peaks are still there." A dairyman was emphatic when he said, "One thing you can depend on: you can depend on them."



The Doctors' Murderer was Hung



Griffin practiced medicine and prospered, with a home in one place, two plantations, a grist mill, and land adjoining the Beard tract. He owned 25 slaves.



The life of this prominent citizen came to an abrupt and untimely end on January 24th, 1812 when, for reasons unknown, one of his slaves, Abram, murdered him. How Griffin was murdered is not recorded. In spite of a "not guilty" pleas by his attorney, Abram was convicted by the Court in February. The six justices serving, including William R. Jones, sentenced Abram to be hung by the neck March 13th until he be "dead, dead, dead."



Northern Soldiers Forgot Something



The narrow twisting road proved difficult for the Union wagons. Some fell off the edge and tumbled, cartwheeling down a hillside, finally broken and brought to rest by large trees. As the army worked its way up the mountain, the soldiers welcomed the cool air they encountered the higher they went. They savored fresh water from mountain springs, slight solace to compensate for their fatigue, hunger, and sore feet.



Union Captain F.E. Town sent men to the summit of Sharp Top to maintain surveillance of the area. Lieutenant Meigs and others scaled the South Peak. They enjoyed the view, but failed to sight the enemy. Upon reaching the top, they discovered that no one in the group had a field glass.



Earlier, Confederate scouts at the Peaks watched as Hunter's army began snaking its way up the mountains. It would be almost eight hours before the last of Hunter's forces left Buchanan. The Confederate scouts abandoned their vantage, rode down the mountain, and relayed word to Liberty and to Lynchburg. They estimated Hunter's forces to be 15,000 strong.



Flowers in Gun Barrels!



Most of the other younger and able men of Bedford County were also away serving the Confederacy as soldiers. But a home force of militia was still able to muster about thirty men who vowed to do their best to slow the giant army coming their way. Down near the base of Sharp Top, the militiamen didn't know that up above some of the Union soldiers had paused at the hotel between the peaks, helping themselves to anything in the hotel smokehouse larder, including a hundred slabs of bacon. One Union officer, a Major Harkins, facetiously signed the guest register. Opposite his name, someone wrote: "He didn't pay his bill."



Some small hotel outbuildings were set afire. Two miles of fencing were broken up and destroyed. The invaders smashed the roof of the rock house on Sharp Top. Little did the militia know that many of these northern soldiers had picked rhododendron blossoms and whimsically stuck them in the barrels of their guns. The adjutant for Colonel Hayes said that the marching troops looked like "a moving bank of flowers."



Hitchhiker Bear



Ranger Gene Parker befriended and raised an abandoned bear cub, but let it free to roam.



One balmy July day, Parker left the visitor center and was pulling away on the Parkway when he passed two tourists in a red convertible coming towards him. "Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a bundle of black fur in the back seat," said Parker. "Then their brake lights brightened, so I stopped, swung around and pulled along side. It was my bear. He jumped out and took off."



Shaken and now relieved, the couple explained that they had parked at an overlook to take pictures. They heard a slight noise, looked around and saw the 70-pound black bear crawling into their back seat.



They coaxed and cajoled. But the bear seemed to be content to just sit there. It made no threatening moves. So the couple gingerly -- and ever so smoothly -- quickly drove towards the ranger station to get help.



Parker says, "You can't push a bear. If this ever happens to you, just get out and wait. He'll get bored and leave." The bear may have been bored, but the couple wasn't.



Civilian Conservation Corps



Fancy Farm became a special place of interest again, this time in 1934, as a camp site of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). Fancy Farm's owners, the Sitwell family, leased tot he government some land north of the house. The very same land was once the campsite for some of Hunter's Raiders in 1864.



Congressional approval of the CCC brought hundreds of unemployed unmarried young men, ages 17-23, to Kelso to contribute to the CCC's goal of helping to conserve and develop the nation's natural resources. The young men were officially known as "enrollees," buy everyone called them "CCC Boys." In the ensuing years, the national CCC provided jobs for more than one and a half million youth.



All came from families that were "on relief," many from industrial or city areas. The program helped develop self respect by providing them with their first experience of working close to nature with a meaningful job. Each enrollee signed up for six months at a time, for a maximum of two years.



Each was paid a dollar a day and was provided with room subsistence, clothing, medical hospitalization, and some vocational training. Enrollees lived in modest barracks. One of more than 50 such camps in the state, the one at Kelso was built by and under the command of the U.S. Army 3rd Corps.



Read for fun or study. Keep for reference.


Peaks of Otter - Life and Times
200 illustrations.    Detailed index.    278 pages.    3rd printing.
Cloth hardbound.   ISBN 0-9608598-9-6 




From Slaves to Satellites - 250 years of
Changing Times on the Virginia Farm


Peter Viemeister



True story of eight families and what they did on the land.



True story of a real 355 acre farm in Bedford, Virginia and the eight hardy families who came and went during a period of 250 years. They worshiped with and intermarried with neighbors. They came, they built, they had children. They worked but ultimately passed away. And then another family lived its cycle, its way.



What happened here -- and why it happened - is typical of many other Southern farms: hardy folk coping with unpredictable weather, cyclical economics, and changing competition.



The book begins when slavery was commonplace and the only satellite was the moon. It shows that the South's dependency upon slavery was far more prevalent than generally believed. Indeed, even a neighborhood church owned slaves.



The second half of the book shows life and times without slaves. It examines the impacts of the Civil War, new technology, and the invisible hand of economics in driving people to change the use of the land, to change the relationship of landowner to the tenant farmer and sharecropper and to change the role of the neighborhood church.





Part I The Slavery Era



1. The Land
2. The Elizabeths
3. Slaves and a Church
4. Wars against Britain
5. Thomas Farm
6. Abolitionists
7. New Thomas Generation
8. Secession & War






1600 - 1700's
1774 - 1815
1830 - 1856
1856 - 1860
1861 - 1865





Part II A New South



9. Reconstruction
10. Harry & Friends
11. Gus & the Depression
12. Eris and the Forties
13. Nobody home
14. New Yorkers
15. Satellite TV
16. Enduring Earth






1906 - 1929
1929 - 1940
1941 - 1949
1950 - 1977
1980 - 1998




Here are a few excerpts






Tobacco was then a primary "clear money" farm product , it was carted to the Lynchburg market, which, from 1823 to 1833, was the largest tobacco market in the world, outranking even Richmond. The production pace was exhausting the rich soil of the region. A gazetteer publisher observed in 1835 that "many intelligent planters, foreseeing the inevitable course of things, are by degrees abandoning the culture of the plant, and giving increased attention to the growing of wheat and the improvement of their over cropped lands........"



Slave life



There was more than one case in Bedford where a hated, abusive owner was murdered by a slave. Fortunately, others, like Thomas Jefferson, had a sense of responsibility for their well being, either out of human compassion or for business reasons. Such owners would not underfeed, overwork, or injure slaves. The slave was too important: he was needed to do the work, not just today, but next week and next year. After buying a slave, the owner took care of his "investment". At best, slavery was paternalistic.



Some slaves, determined to run their own lives, would try to run away. Most were recaptured as owners usually helped each other track down runaways. A few escaped forever, to the North, or by joining Indian communities in the hinterland.



Owners would punish slaves who misbehaved or who had tried to escape. Two miles from Solaridge, in the cellar of a decrepit house, is a wrought iron shackle on a heavy floor beam, from which, it is said, hung a chain used to keep a slave in detention........



Church owns slaves



Peaks Presbyterian Church, described as "a large congregation covering an infinite space of territory around the Peaks" mountains, wanted a full-time minister to preach, to inspire, to pastor, and to guide the religious education of the children. They concluded that they could only afford to do it if their Church could use slaves to raise products to sell.



In 1774 the Peaks congregation petitioned the Virginia House of Burgesses at Williamsburg for permission. One hundred two men signed the petition, including 10 Mitchells, 7 Dooleys, 5 Kennedys, 6 Ewings, 4 Reads, and 3 Campbells. Also signing were 3 Beards: Adam, David and Samuel, and 3 Sharps: Adam, John and Abraham.



The Burgesses did indeed grant that permission so members of the congregation contributed money to buy the slaves: Kate, Tom, Jerry, and Venus........


War in Virginia


Some other neighborhood men who also served the Southern cause were Charles Beard, and Robert L. Beard, who was taken prisoner, as was R.N.'s brother in-law, James H. Hopkins, who subsequently escaped. Other kin who served were R.N.'s teenage nephew, William R. Thomas, and cousins and cousins James T. and F.E. Hopkins.



Some died. Neighbor R.H. Kelso, a young 3rd Lt., was killed at Yellow Tavern. And George Cabell Moseley, a VMI student, died in August 1864. He was only 17.


