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Mildred McConnell's Scrapbook Articles

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Scott’s Hunters Valley History …….


Nestled at the foothills of Stone Mountain in Northern Scott County lies a long, narrow valley that runs from Clinch River, near Dungannon to Horton's Summit in the western end of the ,county. Because of its

remoteness, it is often referred to as the Back Valley. However, its real name, Hunter's Valley, goes back to early Colonial days before settlers came to Clinch Valley.

The Long Hunters

The valley's name came from an adventuresome group of men, hunter-trappers, who came annually to far Southwest Virginia from the eastern part

of the state. Because of the distance traveled, they were known as Long Hunters. They came to this area in October, stayed for the winter, returning home in April. Their products: hides and furs, were carried by horse-pack to the east and sold to merchants for exportation to Europe. This very early backwoods commerce may date back to the 1730's and 1740's, and in a few cases before that date.

Mr. Elery A. Lay, a former Scott Countian and a retired educator in Kingsport, Tennessee wrote in his recent book - An Industrial and Commercial History of the Tri-Cities area of Tennessee and Virginia, "In

1673, 66 years after Jamestown, Virginia was founded, traders from there were in this area trying to set up trade with the Indians -- using Indian guides."

By the time settlers began to arrive in Clinch Valley around 1770, the hunters had shortened their traveling distance, for according to Emory Hamilton of Wise, they were from Chilhowie in Smyth County. In all probability, some of them had moved there to be closer to the game they were seeking, while others living around Chilhowie: became a part of this thriving and prosperous business.

When the hunters forded the river, at what is now Dungannon, they had their choice of two routes to follow. One was down the river, the other was the valley route near the mountain. They chose the latter one to avoid confronting the Indians along the river. Game was more plentiful near the mountain, there was an abundant supply of water throughout the valley besides being a shorter route to Lee County and Eastern Kentucky. Because those hunters used this valley regularly, each fall and spring, year after year, it was appropriately named Hunter's Valley.

Just who were those hunters and whence did they come? Most of the very early ones are not known; however, a few of them left their 'footprints' behind by lending their names to various land marks along their way. A few examples are: naming the ford of the river in their honor -- Hunter's Ford, because of their regular use of it over many years; Jacob Castle, probably a hunter, from Augusta County (all of Virginia west of the Blue Ridge was in that county at that time), for whom Castle's Wood in Russell County was named; William Clinch, originally from Surry County, Virginia, 400 miles to the east, and for whom the river may have been named. Since he lived near Blackwater and Blackwater Creek in Surry County, he more than likely was instrumental in naming a settlement and creek in Lee County by those names - Blackwater and Blackwater Creek; John Bustar, for whom Bustar's 'Shoals and Run were named. They are located at Hunter's Ford (Dungannon): Buckner's Ridge, between Clinch Valley and Hunter's Valley, was named for an unknown hunter. Going west through the valley we find McGhee and Stanton's Creeks, probably named for early hunters.

In order for those hunters to have survived for many years deep in the wilderness and Indian territory, they must have been on very friendly terms with them. After all they used Indian guides to find their way and as go-betweens when Indians were encountered. An example was Jacob Castle, who was reputed to have been on very friendly terms with them.

Topography of Hunter’s Valley

Every time I return to those beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia, I often refer to them as being "old mountains". Of course I was thinking in terms of those hills I have known for almost three quarters of a century. However, geologically speaking, there is much truth in that statement, for they are among the oldest in the world. It all began millions upon millions of years ago, when the Appalachian area was covered by a giant sea or a series of large bodies of water. Then in a most violent action, the seabed and the earth were pushed up to form the mountain chain. This event, sometimes referred to as the "great upheaval", was caused as two land plates of the earth ran together.

Actually the Appalachian Mountains today have no resemblance to what they were when formed. They were as high or higher than the Rocky Mountains are today. The basic features may have remained, however the finishing touches were put on by Mother Nature. Her tools were: long freezing and thawing spells, storms, floods and mud-rock slides, streams of water chiseling their way to the sea, droughts, wind and sunshine, all combining to shape the topography of those mountains. The results of such action places them in what is known as "old, worn down" mountains.

Two topographical features well illustrate the age of that area. New River, which flows across western Virginia into North Carolina, is said to be the second oldest river on earth, the Nile being the oldest. The second one, Grandfather Mountain in western North Carolina got its name from the fact that its rocks are the oldest to be found on the earth.

In all that ancient shuffling of the earth, Scott County was left with some unusual features itself. Probably the best known is the Natural Tunnel. One that has been more used than any other is Moccasin Gap, that was cut through Clinch Mountain to make a natural gateway for travelers. Thousands of immigrants passed through it in colonial days seeking a home beyond the western horizon. The settlement near the gap, Estillville, was appropriately changed to Gate City sometime after the Civil War, for it was the "gateway" connecting the east to the west. Hunter’s Valley was not forgotten in that violence of eons ago. First, a very unusual geological arrangement has the valley rod as the dividing line between sandstone rocks on the north side towards the mountain, and limestone rock on the south side of the road. This layout produces two types of mineral water, sandstone sometimes call freestone and limestone.

