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The Early History of Alleghany County and Covington, Virginia

 Mad Ann Bailey 

Compiled, Edited, and Mimeographed by the Seventh Grade Students, Teachers and Staff of the County and City Schools 1955-1956 

Table of Contents 

“The Song of the Covered Bridge”                                        CH.H. Rumbold 

Introduction                                                                           Page 1 

General Information                                                               Pages 1-4 

Covington                                                                              Pages 4-5 

Humpback Bridge                                                                  Page 6 

Callaghan                                                                               Page 6 

Hematite                                                                                Page 7 

Alleghany                                                                               Page 7 

Beaver Dam Falls                                                                   Page 7 

Crow’s Tavern                                                                       Pages 7-8 

Sweet Chalybeate                                                                   Page 8  

Snake Run                                                                              Page 8 

Big Ridge                                                                                Page 8-9 



Old Humpback Bridge   1835 

If you’ll lie on the bank some summer’s eve, as the sun declines yon ridge and the water laps its feet, you’ll hear the Song of the Covered Bridge. 

A sycamore shades my lichened thatch, my flickering shadow rests,

On a limpid pool where a swallow skims, in my rafters a robin rests.

Under my arch a kingfish chatters in mimic fears,

Where the eddy ends the riffles sing the Song of a Thousand Years

And over my brother of stone and steel, a hundred yards away,

Comes the class and the clang of the Model T and the shriek of the Chevrolet. 


Full many a year my shingled roof gave shelter to maid and swain,

From the burning rays of the summer sun and the chill of the winter’s rain.

From Maryland’s hills and Virginia’s vales my stages took their way,

And my rafters shook with the old-time songs, and the tramp of the Blue and Gray.

And I look at my brother of stone and steel (quite up to date is he).

But I wonder whether he’ll stand the strain till twenty thirty-three. 


My beams were hewn of heart of oak, and fastened with locust nails,

When they called the highway “The Great West Road.”, and its feeders were Indian trails.

They come from the Land of The Rising Sun to cross my true arched floor,

And I carried the traffic from East to West a hundred years and more.

So I look at my brother of stone and steel, my brother who ousted me,

And I wonder whether he’ll stand the strain till twenty thirty-three. 

                                                            C.H.H. Rumbold 

(Used by permission of his wife, Mrs. Gladys Rumbold)


Classes participating in Research Project: 

School                                                                         Teachers

Boiling Springs                                     Mrs. Louise Gibson (whose copy this is taken from)

Central                                                 Mrs Virginia Black

Dunlap                                                 Mr. James Ownes

Falling Spring                                       Mr. Pat Murphy

Iron Gate                                             Mr. Richard Sharp

Jeter                                                    Mrs. Mildred Armstrong

                                                           Mrs. Rex Davis

                                                           Mrs. Ruth Hahn

                                                           Mrs. Mattie Landis

                                                           Miss Mayre Lowman

                                                           Mrs. Alice Sheltman

                                                           Mrs. Helen Young

Selma                                                  Mrs. Myrtle Little

Sharon                                                 Mrs. Thelma Broughman

Watson                                                Mrs. Arnesia Drew


Early History of Alleghany County and Covington – Introduction 

In the fall of 1955 the Seventh Grade students of Virginia were confronted with the task of studying the state’s history, government and geography without the aid of any given textbook (the adopted text not yet having been published).  One unit of the course was the study of their own locality.  They challenged, the students, along with their teachers, made an intensive study of the early history of Alleghany County and Covington.  They visited the different areas and collected data from elderly residents, from early books and pamphlets, and from newspaper clippings. A condensed summary of their findings follows. 

General Information

Alleghany County is located in the heart of the Alleghany Mountains of western Virginia. It was created January 5, 1822, by an act of the General Assembly, from portions of Botetourt, Bath and Monroe (now in West Virginia) counties.  The county was called Augusta until 1769.  From 1976 until 1789 it was known as Botetourt.  From 1790 unti 1822 portions were in the three counties from which Alleghany was formed. 

