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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)

Monday, November 17, 2014

Thomas Pearson Payne

Fisticuffs on the courthouse lawn. Late 1800s.

     He was devoted to his family, his church and his community. He played an active role in Spotsylvania politics for many years. The photographic record of his life and that of his family is vast; only a small sample can be shared with you today. Unless otherwise noted, all pictures are from the Colvin Collection. [Please click on the images in my blog for enlarged viewing]

Jesse William Payne

Catherine Hicks Payne and her son Zebulon "Buckshot" Payne

     Thomas Pearson Payne was born in Spotsylvania on 5 August 1852. He was the firstborn child of Jesse William Payne (1821-1881) and Catherine Ann Hicks (1833-1911), arriving seven months after his parents' wedding. Catherine Hicks was a daughter of Spotsylvania farmer and constable Thomas Hicks and the granddaughter of Thomas Hicks, long time Spotsylvania jailor. In the photograph below, Thomas Hicks, Jr. is believed to be standing at far right.

     Before joining the Confederate army, Jesse Payne rented the farm of Neil McCoull, which would become the epicenter of the vicious day-long fight at the Bloody Angle. Jesse lost an eye during the war but otherwise was able to return home safely. Jesse Payne died at age fifty nine while threshing wheat on the farm of his father in law.

Rebecca Catherine Lohr

     Thomas Payne married Rebecca Catherine Lohr of Madison County on 20 September 1872. Like his father, Thomas rented the McCoull farm where his seven children were born:

Frank Payne

- Benjamin Franklin "Frank" Payne (1873-1957) operated a saw mill near his home on Catharpin Road and was chief forest warden of Spotsylvania County for twenty seven years. He married my great aunt Lottie Kent in 1928.

Frederick Linwood Payne

Fred Payne at the McCoull house. About 1900.

Freemond Clifton Payne

- Fred Payne and his twin brother Freemond were born in 1875 and each lived into his nineties. We used to see them sitting out in the yard together on Catharpin Road in the 1960s.

Fred Payne, Charles Talley and Annie Rebecca Payne

- Annie Rebecca Payne (1878-1949) married Spotsylvania farmer Charles Talley in 1899 and had five children with him.

Nettie Payne

Merle Chilton Strickler

- Anzonetta "Nettie" Payne (1880-1961) married John Moncure Chilton in 1910. Their only child, Merle, taught school in Spotsylvania for 32 years and is fondly remembered by many of us.

Bessie Lee Payne

Fred Payne and John Calvin Jennings (right)

- Bessie Lee Payne (1882-1973) married John Calvin Jennings in 1901. Bessie was the postmistress at Finchville from 1908 until 1914, when the post office was discontinued and its operations were moved to Screamersville.

Ashby Payne

Ashby and Bessie Payne

- Ashby Payne (1885-1942) was the second husband of Ruby Ray Kent, whom he married in 1926. Ashby and Ruby lived near the intersection of Catharpin and Stewart Roads. Ashby is remembered for his fiddle playing at local dances and for providing liquid refreshment as well. He died after being kicked by a horse in the barn.
Spotsylvania Court House. Late 1800s.

     Thomas Pearson Payne served for a number of years as deputy commissioner of revenue for the St. George's district. In the group portrait above, he is seated second from left. There were apparently whisperings of voting irregularities during his tenure, but I have found no mention of it in the local newspapers of the time. Thomas was also elected as a delegate to the state Democratic convention in 1899:

Daily Star 1 September 1899

     Payne's long run as deputy commissioner of revenue ended in 1911 when he was defeated by Irvin Chandler Clore by fifty eight votes. Afterwards Thomas Payne served as county assessor. Clore went on to serve twelve years as deputy commissioner of revenue, twelve years as county treasurer and finally as a trial justice until his death in 1944.

