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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Past Meets Present in West Chester


     Three years ago I wrote an article describing the dramatic events that occurred at Oakley, the farm of Leroy Wonderful Dobyns, during the battle of the Wilderness. Based on a letter written by Leroy's daughter, Maria, to my great grand aunt, Nannie Row, this remains one of my more popular pieces, as Maria describes in cinematic detail the level of suffering and violence experienced by one family on the the periphery of the major fighting that took place in Spotsylvania in May 1864.
      One of the actors in that drama was Major William B. Darlington of the 18th Pennsylvania Cavalry, who was shot off his horse near the Dobyns' house. Major Darlington was taken to the nearby home of William Shelton Buchanan, where his leg was amputated by Dr. Taylor,  the surgeon of General Wade Hampton. He survived his ordeal, and after the war  was appointed postmaster of West Chester, Pennsylvania.
     Recently it was brought to my attention that Malcom Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District, wrote an article on the history of the West Chester post office, in which he cited Spotsylvania Memory's article. His piece can be read here.
     It is always satisfying when events from the past can be utilized to amplify our understanding of the present.

Monday, March 16, 2015

John P. Kale

John P. Kale, about 1846 (Polk County Memorial Museum)

     The story of John Kale has its beginnings in the Alps of Switzerland, where John's father, Anthony Kale, was born about 1790 in Chur, the capital of the canton Graubunden. A candy maker by trade, Anthony made his way from landlocked Switzerland to a port city in western Europe. Once there, he boarded a sailing ship and crossed the Atlantic. Whether he came alone or with relatives, at what city in America did he arrive, and exactly what year he undertook that perilous journey are questions that have remained unanswered.
     However, by some time after 1810 Anthony Kale was living in Fredericksburg, Virginia. His name first appears in the written record on April 10, 1816, when his marriage to Catherine Estes was announced in The Virginia Herald. Catherine Estes was one of ten children born to Richard and Catherine Carlton Estes of Greenfield, a plantation in western Spotsylvania County.
     Anthony Kale owned property at 706-708 Caroline Street; those buildings survive today as the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and Beck's Antiques. At No. 706 Kale ran a confectionery and grocery, and his family lived on the floors over his store. The seven children of Catherine and Anthony were born there. The youngest of their three sons, John, arrived in 1824. (More can be read about the Kales here).

706-708 Caroline Street

     Little is known of John's early life, other than he apparently received a good education, given the early success he enjoyed in the newly minted Republic of Texas. In 1846, the 22-year-old John left Fredericksburg and went west.

Letter of John Kale, February 1847

     On February 19, 1847, John wrote a letter from Liberty, Texas to his uncle Absalom Row of Spotsylvania. He began by mentioning how much sickness there was out there, from which he was not immune: "I have not been well two weeks at a time since July last." John was teaching school then, but in the sparsely settled section northeast of modern Houston, there was not much money to be made in that profession. John made some observations on recent elections in Virginia and then indulged in a wistful look back at the life he had left behind in Virginia: "You cannot imagine what it is to me to hear from you all every one and all things about home are ten times dearer to me than they ever were before. Your fine healthy faces would be a show in this part of the world, and little George I no doubt remembers how the squirrel's tail was played about his nose." The little George he referred to was my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row.

George Washington Estes Row (1843-1883)

