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Lower Shenandoah Valley

( Originally Published 1932 )


ROANOKE was not incorporated as a city until 1884, and its growth since that time has been as if by magic. The site of Roanoke was one of great natural beauty and of strategic importance during pioneer days.

New Antwerp, the first antecedent of Roanoke, was planned in 1802. Although never built it was laid off in wide avenues and cross streets. In 1834 the first settlement built at this point was Gainsborough, named for Kemp Gains, a prominent merchant. Gainsborough was changed to Big Lick when the latter town was incorporated in 1874. Eight years later Big Lick was succeeded by Roanoke, whose incorporation dates from 1884. What is now Roanoke was on the main highways of travel and was actually at the crossroads of that travel. The road from lower Virginia crossing the Blue Ridge through Buford's Gap passed along on its present route toward the southwest; and the Great Road from Philadelphia through the Valley of Virginia to the Yadkin in North Carolina joined this road at the Lick Spring, using the same right of way for a short distance.

But before these routes were used for general travel they were used as military routes. Cherokee and Catawba Indians from the south, fighting with Washington against the French and Indians on the upper Ohio, crossed at Tosh's Ford and got rations provided for them by Thomas Tosh. The recruits for Colonel Byrd's expedition, for the relief of Fort Loudoun in Tennessee, gathered here and at Fort Lewis. Evans's Mill at Crystal Spring was the appointed base of supplies. This expedition was against the Cherokees. Prior to Colonel Byrd's operations Major Andrew Lewis gathered men and supplies at the Roanoke River and proceeded into the Cherokee country, where he built Fort Loudoun. About the same time Washington himself passed this way on his tour of inspection of the line of frontier forts. Before there was a frontier settlement to protect, the Indians were using this point as a center of life and trade and were travelling the trails which later became the roads.


Lone Oak, first named Rock of Ages, was built in 1767 by Colonel Thomas Tosh, to whom the original grant of land was made by King George III, in 1747. The patent included several thousand acres of land on Roan Oak-now Roanoke River. The City of Roanoke is built on this land, and the mansion house stands on a five-acre tract overlooking the river in the outskirts of the city. It is said to be the first brick house built in this end of the Valley of Virginia. It took ten years to construct the home, as the brick was brought by canal boats from Richmond to Buchanan and hauled from there on ox carts.

Colonel Tosh was a great friend of the Indians, and they visited his home frequently. Elizabeth Tosh married William Lewis, a nephew of General Andrew Lewis, and the plantation remained in the Lewis family until 1901, when it passed into the hands of Mrs. Lawrence S. Davis, a near relative of the Lewises.

The old place was originally called Rock of Ages on account of the rock ledge on which it stood. Afterwards it was named Big Oak for a magnificent oak which has since been destroyed, which once stood at the gateway. The name was later changed to Lone Oak by the present owners. Lone Oak was used frequently as headquarters by General Andrew Lewis, and many conferences were held there by General Lewis and his fellow officers during the Indian wars.

The original garden was the usual box-bordered, colonial type, and some of the old boxwood and shrubs and many fine old trees are still standing. The garden has been restored as near the original as possible, and an unusual collection of old-fashionel perennial flowers and old roses can be found there.


Buena Vista, the home of Colonel George Plater Tayloe and afterwards of his daughter, Mrs. M. M. Rogers, is one of the oldest places in the vicinity of Roanoke, having been in the Tayloe family for five generations. There were fifteen hundred acres in the place originally.

Colonel George P. Tayloe was born at Mount Airy in Richmond County, the home of his father, Colonel John Tayloe. The old garden at Buena Vista was modelled after the garden at Mount Airy. Colonel Tayloe was descended from Colonel William Tayloe who came to this country from London, England, in 1670, and was a member of the House of Burgesses and the Colonial Council. His son, Colonel John Tayloe, succeeded him in the House of Burgesses and also inherited the family estate, Mount Airy, and the fortune of his father.

There were three Colonel John Tayloes. Colonel George P. Tayloe was the son of John Tayloe III and his wife, Anne Ogle, daughter of Governor Ogle of Maryland. The portraits of John Tayloe and his wife, Anne Ogle Tayloe, by Gilbert Stuart, hang in the old library at Buena Vista today. Colonel John Tayloe also built the Octagon House in Washington in 1798.

Colonel George P. Tayloe, owner of Buena Vista, was one of the signers of the Ordinance of Secession, and a copy of the original Ordinance hangs in the old hall at Buena Vista.

Colonel Tayloe had four sons in the Confederate army: two were killed and two survived the war. His wife was Mary Elizabeth Langhorne, daughter of Colonel William Langhorne of Roanoke and Botetourt Counties.

