Please welcome guest author Phil James. The Virginia newspaper columnist and author focuses on the lives of the regular folk of the Albemarle County countryside with his two books ‘Secrets of the Blue Ridge,’ the second of which is about to be released. ‘Secrets of the Blue Ridge’ has appeared regularly in the Crozet Gazette since 2006. In addition to sharing his passion for local history with school and civic groups, James has taught university-level short courses through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Virginia.
“Secrets abound in our Blue Ridge region. But like the burying grounds, home sites and abandoned trails that lie hidden amongst the forest understory, some are more easily discovered than others.
“Treasures are occasionally stumbled upon, but more are uncovered by diligent seekers who cast their nets wide for clues, and keep on asking questions. Academic histories have their place, but we often get more of the real story when real people get to tell their own story.”
James has learned from experience that everyone has a piece of the story and that, like the smallest of clues in a treasure hunt, each of those story pieces has value. Across four decades, he has researched and gathered the stories of the people and communities of the nearby Blue Ridge Mountains: stories of good times and difficult times, oft’ told tales of fun and adventure, and stories shared in hushed tones too personal to be repeated.
James is often asked where he finds these stories.
“Oh,” he replies, “living rooms, kitchens, front porches, back porches or leaning against a shelf at the neighborhood store; in hospital rooms, at family reunions, birthday get-togethers, funerals, country auctions, apple butter boilin’s, community potlucks, hymn-sings, church homecomings, or sometimes just riding together to one of these events. The place has never seemed to matter.
“What mattered was choosing to take the time,” he emphasizes, “even if only on the telephone, to stop and connect for a few minutes or a few hours.”
Blending these oral histories with photos copied from family scrapbooks and photo albums entrusted to him, Phil James presents the region’s history within the context of the people who have lived it.
In his eulogy for 89-years-old Blanche Standup (Secrets vol. 2, chapter one), Pastor Doyle Thomas Jr. said, “We live our lives as a tale that is told—but what good is a tale if nobody tells it? [With the lives of our elders] we come in somewhere in the middle and try to catch up. What’s the part of the story which you caught that I missed?”
“History finds its keepers,” stated Larry Lamb, another historian with ancestral roots in these Blue Ridge Mountains. His words are true. We all are historians of sorts: journaling what we have seen and done; recording the recollections of a loved one; capturing a photo for posterity’s sake.
Phil and his wife Sally enjoy the many blessings of living in community with their neighbors in western Albemarle. The carefully crafted Secrets of the Blue Ridge volumes seek to honor the people and communities along the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Cozy up!
From the book Secrets of the Blue Ridge, by Phil James, Volume Two, Chapter Two:
A New Year on Pasture Fence Mountain
The first week of January in 1891 was a difficult one for the households on Pasture Fence Mountain in western Albemarle County, Virginia. Miss Mattie Maupin, who was still living in the mountain home where she was born in 1856, penned some of her hopes and concerns in a letter: “Well the old year has been numbered with the past and we have entered a new year and I wonder what the going out of this will find us about. I am in hopes that it will find us preparing for a better world. There has been changes in the coming in of this year already. Two deaths in one week… We have had dreadful weather for over two weeks. Snow and ice in abundance. People have been busy filling their ice houses. I am truly glad they can for it is needed in summer… I do wish we could sell. Though it would be hard to give up our old home. But our work is two hard for women folks…”
…Known in the earliest days of county history as Smith’s Pasture Fence Mountain, this Blue Ridge spur was admired for the lush growth of bluegrass that flourished there. Local planters as well as Shenandoah Valley farmers arranged cattle drives in the spring and fall to fatten their herds on the mountain’s plentiful grasses. The seasonal cattle drives continued into the 1930’s, when the establishment of Shenandoah National Park closed the cross-mountain roads.
All of Pasture Fence Mountain was included in the initial survey for Shenandoah National Park. During those days of uncertain futures, some families made the decision to move away voluntarily. Ultimately, Pasture Fence was spared from the condemnation/annexation, but families who lived along its western base, drained by the north fork of Moorman’s River, were required to leave their homes, their burying grounds, and their way of life.
Miss Mattie Maupin, who lived almost her entire life on Pasture Fence Mountain, finally had to move away in her latter years to be cared for by a niece. She wrote to one of her Pasture Fence Mountain neighbors, John Robert Daughtry, a while before her death in January 1935. Her mournful words probably spoke for many who had once lived their lives among the mountain ridges: “…Oh, how I have wished I was back up there. No place like home. I will never be satisfied anymore on this earth. I long for the sight of home. I am feeble and rekin I have been there the last time… Your old friend, Mattie E. Maupin.”