     By 1850, John Kale was living in the tiny town of Livingston, Polk County, where he was clerk of court. He was one of the earliest American settlers in that area and over the years enjoyed success as clerk, town merchant and farmer.
     John married Mary Winifred Hicks in Polk County on August 10, 1852. Their marriage was short-lived and tragic. Their first child, a daughter, died at birth in 1853. Their son suffered the same fate in 1854. Mary Kale died two weeks after the death of her son on September 6. All three are buried near her parents in the Abell Cemetery in Liberty, Texas.
     By 1860, with an aggregate wealth of $56,000, John Kale was one of the wealthiest men in Polk County. But that statistic does not tell the whole story. After the death of his wife and children, John was in a mental where he could not be left alone. He moved to Denton, Texas to stay for a time with his brother, Richard. For the 1860 census taken in Polk County, his occupation is given as "undefinable," because he was living in Denton at the time.
     John enlisted as a private in Company K of the 5th Texas Infantry on August 24, 1861. Now 37 years old, he was considered an old man by some of his fellow recruits. The 5th Infantry was part of the famed Texas Brigade, commanded by General John Bell Hood. Within two months of his enlistment, the  5th Texas was transported to Virginia, where it encamped on Neabsco Creek near Dumfries. Here, the older and more experienced John worked as a nurse in the General Hospital.
     John fought with his regiment during the Seven Days Battles near Richmond in 1862. The Texas Brigade, along with Longstreet's Corps, then marched west toward Culpeper in order to link up with Stonewall Jackson's troops and confront the army of General John Pope.
     On August 26, 1862, John Kale was put on picket duty, along with future Texas judge John W. Stevens and Nathan Oates. This episode was recounted in a book written by Judge Stevens 40 years later: Reminiscences of the Civil War, Hillsboro Mirror Print: Hillsboro, Texas, 1902, 51-52:

     "Kale was about 45 years old [actually, he was just 38] and a little hard of hearing, we three were carried down by an officer and posted in thirty or forty steps of the enemy's line, in high corn. The mud was awful, the air was quite cool after nightfall...Our orders were if the enemy attempted to advance, to wait until they were in twenty feet, then fire into them and fall back, we were not to speak above a whisper. We were so close to the enemy that we could hear their feet pop in the mud as they moved around in line. We could hear, all night, the low rumbling sound of their voices in suppressed tones as they conversed.
     "Kale, poor fellow, could not hear as well as myself and Nath, which was a great discomfort to him, and us as well. The slight breeze that came through the corn, sawing the blades against one another, made a noise very much like a man slipping up on us. Kale, every few minutes would insist that the rascals--as he called them--were coming and at times we could hardly restrain him from raising his gun to fire."

     Four days later, John Kale was shot during the battle of Second Manassas. He was taken to the Receiving and Wayside Hospital (General Hospital No. 9) in Richmond, where he remained for two months. He was then transferred to Hospital No. 21. From there he was transferred to "private quarters October 29, 1862, having furnished a substitute."
     Not much else is known of John Kale's activities during the Civil War. In a letter written by his sister Kate in July 1864, we learn that John and his brother Richard (who had begun the war as a trooper with the 15th Texas Cavalry) were "now in the same company. John is in the commissary department. He says the State [Texas] is full of refugees and everything is high. Sugar is not to be had at any price."
     The war now over, John returned to Polk County. Although his wealth was now less than half of what it had been before the war, he was still better off than most of his neighbors. He opened a dry goods store in Livingston. On March 21, 1867 he married a 30 year old widowed school teacher, Isabelle Wallace Sharp.
     Isabelle, or "Belle" as everyone knew her, had been the second wife of John F. Sharp, who had died during the war. Belle was raising John Sharp's son by his first marriage, John, Jr. Belle came from a distinguished Delaware family. Her grandfather, Caesar Augustus Rodney, had served in the House of Representatives and had been Attorney General of the United States.
     John and Belle had four children together. The first, Iola Rodney, died in 1871 at age three. Annie Rose was born about 1869, Louise "Lutie" was born in 1870 and Katherine "Kate" Carlton (named for her grandmother) in 1872. On May 15, 1873, Belle Kale died while giving birth to her fifth child, who also died.

Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan (courtesy of Felicia Gourdin)

     After Belle died, John Kale made the decision to send his three surviving daughters to live with Belle's sister, Anna Rose Wallace Vaughan, in Yalobusha, Mississippi. Anna Vaughan, a widow with four daughters of her own, taught school there.  In the photograph below, Anna is seen with her daughters and the younger Kale girls who are identified by the numbers: 1-Lutie, 2-Kate, 3-Annie Rose.

Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum

     In 1880, John Kale was living alone and farming. For a man who had been twice married and the father of eight children, it must have been lonely. He was still close to his adopted son, John F. Sharp, Jr., who acted as guardian for the daughters of John Kale after his death on February 14, 1886 at the age of 62.

     As John Kales' daughters became old enough, they were enrolled in the Ward Seminary for Young Ladies (modern Ward-Belmont College) in Nashville, Tennessee. There, on Christmas Eve 1887, Annie Rose Kale was killed in a dormitory fire.

Kate Kale (Courtesy of Polk County Memorial Museum)

     Kate Kale married Kentucky banking executive James Florian Cox in 1892. They never had children. In 1910 James left Kate for the much younger Virginia Lee Harris of New Orleans.

The Daily Star 28 February 1894

     Lutie Kale married lumber wholesaler Edward Lewis Edwards in 1894. Their wedding announcement made the social page of the Fredericksburg papers. She and Edward settled in Dayton, Ohio and had one daughter. After her divorce, Kate moved to Dayton to be near her sister. Lutie died in 1922, Kate in 1926. They are buried at Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum in Dayton.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Annette Houston Harlow

Annette Houston Harlow with her son, Finley

     Today I am showcasing the colorization talent of graphic artist and friend of Spotsylvania Memory, Deborah Humphries. Beginning with the original image shown below (provided by Elizabeth Robinson), Deborah was able to bring to life my cousin Annette and her young son, Finley Houston Harlow, in late 1913 or early 1914.

     Annette Willson Houston (1878-1960) was born in Rockbridge County, Virginia, the daughter of Finley and Grace Alexander Houston. Finley Houston, one of the leading citizens of Lexington in his day, has been the topic of a previous post, which can be read here.

     In September 1905, Annette married Washington & Lee graduate, Benjamin Franklin Harlow, Jr. (1873-1961). Ben Harlow's father was an attorney, Civil War veteran and publisher of the Greenbrier Independent in Lewisburg, West Virginia. Ben and Annette were married at 'Clifton,' her family's home near Lexington, Virginia. In the family portrait taken on the day of their wedding, Ben and Annette are standing at far right, their eyes turned to the camera lens. Her parents are seated, her sister Mary stands at center, and sister Bruce and her husband William Emrys Davis stand at left:

     After they were married, Annette and Ben moved to Roswell, New Mexico, where Ben worked in the printing business until early 1917. Ben also taught Latin at the New Mexico Military Academy, whose superintendent was Annette's cousin, James William Willson.

     Once the Harlows came back to Lexington, Virginia, Ben became the publisher of the Lexington Gazette. After his retirement, he was succeeded by his son Finley, who held that position until his death in 1972.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Slaves at the Museum

Display at the Chancellorsville Museum, National Park Service

     Last week, while in Virginia doing some research and making headway on my upcoming book, I finally had the opportunity to visit the Park Service's  recently updated contact station at Chancellorsville. I was interested in seeing several of their exhibits, including this one. Please click on the images in my blog for enlarged viewing.
     This particular exhibit speaks to the exodus of slaves from the Spotsylvania region while Union troops were nearby. Among those enslaved people who escaped to freedom were a number from Greenfield plantation in western Spotsylvania. Their flight to freedom in 1862 was documented by my great great grandmother, Nancy Estes Row, in this list of runaways written in her own hand:

List of runaway slaves from Greenfield

     My great great grandmother had the foresight to include the last names of those "servants," which made it possible to discover the fates of three of these people, whose story appears here. The story of another Greenfield slave, Ellen Upshur, who had been given as a present to a relative in 1857, can be read here.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Dr. John Duerson Pulliam

Newlyweds: John and Lucy Pulliam, 1861 (CH)

     Every so often I am privileged to come across a collection of photographs relating to one of Spotsylvania's historic families. Such a stroke of good fortune occurred earlier this year when Pulliam family researcher Craig Harnden began to post these photographs to his family tree on Ancestry. With Craig's kind permission, I am able to share with you today this very rare look at the Pulliam family. Pictures from Craig Harnden's archive that appear in today's post are designated with '(CH)'. All images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing.

