Highland, Virginia - Agricultural Interests & Customs
There is a ribbon of bottom land that follows each larger watercourse in Highland. They vary in breadth and sometimes, as on the Cow pasture, were interrupted for short distances. Along the larger streams, farmhouses succeeded one another at frequent intervals. Farms were also found on the lower courses of the tributary streams. Tillage land was also seen on the low tables in the Bullpasture Valley and on the broken hillsides of the Straight Creek basin. Elsewhere, the higher ground was very little reduced to tillage or pasturage, except where limestone belts occurred, as in the Bluegrass and Big valleys.
It was along the Bullpasture and Cowpasture that there was more general farming than anywhere else. These valleys were somewhat lower than those to the westward and had a quicker soil. W. P. B. Lockridge had grown in one season 2,000 bushels of corn and 700 of wheat, his bumper crop of wheat had been 33 bushels to the acre. Then there was T. M. Devericks on Shaw's Fork had grown 28 bushels to the acre. major J. H. Byrd, who had made a point of intensive cultivation, had grown four tons of timothy hay to the acre, and once took a state premium on his crop of 75 bushels of shelled corn to the acre. He sent 100 selected ears tot he exposition at Norfolk.
The valley of Jackson's River was better for grass than the eastern valleys, and little of the soil was kept in tillage. In Big Valley a yield of 93 bushels of corn to the acre had been reported, though. On the bottoms of Jackson's River, 25 stacks of hay would be seen in a favorable season in a field of only moderate size.
In the Bluegrass Valley the grazing interest was likewise supreme, very little tilled ground being seen.
The native strength of the river bottoms and bluegrass pastures was apparent in the fine big oaks, maples and hickories, especially on Jackson's River and in the Crabbottom. In former years, walnut trunks as high as six feet four inches in diameter were burned in log piles.
Yet such were the improvident methods of the early people, that the compiler of the Virginia Gazetteer of 1832, a man familiar with the worn soils east of the Blue Ridge, speaks of the Cowpasture bottoms as badly tilled, and those of Jackson's River and the Bullpasture as only in tolerable condition. He makes an exception of the Wilson farm at the mouth of Bolar Run, and calls it equal to any in the Valley of Virginia. But wiser methods were used in Highland with the smaller amount of land still kept in cultivation.
The Crabbottom, where my HULL (HOHL) ancestors settled, was the garden spot of Highland, although acre for acre the smaller basins of upper Jackson's River, Big Back Creek, and Big Valley compared with it favorably. The woods had only to be cut out or thinned, a bluegrass sod coming in spontaneously. On the pastures alone and without grain, huge cattle of the best breeds were made ready for market. The value of the fat cattle driven out of this valley would perhaps average $150,000 a year. The Crabbottom graziers thus were enabled to live a rather unlaborious life, and a holding of land was esteemed a choice possession. The soil changed hands often at much more than $100 an acre, comparing in price with land in the corn belt of Illinois.
The lands of the Bluegrass District, being largely limestone and supporting so large a grazing interest, were assessed at nearly as much as those of both the over districts.
In the production of buckwheat Highland ranked fourth among the counties of Virginia. In maple sugar it lead them all. More than a thousand pounds were occasionally made on a single farm. The county was also well adapted tot he apple tree. One of these on the Vandevender farm grew during the century or more of its existence to a girth of ten and a half feet and its full crop was 80 bushels of fruit. Except in very unfavorable seasons the county had more than enough apples for home use. The other fruits usual to the latitude were also found, though to a less extent. large and fine specimens of apples, pears, peaches, and plums were to be seen in favorable years.
The result of the settlement of a new region was a community of purpose among the people, leading to a die acquaintance with one another. This also lead to a sameness in manners and customs and in the mode of living. The people became homogeneous in these respects much faster than they became homogeneous in blood. The stranger would hardly know that Highland was peopled from opposite directions, because the two elements of the immigration meeting on the divide which crossed the county. On either side of it they would find the same farm architecture, the same speech, and the same hospitality.
