The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

The Place On Peters Creek and Beyond, Part 1 of 8

By William J. Sowder © 1991

Issue: November, 1991

"Through The Eyes Of A Young Boy and The Heart Of An Old Man"

As far as I can determine, my great, great grandfather, James Day and his family, left Ireland sometime between 1841 and 1851, the terrible years of the Great Famine when two and a half million people died of disease and starvation when the potato crops failed. The family doubtless landed in Philadelphia, the great port that received most of these survivors. Once on the ground, I like to think that they took out on the Great Philadelphia Wagon road, which was so popular with the Scotch-Irish, to look for affordable farm land. The search took them through Lancaster and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania and then down the Shenandoah Valley through Winchester and Staunton and then out of the Valley to Buena Vista and Glasgow where they took a ferry over the James River about ten miles from Waugh where they finally settled.

Waugh is about five miles from where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the James and about three miles from the village of Big Island. Waugh was once a flag stop on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad and a supplier of goods and services to the once thriving tobacco community of Grogurs Hollow. My great grandfather, William Alexander Day - often called "Old Man Alec" was old enough to meet and marry Louisa Pugh Rhodes and to fight three years in the Army of the confederacy. He was with General Lee in the heartbreaking defense of Richmond and with him in the retreat to Appomattox; the long forced marches, most of them at night, leaving behind all the debris of a defeated army.

Somewhere in that debris was grandpa's worn out shoes. But not to worry: he could take heart; the long conflict was over. He had a lot to live for. He had a lot to be proud of. He had fought for what he believed was right and fought for it under the command of the greatest general America has ever produced. He was young and it was springtime. It was April 1865. The redbud, the wild cherry, the dogwood and patches of violets were in bloom cheering him on. Best of all, Louisa was waiting. Their first son, my grandfather John James Day, was born in 1868. Years afterward when my brother Bobby and I visited our cousins in Waugh, we would go to our great grandfather's grave. He, with Louisa beside him, was at rest on a beautiful knoll within close sight of the storied James. Home again, this time forever.

My great grandfather, Andrew Jackson Hawks, was born in 1850, in the heart of the Blue Ridge somewhere in the vicinity of Fancy Gap and Mabry Mill. One of his sisters, Orleans Hawks Puckett, was born in 1837 and died in 1939 at the age of one hundred and two. During her life, she doubtless was the busiest midwife on the Blue Ridge. She brought hundreds of babies into the world and gave birth to twenty-four herself. Unfortunately, none of her children lived. Named after our seventeenth President, the great champion of the common man, grandpa Hawks had been too young to fight in the War but not long after it was over, he made his way down the mountain valleys - probably through Roanoke Valley - and ended up in Grogurs Hollow.

There he met and married Marian Frances St. John, my great grandmother. She was the daughter of Thomas St. John and Martha Scott, both of whom came from prominent families in the area and both of whom strongly objected to the marriage. "Fan," as grandpa Hawks called her, was born in 1850 and died April 10, 1919. She was buried in the Prior cemetery in Waugh.

Grandpa Hawks, who all of his life loved Lynchburg, died in 1919 and was buried there in the Spring Hill Cemetery. They built a two story log house near a large and beautiful spring that was grandpa's pride and joy and the main source of Cabin Creek which flowed through the Hollow. They had five children, all girls: Nannie Lee Hawks Day, my grandmother; Mosetta Hawks Reynolds Rule; Victoria Hawks Rice Hudson; Mary Russell Hawks Day, Porter Hawks Clements.

In the ensuing years, two of the Hawks girls, Nannie Lee and Mary Russell, married two of the Day boys, John James and George Washington. Shortly thereafter the boys set up a partnership raising tobacco. Not long afterward they realized that they had made a mistake. The plot was too small to make a living for two families. The result was that my great uncle George bought out my grandfather and went on to be a successful merchant and postmaster at Waugh.

All this took place in the early 1890's, about one hundred years ago, the years that the Norfolk and Western Railroad was making Roanoke the center of its operations. Somehow grandpa got word of this and took a job as an apprentice machinist in the West End Shops. He was with the railroad in various capacities until he retired some fifty years later.

In 1894 my mother Louise Frances was born; in 1898 Katherine Belle; in 1902 Minnie Lillian; in 1905 Claudine Marie; in 1907 George Washington; in 1908 Virginia. During much of this time, the ever increasing family was fighting the long panic of the 1890's, the worst prior to the Great Depression — new mouths to feed, more clothes to buy, more bills, bills, bills until Nannie (As a child when I tried to pronounce Granny it always came out "Nannie." I left it that way.) came up with what Aunt Kitty called "the best idea anyone in the family ever had." They would mortgage everything to the limit and buy a small farm. Nannie would get back to the things she loved to do best: she would get back to her roots. Her family would at least have enough to eat, if not much more. As it turned out they had enough of both.

Next: The family lives on the farm Nannie bought at Peter's Creek and William J. Sowder is born there.