Western Spotsylvania County, 1863

     Named for his grandfather, John Duerson Pulliam was born in Spotsylvania on 3 November 1840 to Richard H. Pulliam and Rebecca Duerson. The Pulliam farm can be seen in the lower left portion of the map detail shown above. Richard Pulliam's sister Eliza's farm lay just to the north. To the northeast was Greenfield ("Mrs. Rowe"), my family's ancestral home.
    John D. Pulliam graduated from the University of Virginia in 1859. Like many young men in Virginia of that time who wished to practice medicine, he then attended the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. He graduated in 1861, having written his thesis on the topic of digestion.
     The year 1861 would prove to be the most significant in the life of young Dr. Pulliam for two other reasons as well. On 15 July he enlisted in Company E of the Ninth Virginia Cavalry, my great grandfather's old regiment. Also serving with John were his brother Thomas Coleman Pulliam and his cousin Thomas Richard Pulliam, whose self-indulgent life and violent death have recently been featured in this blog. Click here to read what has become the most popular article ever published on Spotsylvania Memory.

Lucy Noel Jerrell, age 17 (CH)

     The most momentous event in the life of John Pulliam in 1861 was his marriage to eighteen year old Lucy Noel Jerrell on 4 December. Lucy was born in July 1843 to John C. Jerrell and Mary Cropp. The Jerrells lived southeast of Spotsylvania Court House, where her father operated a grist mill and ran a store.
     Dr. John Pulliam survived his year in the Confederate cavalry, managing to avoid injury, sickness or capture. He returned home to Spotsylvania, where he began his fifty year medical practice. Unfortunately for John and everyone he knew, the Civil War that they had so avidly wished for would soon be on their very doorsteps.

John C. Jerrell (CH)

     Among the first to suffer were John Jerrell and his second wife, Ann Marshall. On 5 November 1862 their home, mill and store house were ransacked by Federal troops. In the Confederate archives is the long list of the Jerrells' property that was stolen or destroyed that day by Union soldiers who "laid violent hands on his goods and wares." Among other things, the Jerrells lost ten slaves, a double barreled shotgun, 100 pounds of coffee, and 110 pounds of nails; English, French, Latin, Greek, law and medical books; percussion caps, quinine and other medicines. Without a doubt the most intriguing object stolen that day was a set of obstetrical instruments. As if that were not enough, the Jerrells suffered further indignity that winter when Confederate troops camping on their property burned 1,900 fence rails for fuel.
     A year and a half later John and Lucy Pulliam would have their own violent encounter with Union troops swarming through their neighborhood during the battle of the Wilderness. The experience of the Pulliams was included in the historic letter written by Maria Dobyns of neighboring Oakley plantation: The yankees even tore off the plaster off Dr. Pulliam's cellar, thinking something had been hid, took money off his and Lucie's clothes, together with everything else.

The Pulliam family, 1876 (CH)

     This family portrait made in 1876 shows John and Lucy Pulliam with their five oldest children (Ivy would arrive in  1877 and the youngest, Flavia, was born in 1883). The oldest daughter, Mary Etta, is at far left. She married John F. Lewis in 1880 and had three children with him before dying in 1886 at the age of 23. Standing at John's shoulder is Justinian, who also practiced medicine until his untimely death in 1891. Standing between her parents is Lucy Noel Pulliam, who married Dr. Charles Dudley Simmons. In John's lap is Alma, who married Dr. Frank P. Dickinson, whose family owned "Mercer Hall" in Spotsylvania. Warner moved to Augusta County where he lived near his sisters Ivy and Flavia for a time before dying during the influenza epidemic in 1918.
     Other photos from the Pulliam album:

Dr. Justinian Pulliam (CH)

Alma Pulliam (CH)

Flavia Pulliam (CH)

Ivy Pulliam  (CH)

     As a physician, John Pulliam touched the lives of many during his long career, including my own family.

