"Old State Road Long Abandoned"


by Shirley Donnelly
published in the Beckley Post Herald (Beckley, West Virginia)
March 15, 1966

One day last week, lured by the bright sunshine, a field trip was made through Babcock Park to one of the best remaining stretches of the Old State Road.

In October of 1785, the General Assembly of Virginia passed an act which authorized the opening of bids for construction of a road within two years, a wagon road from Lewisburg to Kanawha Falls. It was to be 30 feet wide and was built in 1786. It completed what was known in the Virginia statutes as the Old State Road. This provided the first communication by wagon from the East to the navigable waters of the Kanawha.

IN 1814, THE CHIEF route of those going westward from the southern and middle counties of Virginia was Old State Road by way of Lewisburg, across New River at Bowyers Ferry (Sewell), through or near Fayetteville, and over Cotton Hill to Kanawha Falls. Thence the travel continued along the south side of the Kanawha.

In January of 1817, the General Assembly authorized the building of another road from Montgomery's Ferry (Montgomery), by way of Gauley River near its confluence with the New, to intersect the Old State Road between Fleshman's plantation and the top of Big Sewell. These Roads were primarily built at the insistence of the salt makers in the Kanawha valley.

TWO OR THREE MILES back in the woods from the administration building at Babcock Park, one comes upon long stretches of the Old State Road as it winds its way to Sewell, or Bowyer's Ferry as it was known after 1795.

Peter Bowyer was granted a Virginia license to operate the ferry over New River at that point in that year. Today, the ferry has been forgotten and the settlement known as Sewell until a generation ago is but a site.

Long ago the Old State Road was abandoned but historic memories cling to every section it traversed. The services of Russell Lego as a guide have been secured for exploratory trips in that area because there is not a spot in the entire region which his feet have not trod.

THERE IS A TOUCH of pathos in the various old homesites along the road, which is 180 years old this year. We went to where the log dwellings and barns stood in all their strength over a century and a half ago. Only the huge stone foundations of the big log houses are there today.

At either end of each house stood an immense rock chimney. The chimneys were so large that it is a moot question as to whether the chimneys were built for the houses or the houses for the chimneys. One such chimney's remains, at the head of Pembroke Hollow, is believed to be that of the Fleshman home, the one that housed the master of the Fleshman plantation and his family. It is in a flat place about 50 feet to the right of the Old State Road as it stretches to Sewell. There the historic road is easily discernible.

FURTHER UP Old State Road, a mile or two away, and five miles east of Bowyer's Ferry, is the spot where Richard F. Tyree settled about 1816. It is on the right side of the road as one goes toward Sewell. Tyree lived there until 1826.

He brought with him his wife and children from Lewisburg where he had resided since around 1800. His wife was the former Sarah Johnson of Greenbrier.

They had a large log house, a big log barn, and other out-buildings. Where these stood is a flat area an acre or so in size.

Immediately in front of the mesa-like spot where the Tyree dwelling was located ran the Old State Road. Ruins of the chimneys, built of flagstone from field and forest, are very much in evidence. Some old-timers speak of the property as the old Lewis place, from a later owner.

WHEN THE TYREE family and, later, the Lewis people, dwelt there it must have been an imposing layout. To this hour, it is a place where every prospect pleases. However, the whole site is grown up in woods, briers, and brambles. Apple trees of great age still stand there and compete with the woods for life.

Hands that set out this apple orchard long ago crumbled to dust. As we probed about the place, my guide and milady, a covey of grouse became frightened and took flight. There were eight of them and they exploded away, one at a time, the biggest pheasants we ever saw. Each made a straight flight and it was opined that a good wing-shot could have bagged the whole covey as it whirred through the naked trees.

NEAR THE TYREE house are numerous cairns, or Indian graves. They have been dug into by Lego and W. P. (Wimpy) Lawrence and numerous arrowheads have been found. Some of the burial places have not yet been opened up.

When a metal detector was shoved about on the ground, a number of old oxen shoes were located by Lego. After the Old Stone House near Clifftop was completed in 1826 -- 140 years ago -- Tyree and his family moved into it and operated it as a tavern alongside the James River and Kanawha Turnpike.

 

Uploaded with permission of The Beckley Register-Herald.

 


 

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