As a household tongue the German language had for some years been quite extinct in Highland. Exceptions to this statement, if any, were assignable to persons of Pendleton birth or parentage. The passing of the German speech was due to the blending of stocks in the north of the county. When one of two married companions was ignorant of the German idiom, the latter, as an alien speech in America, was the one which nearly always gives way.
It was well that our national tongue was here without any competitor. The neighborhood that clings to a broken-down jargon, like that of the upper South Fork Valley in Pendleton, threw itself, in a very sensible degree, outside the current of American life and thought, and stamps itself as unprogressive.
It tended to shut itself into its own corner and it reared citizens of narrow and uninformed views. The habit stands in the way of an easy use of English and a correct English pronunciation. It was a needless handicap on the child who started to school. The people who sued this patios in their homes had a very meager list of words, and could neither read German script nor German print. Their belief in witchcraft and signs was a result of their stagnation.
In Highland there was a close approach to social equality. The farm homes were comfortable and cozy. Modern furniture, musical instruments, things of ornament, and potted plants were quite the rule. The table fare was liberal and sensible. Destitution was hardly to be seen in the county.
It was thanks to the homogeneity of the people, and to the absence of mines and factories, the public order of Highland was very good. Serious crimes were very infrequent, and the county had no citizen in the penitentiary and but one boy in the reform school.
But . . . the good record of the county was marred by a lynching in the month of January, 1884 when a laboring man from Michigan, Porter (alias Atchison), came into the west of the county after his release from the Pocahontas jail. Atchison was not a well-behaved person. During a game of cards with a citizen of Back Creek, a quarrel arose, both men being intoxicated. Atchison struck the other person a blow with his knife, but inflicted only a slight wound in the breast. For this he was lodged in the Monterey jail. Exaggerated reports of the affair got abroad. A party of citizens broke into the jail, shot him in his cell, and then hanged him to a tree on the Vanderpool road, where the same crosses the brow of the conical hill south of the town. All but one of the lynching party was identifiable. One citizen was tried by a jury of Rockbridge men but acquitted. The others were assumed to be implicated in the unfortunate occurrence left the county and never returned. One of those assumed to be implicated in the 1884 hanging at Vanderpool may have been my great grandpa John Robert Warwick (1857-1937).
[We have written about this January 1884 lynching in our OkieLegacy Archives:
1884 Lynching In Monterey, Vol. 11, Iss. 41, 2009-10-12
The Good With the Bad Ancestry Stories, Vol. 13, Iss. 16, 2011-04-18
Lynching In Monterey, Vol. 13, Iss. 46, 2011-11-14
1884 Lynching In Monterey, Vol. 14, Iss. 20, 2012-05-14]
Cities and towns were formerly few and small because large ones could not be supported. So long as farming was done in the old way, every farmhouse being a workshop, it took a very large share of the people to feed the nation. The simple life and the home manufactures made the mills and factories of the cities comparatively unnecessary. The farming community could not spare much of its increase excel to open new farms. The country was seemingly more attractive than the town.
Towns were once compact, because men had to live within working distance from where they worked. Town life was no more comfortable than country life. In the minds of people the balance of attraction was strongly on the side of the town. People conceded the purer air and water, the fresher vegetables, and the freedom from nerve-racking noise to be found in the country, yet the movement to the city, the town, and the village went on unchecked.
If food did not have to be produced front he soil, the rural neighborhood would become nothing more than a summoner playground.
Forest had other uses than as a supply of timber. They regulated the flow of water in the rivers and they afford a cover for game. Highland had once plenty of game, but it diminished through the years of inhabitants. The red man killed only for his own needs. The white man was short-sighted as in the matter of lumbering, slaughtered without restraint, using up principal as well as interest.
Highland was never designed as a region of general farming. Its specialty of livestock, for which its limestone aid, its pure water, and its temperate air so well adapted it, was very logical. Yet with ready transportation the tillable lands could yield a large and profitable supply of crops which the farmer used to think had a place only in the orchard and house garden.
The streams and rivers never fail and their currents were swift. The summer climate was in itself a valuable asset, but remained dormant so long as it retired an entire day to reach the county seat front he nearer railroad points.
The massing of population in the valleys paved the way to the coming of the centralized school.
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