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Byrnside’s Fort Open House – Farmer’s Day Weekend 2022

Join us on Friday, June 3, 2022 from 5 pm to 8 pm at the site of Byrnside’s Fort, 1 mile South of Union, West Virginia on Willow Bend Road, for an open house. This is Friday evening during Union’s annual Farmer’s Day celebration. Come check out the preservation progress on Byrnside’s Fort, as well as the artifacts we’ve found. Here’s a link to the Facebook event page:

18th Century Iron Kettle Excavated at Byrnside’s Fort

This 18th century iron cooking kettle was found in the yard at Byrnside’s Fort. Here it is next to a larger non-excavated example, which survived at a nearby fort site about 9 miles away. Usually you find them in much smaller pieces. These early examples generally have no markings on them, other than casting marks and designs. This example appears to have been used until completely worn out, and then buried in a nearby pit with other refuse. This was one of those simple necessities which would have been carried over the mountains via pack horse, utilizing precious cargo space. Therefore they were used until the bottom eventually failed, which is probably what happened with this kettle.

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.

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.

The Mantel out of the Nickell’s Mill Homestead

In my last post I mentioned the fantastic fireplace mantel we were able to acquire at the Dickson House auction. Shortly after the auction I was contacted by multiple individuals with information about the origin of the mantel. I’ve since visited the location, taken measurements, and verified the information as accurate. The mantel came out of the parlor of the Nickell Homestead at Nickell’s Mill, which like the Dickson property, is also on Second Creek (downstream) right on the border of Monroe County and Greenbrier County, in West Virginia. It’s also on the National Register of Historic Places. Unlike the Dickson home however, the Nickell house is unfortunately in a state of disrepair, and is perhaps past the point of no return. However, the Nickell house actually retains most of its woodwork, and all of its other mantels. Interestingly, I’m told that the mantel, which adorned the home’s parlor, is believed to have been lost in a 1964 card game by its-then owner, John Hinchman Nickell. The property remains in the hands of Nickell descendants to this day, with the exception of the mill, which was also apparently lost in a card game by the same owner, and is now demolished.

The Historic Dickson Home (“Spring Valley Farm”) on Second Creek

The historic Dickson home/farm went up for auction this past weekend, along with all of its contents. We were fortunate to obtain some of the items. The site, known as Spring Valley Farm, is located along US Route 219 in Monroe County, West Virginia, right at the Greenbrier County line. This location, situated on Second Creek, at a gap in the gorge created by the creek, had always been an important stopping point for 18th and 18th century travelers. It served as a stagecoach stop and tavern during the mid 19th century. This property is also an excellent example of the transition from log cabin pioneer subsistence on the Virginia frontier, to successful upper class planter that symbolized the very beginning of the American Dream.

Special Guest Visits Byrnside’s Fort

This weekend we were honored to have a very special guest visit Byrnside’s Fort. Dr. Ron Ripley is a renowned local historian who authored the fort’s National Register of Historic Places nomination back in 1993. In fact, this is all we knew about the property prior to beginning the project in early 2019. In the materials he prepared, he theorized about the log structure inside the old plaster walls, none of which was visible. On Sunday he got to see the logs with all the plaster removed, as well as check out many of the artifacts and relics we found. We had been waiting a long time to show him everything. It was pretty special.

18th Century Betty Lamp From the Virginia Frontier

My metal detecting buddy Bill Burns found this scrap of iron near the cave spring at Byrnside’s Fort. After finding it, he set it on top of a fence post, believing it to be farm junk. After noticing it on top of the fence about a year later, I immediately suspected this to be an early “Betty Lamp,” a type of grease-based lighting device. Basically an iron lamp with a bowl for some type of grease for fuel, a lid of some sort, and a spot for a wick. The shape is right. You can see that there was a hollow reservoir at some point, with a hinged lid. You can see the remnants of the curved upright handle, which would hang on an iron hanger of some sort. This would have been forged out of wrought iron by a blacksmith, and would be consistent with the lighting options available at Byrnside’s Fort during the fort occupation of the site, circa 1770-1782. It also could have been early 19th century. But it’s primitive construction suggests earlier, to me.