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Saturday, October 13, 2012

The Last Days of George W.E. Row

George Washington Estes Row

April 1883...
     The last eight years had been good ones for George Row. With the ardor of a younger man he had successfully courted Lizzie Houston of Rockbridge County and had married her in December 1875 (George was eleven years older than his bride). He brought her back to Greenfield, the old Row plantation in Spotsylvania, and there they lived with George's unmarried sister Nan for the next four years. George's and Lizzie's first two children were born at Greenfield: Houston in 1877 and Mabel in 1879. In 1880 George built a house for his growing family at Sunshine, the section of Greenfield deeded to him by his mother in 1869. The first child born there was Robert Alexander Row in 1881. (Little Robert died that same year. Lizzie Row cut a lock of his blond hair and sewed it to a piece of paper and put it in her trunk. It is still there.) The youngest child, Horace--my grandfather--was born in July 1882.
     During these years he lived with Lizzie, George also prospered in his business affairs. George was successfully farming both Greenfield and Sunshine. He built a saw mill and shook factory on Joseph Talley's farm near Finchville. His customers included both versions of the railroad that extended from Fredericksburg to Orange; the many merchants in Fredericksburg with whom he did business; and a good number of friends and neighbors in Spotsylvania and Orange. The ledger books of his businesses include the names of many local citizens who were noteworthy in those days. In these enterprises George employed dozens of workers, most of them freedmen.
     George Row was a minor participant in local Democratic party politics. He had worked with X.X. Chartters in establishing the Wilderness Grange. He was a member of the Masonic lodge in Fredericksburg.
     But it had not always been as good as this. There were dark times, as well, as there are for us all. His father died when George was twelve. His education was cut short at age seventeen when he enlisted in the Confederate service, spending four years in the saddle first with the Ninth Cavalry and then the Sixth Cavalry. While he survived the war unscarred and uncaptured, he had witnessed death and devastation on a scale difficult for us to imagine today. His emotional and mental resilience was sorely tested a second time during the period from November 1871 to January 1873 when his first wife Annie, his daughter and his mother died.
     But by now, in early April 1883, George had been able to set aside the melancholy that followed him for years and he was hitting his stride as an entrepreneur and as a husband and father. You could not fault him if he were to look into the far blue distance and see more good fortune awaiting him in the years to come.
     But in that first week of April something was going wrong. Terribly wrong. George had fallen ill and instead of improving his condition rapidly declined. The doctors said it was typhoid pneumonia. George took to his bed and remained there for the short time remaining to him.

Sunshine, 1957

     This was the house that George W.E. Row built in 1880. Come, look:
     This house, built on the farm he named Sunshine, stood for over one hundred years. He had added front and back sections to an existing log structure, the door to which is seen on the right of the house. The front door faced north, and upon entering you came into the parlor with a fireplace on the east wall. I remember a painting on the north wall depicting a doctor attending a sick child. There was a framed piece that read "The Lord will provide." On the right, as you passed through the parlor, was the beaded board wall that enclosed the steep, narrow steps that led to the garret where the children slept. Just before you reached the log section of the house was the bedroom in which George Row now lay dying. You see the bedroom window on the right side of the house. In this same room my mother would be born forty five years later. The rear section of the house included the kitchen and another attic space.
     Perhaps because of his experiences during the Civil War, or maybe it was just his nature, George always had a certain ambivalence about religion and he never joined a church. This would be a source of worry to his sisters. But for some reason during the last months of his life he decided to teach a Bible study class for the men's Sunday school at Shady Grove Methodist Church. In appreciation the men of the church gave him a mustache cup for Christmas in 1882.

George Row's notes for Bible study class

Mustache cup given to George Row

     Two doctors attended George during his sickness. They did what they could for him, which was not much, and they did their best to calm Lizzie's fears. Doctors Addison Lewis Durrett and Thomas W. Finney both served in the 9th Cavalry with my great grandfather. In 1881 Dr. Finney had been unable to save Robert Row. In 1872 Dr. Finney, together with Dr. John D. Pulliam, also unsuccessfully treated George's mother Nancy during her final crisis. (Dr. Pulliam was a son of Richard Pulliam, who lived next to Greenfield. The 1860 census shows that Dr. Thomas W. Finney was living in the Pulliam household. John Pulliam was a medical student that year).