The area of Alleghany County is around 452 square miles, containing 289,280 acres of land. Approximately 130,000 acres of the land is in national forests.  One-fourth of the land is adapted to tillage. 

The three main streams of Alleghany are the Jackson River, named for William Jackson, and early settler; Dunlap Creek, named for James Dunlap who in 1753 had a patent for 375 acres of land in Alleghany County; and Potts Creek named for a Mr. Potts who was living in this valley as early as 1767 and who had the first cleared land in the valley that bears his name. 

The situation of the county with reference to the mineral springs (Red Sulphur, Sweet, White Sulphur, and Blue Sulphur) accounted for some of the early activity that pervaded the territory and resulted in the establishment of a system of roads which would enable the frequenters of these mineral springs to be transported thither.  The taverns of these early days such as kept by the Crows, Callaghans, and others figured often in the descriptive literature of the times. 

The first order for a road in Alleghany was in 1748.  This was to be a road from Covington to Nimrod Hall, on the Cowpasture River.  In 1769 a road was ordered from “Little Warm Springs” to the forks of the road on Dunlap Creek.  In 1772 a road was ordered to be surveyed from Covington to Sweet Springs. 

About 1811 improved highways were chartered between Lewisburg and Lexington and money was allocated to build bridges between Covington and Kanawha. During the next 40 years there was great interest in the building of the good highways and many turnpike companies were chartered.  One of these was the picturesque old stage road known as the Fincastle – Sweet Springs Turnpike, built, it is said, by James Shanks and surveyed by the popular French engineer, Crozet.  It was 30 feet wide and had a 60 foot right-of-way.  It was said to be the best graded mountain road in Virginia, and was noted for its historic sites, famous taverns, and home sites of famous Virginians.  It crossed Potts mountain at an elevation of 4,000 feet.  It had several toll gates, and the fee for horse and rider was 25 cents for two horses and a wagon 50 cents, and for pedestrians the charge was 10 cents.

The Midland Trail, now known as Highway 60, is one of the oldest and most historic roads in the County.  It traverses Alleghany east and west and connects the eastern part of Virginia with the states of the Ohio Valley.  This, in olden days was the stage coach road which was built along the old emigrant trail by which hundreds of wagons poured into the basin of the Mississippi . . .  . .  the James River and Kanawha Canal, incorporated in 1784, was projected to extend to Covington.  Progress was slow; in 1853 the company borrowed $640,000 to get to Covington, but it got only as far as Buchanan.  

Canals were giving way to the new mode of transportation, the railroad, which reached Jackson River (just above Clifton Forge) by 1857.  Ten years later . . .  it reached Covington which was the terminal for two years before going farther westward. 

. . . . From the defeat of Braddock in July 1754 to the close of the Dunmore campaign in the fall of 1774 there was not a time, unless in winter, when the Alleghany was not in danger of attack.  There were at least 3 raids made by the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo Indians and many of the settlers were killed or captured. In 1788 settlers still feared red men might drive them out of the area, not was this fear abated until after the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. 

. . . . The population continued to increase, and in 1840 there were 776 whites of school age in the County and 88 pupils were enrolled in the five common schools.  In 1843 the Board of School Commissioners was appointed and 13 schools were in operation, with a total of $243.33 spent for school expenses that year. 

Religious services were firs held by the Presbyterians as early as 1775, and by the Methodists in 1784. The first Presbyterian Church was organized in 1819. The first Methodist preacher to settle in Alleghany County permanently was Joseph Pennell (sometimes spelled Pennell) in 1810.  Pinnell’s Chapel on Potts Creek still stands to his memory.  The Catholic religion was first started in Alleghany by a missionary, Father Walter, as early as 1758. It was at Low Moor that the first Catholic Church was built in 1822, Mount Carmen, by ________. 

