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The Historic Map-Dot Called Lowell, West Virginia

In June of 2019, I wrote about the relatively unknown Gwinn home, well maintained and preserved along the Greenbrier River at a dot-on-the-map known as Lowell, West Virginia. This is now in Summers County, West Virginia, just barely across the border from Monroe County, and indeed originally a part of Monroe County (then Virginia). On Saturday, February 12, 2022, I finally made my way back over there to attempt to acquire some better photographs of the place and surrounding area. Sometimes in the winter time you can get a better view of things, without the leaves on the trees and tall grasses and other foliage. But for some reason this place just really doesn’t like to be photographed, instead preferring to remain in the shadows.

An 1851 Chickering Piano and the Virginia War Musicians

We acquired the antique Chickering piano at the auction of the contents of the Dickson property late last year, which was full of local Greenbrier Valley history. It was sort of a sight-unseen type of thing, and we knew nothing about antique pianos, or even moving them. Recently, I was able to learn more about the piano after discovering that one of my clients was an expert on antique pianos. We still need to get it moved, so a couple of days ago I took her out to look at the piece, as well as the logistics of moving it. She was able to find the serial number, indicating an initial manufacture date of 1851. She was also able to find some other markings written in pencil on some wood inside the piano.

Photos from our private tour of the “Pittsburgh, Virginia” exhibit at the Fort Pitt Museum

Yesterday we drove up to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to the Fort Pitt Museum. For the past two years they had a wonderful exhibit titled, “Pittsburgh, Virginia,” which focused on the events surrounding Lord Dunmore’s War in 1774, when the colonies of Pennsylvania and Virginia both challenged eachother for ownership of Fort Pitt, nearly resulting in Pittsburgh becoming part of Virginia. One of our flintlocks and a document signed by Lord Dunmore were on display there, and so we had to go retrieve them, but also got the awesome opportunity of seeing the exhibit while the museum was closed, and also leaving with two of the items. Thanks to Mike Burke for giving us the grand tour. This is such a fantastic museum, and I can’t wait to see the next exhibit coming out in 2023….

The Discovery of Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek

Cook’s Fort was one of the larger Revolutionary War era frontier forts in the Greenbrier Valley of Virginia (now West Virginia), constructed around 1774, seeing active use from 1774 through the early 1780s. The general location of Cook’s Fort has always been known, though the exact location had been lost to history. A few years ago I tried to locate the fort via metal detector, to no avail. Recently however, archaeologists using ground penetrating radar were able to locate it and subsequently excavated the remnants of the old stockade walls, which are basically dark stains in the ground from the vertical stockade logs having rotted into the soil. The excavation has now been backfilled, and soon grass will once again hide the fort’s outline, so I recently flew my new drone over the site to photograph the actual fort’s outline on the ground.

Silhouette of Sampson Mathews, Proprietor of Mathews Trading Post, Found at Auction

At the auction of the contents of the Dickson home, I found a small framed silhouette off to the side. On the back was written, “Sampson Mathews.” I knew the name, though I couldn’t immediately place it. I googled it, and then subsequently determined to stay until the end of the auction, if necessary, to bid on this piece. I recalled that the name was familiar, for good reason. A quick google refreshed my memory that Sampson Mathews was one of the Mathews Brothers who owned and operated the “Mathews Trading Post” on the Greenbrier River in the early 1770s, the ledgers of which survive to this day in the possession of the Greenbrier Historical Society. We stuck it out, eventually acquiring the silhouette. I was the only bidder, jumping at the extremely low opening bid, and then breathing a sigh of relief when the hammer dropped. Such is the exciting thing about auctions: the chance at finding hidden treasure at treasure-hunting prices.

Lewis and Clark’s “War Axes”

The phrase “Missouri War Axe” really has two different meanings. From my understanding, it was contemporary collectors who termed the “MWA” phrase, referring to what are generally 19th century large flared axe shaped tomahawks, sometimes without shaped cutouts. However, the term was derived, at least in part, from the Lewis and Clark journal descriptions of the “war axes” or “battle axes” they observed in the possession of the western Indians during their famous journey. They ended up setting up a blacksmithing business to cater to this “war axe” trade, both manufacturing new ones, as well as repairing existing examples.

Revolutionary War Narratives and Byrnside’s Fort

I recently discovered additional Revolutionary War veteran pension applications mentioning Byrnside’s Fort. These first-hand narratives, mostly from the 1830s, are the recollections of the 18th century frontier soldiers of the Greenbrier Valley. They’re the best documentation we have on life and service on the Virginia frontier. They paint a good picture of the importance of Byrnside’s Fort, as well as James Byrnside himself during the Revolutionary War era. There’s strong evidence through these narratives that our fort was in active military use from around 1774 through 1782, which for the most part is the entire timeline of Lord Dunmore’s War and the American Revolution.

“Tub Mills” on the 18th Century Virginia Frontier

When you travel in our southern mountains, one of the first things that will strike you is that about every fourth or fifth farmer has a tiny tub-mill of his own. Tiny is indeed the word, for there are few of these mills that can grind more than a bushel or two of corn in a day; some have a capacity of only half a bushel in ten hours of stead grinding. Red grains of corn being harder than white ones, it is a humorous saying in the mountains that “a red grain in the gryste (grist) will stop the mill.”