From the PATC Archives

The following is an historic reprint from the October 1936 Edition of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club Bulletin, precursor the PATC's current newsletter, the Potomac Appalachian.

 


FROM BROWNS GAP TO ROCKFISH GAP

By Jean Stephenson

When the Indians of the Monacan Confederacy, who were of the Siouan linguistic family, came from the West and pushed their hereditary enemies, the Algonquins, back to the coast, they did not stop long in the Great Valley but continued on across the Blue Ridge. Evidences of their villages and their graves are to be found in Albemarle County. On the mountains one may now and then find an arrowhead, a relic of the days when the Blue Ridge was covered with forest trees and abounded with game. Buffalo, wolves, foxes, deer, and many other species roamed the hills, and the Indians followed them. But the Indians made no permanent settlements there. Some Indian implements have been found in the Blue Ridge, but usually in the gaps where parties crossing the Ridge with their chattels might naturally stop over night. A massive mortar formed from a single piece 04 amphibolite was found in Browns Cove some years ago and is now in the New National Museum. It was probably made and used where discovered.

In early days the gap now known as Browns was called so on the east side only, the west being called "Madisons Gap" from the Madison family that settled at the mouth of the gap before 1749 and built "Madison Hall." Here was born James Madison, the first Episcopal bishop of Virginia, and President of William and Mary College. The stream that flows west down the gap is still called Madisons Run. On this stream was located Mt. Vernon Furnace, built in 1848 by the Miller family, whose name is perpetuated by Miller Run just to the south. The furnace was operated at intervals until 1878. A still earlier furnace, at Paulington, was started by Fausett before 1800.

The Mt. Vernon Forge was at Shendun, as Grottoes was called prior to 1912. Shendun was at one time a thriving town, even having trolley cars, but its glory has long since departed, and the furnaces are cold.

Benjamin Brown of Hanover County was one of the first to take up lands in the westward counties. He and his son Benjamin procured patents on land in Louisa County before its establishment in 1742, and soon thereafter turned their attention to Albemarle. Between 1747 and 1760 they entered more than 6000 acres on both sides of what is now called Doyle's River, and additional tracts in other sections. The family became one of the most influential in that section of the county, often being magistrates and holding other offices. Browns Gap and Browns Cove are reminders of their settlement. The first Benjamin married Sarah Dabney who, according to the firm belief of her grandson Charles Brown, was a descendant of the Jennings who left a fabulous estate in chancery in England. As early as 1860 the Browns were active in pressing their claim and Dr. Charles went twice to England to see about it, but with no tangible result. Three quarters of a century have passed and still there are claimants to the Jennings estate. It is now a famous genealogical will-o'-the-wisp, and it is interesting to think that much of its life and the persistency of the belief in it comes from the labor expended on it seventy-five years ago by the Browns of the Blue Ridge. The first Benjamin Brown must have loved the alliteration of "B. B." for of his eight sons, seven were named Benjamin, Barzillai, Benajah, Bernard, Bernis, Bezaleel, and Brightberry. While the Biblical origin of some is evident, he must have invented several of these names. The son Bernis became a Methodist preacher and through this connection the entire family had a wide acquaintance with the ministers of that denomination. Brightberry's son, Horace, who died in 1846, lived at the old family home in Browns Cove (where the Trail Club spent a memorable night in 1934), which it is stated "because of its bracing air, quiet seclusion, and generous fare, was the favorite resort of the Methodist clergy."

In 1805 Brightberry Brown and William Jarman began the construction of a turnpike across the mountains, from Camping Rock on the west side, crossing the Ridge at Browns Gap, descending through Browns Cove, and ending at Mechum's Depot. Its formal opening and acceptance by Commissioners from counties on both sides of the mountains in 1806 was the occasion for a great celebration. Under the name of "Brown's Turnpike" it was long one of the important crossings. Some idea of values may be glimpsed, however, from the fact that in 1819 James, son of William Jarman, sold his half interest for $100. In 1867 the title to Brown's Turnpike as individual property lapsed, and it has since been a public road. This turnpike in part followed one of the oldest trails from the west - from the Old Fields (in what is now Hardy County, W. Va.) through Brocks Gap, by Singers' Glen (where there have been singing festivals yearly for over a hundred years), past Big Spring and so across the Blue Ridge by the Gap later known as Browns.

South of Browns Gap is Black Rock Springs, which, in the heyday of Virginia's mineral springs during the eighteen forties and fifties and even later, was a popular resort. Its waters were advertised to contain iron soda, lime, magnesia, and carbonic acid gas loudly acclaimed as 'Good for whatever ails you"; and said to be superior to all the spas of Europe.

Moormans River commemorates another early settler. Charles Moorman from the Isle of Wight, England, lived in Louisa County where he was a leading Quaker and overseer of the Friends Meeting House on Camp Creek. As early as 1735 he and his son Thomas were patentees of 400 acres "at the forks of the Rivanna near the Blue Mountains." This was at the junction of the present Mechum and Moormans Rivers. In 1735 the son Thomas was granted 65 acres from the branches of Meadow Creek to the South Forks of the Rivanna "including the Indian Grave low grounds." They slowly extended their holdings westward and by 1741 Thomas patented 750 acres on the main branch of Moormans River, which thereafter was called by his name. Two years earlier a grant on the first fork had been made, of 285 acres to David Mills, and in 1741 Dennis Doyle obtained 800 acres on the same stream, and gave his name to it.

The long lofty ridge east of the north fork of Moormans River is known as the Pasture Fence Mountain, so called because it was covered in summer with blue grass and wealthy planters in the eastern part of the county fenced it for grazing purposes at an early date.