Buena Vista was ordered to be burned by General Hunter at the time of the burning of the V.M.I., but when Hunter's men arrived they were told before they reached the house that General Early and his staff were there. As a matter of fact General Early was in Bedford at the time and did not reach Buena Vista until several hours later; thus Hunter could have burned the house before he arrived.

All of Colonel Tayloe's children were born in the old brick house now standing. The graveyard and garden were sold several years ago, so only the home and grounds belong to the family now. The garden was noted for the great variety of beautiful shrubs, boxwood and lilacs, the white ones being especially admired. Colonel Tayloe was a great lover of flowers, and always gave the garden his personal attention.


The Fort Lewis estate was conveyed by deed from George III to Samuel White, and the present house built by his son, Samuel White, in 1822. It was bought and remodelled a few years ago. Its present owner is George S. Payne.

About a hundred feet from the house a block of granite marks the location of the old pioneer Fort Lewis, a pre-Revolutionary stronghold of the pioneers of this section against the Indians. This fort was built by General Andrew Lewis by order of Governor Dinwiddie circa 1755.

An English yew stands guard over the old garden, which today is a lovely greensward. In excavating for the old house in 1822, a grave containing six skeletons was unearthed under what is now the main hall.


Monterey, now owned by Frank W. Read and his sister, Mrs. Philip V. Mohun, lies in Roanoke County-formerly a part of Botetourt County-about three miles north of the City of Roanoke. This estate, which has been in the Read family since its purchase in 1844 by Mrs. Thomas Read, was originally granted to Israel Christian of Augusta County. In 1773 Israel Christian's daughter, Nancy, married William Fleming, a Scotchman of noble birth, and in the same year Israel Christian conveyed to William Fleming a tract of land containing twenty-four hundred acres, named by Fleming, Belmont, in honor of his ancestral home in Scotland. Later owners of this estate changed the name to Monterey.

Colonel William Fleming, surgeon, soldier and patriot of the Revolutionary period, lived at Belmont until his death in 1795. He is buried on this estate. Colonel Fleming was in command of the Botetourt troops at the battle of Point Pleasant in 1774, and in 1781 acted as governor of Virginia and later, in 1788, was a member of the Virginia Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution.

At the present time there are three residences on the Monterey estate: a log house, commonly thought to be Belmont, the original home of William Fleming; the Read home, which was erected about 1840, and to the rear of which was located an old flower garden, and a modern residence, the home of Mrs. Philip V. Mohun.


Fotheringay was built by General John Hancock sometime before 1780. History has it that the general dreamed of building a home on this beautiful spot. He was buried upright in a tomb near the house, that his face might always be turned to his beloved valley.

Nothing has been done to mar the beauty of this old house. Few places in Virginia can boast of such furniture, wall paper and beautifully carved panelling, as is to be seen here in its original setting.

It was at Fotheringay estate that an Indian plot to kill General Washington and his two aides, General Andrew Lewis and Colonel Preston, was frustrated. At the foot of the hill stood the old Fotheringay Tavern, whose register today tells of the many celebrities who partook of its hospitality. Some unearthed walks at the north of the house indicate the location of the old garden.

In 1810 Fotheringay was bought by Colonel Edmondson. He was a member of the Hancock family, and is an ancestor of the present owners.


The Greenfield estate of one hundred thousand acres was an original grant from George III, in recognition of the military services of William Preston on the frontier. On one of the walls hang today a commission from the crown signed by Norbornne, Baron de Botetourt, who appointed Preston colonel of the militia of Botetourt County. The present house was built by Colonel William Preston in 1762. With the exception of a few minor changes the house stands as it was built.

Many conferences were held at Greenfield between General Andrew Lewis and Colonel Preston, who were military protectors against the Indians and French. General Washington, Louis Napoleon and many another famous man, were guests at this old mansion. Greenfield was the home of James Patton Preston, governor of Virginia in 1816, and of General Francis Preston of Revolutionary fame. The present owner is of the seventh generation to live at Greenfield.

Only daffodils and jonquils mark the site of the old terraced garden that was to the south of the house.


On July 25, 1746, a grant of 150 acres, which included a small sulphur spring, was obtained by William Carvin. In 1820 Charles Johnston, author of the now rare book, Johnston's Narrative, built a summer resort which became famous as Botetourt Springs. In 1839 the hotel and cottages were acquired by Edward William Johnston, brother of General Joseph E. Johnston, C.S.A., who opened Roanoke Female Seminary, a school for girls. A number of fascinating letters and records, including the "Rules," are in the vault at Hollins College.

