A 21st century Voyage of Discovery...to Eagle Rock


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A slide show prepared for a history conference on the general topic of transportation...this is the story of an Episcopal Church ( in Fincastle) that started a renovation project of a mission church ( in Eagle Rock) and of the wonderful community they found there... It offers a nice example of collecting oral histories, encouraging preservation of a nearly abandoned building, and offers inspiration for re-purposing and reviving rural communities. ...Also touches on youth ministry, segregation, integration, canals, railroads, and nineteenth century industrial development.

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A 21st century Voyage of Discovery...to Eagle Rock

  1. 1. A 21st century “voyage of discovery” …to Eagle Rock By Ellen Apperson Brown Renovation projects, of a rural church and a town’s community center have brought together two groups – an Episcopal church, in Fincastle and the Eagle Rock Ruritan Club, and set in motion an interesting cultural exchange.
  2. 2. Only ten miles…From Fincastle to Eagle Rock The Episcopal Diocese of Southwest Virginia was planning to sell off one of its old churches – Emmanuel, Eagle Rock - but parishioners at St. Mark’s, Fincastle, decided to take responsibility for restoring the old frame building (the first church in Eagle Rock, built in 1885). About the same time, members of the Eagle Rock Ruritan Club asked the county government to let them take ownership of the town’s community center. They began planning for major repairs. Soon both groups, the Ruritans and the Episcopalians, began to collaborate together, holding meetings at a local restaurant and later in the public library. Now, a year or so later, both renovation projects are well underway, and the two communities have developed closer ties. …And ten miles doesn’t seem quite such a distance anymore.
  3. 3. About Episcopal Churches in Botetourt County… St. Mark’s Church was built in the 1830s, but never had the money or resources to be a free standing parish until the 1960s. For many years St. Mark’s shared its clergy with the two other churches in the county – Emmanuel, Eagle Rock and Trinity, Buchanan. In the 1880’s, Eagle Rock was booming, and a plans developed to build a church. The organizers borrowed $250 from a National Church Building fund. The style ,known as Carpenter Gothic, featured a steep roof, pointed windows, and board and batten siding. It may have been built using plans furnished through the National church, and perhaps using pre-fab materials shipped by train…thus an early mail-order church!
  4. 4. A good source of information about Eagle Rock is the book …Lost Communities of Virginia by Terri Fisher and Kirsten Sparenborg The authors describe the floods, industries, and the changes in transportation - from the canal to the railroad - and include interviews with several local historians. They capture the ongoing vitality of the people who live there: …Certainly the impending loss of the bridge had caused great hardship to Eagle Rock, but it also brought the people together. The Eagle Rock Improvement Association was created to clean up the community and make it more attractive to residents and those who make the effort to visit. Projects included a new playground, hanging baskets in the spring and wreaths on winter, washing storefront windows, cleaning the river bank, and creating parks at the old lime kilns and last lock of the James River and Kanawha Canal. However, some people do not like to think of Eagle Rock as a “lost community!”