Receipt given by Thomas Finney to Lizzie Row

     A year after her husband's death, Lizzie Row wrote a letter--intended to be read by her children when they were older--in which she describes this time:

     During his sickness before he was unconscious we were alone. I asked if he still loved me and he said "Yes" and put his arms around my neck and said "I love you the house full, the barn full and all out of doors." This is what he used to teach you all to tell him. Your father was not a church member but I think a Christian. His motto was "Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with thy God." He was not sick quite two weeks, was not conscious when he died, but breathed quietly. Mabel was at Greenfield, Horace asleep and Houston by me on the bedside. I hope you will all meet him "on that beautiful shore..."

     George Row, age thirty nine, died in the early hours of April 18, 1883. Great grandmother Lizzie took her scissors in hand and cut three locks of hair "from his dear forehead" and sewed them to sheets of his business stationery.

     Lizzie engaged the services of Frederickburg undertaker William Nossett, who was in business with his son George. My great grandfather's burial case and box cost fourteen dollars and seventy five cents.

The Free Lance 25 January 1889

     Two dollars was paid to have the grave dug at the family burying ground at Greenfield. Lizzie Row wore this mourning cloak to the funeral.

Mourning cloak of Lizzie Row

     Shown below are three notices of George Row's death published in the Fredericksburg newspapers. The first two are pasted in the Row family Bible.

Obituaries of George Row

Obituary of George Row

     ...Mabel your father loved you dearly, and I thought your little heart would break when we came back from the burial. You went through the house calling "Father" and asked "Why didn't God let Father stay until tomorrow when I come. I wanted to see him so bad." Dear children you are all bright and happy now. You don't know your loss while I am so sad and lonely. Dear "little Hossie" [Horace] as Father used to call you can't remember sitting on my lap and holding Father's hand while he was sick in bed.

George T. Downing's receipt to Lizzie Row

     For the next several years Lizzie struggled to raise her children, manage Sunshine and settle the accounts of her late husband's estate. Six years after his death she was at last able to hire Fredericksburg stone cutter and marble salesman George Titus Downing to craft a headstone for George. (Photo by Margie McCowan)

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Recipies from old Spotsylvania

For the more daring among my readers, I offer  four recipes from my family's kitchen, written in the 1800s.

Hard soap

Alum yeast

Dried apple cake

Buttermilk pudding

Sunday, October 7, 2012

You Can't Go Home Again

Plank Road in Spotsylvania, 1863

     During the summer of 1961, my father and my uncle Rolf built the house on Old Plank Road my family would live in for the next nine years (the house is still there, though much changed). My father would sometimes bring me along to "help" him. I do not remember doing much in the way of helping, of course. What I do remember is watching Rolf, from time to time, take out of  his pocket what I presumed to be candy, slice off a piece with his pocket knife and put it in his mouth. Oh, how I coveted that presumed treat and I worried him endlessly to share some with me until he at last consented to cut off a small portion for me. He did not call it candy; he called it "chaw," but I was too young to heed this subtle warning. Without a moment's hesitation I popped it in my mouth. More than half a century later, the ensuing thirty seconds remain among the most harrowing of my life. [Please note that all images in my blog may be clicked on for enlarged viewing]
     But this is not about Rolf or chewing tobacco. It is about ghosts, in a manner of speaking.

Broadside for Hopewell Nurseries

     Growing up on that stretch of Old Plank Road, about a half mile west of Harrison Road, I had no inkling then that we lived on what was once Hopewell Nursery, owned by Henry R. Robey. Robey's first advertisement appeared in 1832 in the Virginia Herald and he ran the nursery until his death in 1876. In the map above, Hopewell Nursery appears in the middle of the image between Plank Road and the unfinished railroad. In the handbill shown below, Robey's name appears as a candidate for justice of the peace. This handbill was kept with my great grandfather's papers, likely because the name of his friend and neighbor William A. Stephens appears as a candidate for supervisor.

List of candidates

     During the time leading up to and including the Chancellorsville battle, Robey's property was used, according to testimony given in his claim for damages, as a camp for Cobb's legion and for the Fourth Virginia Cavalry. A field hospital was set up there. Ordnance wagons and troop baggage trains were parked there. "For want of axes" needed to cut firewood, Confederate soldiers instead helped themselves to Robey's fencing in order to build fires. Hundreds of horses grazed freely on his land, eating up half the grass he would have otherwise cut for hay that year. One hundred years later my father and I roamed these fields and woods with a metal detector and brought home many buttons, bullets, bridle bits and similar camp detritus.
     But today I am not writing about relics or Henry Robey's troubles during the Civil War.
     In the years after the war a standard gauge railroad, the Fredericksburg & Gordonsville, would be completed. My great grandfather's saw mill cut railroad ties and fencing stock for this effort. After this railroad went bankrupt it was replaced in the 1870s by the narrow gauge Potomac, Fredericksburg and Piedmont Railroad. My great grandfather supplied ties and fencing for them as well. Fifty years later that railroad was still in use.