Irvin Chandler Clore (courtesy of Wil Bowler)

     Thomas and Rebecca Payne became friends with Pennsylvania native John Okie and his family, who would come down to hunt with the Paynes in Spotsylvania. The following photographs were taken about 1900, possibly during the same outing. The Ferneyhough place mentioned in the photographs had once been the home of John B. Ferneyhough, located on Catharpin Road near Old Plank Road on the site of today's Sawhill subdivision:

Thomas Pearson Payne

Payne family at the Ferneyhough place

Ashby, Zebulon and Thomas Pearson Payne

Thomas Payne's dogs near Chancellorsville

     Thomas Payne's hunting dogs can be seen both in the photo taken at Ferneyhough's as well as on Old Plank Road within sight of Chancellorsville.
     Over the years Thomas acquired a number of parcels of land in Spotsylvania, including the places where his sons built their houses. He bought land for himself on the corner of Cartharpin and Piney Branch Roads on the Ni River, where he built his house. He called his home Hazelfield.

Paynes at home

     A good many of the Payne family photos were taken at Hazelfield. This rare interior picture made about 1905 shows Thomas strumming his banjo. In front his granddaughter Rubye is held by her Aunt Nettie, with her mother Emma Payne seated at right. Behind them are Rebecca, Ashby, Frank and Thomas.

Nettie Payne Chilton and Thomas Payne at the well at Hazelfield

Thomas, Rebecca, Frank, Nettie and Ashby

     Thomas Payne was a lifelong member of Goshen Baptist Church, where he was superintendent of the Sunday school.

Goshen Baptist Church

     So what the heck are those two fellows fighting about in the photograph at the top of today's post? Thomas Payne (right) and his brother James used to put on mock boxing exhibitions to entertain the crowds of people gathered there when court was in session.
     Thomas Pearson Payne died at home on 17 April 1934, having outlived Rebecca by eight years. He and Rebecca and all of their children are buried in the Confederate Cemetery in Spotsylvania.

Thomas and Rhoda posing for the camera

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Ralph Happel's Eulogy to Phenie Tapp

     Since my recent post on the life and times of Phenie Tapp, I have received a number of inquiries about the substance of National Park Historian Ralph Happel's interview with Phenie about the battle of the Wilderness. If that interview were still extant, I would have happily included it in my article about Phenie. Unfortunately, according to Eric Mink, historian at the Fredericksburg & Spotsylvania National Military Park, neither the text of that interview nor Happel's notes survive. [Please click on images in my blog for enlarged viewing]
     What we do have, however, is the eulogy to Phenie that Ralph Happel wrote for the Free Lance Star when Phenie died in 1944. Since Phenie Tapp was only four years old at the time of the battle on her family's farm, I think that this excellently written piece by Mr. Happel serves as a more than adequate substitute:

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sprig Dempsey and the Battle of Catherine Furnace

Catherine Furnace (National Park Service)

     A couple of years ago I wrote one of my most popular pieces, which described the fighting that took place at Catherine Furnace on 2 May 1863. New information has come to light this week which allows me today to solve one outstanding mystery and to add to what is already known about the foundry and the people associated with it.
     My earlier post described the crucial role of master blacksmith Absalom Herndon Chewning in the foundry's operation, as well as a highly entertaining account of the battle that occurred there during Stonewall Jackson's flank march. For those of you who have not already read it, now would be a good time to click here and enjoy this little known piece of Spotsylvania history. You won't be disappointed, I promise.
     The identity of Sprig Dempsey has remained a mystery until now. Thanks to the investigative talents of two of Spotsylvania's premier genealogists, Wil Bowler and Tom Myers, I can now share with you his name and his story.