Estate expenses of Nancy Estes Row

     Dr. Pulliam treated my great great grandmother, Nancy Estes Row, during her final illness in January 1873. The Rows were able to recoup some of his $12.50 fee when he bought several items at her estate sale.

Virginia Herald 6 May 1875

     By the 1870s John had begun to dip his toe into local politics. In 1875 he was elected as a delegate from the Livingston district for the Conservative Party's convention. Also elected from the Livingston district was Dr. Thomas W. Finney, who had served with John in the Ninth Cavalry. In 1860, while still a medical student, Finney lived with John Pulliam's family. Years later both doctors would be lauded for their heroic efforts during an epidemic in Spotsylvania:

The Free Lance 15 July 1887

     John Pulliam was elected a justice of the peace and served on the Spotsylvania  Board of Health 1909-1912. In 1910 he was elected president of the Spotsylvania chapter of the Farmer's Alliance. The only setback I have spotted in his multifaceted career occurred in 1884, when his nomination as superintendent of Spotsylvania County schools was rejected by the Virginia Senate.

Spotsylvania Court House, about 1900

     In the photograph above, Dr. John D. Pulliam is sitting with the political elite of Spotsylvania County. He is seated front and center, fourth from the right.

Dr. John Duerson Pulliam (CH)

     For many years John and Lucy Pulliam lived on a 160 acre farm near Peake's Crossroads, later known as Belmont.

Lucy Pulliam (CH)

Daily Star 29 May 1905

     Lucy Pulliam died of a stroke while entertaining friends at her home in 1905. John continued to live in their old home for a time, but sold it for $4,200 in 1909. He then moved in with his nephew Richard Graves and his family.

John Pulliam at White Hall, 1906 (CH)

     By about 1912 Dr. Pulliam had mostly retired from medicine, although he still would treat special cases. The last of these occurred in January 1914 when he traveled to Richmond to attend a sick nephew. While there he contracted a bad cold, which developed into pneumonia. He died on 15 January 1914.

John Pulliam (CH)

Richmond Times Dispatch 17 January 1914

     John, Lucy, Mary Etta, Warner and Justinian Pulliam are buried at Mount Hermon Baptist Church in Spotsylvania.


Friday, November 28, 2014

Little Orphan Annie

Frances Kent. Richmond, early 1900s

     Despite the fact that she had only a grade school education acquired in Spotsylvania in the early 1890s, my grandmother had  a life long love of history, literature and poetry that transcended her modest upbringing. Even into old age she enjoyed reading such heavy tomes as Winston Churchill's History of the English Speaking Peoples. I remember her ability to quote reams of poetry she learned by heart as a young girl, and as a lad I would sit by her rocking chair, transfixed by her ability to still recall without difficulty the poems she had learned seventy years earlier.
     One of the poems she used to recite (and also my mother, who had learned it from my grandmother, complete with her inflections and dramatic phrasing) was Little Orphan Annie, written by James Whitcomb Riley in 1885. The Annie of whom Riley wrote was a real child, Mary Alice Smith, who lived in the Riley household.
     For my modern readers, who will not be able to appreciate the terrifying effect the recitation of this poem by my grandmother and mother had on me at a very tender age, I present this poetic artifact from a bygone era. Read it alone in a dark room by candle light. If you dare.

Little Orphan Annie

Little Orphan Annie's come to our house to stay, 

To wash the cups and saucers up, and brush the crumbs away. 

Shoo the chickens off the porch, brush the hearth and sweep, 

Make the fire, bake the bread, and earn her board and keep.