1927 ticket for the PF&P Railroad

     In 1927 my great grandmother used this ticket to begin her trip to Georgia to attend a niece's graduation at Agnes Scott College. As you can see, "Robey" was the third stop after it left Fredericksburg on its way to Orange. The next stop was Screamersville (which was the old Chancellorsville post office and general store of my youth, where my sister and I obtained, at great personal expense, fireballs and wax lips and bubble gum and other needed supplies). From there the train proceeded to Alrich's corner, passed Welford furnace, Brock Road and then to the depot at the farm which had belonged to William A. Stephens. Great grandmother Row boarded the train there.
     As a boy growing up on what had been Henry Robey's land I remember being puzzled by the existence of train tracks which ran through the woods behind our house. I could not fathom how a train could have made its way through the second growth pine and oak trees, the blackberry bushes, the vines and the poison ivy.
     But, truly, I do not mean to wander down the old train tracks today. It is October and it is ghosts we are discussing, in a way.

Judy Sullivan

     In this picture taken of my mother in 1970 you see behind her what would have been Hopewell Nursery one hundred years earlier. Because it was still a working farm in 1970 it does not require much imagination to envision the previous existence of the nursery. Today, of course, it would be infinitely more difficult to see Hopewell in your mind's eye, as this landscape is now thickly dotted with the houses of Smoketree subdivision.
     But still there, among those houses and perhaps seen only by me, flit the ghosts of a distant past that remains close to my heart.
     Fifty years ago that land was farmed by Tommy and Ethel Byrne and their grandson Steve Kibler (now long departed from this life), who was my age. Steve and I and the Carver boys used to play in that field in summer and build snow forts in winter. We used to build dams in the creek in the shade of the sycamore by Old Plank Road. We shot broom straw arrows with home made bows. We built a club house among the hay bales in the barn.
     Gone, now. All gone.
     Between Route 3 and Old Plank Road, adjacent to Zoan Church, is a place known to most modern residents of Spotsylvania only as Royal Oaks subdivision. To this day, however, when I drive by there it is not those houses I see, but the spectral image of O.C. Zechiel's farm. Until his death in 1957 Mr. Zechiel raised beef cattle here and ran the W-Z Market in Fredericksburg. After he died his wife Hazel (a lovely woman) remained on the farm, which she rented out to other farmers to graze cattle and to cut hay. In the summers we fished for perch and bass in her pond. In winter we hauled our sleds up the rise and then careened toward, and sometimes into, the creek. We boys used to clamber on the roof of the old slaughter house and play. I still have the scar where I gashed my leg on the rusted tin roof. Mrs. Zechiel used to pay me a dollar to sit in her orchard on Saturdays and shoot blue jays and other shoplifters out of her beloved cherry trees. I never told her that I would have gladly paid her the dollar for the privilege.
     Over the past several years, as I have researched and written about my people in Spotsylvania, I have had ample opportunity to contemplate the seismic changes that have occurred in my home county during my lifetime. These changes were inevitable and unavoidable, I suppose, and progress in its manifold forms is often irresistible. Within my limited ability, what I have tried to accomplish is to preserve in words and pictures that which has been swept away by change and progress. It may be as futile as trying to capture lightning in a bottle. But the now vanished people and places of old Spotsylvania deserve to be remembered. We are much the poorer if we do not make the attempt.
     A tree nursery occupied by the Confederate army. Abandoned railroad tracks deep in the woods near home. Boys playing in the creek in the shade of the sycamore. It is difficult for me to find the words to say what it means to me, so today I turn to one of the literary heroes of my youth, Thomas Wolfe:

     O waste of loss, in the hot mazes, lost, among bright stars on this most weary unbright cinder, lost! Remembering speechlessly we seek the great forgotten language, the lost lane end unto heaven, a stone, a leaf, an unfound door. O lost, and by the wind grieved, ghost, come back again.