In 1900 Hollins Institute passed to the Cocke family. In 1926 the property was deeded to a board of trustees.

For many years there was on the front campus a garden laid off in a rather elaborate system of walks, circles and terraces, and ornamented with flowers and shrubs. There was also a heart-shaped terraced garden on the north front of the main building.


The Virginia Military Institute was founded at Lexington in 1839. An arsenal had been established there in 1816 after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent in 1814. This arsenal, how-ever, became an undesirable element in the town, and in 1834 the Franklin Literary Society debated, "Whether it would be practicable to organize the arsenal so that it might be at the same time a literary institution for the education of youth." The great champion of this idea was Colonel J. T. L. Preston.

The first board of visitors, having for its president, Colonel Claude Crozet, a graduate of the Ecole Polytechnique of France, was assembled in 1837 and adopted resolutions to pattern the school after the West Point Military Academy. General Francis H. Smith, a distinguished West Point graduate, was selected to organize and conduct the institution, and the first corps of cadets was mustered into the service of the State on November 11, 1839.

Stonewall Jackson was teaching at the Institute in 1861, and seven days after the declaration of war the corps of cadets marched to Richmond under his command. On May 15, 1864, the cadets made their charge at the battle of New Market. In June, 1864, the school was burned by order of General Hunter of the United States army, the quarters of the superintendent being the only building which escaped. The Institute reopened in October, 1865. Matthew Fontaine Maury was later a member of the faculty.

In Jackson Memorial Hall there is a painting of the charge of the cadets at New Market, done by Clinedinst. Near Jackson Hall is the statue of Virginia Mourning Her Dead, by Sir Moses Ezekiel and on the parade ground at the west side of the barracks there is a statue of General Jackson, also by Ezekiel. Over the parapet is the Ninety-Four Hall in its setting of the lovely Memorial Garden. This was given by Mrs. William H. Cocke while General Cocke was commandant, "In Memory of V. M. I Cadets Killed in Battle."


Washington and Lee University possesses a rich and interesting heritage. The school dates back to the middle of the eighteenth century, and was first known as Augusta Academy, then as Liberty Hall. When it was later moved to Lexington it was endowed by George Washington and took his name. Following the War Between the States, General Robert E. Lee accepted the call to become its president and fostered and rebuilt an institution over which destruction had run rough-shod. It then became Washington and Lee University.

The Liberty Hall Volunteers, the college company, marched from its doors in the War of 1861-'65.

The campus contains historic and interesting buildings and relics. General Robert E. Lee is buried in the chapel which he built; and here is Valentine's recumbent statue of him. General Lee's office, as he left it, may be seen in this building, as well as the Peale portraits of Washington and Lafayette.


On July 5, 1774, a grant was made by George III conveying 107 acres of land with the Natural Bridge to Thomas Jefferson. Before the property passed out of royal hands there is on record a description of the land which mentions marks carefully noted by the surveyor. Persistent legend tells that it was the hand of Washington who ran those lines, although there is no direct statement to that effect in old-established records. On the walls of the bridge are carved the letters "G.W."

In 1802 Jefferson built a two-room log cabin on the site of the present Jefferson Cottage, one room of which was to be kept for visitors. The next accommodation for visitors was another log house, part of which is still standing. This can be seen from the Valley Road, with the remains of the original Natural Bridge Road winding up to its door. Across from this ruin there stood on the Valley Road an overnight stopping place in stagecoach days. This house was once owned by Thomas Jefferson. Later Forest Inn was built, and still later the Natural Bridge Hotel.

Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, writes of Natural Bridge as follows: "So beautiful an arch, so elevated, so light, and springing as it were up to heaven. The rapture of the spectator is really indescribable! This bridge is in the County of Rock-bridge, to which it has given name, and affords a public and commodious passage over a valley which cannot be crossed elsewhere for a considerable distance."

Natural Bridge is surrounded by other points of great natural beauty, such as Goshen Pass, famous for its rhododendron growth. This gorgeous shrub is in great abundance on the cliffs through which the river has worn a small canyon. It was through Goshen Pass that Matthew Fontaine Maury asked that his body be carried when the rhododendrons were in bloom.


The main part of the Stuart House was built in 1791 by Archibald Stuart from plans drawn by his intimate friend, Thomas Jefferson. The southern wing was added by his son, Alexander H. H. Stuart.

The interior woodwork, wainscoting, cornices and carving about the fireplaces and doors are hand-wrought. Three styles of architecture are represented: at the front door the Doric, in the sitting room the Ionic, and in the parlor the Corinthian. Panelling on the doors is of the cross design with H-hinges. The doors have keystones and the original brass locks, and the knocker on the front door is a wrought-iron crop and spur. The principal doors and mantels are ornamented with scrolls enclosing rosettes and torches. A circular stairway in the corner of the front hall is swung over the sitting room in a manner characteristic of Jefferson's architecture, as seen at Monti-cello. The hall clock, still an excellent timepiece, was given to Mrs. Eleanor Stuart by her father, Colonel Girard Briscoe, on the occasion of her marriage.

While Archibald Stuart was a student at the College of William and Mary in 1780, Williamsburg was overrun by the British, and the college was closed. He at once joined the regiment of which his father was major, and as a private participated in the battle of Guilford courthouse, where he saw his father wounded and captured. He was vice-president of the Phi Beta Kappa Society at William and Mary, and when he left there he took its official seal with him, which was found after his death in a secret drawer of his escritoire now in Stuart House. The seal was restored to the society by his son, Alexander H. H. Stuart.

At the close of hostilities Archibald Stuart studied law in the office of Mr. Jefferson, and later settled in Staunton. He always cherished the highest admiration and esteem for his preceptor. Some of his law books were given him by Jefferson. When Stuart was elected a judge, his district included Albemarle County. When attending the sessions of his court he regularly spent a night with Jefferson at Monticello. They were regular correspondents; and many of the letters of Jefferson to Judge Stuart were presented to the Virginia Historical Society by Alexander H. H. Stuart.

Archibald Stuart was a member of the Virginia Convention which ratified the Constitution of the United States, and for thirty years was judge of the General Court of Virginia. He died July 1, 1832, and is buried in Trinity churchyard, Staunton.

Upon the death of Judge Stuart, his son, Alexander H. H. Stuart, became the owner of this house, where he was born, April 2, 1807, and in which he died February 3, 1891. Mr. Stuart was a member of Congress in 1841, and a member of the cabinet of President Fillmore from 1850 to 1853. He was one of the leading Whigs of the country prior to 1860, and was largely instrumental in the restoration of Virginia to the Union after the War Between the States. By his will he gave this property to his daughter, Mrs. Margaret Briscoe Robert-son, the present occupant. Thus the house has been continuously occupied by three generations of Stuarts.

Few men of distinction ever visited Staunton during the life of Judge Stuart and Mr. Stuart who were not entertained in this house. Jefferson was a frequent visitor there, and one of the rooms, a very simple one, has always been known as "Mr. Jefferson's room." General Robert E. Lee and Commodore Matthew Fontaine Maury are remembered among its most distinguished guests.


This was the parish church of Augusta Parish, which was established in 1746, and comprised the vast territory extending from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Mississippi River, and from the North Carolina and Tennessee lines to the Great Lakes.

The present site was purchased for 16 from William Bever-ley, April 3, 1750. The first church was completed in 1763. In it the General Assembly of Virginia met, June 7-23, 1781.

Bishop Madison, the first bishop of Virginia and a son of this parish, worshipped there. The second church was built in 1830, and the present one erected in 1855. The Theological Seminary in Virginia was located here during the War Between the States.


The house in Staunton in which Woodrow Wilson was born was erected in 1846, ten years before that notable birth occurred. It was built by the Presbyterian Church of the town as a manse, and it has been used for that purpose ever since.

It was constructed on an acre lot and faced eastward on Coalter Street, then recently opened, near the town limits. John Fifer, whose son, Joseph Wilson Fifer, became governor of Illinois, was the builder.

Staunton is a place of many hills, and the manse is on a steep side of one of them. It is an unpretentious, dignified, pleasing, rectangular brick house, two stories high at the front and three stories at the back. There are center halls which run through the house on each floor, with two rooms on either side of them. Originally there was a one-story small porch in front and at the rear, and two larger porches with colonial columns, one each on the second and third stories. In pleasant weather the third-story back porch was a delightful gathering place for the family. It caught the western breeze and over-looked the terraced garden below and the town beyond. From here also could be seen a charming vista of hills with the tallest peaks of North Mountain towering majestically above. Tradition says that Mr. Wilson's father, the Reverend Doctor Joseph R. Wilson, loved to sit on that porch and revel in the scenery. The porches have all been modified.

As you enter the house from Coalter Street the first room on the left is the family room, fifteen by nineteen feet. This is the chamber in which Woodrow Wilson was born. Back of this is a smaller room, used as a nursery. Above these are two similar rooms on the third floor, which were occupied by the president-elect and Mrs. Wilson when they were guests of Staunton on his fifty-sixth birthday, December 28, 1912.

An effort is in progress to convert this manse into a national shrine. Even though it is still a private home, thousands of tourists visit it every year.

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