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/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.
Recently, a friend of mine, Bill Burns, happened upon an early log cabin site just North of Union, West Virginia and Byrnside’s Fort. After finishing most of the preservation work on the items, he let me go through and photograph them. Sites like this provide interesting information on the lives of people in what was the remote frontier in the 18th century. It always blows my mind that you find these large fancy shoe buckles on the frontier.
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.
While Thomas Jefferson became Vice President of the United States in 1797, he also became President of the American Philosophical Society – a position once held by Benjamin Franklin, who founded the society in 1743. When Jefferson arrived in DC to assume these positions, he had with him some massive bones which came out of a cave in the Greenbrier Valley.
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.
We can trace history through the documentation left by our forefathers in the courthouse land books. When it came to real estate, they spared no ink. I found a circa 1774 survey of the Byrnside’s Fort property from a 1780 land grant by Thomas Jefferson. You’d think it would be easy to use that to …
I stumbled upon some interesting entries in the personal papers of Thomas Jefferson. In his 1772 Memorandum Book, he discusses the real estate ventures of then Colonial, later General, Andrew Lewis’ claims throughout the Greenbrier Valley. And in these paragraphs, he mentions James Burnsides (Byrnside), four separate times, and calls him “obnoxious,” among other things.