Residents of Alleghany County have taken part in all of the wars in the country’s history, beginning with the French and Indian War of 1754.  In the War Between the States it furnished more soldiers to the Southern cause than it had voters. 

First Settlers 

The early settlers in Alleghany were predominately of Scotch-Irish ancestry, driven out of Ulster by the English.  They settled first in Pennsylvania, and then came gradually down through the Valley of Virginia and spread westward. 

In 1746 the fist white settlement west of the Cowpasture River was established by Joseph Carpenter and three brothers – Solomon, Zopher, and Nicholas. 

Mr. Joseph Carpenter left New York in the spring and after arriving here built a for at the big bend in Jackson’s River where Sunnymeade now is.  After building his cabin and planting his crops he went back to New York in the fall for his family. When they returned the buffalo had torn down the fences and destroyed the crops. 

Returning with him was Peter Wright who staked off his claim in the area where Covington now lies. Mr. Wright gave this land to his sons who later sold it to George Sively for $500.00, 2 horses, a wagon, and a barrel of whiskey. 

Joseph later moved to the site of Fort Carpenter.  His descendants are still living on this land…Solomon….Low Moor….1754. 

Another brother, Zopher, took land in what is now Mallow. The other brother, Nicholas, went to White Sulphur and settled.  He also had a son who was captured by the Indians and who later returned.  He became know as Dr. Jeremiah who settled at Sutton, near the present site of Charleston, West Virginia

Fort Young, built 1756 where Arlington Court now is, according to specifications furnished by George Washington; Fort Dinwiddie, which stood northwest of Warm Springs, Fort Breckinridge (or Fort Mann); Fort Carpenter, another one near Low Moor, and a block house near the McAllister and Bell Mill were the posts built for the protection of the settlers.  But there were many disastrous raids made on them by the Indians, and numbers of them were either captured or killed by the savages. 

Mad Ann Bailey was a very famous fighter I the early days of this settlement.  She was born in Liverpool, England, about 1742. She came to this country and settled first around where Staunton now is. Her husband was killed in an Indian attack and she devoted her life to getting revenge.  She brought her young son to Fort Mann at Falling Spring and joined the fight against Cornstalk.  Her heroic deeds will long be remembered in this section. 

Natural Resources  

Alleghany has more undeveloped water power than any other section of the state.  It has a water mileage for game fish sport which is equaled by very few and probably excelled by no other county. There have been several projects under consideration for the development of the water power resources, but, thus far, no project has been undertaken. 

The soils of Alleghany very greatly in formation, type and fertility.  Most of that in the tillable areas is a light clay loam.  Dark, rich loam is found sparingly in the river and crek bottoms. 

The climate of Alleghany is ideal.  The summers are only slightly warm with moderately cool evenings, and winters are mostly mild.  There is usually ample precipitation and abundant sunshine. 

The economic history of the early days was largely dependant upon the mineral resources of the County.  Iron was its most valuable mineral.  Early settlers discovered it in the mountains at Iron Gate where it has been exposed by the erosion of the Jackson River  Longdale was the oldest furnace in the state, operating until 1861 when the Confederate Government took it over.  Under the direction of General Anderson the Longdale mines supplied much of the iron used by the Confederacy for cannons and cannon balls. 

Since 1865 and until 1900 many mines and furnaces were opened and operated, but when the furnace at Pittsburgh and the iron deposits on Lake Superior began operating, it was cheaper to buy iron from the, so the mines in the County were closed.  There are still rich deposits which have never been touched.

 Some mines and furnaces that once gave work to many people in Alleghany County are:

1.  Clifton Furnace
2.  Rumsey Iron Works furnace
3.  Dolly Ann furnace
4.  Lucy Selina and Australia furnace – since known as Longdale mines. When operating it had the greatest production in the state 

Later, after the charcoal furnace days, the following mines were developed.