  5. 5. …Beginning a pilgrimage down the road, from Fincastle to Eagle Rock… Father Stephen Stanley Hired in 2011, he was charged with responsibility for not only St. Mark’s Fincastle, but also the Glebe Retirement Center, and Emmanuel Church, Eagle Rock. He began taking parishioners out to see the church, and encouraging everyone to join him for a meal at Maw and Paw’s Restaurant. Then, he joined the Eagle Rock Ruritan Club and learned about their plans to make repairs to the Community Center. In July, a group of youth from the diocese came to help clean up the church in Eagle Rock and to learn about local history. (Shown here with Fr. Stephen at St. Mark’s)
  6. 6. St. Mark’s Vestry authorized Fr. Stephen to develop a list of objectives. The “to do” list included: • Bee removal • Leaks around the roof and siding • Mold on interior walls • Weeds ( and poison ivy) around gravestones • Sacristy… needing major repairs
  7. 7. Excitement grew as parishioners began to get involved, and help in various clean-up efforts. Here they are enjoying a parish picnic in the shelter near Galatia Presbyterian Church
  8. 8. Events Mass on the Mountain – May 2013 - about 30 youth from the diocese, with parents, and lively music! Work Days…washing walls Youth Pilgrimage – July 2013; gathering oral histories Appalachian Vespers Services, featuring gospel and folk musicians
  9. 9. A Diocesan youth group planned a pilgrimage to several rural communities in SWVA, including Bluefield, Tazewell, Pocahontas, and Glasgow, with a two day visit to Fincastle and Eagle Rock. Several of the young historians conducted interviews with some of the local people. Here are some of the comments they collected. Peggy Hamm (retired teacher) told about her church, the black community, and her perspective concerning desegregation in the public schools
  10. 10. Peggy Hamm – excerpts from her talk …About Glen Wilton …people from the Historical Society called me to see if I could find out any information about the black community known as Glen Wilton. When I moved there…there was a lot of people there, but most of them died. When you are in a rural area, unless somebody has willed you the house ( your great grandma or something)… Nobody moved there. Nobody wanted to move to a rural area, because there were no schools.
  11. 11. Peggy Hamm …About Mount Beulah Baptist Church …the church that I go to is Mount Beulah Baptist Church, and it is a black church. It originated…it was in the town of Glen Wilton. It used to be over by an old furnace. That was when they had a booming Glen Wilton. They had a church and a …near where they had an iron furnace…until they had some sort of explosion, the mine closed, and people moved out. There weren’t any more jobs except that and the railroad. And then they moved our church…I guess they had to build a new foundation.
  12. 12. Peggy Hamm Mount Beulah, cont. If you see a sign that says a church was built using brick from another church, well there are churches in this area with bricks from great grandma’s church. Most of the rural churches make their money from homecomings or rallies. That is where we get the money from – from September to September. That is when you call everybody, or write to everybody, whose parents were buried in the graveyard…
  13. 13. Peggy Hamm Raising money for the church That is what I do. I get a little form letter and say, “This is our letter for this year. We need money for the church.” That was the main source of income for a rural church, and having rallies and fish fries, and stuff. I know my pastor used to say, “I know it is dwindling, but if we tithe, I know it is going to make a way… Youth – You need more than that! Peggy – You need a lot of blessings!
  14. 14. Peggy Hamm An outhouse… When I first came down here we had an outhouse for the church. A little outdoor thing. …and it had a little shed for storing all those things that you didn’t have room for, inside. Then we got running water…after they got water available up the road, so we pumped it down here, and then we got a kitchen, with a stove. For Homecoming we needed a kitchen for all the food, and about ten – fifteen years after that we finally got the money together to have a bathroom! We had one for men and one for women – we had two! We also had a little dressing room for the choir.
  15. 15. Peggy Hamm her family… Peggy - I have four children. My daughter, she’s the manager of a doctor’s office, but she sings. She goes up there and she sings. She sings all over the place. I don’t know if Tommy has heard her sing? Tommy Hunter – Yes. I have heard her! Peggy – I have a son, and he is a deacon, and he sings, you know. I have another son who has moved back from Connecticut, so we have five more people who can come to church – my son and his three kids! All of a sudden you have a whole lot of people in church…
  16. 16. Pastor Robert McRae Flood of 1985 In 1985 we had a flood and the debris… it didn’t bother this bridge that we were using, which is now the old bridge, but it wiped out two sections of this bridge and took them down the river. You asked about the impact of the railroad? The canal…the reason the canal was not completed? Guess why. The railroad came by. A lady named Nadine Rankin ( her former husband was a doctor here and had a little clinic across the river), but she went from nurse to teaching school. She is a historian for this part of the county…though she moved to Fincastle.