Next, the age of the area, as well as that of the Appalachian Mountains, is written in fossilized sea life that is found in the valley. Those ancient remains can be found some two miles from the eastern end of the valley. Geologists have placed the age of these fossils from 280 million to 420 million years old. The scientific names of some o those fossils are: Coral, Sea Lily Buds (resemble hickory nuts), Sea Lily Stems (ringed like a screw), Blastoids, Branchiopods, and Bryozoans.

For years we had a collection of these fossils when we lived in the valley, however they were misplaced in moving. I have a collection of a few of them that I purchased at Berea College Kentucky some years ago. They came from a similar bed found in eastern Kentucky.

The oldest coal formation on earth, with some being in the Appalachian Mountains, are around 300 million years old. Note, this age falls in the age scale listed above. After all, coal, like oil is known as a fossil fuel.

There is another unusual formation found in the valley not far from the Sulfur Spring. It is a coal formation that5 is quite different from the bituminous (soft) coal that dominates the Appalachian area. An exception is anthracite (hard) coal that is found in the northeastern part of the Appalachian chain of mountains. This coal referred 6to is a hard, black, shiny substance, resembling slate, yet it is so volatile that a small piece can be ignited with a match. The coal is commonly known as "candle" coal, probably because of its easy burning qualities. The mine operated off and on for many years, however it is closed at present.

Geologist think this coal may have been formed from the pollen of the giant conifers (pine like) trees, something close to the Redwoods. The pollen would fall into the sea or lake, then be (line cut off from column). This action recurring annually for thousands of years, would certainly have left rich deposits that could have turned into this type of coal.

We have mentioned the two kinds of mineral water that flow into Hunter's
Valley. However, there is a third one located near the site of Hagan Hall. It is blue sulfur water that flows from beneath Stanton's Creek where it intersects the valley road. The odor is not too pleasant, yet is is drinkable, as I can attest to myself, having drunk several cups of it in my younger days.

Many have been the times I have referred to those hills and mountains as being the "Garden of Eden" and to the population of that area as being "God's chosen people". Of course I did this jokingly, however from the geological facts I have given above, one might imagine that they were true. When the earth was "without form and void:, it appears to have been one of the first places on earth that the Creator prepared for the future and permanent home of his last bit of creation, man.

For those of us who have lived there, we know that with the exception of winter, the other seasons, especially spring and fall, are truly magnificent, making it a garden paradise, if not similar to the original Garden of Eden.

Laurel Grove School

One of the first public schools to be formed in Northeast Scott County was the Laurel Grove School, just north of the valley road, about a half mile from Uncle Lem Osborne's old home place. One of its teachers was Lee Dingus, Otto's brother, who later became a professor at Transylvania University at Lexington, Kentucky. The school was opened for about three months a year, going six days per week. Its curriculum was built around McGuffy Readers. Those were the wonderful books that helped mold the character of young America during the later part of the 19th century. My father was a student of Mr. Dingus, completing McGuffy's Sixth Reader. That book (I have a copy of it) was far in advance of the 6th grade work many of us knew decades ago.

McGuffy's readers stressed morality of living. Imagine a poem like this one being in a 6th grade reader today?

"God Is Everywhere: Oh! Show me where He is, the high and Holy One, To whom thou bendest the knee, and prayest, 'Thy will be done.'

Oh! Teach me who is God, and where His glories shine, That I may kneel and pray, and call thy Father mine."

The Magnolia Church

Near the eastern end of the valley stood the old Magnolia Church for over a century. It was perhaps the first church in northeastern Scott County. In 1802, John Osborne and wife Matilda Richmond Osborne deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church, one acre of land as a church site. This was

somewhere in the vicinity of Hunter's Ford, but the exact location is unknown. Helen Osborne Smith, Bart's daughter, said her mother El, always said that land where the old church stood could never be sold, as it was given to the church by an early Osborne. She should have known, as her father's place, that of Uncle Bill Osborne, was adjacent to that church. In all probability, this is the location of the land given to the church.

The Shortest Named Post Office

Early in the century, Hunter's Valley was honored to be the location of a Post Office with the shortest name in the United States. Like many other small rural post offices, it bowed out to good roads and automobiles that brought about rural postal routes. This post office was located near the intersection of the valley road and Stoney Creek, about three miles north of Ft. Blackmore. Imagine getting a letter postmarked Ka, Va.

The Osborne Family

Among the earlier settlers in the valley was the Osborne family, who settled in the eastern most end. About 1780, Stephen Osborne, my ancestor, settled at Hunter's Ford, later Osborne's Ford and then Dungannon. Jonathan, his only son to remain on the Clinch began to accumulate land north and west of the settlement. Three of his sons, John, James Dow and Isaac, who also remained on the Clinch, added to that accumulation. Ike's holdings were in and around Osborne's Ford and the eastern end of the valley. There near the river he built a beautiful two story log home in 1853, which stands today as a monument to him.

John was the most aggressive one, and by his death in 1863 at age 61, had accumulated large tracts of land, running north, northwestward through

Hunter's Valley and well into Stone Mountain. John and his sons built numerous fine two story log homes for themselves. A few are in a good state of repair and are being used for homes today.

The Hagan Hall

Sometime around the middle of the 19th century or maybe before, an Irish immigrant family became a resident of Hunter's Valley, This was the family of Joseph Hagan, who had moved from Richmond, Va. He began to acquire land, both in the valley and on the mountain. They liked the location where the valley road intersected Stanton's Creek so much that they decided to build their large two story log home nearby.

This was also in the vicinity where a bluish, foul smelling water oozed from the banks of Stanton's Creek. It was sulfur water which was later developed into a free running spring of that water. It was not long before the Sulfur Spring become a popular place to visit or to have a picnic. Mrs. Hagan is reputed to have been fascinated to have three mineral waters so close to their home. They were freestone, limestone and sulfur.

Sometime in the last half of the 1800's a nephew, Patrick Hagan, came to Clinch Valley to live with his uncle. He had come from Ireland to the east coast where he visited relatives before coming to Hunter's Valley. He had sufficient foresight in him to get a good education. Consequently he studied law and eventually became one of the outstanding lawyers in all of Southwestern Virginia. When his uncle passed away he inherited his estate that included many acres of land.  As the years went by he would add thousands more to his land holdings.

During the last quarter of the 19th century, he built the Hagan Hall, a mansion, that was probably second to none in Scott County. As materials for such a building were not all available in the county, he was forced to get it elsewhere. The brick were made on the spot from local clay, however he went as far away as Richmond to get such special items as hand-carved woodwork and marble slabs for the many fireplaces and hearths. When completed it became a showplace and a great place for entertaining. People came from far and near to see the Hagan Hall.

I well recall its magnificent beauty as a boy, as we, my father with my brother, Nat, and me, would occasionally spend a Saturday or Sunday afternoon visiting with Barney Hagan and his family. Besides the beauty of the home and surroundings, we enjoyed watching the peacocks strut and the play that was in their collie dogs. To a small boy like me. going to the Hagan Hall and Sulfur Spring was like a youngster today going to the circus.

Among the numerous things for which Patrick Hagan was known, was that he was a very benevolent person. He had inherited and accumulated a fortune in land, timber and coal. Many were the needy who sought help from him. He usually wrote them a check or gave them cash if he had it. My father said he never turned anyone away empty handed, for he gave according to their needs. In addition to helping people, he gave to institutions as well. As a Catholic, he gave land to the Baptist and Methodist congregations at Dungannon for their churches.

It was he who renamed the town of Osborne's Ford, Dungannon after his native home town in County Tyrone, North Ireland (Ulster). This was sometime after the Civil War during the last part of the 1800's.

The home today is owned by Ralph Flannery who has done considerable improvement to the place. For many years it was not cared for too well and began to deteriorate to a great degree.

In retrospect, I recall my days in that valley more than a half century ago. It was my valley, and still is, for my roots are deeply embedded there, where my small world revolved about me. The nostalgia of those years, decades ago, has given a sincere meaning to my life.

Among other things, it afforded me the opportunity to obtain about our world and its people. Basically that type of education came from two of the best teachers I ever had, my father and mother: Mr. and Mrs. George Honeycutt. They taught me lots of local history, family history and the layout of the valley.

We had little material wealth, yet we were rich in our surroundings. Father was a thrifty individual who was able to support a family of five in a comfortable manner. When the great depression came along we managed, somehow, to struggle through those trying years. Having very little financial

wealth, we had nothing to lose. Yet because of those years, we were made stronger and learned that regardless of the adversities of life, they too could be overcome.

Sometime around 1920 that valley introduced me to two of man's new scientific innovations, that would grow and expand in my lifetime to the point of making our nation so strong and great that it is second to none on earth.

The first one was seeing my first airplane. I was a small boy playing alone one day when I heard this terrible noise overhead. When looked up I saw this monster gliding about over those hills then disappear behind one. I ran home as fast as I could, yelling to my mother, "Dare's sumtin' 'rong in Heben," What an imagination for a boy's mind! Since I had not been informed of the Wright Brothers experiment of a few decades before, I knew nothing of man's flying capabilities.

The second one was seeing my first electric light. A mile to the east of our home, at the east end of the valley, was a large band saw mill. They had installed a Delco plant, the product of another inventor, Thomas Edison. When the plant began to operate and the lights were turned on about dusk, we three children could hardly wait to get to the top of the hill in front of our home so we could see "the lights down at the band mill" as we often called out.

During those days in the valley, our home was a living example of those beautiful lines that someone wrote, "the house beside the road that was a friend to man," Many were the cattlemen, drummers, politicians and wayward ones who came to our home for a night's lodging, Some would say " I was sent to the Honeycutt's for they will not turn you away." That was true, for I do not recall one time when my parents turned anyone away.

Growing up in Hunter's Valley was a great beginning for me, I am so proud to have lived in such an environment, remote though it was, looking back on those days, I am so glad that I lived so close to nature, which was in reality close to God.


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