1.  Stack mines – Sweet Springs Mountain
2.  Low Moor mine
3.  Rich Patch mine 

Limestone, used in making fertilizer; white quartz (silica), used in making glass; shale and manganese are also found in Alleghany County.


The Merry family purchased the Peter Wright estate and for a time the little village was called “Merry’s Store”.  Dr. James Merry was a practicing physician who also ran a general merchandise store on the site where the late Mrs. J.A. Riffe’s property stood.  Some historians list the village as “Merry’s Stand”, because of the small boats which came up to a dock at the end of Lexington Street near Riverside Avenue.  Dr. Merry came originally from Prince Edward County.  He named the town for his friend Peter Covington, and the alleys of the town for different trees.  This idea was carried out in the naming of streets later. His wife, Rebecca brought the first tomatoes to this section, and people came for miles around to see the ‘love apples’ as they were called.  

A public sale of lots was held on August 24, 1818.  Deeds for titles went to the Trustees of the Methodist Episcopal Church, to the Trustees of the Seminary of Covington, and to the Justices of the County for lots on which to erect the public buildings. 

Covington was designated as a town in 1819, incorporated in 1833, but the incorporation was repealed in 1839.  It was incorporated again in 1840 and then again February 18, 1873.  In 1855 there were only 43 houses grouped on two streets.  In 1890 the population was 704.  In 1892 the town bonded itself for $10,000 for sidewalks and sewage.  Joseph Martin, writing in his Gazetteer of Virginia in 1835, said of Covington, “It contains besides the county building, 50 dwelling houses and about the same number of mechanic shops.  The buildings are principally of brick, and in some of them taste is displayed.  Two handsome ad spacious houses of public worship are being erected (1 Presbyterian and 1 Methodist), English and Classical School, and three mercantile stores.  The mechanics are tanners, saddlers, boat and shoe makers, hatters, tailors gunsmiths and last makers.  Should the contemplated James River and Kanawha improvements be carried into operation, Covington may become one of the most flourishing inland towns in Virginia.  Its situation is healthy, being located in the midst of mountains.  Prosperity in this place has lately advanced 25% in anticipation of the contemplated improvement.”    

An old log building know as Kroger’s shop, built around 1770 on what is know Main Street, served as the first courthouse for Alleghany County.  1823 a courthouse and jail; 1877 a brick building; 1911 the present structure was completed; Skeen’s Hotel; the McCurdy House, located near the railroad station; 1880 Clifton Forge became the division point; General and Mrs. Robert E. Lee and General Grant praised the hospitality of the McCurdys. It burned down in 1892.  Today the Collins and O’Gara hotels accommodate visitors. 

Averill, who had been in route to Lexington to capture Confederate supplies, but was turned back by General Jubal Early raided Covington on Sunday, January 19th, 1863.  He burned the wooden bridge which crossed the Jackson River.  The men from 16 to 60 being away at the front, ladies formed a bucket brigade, aided by an elderly Negro called Uncle John Hunter who was the only man in town, put the fire out before it spread to the village from a strong west wind. 

The Virginia Central Railroad (now C&0) reached Covington in 1867. 

An Iron furnace was built in 1891 by the Covington Improvement Company, and the old Deford Tannery was put into operation in 1892, it closed in the early 30s.  Covington Machine Company, E,M. Nettleton mill and in 1899 the West Virginia Pulp and Paper Company began construction. 

Other industries, the Bates Valve Company and manufacturers of patented paper bags for cement and other hard substances; the Robeson Process Company, which operated and extract plant utilizing waste products for the paper mill, Covington Brick Company, Alleghany Brick Company, passed from the scene several years ago, due to changes in economic conditions and markets.  Columbia Baking Company closed early in 1856, Pearless Creamery, the Covington Virginian, Alleghany Publishers. . . . The first Fire Company was organized formally on March 4, 1902 with 24 charter members and with Fred Jesser as chief, as a result of several disastrous fires in the fall of 1901

  To be continued. . .