The war marched right into Bedford in June, 1864. Union General David Hunter led 15,000 Federals into Bedford County, from Buchanan, up, over and between the Peaks of Otter, on their way to Liberty, to New London and then to their main objective, Lynchburg.



The Thomases and their neighbors hid their valuables and foodstuffs. They scattered their livestock into the wooded hills. John Calvin Thomas and others of the Home Guard picked off stray roving Yankees........



The Depression



The drought of 1930-31 had shriveled an already drab economy. Vegetation withered. Parched crops were not worth harvesting. Creeks slowed to a trickle. Few builders had any customers wanting new buildings, so lumber mills let people go. Gus Simmons sold his mill for what he could get and began looking for another interest.



A quirk circumstance led him to buy the farm, then known as the Thomas/Holmes place.



It was being auctioned off for the third time. On the first two tries, the foreclosure agent did not receive reasonable bids. Now, on this third try, creditors were ready to accept almost anything. The story is that the auctioneer stood on the courthouse steps, calling for bids. Simmons happened by just then, and waved to his auctioneer friend, who interpreted his open hand wave as a bid, and then shouted "Sold for $5000!"........



Tomatoes and Sheep



Lalla, daughter of Reverend Robert Kelso Moseley, wrote " Young faces .. old faces, looking down at the red tomatoes; young hands ...'old hands, always moving, never resting. A few quick looks sometimes, from the girls as they peeled the tomatoes, to the young men who scalded them, or fired the boiler, a minute or two of talk, in morning, at noon, and in the evening; the rest of the time just rows of busy hands, never stopping, rows of dull faces, getting duller as the hours dragged on. Very little talking, it wasn't encouraged either by the management or the machinery. Five cents a bucket."



And what happened to the tomato skins? Farmers were permitted to fill up 40 or 50 pound buckets to feed their hogs. Some skins were just pushed into the creek. And a more spectacular solution was to use a water cannon to shoot a massive stream of skins high over the creek and splay it over some unused pastureland........




........didn't cost much to feed: they seemed able to survive by eating almost anything. But like other Bedford County sheep farmers, Lugar was unable to make it pay. It has always been hard to protect these peaceful animals from marauding dogs. Roving dog packs would spook the sheep. They would panic and run, and collide with barbed wire fencing. Some would get cut and start to bleed. This incites the dogs into a killing frenzy. Some farmers continued the old practice of keeping donkeys to defend the sheep. Nevertheless, dogs took a heavy toll.



Dogs were not the only problem. Technological developments hurt most: new fibers such as Nylon, Orion, Dacron, and polyesters replaced wool in many garments. And improved efficient transportation brought wool from the wide open spaces of New Zealand and Australia, where sheep outnumber cattle by about six to one, at a lower delivered cost than home grown........



Country Churches



........still serve as a community center, but only occasionally. The country church is no longer the primary bond for people of the neighborhood. The number of Sunday faithful has not kept pace with the growth of population. Residents now maintain their friendships and discover new friends over a wide geographical area. Cars, good roads, telephones and e mail link people together almost irrespective of distance.



Major, main-line Protestant churches have lost members nationally while the more fundamentalist churches and alternate, New Age, religions, have grown.



Surveys confirm most Americans profess to believe in God. But it isn't evident from church attendance. We have more choices in how we use our time. It is easy to go somewhere else, to do something else. For many people television at home or pursuit of recreation takes priority over being in church. We are living in an "Entertainment Age" or "Recreation Age", where sports and games consumes the national interest........



Self healing



........ In spite of our human presence, and in spite of what we have done with the land and to the land, there is a lot of life here...big and small, animal, bird, reptile, and bugs innumerable.......



Nature repairs the scars men have made upon the land and replenishes the life on the land. The humans who come and go may seem different, but human nature has not changed. They still want to love and be loved, they still sin, they still seek understanding. They still strive to survive........



This is a great gift


From Slaves to Satellites - 250 years of
   Changing Times on the Virginia Farm

156 pages   60 illustrations   Big bibliography
Flex cover   ISBN 1-883912-06-7



Country Auctioneer
Thomas M. Martin



Auctioneer delightfully highlights discoveries and encounters from a quarter of a century career in rural Virginia. Tells the why, how, and what of going to auctions. Charming book for anyone who has ever gone or will go to a country auction. Heavy paper stock, copiously illustrated. 94 pages



Country Auctioneer by Thomas M. Martin
6x9. 94 pages Flex cover
ISBN 1-883912-00-8.  






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