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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.