Jarman Gap is perhaps the most historic of all the spots along this section of the Trail, for it was the site of the first settlement of the mountain lands. While the central section of Albemarle County was being occupied by settlers from the Tidewater, this first settlement in the Blue Ridge was made by one coming from Pennsylvania.

Michael Woods, who was born in Ireland in 1684, came with his wife and children to America about 1720, landing in Delaware Bay. He remained some years in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and then came down the Valley and crossed the Blue Ridge in 1734, where he settled at what was for years known as Woods Gap, but now as Jarman. At first he did not bother to get title to his land, he and his sons and sons-in-law merely began to cultivate it and to build homes. He called his place "Mountain Plains." However, in 1737 he entered 1300 acres on Mechums River and Lickinghole and purchased 2006 acres patented two years earlier by Charles Hudson. He died in 1762 and was buried in the family burying ground 100 yards from his dwelling. His tombstone was standing until after the Civil War but has now disappeared, although from a fragment found twenty years ago the date of his death was secured. There is a romantic story connected with his son John, who when grown made the perilous and tedious journey back to Pennsylvania to claim as a bride Susanna Anderson whom he had known as a child.

The Woods and Wallace families were strong Presbyterians and soon after their settlement called for a minister and established a church, which was known as "Mountain Plains" as it was built on a portion of Michael Woods' land of that name. All the sons of Michael Woods moved west, and the old homestead Mountain Plains passed into the ownership of Chief Justice John Blair, prior to 1788. Its name was then changed to Blair Park, which name is still retained although it is now owned by a descendant of a daughter of Michael Woods. William Wallace, son-in-law of Michael, settled at Piedmont, at the foot of the Ridge a mile east of Beagle Gap. The original home was destroyed by fire, the present home being built in 1816. However, there are still fig trees, box, and altheas, obtained from Jefferson on his return from France in exchange for a wagon load of clover seed needed for Monticello.

Woods Gap was long the principal crossing of the Blue Ridge. Through it had gone a buffalo trail and later through it went the Three Notched Road, which ran from the Gap east to the South Anna River, passing along what is now the main street of Charlottesville. It was marked by three notches or blazes on trees to guide the stranger. During and after the Revolution the British prisoners of the Convention Army were taken across the Ridge by the Three Notched Road through Woods Gap.

Thomas Jarman had settled on Moormans River in 1762, where his children intermarried with the Browns and Maupins. About 1800 his grandson Thomas bought the land at the summit of the Ridge in Woods Gap, and since then it has been known as Jarman Gap.

Rockfish Gap is now the main crossing of the Blue Ridge. The old buffalo trail going through it later became a road joining the Three Notched Road west of Wayland Crossing, now Crozet. It was chiefly used to bring produce to the head of navigation of the Rockfish River. In a letter written in 1756 there is a graphic description of the means devised by the Rev. Robert Rose to send hogsheads of tobacco down stream. They would be brought to the river bank in winter, and then taken down the stream in the spring freshets. The only boats were canoes. Obviously a light canoe would be useless to carry a hogshead, as it would sink under the weight. But he found that by lashing two canoes together, a short distance apart, and placing several hogsheads crosswise on them, bracing the hogsheads in the stern and bow, they could easily be floated down stream. However, it must have taken considerable skill to handle such unwieldy craft in a spring flood. Nevertheless, for many years this was the means employed to transport produce from Rockfish Gap and adjacent territory to the Tidewater section.

When Tarleton's men approached Charlottesville during the Revolutionary War and the Assembly fled to Staunton, a large body of men gathered in Rockfish Gap, to see that the British did not set foot in the Valley. They remained on guard there until Washington entered the state and then joined him to push Cornwallis back toward Yorktown.

One of the most noted taverns of the state was Mountain Top Tavern in Rockfish Gap. It was often the scene of important conferences. Here in 1818 assembled the convention of twenty-eight prominent citizens, including ex-Presidents Madison, Monroe, and Jefferson, and Chief Justice Marshall which met to decide whether the University of Virginia should be located in Lexington, Staunton, or Charlottesville. Later the old tavern burned, and the estate finally became the home of Thomas Watson of Georgia. It now belongs to the Swannanoa Country Club.

The famous Blue Ridge tunnel runs beneath Rockfish Gap, the engineer for it being Colonel Claude Crozet, who had crossed the Alps with Napoleon. Wayland Crossing was renamed Crozet for him in 1870. During the construction of the railroad, in 1854, Asiatic cholera broke out among the workmen on the western slope of the mountains and almost wiped out the inhabitants. Many stories are still told of this terrible time. But work continued and it was with great rejoicing that the first passenger engine was brought over the mountain with mules, and the railroad placed in operation long before the tunnel was completed.

While not as isolated as in some other localities, throughout the mountains the people have continued to live the primitive life of the first settlers in many respects. Grazing cattle for lowlanders was long a chief industry. Sawmills traveled from place to place. The large timber has long since been cut. Until the blight struck it, second growth chestnut was cut for telegraph poles and brought $1.50 each. The demand for cross ties and for tan bark led to the virtual extinction of the black and red (or "roan") oak trees. Gathering sassafras for sassafras oil has long been one of the main occupations, especially of the women and children. There were until recently several sassafras mills in the mountains.

For the first hundred years after settlement game was not only plentiful but even destructive and dangerous. A bounty of 140 Ibs. of tobacco was long paid by the county for the head of an old wolf. The last wolf bounty paid was $12 to Isaac W. Garth in 1849. There are still a few wildcats and some small game to be found. Now that most of the land is within the Park area, if not disturbed by too much development and wildlife is encouraged, it may be that within another fifty years foxes and deer will be as plentiful as they were two hundred years ago, and it may even be necessary again to set a bounty on wolves! So swiftly do our once settled mountains of the East revert to the wild!