And when the day is over, and all the things are done,

We'd sit around the kitchen fire, and have the mostest fun!

A-listening to the witch-tales, that Annie tells about. 

And the goblins will get you, if you don't watch out!

Once there was a little boy who wouldn't say his prayers

And when he went to bed one night a way upstairs;

His mama heard him holler, and his daddy heard him bawl, 

And when they turned the covers down, he wasn't there at all!

They searched him in the rafters, and in the closet press, 

They searched him in the chimney flue, and everywhere I guess, 

But all they ever found of him was his pants and roundabout. 

And the goblins will get you, if you don't watch out!

Once there was a little girl, who'd always laugh and grin, 

And make fun of everyone, all her blood and kin.

Once when there was company, and old folks were there, 

She mocked them, and shocked them, and said she didn't care!

And just when she was about to turn, and run and hide, 

There was two great, big black things, standing by her side!

They snatched her through the ceiling, 'fore she knowed what she's about. 

And the goblins will get you, if you don't watch out!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Death on the Virginia Central

Section hands of the PF&P Railroad (DC)

     For sixty one years the train used to make daily runs between Fredericksburg and Orange Court House. Near the end of the checkered history of this now long abandoned railway there occurred a devastating accident in Spotsylvania which made the front page of the Free Lance Star eighty six years ago. Thanks to Dena Cooper, fellow researcher and a friend of Spotsylvania Memory, this dimly remembered tragedy can now be shared with a modern audience. Photographs from her family's collection which appear in today's post are designated '(DC)'. All images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing.

Route of the PF&P Railroad, 1894 (Wikipedia)

     In 1852 the city fathers of Fredericksburg, fearing the cumulative financial impact of the failure of the Rappahannock Canal and the sad state of the Orange Turnpike and Plank Road, hatched a plan to construct a railroad linking Fredericksburg with Gordonsville. The following year the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad Company was incorporated by an act of the General Assembly and surveyors were at work by fall of 1853.

Gold bond of the FO&C Railroad (

     Soon thereafter this ambitious plan was scaled back to a thirty eight mile track that would extend from Fredericksburg to Orange Court House. By 1861 much of the grading work to Parker's store in western Spotsylvania was complete. But the Civil War obliged the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad to stop work. On Civil War era maps, and in the memories of soldiers who fought at the battles of Chancellorsville and the Wilderness, this nascent rail bed would be forever known as "the unfinished railroad."
     In June 1866 civil engineer Carter Moore Braxton, who had been an officer in the Fredericksburg artillery and husband of famed diarist Fannie Page Hume, was elected president of the F&G Railroad. Fifteen miles of standard gauge track had been laid by 1872, but the F&G went bankrupt. A new company, the Fredericksburg, Orange & Charlottesville Railroad, was formed to complete the project. They sold bonds, like the one shown above, in an attempt to raise sufficient capital to see the job through.
     Despite the inauspicious beginnings of this still unfinished railroad, its construction was a boon to the local economy. Building the road provided employment to a small army of surveyors, engineers and laborers. The manufacture of the rails, ties, fencing stock and bridge material also kept local foundries and saw mills humming. One beneficiary of this railroad boomlet was my great grandfather, George Washington Estes Row. Another group profiting from all this activity were local attorneys, as lawsuits relating to ongoing financial difficulties filled the docket of the Circuit Court.

Chugging past T.S. Jones's store near Mine Run, Orange County

     Inevitably, the Fredericksburg, Orange and Charlottesville Railroad went bankrupt in 1876. The company's charter was returned to the original incorporators, the F&G Railroad. The directors immediately transferred title to the Royal Land Development Company, which changed the standard gauge (4' 8" between rails) to narrow gauge (3' between rails) to save on construction costs. Royal purchased two engines, four flat cars, four box cars and two passenger cars from the Centennial Fairgrounds in Philadelphia.