1921 pension application of James Thomas Dempsey

     James Thomas Dempsey was born in the Mine Run section of eastern Orange County in June 1845, the son of John L. Dempsey and Susan Nash. In 1875 he married Ann Elizabeth Brown of Culpeper County, where he thereafter lived until his death in 1931.
     Late in life James "Sprig" Dempsey submitted two applications in order to obtain pension benefits as a disabled Confederate veteran. By this time he was suffering from rheumatism and heart disease and was no longer able to work. The first of these applications, dated 21 May 1917, was rejected due to a "misunderstanding of my service; papers being not clear." The second one, dated 23 December 1921 and shown above, provides us with much of what we now know. Dempsey did not enlist in one of the local regiments. Instead, he was detached from service in Richmond to work at Catherine Furnace. This makes me think that perhaps he was conscripted by Confederate authorities in June 1862 (not 1863, as he incorrectly remembers on his application). In any case, he notes that he "served faithfully."
     On his pension application Dempsey listed two comrades who served with him during the war. One, of course, was Absalom Herndon Chewning, with whom we are already familiar. The other was another teenaged boy impressed into laboring at Catherine Furnace, John Lewis Morris.
     John Morris was born in the Indiantown area of Orange County in 1848. He was inducted into the Confederate service in Spotsylvania on 1 September 1864 and worked at Catherine Furnace until December of that year, when he "left to join the regular Confederate army." Whether he was successful in doing so in unclear, as his name does not appear in any regimental roster that I can find. After his death in 1934 his widow filed for pension benefits as well. She cited his service in Company I of the 6th Virginia Cavalry, but I find no record of him there.
     The fact that Sprig Dempsey and John Morris worked together at the Furnace in the autumn of 1864 lets us know that at some point after his capture during the battle of Chancellorsville he had been exchanged. In 1865 Dempsey was "discharged at the close of the war after Lee's surrender and paroled from Fredericksburg."
Western Spotsylvania, 1863

     Both Dempsey and Morris mentioned the fact that their commanding officer was Charles Beverly Wellford (1829-1885).
     John Spottswood Wellford, C.B. Wellford's uncle, was responsible for establishing Catherine Furnace. Apparently named for his mother, the former Catherine Yates, the foundry was an integral part of the Fredericksburg Iron and Steel Manufacturing Company, incorporated in 1836. The company relied heavily on military contracts, thereby missing a good chance at long term profitability in the pig iron business while prices were high. By the time of J.S. Wellford's death in 1846, the furnace became inactive and ownership passed to his brother Charles Carter Wellford, father of C.B. Wellford.

Charles Carter Wellford (National Park Service)

     In addition to their house in Fredericksburg, the family of C.C. Wellford owned a home in Spotsylvania on modern Jackson Trail East. The nearby furnace which he owned can be seen in the center of the map detail above, just north of the unfinished Fredericksburg & Gordonsville Railroad.
     The coming of the Civil War brought new opportunities to both father and son. Charles Beverly Wellford enlisted as a private in Captain Pollock's Company Virginia Light Artillery. Meanwhile, in 1862 his father signed a contract with the Confederate government to produce 2,000 tons of pig iron at the newly reopened furnace. The determination was made that Private Wellford's talents were better utilized in his father's iron enterprise than with the army. Accordingly, on 4 April 1862 George Minor, Chief of Ordnance and Hydrography, petitioned Secretary of War George W. Randolph to release C.B. Wellford from active service in order to assume new responsibilities at Catherine Furnace (as a civilian Minor was a professional musician and he resumed his avocation after the war).

Petition of George Minor to G.W. Randolph, April 1862

     During the battle of Chancellorsville, at the time that Sprig Dempsey and Absalom Chewning were seeking to escape from Union forces probing the rear of the Confederate column, Charles B. Wellford acted as a guide for General Jackson, taking him through the country lanes leading to Brock Road.
     In 1864 Catherine Furnace was destroyed by Union cavalry commanded by General George Custer. It was rebuilt, however, and continued to produce iron for the Confederacy until 1865.

     A bizarre footnote to the Wellfords' wartime experience occurred during the Federal occupation of Fredericksburg in the weeks following Lee's surrender. From the 7 June 1865 edition of the Fredericksburg Ledger: