This is the time of year when the Marion library sees an increase in visitors to the Southwest Virginia Heritage Library. This room is tucked away in the upstairs corner of the library and serves as a time capsule for local history. Upon the shelves, patrons may find yearbooks, research guides, compilations of county court records, family histories and countless other treasures. The resources in this room have taken decades to accumulate and have assisted countless individuals in learning about their Smyth County ancestors.
When I have the opportunity to introduce visitors to the Heritage Library, I often pull one of my favorite resource books from the shelf — “Heritage of Smyth County Virginia: 1832-1997.” One of the first steps in genealogy is to find out what research has already been done on your family. This book holds upon its pages, brief histories of approximately 600 local families. A few of the surnames listed as pioneer families are Atwell, Blankenbeckler, Bonham, Gollehon, Bowling, Britton, Bowman, Buchanan, Call, Copenhaver, Carter and Cullop.
One of my favorite sections of this book is the portion which provides details about Smyth County history and the communities scattered throughout our county. The following are just a few of the historical sketches that are provided.
“Some distant Allison relative probably discovered the gap leading down from the mountains to the river and a large number of family members made it their home (and still do).
“J.P. Catron, an Allison descendant and resident of Allison’s Gap, said the earliest members he could remember were Ben Allison, his brother Dave (called Moshin) and another brother Sam, who took a team of mules and delivered goods for the company store back in the hollow and places where there were no roads at the time.
“Catron says he is ‘sure the community got its name from the large number of Allisons who lived here at one time.’ Allison’s Gap was, at one time a prosperous community in its own right, with several stores, including a branch of the Mathieson Company Store.”
“Atkins was probably named for Thompson Atkins who owned a large amount of land in the area. The community name has changed from Atkins Switch to Atkins Tank and, finally, just Atkins.
“Some of the earliest families in the community were Bear, Calhoun, Cassell, Crow, Pafford, Shrock and Wassum.
“Lumber was one of the first businesses in Atkins. Glade Mountain Lumber Co., begun around 1904, had a spur track six miles up Nick’s Creek. Later, Atkins Lumber Co. bought the band mill and other equipment from the Glade Mountain Lumber Co. and set up on Bear Creek. Due to steam engines, firewood was a source of revenue for many men in the area. Thompson Atkins operated a grist mill and a water tank was built so that the train engines could get water, thus the name Atkins Tank.”
“The community of Camp was so named because it served as a campsite for travelers who climbed into their covered wagons and trekked to the town of Marion for supplies.
“Generally, the travelers came from Grayson County to the town because the train depot was located in Marion. Merchants made the trip to gather produce for their stores in Grayson, or to trade goods with others. Since the transportation of the time made a cross-country trip last more than a single day, an overnight camp stop was essential.
“Located at the crossroads of State Routes 798 and 612, as well as the Forest Service Road 16, the area’s proximity to Granny Branch and Crigger Creek offered clean mountain water to weary travelers.
“The late Senator Pat Jennings, Sr., grew up in the community of Camp.”
“State Route 317 covers all of the community of Cleghorn Valley. It got its name sometime in the early 1900’s from John Cleghorn, who was its first inhabitant when the church changed its name from Valley View to Cleghorn Valley Baptist Church.
“Most of the valley was logged out in the late 1890’s by Glade Logging Co. They sold the land off at a cheap price, especially the part that was level or farmable. Farming was about the only source of making a living at that time. Later on, men left to work as carpenters, brick layers, or miners in West Virginia, working five days and coming home on the weekend. Later, work was found at factories.”
“Rich Valley is a community on the north side of Walker’s Mountain. The name came from the rich soil and grazing pastures of the valley. When ‘Rich Valley’ was first used to identify the community is difficult to determine. The name probably gained acceptance between 1750 and 1792. A land deed records in 1792 names Rich Valley.
“Among the earliest settlers were Buchanans, Lamies, Spratts, Richardsons, Harmons, Hubbles, and Hayes, as well as other families whose descendants have remained in the valley for generations. Rich Valley Baptist Church was organized with 26 members in 1802. The Pleasant Hill Church in Rich Valley was organized in the 1840’s.
Seven Mile Ford
“Seven Mile Ford is the only community in North America with this unique name. The name originated from the ford of the river, which was seven miles from the ford at Marion (Royal Oak).
“A lot of the county’s history is centered in Seven Mile Ford. A family of Prestons were owners of almost all the land, at one time, having obtained thousands of acres in a land grant from the King of England. John M. Preston, Sr. built the Preston home. It later became the home of Lucy Crockett and was known as ‘Herondon.’
“The Seven Mile Ford Presbyterian Church, built in 1880, was constructed of lumber and beams taken from the property of John M. Preston, who built the church.
“Once there was a train station which became the Seven Mile Ford Equipment Company. Trains would come by and pick up the mail without stopping, as the mail bags were hung on hooks and the conductors could get them without the train slowing down.”
These are just a few of the entries found within the “Heritage of Smyth County Virginia,” which offer us a glimpse into the past. The next time you are in the library, take a moment to seek out this incredible volume of history and learn more about your family’s history or local history.