Freight receipt of the PF&P Railroad, 1883

     That same year the company was renamed the Potomac, Fredericksburg & Piedmont Railroad and would be known by that name for more than fifty years. The first trip on the newly completed road was made from Fredericksburg to Orange Court House on 26 February 1877. A mere twenty five years had elapsed from conception to completion.
    Soon the PF&P railroad would be wryly referred to as the "Poor Folks & Preachers Railroad," reflecting both its clientele and its hand-to-mouth existence. There is the apocryphal story of a fellow who wished to get to Orange one day. Exasperated by a long and futile wait for the train to show up, he set off on foot, following the track to his intended destination. At long last the train slowly crept up behind him. As it slowly passed by, the engineer asked him if he wished to get on. "No thanks," he replied. "I'm in a hurry."

PF&P ticket, 1927

     The railroad always struggled financially and in 1925 the company decided to abandon the road. A small group of investors bought it and changed the name to the Orange & Fredericksburg Railway. They, too, soon went under and a year later the company was reorganized as the Virginia Central Railway. The increasing popularity of the automobile and the wasting effects of the Great Depression proved to be too much, however, and the railroad permanently ceased operating in 1938.

William Andrew Williamson (DC)

William A. Williamson, wearing a straw boater, far left

     William Andrew "Willie" Williamson and his brothers worked for the railroad. Three of them can be seen in the photograph at the top of today's post. Standing on the front of the engine, center, is Stephen Davis Williamson (1886-1965). Standing on the engine at far right is Reuben Franklin Williamson (b. 1885). And standing by the track at far right is Hugh Meredith Williamson (b. 1882).

Charles and Lucy Williamson (DC)

     Willie Williamson (born in Spotsylvania on 25 May 1881) and his brothers and sister were the children of Charles Allen Williamson and Lucy Jane Parker. Charles was born in Prince Edward County in 1851 and spent his early years in Manchester. In September 1878 he married Lucy Parker of Spotsylvania, a daughter of John Franklin Parker and Annie Haney, who owned the general store and post office on Brock Road known as Brockville, a stop on the PF&P Railroad. Annie Parker ran the post office for years.

Registry receipt written at Brockville, 1885

     Frank and Annie's daughter in law, Wilhelmina Hirth Parker, succeeded Annie as postmistress there and held that job until 1942. Wilhelmina's son Grafton Parker was postmaster until 1956.

Mary Wallace (DC)

     Willie Williamson married seventeen year old Mary Elizabeth Wallace in May 1914. Mary was the oldest daughter of Spotsylvania farmer Festus Wallace and his wife Margaret Jane Owens. Mary's sisters married two of Willie's brothers. Leah married Samuel Estes Williamson and Mattie Merle married Stephen Davis Williamson.

Festus and Margaret Wallace (DC)

     Willie and his brothers were hard working men. In addition to working on the family farm near Brockville, they also worked for the railroad. By 1910 Willie, Stephen, Samuel & Hugh were working as car loaders for the PF&P. During the 1920s all of the Williamson brothers worked as section hands on the railroad. Their draft registration forms submitted in 1917 give some indication of the physical stresses and dangers of their work. Reuben reported a broken hand and breastbone; Sam had an afflicted arm and shoulder; Willie said he had a weak constitution; and Hugh suffered from rheumatism attacks.
     Just how dangerous work on the railroad could be was demonstrated on the morning of 20 April 1928. With sudden violence the life of Willie Williamson came to an abrupt end and five others, including his brother Stephen, sustained severe and even life threatening injuries. This sad incident was the lead story in that afternoon's edition of the Free Lance Star.

The Free Lance Star, 20 April 1928 (DC)


William Williamson Dies in Crash of Motor Cars on Virginia Central. Another unconscious.