  17. 17. Pastor McRae …About the dedication for the park When the garden club had a dedication for the little park here, the last lock of the Kanawha Canal, Nadine was sort of a host for that meeting. We had a big day. We had a lot of folks here. We had a batteaux group that came, and we were celebrating! It was an historical celebration. In the middle of her speaking, do you know what happened? The train came through! And she caught the moment by saying, “well, upstaged by the railroad again, because the canal was never finished. “
  18. 18. Pastor McRae What are his hopes for the future? Bob - I think that the hope here, in many respects , lies in the people. And to see a group like this come – this is encouraging! But it has been encouraging for us to be active in the Ruritan Club. I have been in it for the 30 years that I have been here. …And the Community Center…Do you know what was going to be done with that? Ellen – Tear it down! Bob – It was to be torn down. And Donna Vaughn, who will be your hostess ( you met her husband out here) – she served and finished out a term as supervisor, so she knows the goings on in the county, and she went to bat for us, and she said we can’t let that building go. We can’t let it be destroyed. She was responsible for our being able to acquire that. Our hope is in the people.
  19. 19. Nadine Rankin How did Eagle Rock get its name? Well, there was, before VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation) there was a huge rock right across the bridge, right as you came into… It was a huge prominence, and it came out like the head of an eagle. Of course they blasted that off, but above that they found huge nests of eagles. And so I think that the Indians named it Eagle Rock because they revered the Eagle so much. That is just conjecture, but it might have been a possibility.
  20. 20. Nadine Rankin, cont. Other names… Nadine – The place was first known as Sheets. Youth – We were told that. We were thinking of the gas station (Sheets) of course. Nadine – He (Sheets) owned all of this land. He was the one if, of course, if you wanted to buy any land… The railroad wanted to buy the right of way for the land, so they purchased a parcel so wide, and then 1,000 feet down. As the settlement grew, they wanted to have a post office. Before you can have a post office, you have to be legal, and they first named the community Breckinridge, and then they named it Sheets, because of the owner, and then it came around to Eagle Rock
  21. 21. Becoming a village Nadine - So in 1879, as the sign coming into town says, it was declared a village. It didn’t really qualify as a village. You know from your studies that a village is a large piece of land, but I would say…it was a community, really. Of course, there were no roads…no nothing, and the only travel was by batteaux! Do you know what a batteau was? Gabie – Yes, M’am. I go to the batteaux festival every year! Nadine – Good deal…They have those big old twenty foot long, and seven foot wide…and it goes back to…They came all the way from Covington, and they brought wheat and corn, hogsheads. Do you know what a hogshead is? It is not the head of a pig… It is a four by four square of tobacco that is rolled real tight, and is put in this shape…and they always weighed over 1,000 pounds! They hauled them down, because they wanted them to go to Richmond.
  22. 22. The first industry and the first church… in Eagle Rock… Eagle Rock was a boom town which enjoyed its first major commercial enterprise, the production of lime and dolomite products – until 1954. Agricultural lime was sold to increase the P.H. in plant life for the farmer, as a catalyst in the making of pig iron, and as white wash. There were nine active kilns in the community which hired 100 workers. Eagle Rock was the center of industry for Botetourt County. The first church in the community was the Episcopal Church…organized in 1877, built in 1885, and was used by other groups before they could build their own churches
  23. 23. Our latest history project: The Eagle Connection After the youth pilgrimage, I decided to follow up with Nadine Rankin, and ask to see if she might be interested in having her set of newsletters published in book form… As of mid February, we’ve sold about 150 copies and are well on our way to raising our goal of $4,000 – to be split between the two renovation projects in Eagle Rock.
  24. 24. The take-away lesson for me, as a public historian, is that in order to learn about a community ( lost or found)…one has to locate the right people, and earn their trust. The three historians I’ve quoted here (Nadine Rankin, Robert McRae and Peggy Hamm) allowed me to feel the pulse and experience the vitality of a remarkable community. What a gift!