Contributed by Becky Fox
October 5, 1958
120-Year-Old Log Cabin May Give Way to Little Sandy Dam
by Estelle S. Rizk
There is a pleasant valley not far from Grayson where the grandfather of many of the Hortons settled in the early years of the eighteenth century—long before the Civil War—and built his home and reared his family. Then his sons built their homes and a water wheel mill and a country store. And life was serene there, where the winding Clifty Creek meanders aimlessly through the upper valley until it flows into the Little Sandy River above the settlement of Rosedale.
Old Elijah Horton has been gone from the valley for many years and his sons are gone. Only his grandchildren and their children and the staunch old log house that they built, and the families who known them now, the Van Kitchens and the Robert A. Knipps, remain to tell their story. But go back in memory and pretend for a time that the years have not passed in the little valley, that the old mill is still standing there by the river close to the bridge now at Rosedale and let’s pretend, if you will, that either Bill or Reese, Elijah’s sons, still run the mill and country folks for miles around bring their corn or wheat to be ground. Let’s leave the mill—and come back later—and go father up the valley a mile or so.
There is a clearing in the valley where Elijah chose to build his big log house of oak trees that grew on the nearby low hills, back 120 years or more ago. It was built to last with tall straight logs that were hand hewn into square logs with stout mitered joists. When the logs were laid, two stories high, they were chinked with lime and sand mixture.
There were four large log rooms in the old Horton home, two downstairs and two up, each room with its own outside door. And a friendly porch was built in front, that ran the length of the two large rooms. A wide outside stairway in front divides the two large rooms with a small landing at the top, where a huge stone chimney built in the very center of the house, extends up through the roof. Doors on both sides of the landing open into each room upstairs right under the big old porch.
On the other side of the house a storage closet was built in the center of the rooms, with the stone chimney as its back—and it, too, has a door opening out onto the back porch, which extends also the length of the two large rooms. Stout oak doors open into the rooms from either porch. And the mistress of the house must carry many keys to lock each of the outside doors of this log portion of the house, six in all. There are no connecting doors between the rooms inside—to reach a room one must go outside onto the porch to reach the door to the other room.
And sometime after the house was built, one of the large downstairs rooms was divided to make a living room, bedroom and bath. The other room has been made into two bedrooms, and in the larger of the two is a handsome solid walnut bed, which the Kitchens had made from a tree that grew on their land.
In a first-story wing of the old log house is a dining room and a kitchen. They both have their own outside doors. There is a fireplace in each of the log rooms, wide enough for a good size log, and Harry Horton of Grayson, a retired railroader, and grandson of old Elijah, remembers his grandfather sitting in a rocking chair before the fire. “The chair had a sheepskin for a seat,” he recalls, “with the furry side up. And the chair was big and strong.”
Civil War Action
When the Civil War came on, the sturdy old house was in the middle of the conflict in the valley, with soldiers on one knoll and the Horton children on the other knoll. And the Horton children and their visiting cousins huddled at a window overlooking the Little Sandy and watched Morgan’s army ford the river.
They also watched while soldiers killed their geese and chickens to eat. One soldier drowned when he waded out into the river to catch a fat goose that had gotten away. Another was killed near the home while he was mounting his horse. His grave is there across the road and up on a point from the house. And the old-timers, now gone, told their children of the ragged, hungry soldiers that fought back and forth around the old home. Most of them were barefooted by that time, with sore and bleeding feet. Many were the times that blood outlined their footprints in the snow of the winter.
An old log smoke house stands in the yard, that is well kept and large and colorful with its beds of old-fashioned flowers. The smokehouse was probably built at the same time as the house, as its logs are of the same style, square hewn and chinked. Across the valley road is a tremendous log barn, which is now filled with tobacco curing for the market. It, too, bears the stamp of many years.
The 238 acres of the farm are rich and fertile, and herds of
fat cattle and sheep graze contentedly there. The Kitchens also had much good hay and keep around 1300 hens that
supply many eggs to an
Of old Elijah’s children, there were three brothers, Henry, Bill and Reese, who married and settled there a few miles from their father’s home. Henry built his home up a few miles, on higher ground, sometime before the Civil War. Yet someone must have lived close by as a grave of an 11 year-old Gilbert girl is not far from the old house. She was buried there in 1838.
Henry’s house was built in three separate parts, each with a room downstairs and one up. These were connected by open halls or breezeways and all were of fine yellow poplar logs. It was here that his seven children were born, all of who have lived in or about Grayson.
Harry Horton and his brother, Matt, were railroaders. Elijah, named for his grandfather, was a druggist and established the pharmacy which is know as Brown’s Pharmacy and run by his grandson, Harry Brown. W.A. Horton, M.D., practiced medicine in this little town for many years and many of the babies he delivered—now grown—were named for him. The three girls were Elizabeth, who was the mother of the Botts girls here, Reecie, who married Pete Brown, and another who died at the age of 18.
In 1878 Henry built the old water wheel mill, and his son Harry showed me a framed picture of it, there on the Little Sandy River. It is a lovely picture of a bygone era. Soon after the mill was built and operating, Henry moved his family to Grayson and left the mill for his brothers, Bill and Reese, to run. Bill had inherited the old home place, the big log house, and somewhere along the line he built a country store.
He was an indulgent husband and father, who denied his wife and children nothing, and soon the old Horton home was no longer in the family, but sold to the Kitchens. And the Kitchens who live there now have owned it for the past 38 years.
Reese owned the mill then and operated it for along time. Horton recalled with a chuckle that as a boy he liked to play about the mill. His uncle Reese liked to fish and when business was lax, he’d send Harry down below the mill dam to catch minnows for him, then he’d fish. The mill ground wheat as well as corn and was one of the first to make bolted flour—that which has the wheat husks or bran removed, leaving the flour white as it is today.
A sawmill was built by the Hortons, and the mill race that turned the wheel for the flour mill also turned the wheel for the sawmill. A mill race is the trough or small dam in the river that flows the water through the mill and over the wheel giving it the power to turn.
The years have passed, and with them other changes. The home that Henry built further up the valley was bought 52 years ago by Robert A. Knipp, who brought his wife there as a bride. She was the former Mary Elizabeth Riggs. Two of the original sets of rooms upstairs and down, were about gone, with the roofs falling in and the puncheon floor sagging. These were torn down, and the logs used for other purposes by Knipp. From the great yellow poplar trees that grew on the place, enough new lumber from the sawmill came to build on three new rooms, adding them to one good section of the log house, and a ladder leading to the room up.
In 1906 when the Knipps bought the 73 acres of ground and the house, he paid $295.50 for it, and he has been offered $3,000.00 for the place in more recent years. The land has all been in cultivation by him at one time, except for small patches of woodland here and there. Now he tends only a garden and the rest has gone back to nature, with lovely rhododendron, holly and hemlock covering the ground and spilling over the big cliffs that are not far from the house.
Then we go back down the valley and stop for a last lingering look at the big old house were the Van Kitchens live. Though it has been modernized with bath and electricity, the charm of the old house has been left. It has been kept in good repair, as befits a loved home.
As we come on down the valley to the highway, I thought of the great unrest there now. This sturdy old home that has seen births and deaths, laughter and tears will be demolished and the rich fertile land that has provided well for its owners will be flooded if the proposed dam that has been surveyed is built on the Little Sandy River to hold back the rain-swollen Clifty Creek and the Little Sandy River when late winter and spring rains turn them into a muddy, maddening headlong rush. A dam is proposed below the old Van Kitchen home. This will protect the towns on down the Little Sandy and Ohio rivers.
So many homes may be saved from the devastation of spring floods, one perfect old log home with its many memories is destined to go. It is the price that the Kitchen family must pay for progress, if the dam is built.