     One man was killed and five injured in varying degrees, one perhaps fatally, when a motor car on the Virginia Central railroad crashed into the lever-car preceeding it when the latter jumped the tracks fifteen miles west of Fredericksburg this morning shortly after 8 o'clock.
     William Williamson, 40 years old, of Brock Road, was killed outright in the accident. Moses Jones, of Chancellor, received a fracture of the skull and had not fully recovered consciousness this afternoon at 2 o'clock; H.D. Craig, Chancellor, was badly hurt about his shoulders and hips; Steve Williamson, of Brock Road, a brother of the dead man, received serious injuries to his left leg; William Powell, of Chancellor, had his right knee cap badly fractured, and W.M. Lane, of Chancellor, foreman of this group of workmen, was severely injured about the back. Five other men, whose names could not be learned, jumped at the moment of the crash and were not hurt.

Injured Rushed Here

     The injured men were rushed to the Mary Washington Hospital as soon as possible after the accident where they were given emergency treatment by Drs. S. L. Scott, J.N. Barney and T.W. Dew. After the first treatments more  thorough examinations were given the injured. All of them, with the exception of Jones, probably will recover, physicians stated today. Jones has a dangerous fracture and his condition is bordering on the critical though he has a very good fighting chance for life. Physicians stated today that they were unable to operate on him because of his weakened condition.
     Attempts to obtain an exact detailed account of the accident failed this morning when members of the administrative force at the Virginia Central railroad offices here said they had not received any official account of the accident and that the did not know the names of all those on the car. The injured men could not be interviewed and none of those who escaped injury could be located in town.

Cars Jammed Together

     From unofficial sources, however, it was learned that the accident happened just beyond the fifteen mile post, half way between Brock Road and Parkers Station. The men, in charge of foreman Lane, were proceeding west on two cars, a lever car attached to and preceding a motor car which was pushing it. The lever on the old type car was not being used but the car merely was in service to provide sufficient room for the gang of workmen.
     The two cars, it was said, had picked up members of the force at various points along the route and were traveling at a nominal rate of speed when the accident happened. Just what caused the accident is not known, but it may have been due to defective or spreading rails, although this had not been absolutely ascertained this afternoon.

Lever Car Jumps Rails

     Something, however, caused the lever car to leave the rails and immediately that wheels caught on the ties or in the gravel between them, its acceleration was sharply reduced and the motor car crashed heavily into the rear of the car in front. The two cars buckled, it is said, and Williamson was thrown off, falling directly under the motor car which crushed down on him. He was killed instantly.
     The other men were thrown off the colliding cars at different angles and in different ways. The injured men were picked up and placed on the side of the road by fellow workmen.
     As soon as possible after the accident the injured were rushed to the local hospital where they received treatment.
     Due to the distance at which the accident happened it was nearly 11 o'clock before the men reached the local institution.

Survived by family

     Williamson, who was killed in the accident, is survived by his wife and three children, all of whom reside in the Chancellor neighborhood. Williamson's wife was notified of the accident and arrived before the body was removed. Wives of some of the injured men came immediately to the local hospital after hearing of the accident.
     Spotsylvania County authorities will hold an inquest and probably an investigation of the causes of the accident.

     Details in today's post about the history of the railroad come from Robert Hodges' article, The Narrow Gauge Railroad, which can be found at LibraryPoint, the website of the Central Rapphannock Regional Library.
     A special thank you is also in order to Spotsylvania researcher and genealogist Wil Bowler, who provided background information on some of the families mentioned today.

PF&P engine and tender (Courtesy of CRHC)

A postscript -   

Noel Harrison, historian with the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, has shared with me the fact that in the last year of its operation, the railroad utilized a self-propelled passenger car with subway seating (that is, with the seats facing each other).

 Since I wrote this piece three more photographs of the historic Virginia Central Railway have been shared with me by fellow researcher Dena Cooper. Dated 1936, these pictures were taken just two years before the VCR went out of business for good. According to Noel Harrison, the first and third images shows the train standing in the yards at its terminus in Orange. The other picture is a stark reminder of how dangerous conditions on this line could be: