Welcome to the First Edition of the Grayson County Mountain Newsletter. Our intention is to provide you with information about our home, Grayson County, Virginia . Let me begin with a description.
Grayson County is a product of unusual historical circumstances. While settled early by land grant pioneers of English and Irish stock, its rugged location between the primary western leading thoroughfares of the Cumberland Gap and the Shenandoah Valley kept it isolated until well into the 20th century. There were no paved roads until the 1930's. Today we are still isolated; there is no Interstate Highway into the county and only about 14 miles of four lane road.
At the turn of the century, the population was perhaps two to three times greater than it is at present, centered around subsistence farms, and it is common to come across the foundations and chimneys of these early homesteads in the forests today. During World War II there was a steady out-migration, and the families who remained preserved their farms by taking jobs in the industry in surrounding towns. This adjustment has produced a stable economy as well as preserving a functioning rural community. While the Grayson County economy is hardly booming, we have not been susceptible to the volatility of the national economy.
As a result, you have a uniquely untouched area, one which does not suffer from strip mining and coal culture to the north or the massive tourist development in other mountain communities. The culture is both Southern and Appalachian in the broadest sense, and does not have the rural slums associated with some mountain areas. The people of Grayson County take great pride in using their land intelligently. Grayson County , Virginia has a rhythm and lifestyle very much its own.
If you are interested in real estate in Grayson County and reading this, chances are you do not live here. We have always had respect and admiration for folks who appreciate our home and want maybe to move here or just own a place in the mountains. If you haven't spent a lifetime in Grayson County , choose a realtor that has. Call Tri-County Real Estate today to arrange a visit. We have a large inventory of properties ranging from old homesteads, small lots, new homes, secluded cabins, farms, and river tracts. We base our business on a thorough knowledge of the area and a commitment to do our best to help you.
The intention of this column is to examine how people in Grayson County lived in the past. I thought I would interview old timers and let them tell us how they did certain things. After a little thought I realized that some common things my family practiced when I was growing up aren't much done anymore. I guess that makes me an old timer. The first column is about raising hogs for home slaughter. This was in the mid 1960's.
One of my earliest memories is of the pigs we used to raise. We lived in a modest frame house on 4 acres of land about a mile north of Independence. On that land we had a barn, chicken house, meat house, storage building, and a pig pen. This pen was about a 15' x 15' fenced area and enclosed a small pig house. In spring we would go to someone's farm that raised pigs, I cannot remember who, but we would get one or two little pigs and carry them home in burlap sacks and put them in the pen. I remember that later on Mr. Green Ward would come over and put rings in their noses (I always wondered why) and castrate any male pigs. My job (I guess that I was around 10 years old) was to feed and water the pigs in the morning before school and in the evening before supper. We fed them wheat middlins which was like a white flour, and field corn. I mixed the middlins in a bucket with water and poured them in the feed trough and gave them six or seven cobs of corn, along with three buckets of water in the water trough. The pen was on the top of the hill and, of course, the water was at the bottom of the hill, what a chore to carry that water up to the pigs. I enjoyed watching those pigs grow.
Later on in the fall these pigs would get pretty big and I knew what was coming. I was a country boy and early realized that we were going to kill and eat the hogs. This was just part of life and people accepted it. And I'm sure that I was getting tired of feeding and watering them plus my pay for taking care of them was two hams (which we cured and I could later sell). I think we always killed hogs on Thanksgiving Day and my uncles and cousins would come over and help, like we helped them when they butchered. When the day arrived everyone showed up at the house early. Someone (for the life of me I can't remember who) was the shooter, we all walked up to the pen and the hogs were shot with a .22 rifle between the eyes. We then loaded them in a truck and took them to Mr. Walker Anders home (about 2 miles up the road), who was set up to butcher hogs. First they were put in a vat of very hot water and I think lime was added. After a while we started scraping the hair off the hides (I remember big piles of hog hair behind the shed). After the hogs were cleaned up they were hoisted up by the hind legs and then gutted. After this the hogs were cut into different pieces.
I recall thinking that we took up two whole hogs and returned home with meat - hams, shoulders, tenderloins, bacon, heads and livers. The hams, shoulders and bacon sides were taken to the meat house and salted down (sometimes we used the shoulders in sausage). Some of the women would set around the table and cut up meat for canning the tenderloins, grinding the sausage and rendering the fat. Others would pack the meat into jars and some would take care of the canning.
The sausage mill was operated by the men and the seasoning was always handled by the same person every year (I believe it was my Uncle Max Harrington). The sausage was later canned. The livers were eaten fresh and divided among the crew. I do not know what happened to the heads, I do remember they were placed in tubs and seemed to look at me all day long. When the fat was rendered a by product was cracklins, I always looked forward to eating them.
After the day and later that night, after everyone was gone, I remember looking at all those cans of food and feeling very good. I had contributed something important to our family and was proud. I don't know of many people that do this anymore.
Grayson County Community Names have Meaning
Many of the communities of Grayson County have been named to recognize a location or "lay of the land". These include Fairview, Elk Creek, Bridle Creek, and Flatridge. Some are named for families such as Robert's Cove, Grubb's Chapel and Long's Gap.
Some communities are named for a specific person, such as Comer's Rock. Actually there are two stories about how it came about this name. One says it refers to an early settler who was a hunter and trapper whose cabin was near the large out-cropping of rock on Iron Mountain. His name was Comer and the rock was named for him and the village that came along. Another version states that a Northern sympathizer by the name of Comer hid from his Confederate neighbors at the rock. Grant was originally called High Meadows. After the War of Northern Aggression the small community applied to the federal government for a post office under the name of High Meadows. The federal post office did not approve that name and instead assigned the name of Grant.
Whitetop was named for the snow on the mountain, right. Wrong, Whitetop was named for the native grasses growing on the mountain which gave it a white sheen in summer.
Volney got its name when the post office was located on Little Wilson Creek and was named by Elijah Hash for his son Volney Wythe Hash. The post office was later moved down to Big Wilson Creek on Highway 58.
One of the most colorful stories comes with Mouth of Wilson. It goes back to 1749 when Frye and Jefferson (Peter, Thomas Jefferson's father) led a survey party to designate the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina. A young surveyor named Wilson died and his body was carried to the bank of a nearby creek to be buried. This creek was named Wilson's Creek and it is designated as such on the Frye-Jefferson map. The community grew near the mouth of it's entrance to the New River. Legend says that Jefferson and Frye left the party to visit with a pioneer family, and those remaining party members were introduced to "still liquor". This drinking resulted in surveying of a crook in the Virginia-North Carolina line.
The following was submitted by Sonny Reeves, who ran a country store in Independence for 40 years. Written in 1991.
One day in the store a lady wanted some of the pink salve for her youngen's. She then asked Doc if it would help her man's hemorrhoids. Doc said "No, no, never. One man tried it and four days later he had to have surgery to have a bowel movement." Well, it would heal nearly everything.
One cool fall morning Uncle Jim came in for his coffee and after a sip or two he looked at me and said; "Now young man, it does not take as much water to make coffee as you think."
One Saturday morning, about 4 or 5 a.m., a man walked in and asked, "Mister, do you sell beer?" I told him, "Yes, but can't sell any till 6 o'clock because county law set our hours".
He ordered coffee and played with it a few minutes, trying to get it to his mouth without spilling any, but he had the shakes (I couldn't understand then but years later I learned what he was going through).
He looked up at me and said, "Mister, if you don't want a corpse on your hands, please get me a six pack and let me get the hell out of here."
I was in the store business 40 years and never had a corpse on my hands.
The following Saturday she returned as normal but she was carrying the opened pack of paper towels. With her usual smile she asked "Can I trade these for smaller size, Howard says t'is too wide?"
Yes, you sure can Miss Cora.