The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

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from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

Echoes From The Mills

By Nell C. Thompson © 1986

Issue: May, 1986

The following is an excerpt from a book, "Echoes From The Mills" by Nell C. Thompson. It is a story about her own family history and their trip from the mountains to the mills at Schoolfield, Virginia. It is also a story about a journey from one culture to another and the many adjustments made along the way. This book encompasses more than just one family's story. It is typical of the many families of that time period and economy.

For those of you who wish to read the entire book, it may be ordered from Mayberry Trading Post, Rt. 2, Meadows of Dan, VA 24120. The cost is $4.50 plus $1.50 for postage and handling.

This section of the book just covers the move from the mountains to the Mill. Other chapters detail life at the mills in every aspect.

Schoolfield Mill is no longer in existence, but thanks to Nell Thompson, it lives on.

Following the Civil War, times were hard everywhere and especially in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. For that matter, life had never been easy for the mountain settlers. Or was there much hope that life would be greatly improved. Poverty was prevalent and hunger hovered over the land. Ignorance was everywhere. Hard luck and hard times never let go.

Such was the environment and times, when posted notices and recruiters began to appear in the mountains seeking employees for the mills.

In response to the recruiter's efforts, the news echoed through the woods and the ridges that relief from the mountain miseries might be found in the newly constructed mills. People took hope for a better tomorrow. The Industrial Revolution had come to the banks of the Dan and now life would be altered forever as word reverberated that jobs and money were to be had. Word traveled and rippled in effect.

Augusta Ave.
December 3, 1913
Schoolfield, VA.

Dear P.N.,

We arrived safe and sound back in August. We are glad to git here. We didn't know it but found out that Schoolfield weren't on the train tables. It is listed as Jaffa but the conductor knowed where to let us off. Hit's true about the mills having jobs, jist like the man said. Your family of 9 would really be welcome 'cause they have plenty of openings here at Schoolfield. I wish I had 'acome a long time before. After they opened in 1902 they even built houses for the workers. At first they had just 10 houses but now there jis lots more'n at.

If you ever decide to bring your family, come on. We will give you lodging and hep you git settled. It ain't bad a 'tall. We have 3 rooms in our house in walking distance to work and there's a' out house no more'n 50 feet from the back door. We even git free toilet paper and free light bulbs.

All us is fair in health. Ain't none been sick so fur.

Yours truly,
Your cousin

May 1, 1914
Meadows of Dan, VA.

Dear Ike,

I was glad to hear from you a while back. And I am real glad to know about the jobs. We have been thinking real bad (hard) about coming. I am gitting on in years, as you know, for traveling around' by foot and horseback to tend to my glasses business and it, is hard to feed and clothe these seven chaps. We have lived with my folks in their one room cabin long enough and Harriet believes she could manage a house in town and the children could work. They are from ages 3 to 15. The three youngest can't work yit but Rachel, Ella, and Nancy could. Son Jesse is almost 9, That might not be old enough. Please check on that for me.

Could you write me more particulars so we can make some plans? We have about decided to pull up steckes and leave here.

Your cousin

4 Augusta Ave.
August 10, 1914
Schoolfield, VA

Dear P.N.,

Hit will be a good move for your family to come to the mills. Yes, Jesse is a little young but soon could git a job. I 'spect. They did take on children as low as 5 years of age but they done quit that.

There is something you should know though. They are real strict about no drinking and I don't know how to tell you to deal with that if you are plannin' on working yourself. I know you pride yourself on being a good father but your habit of gambling and drinking might hold you back here. If you want to continue with your glasses business, that might work out and the rest of the family could git jobs, I am certain.

If you come, git somebody to bring you to Stuart. It is 15 miles from where you live so start in plenty of time. The train is called Danville and Western but we call it the Dick and Willie. Git off at the Stokesland stop and walk down the tracks a piece toward the mill where you can make arrangements with a fellow by the name of Jim Copeland about jobs and talk to Howard Dodson, the superintendent of housing. You can stay with us 'till you git settled. Let me know I kin meet you there at the mill gate.

Your cousin

5 Jefferson St.
November 29, 1914
Schoolfield, VA

Dear Nelson,

I miss you so much! We arrived at the Stokesland train station on November 12 and Pa took us to a cousin's house. None of us 7 children had ever been on a train before and mama kept telling us to be quiet. Nancy was scared but Ella flirted with the conductor. Mattie helped mama with the little ones and told scary stories to keep them quiet. I just thought about the good times we had in the mountains when we went to school together. You know Pa didn't let us go much and I don't think he plans on any of us but the four little ones going here. In fact, the three older girls already have jobs and so does mama.

We spent the first night at Uncle Ike's and Aunt Emma's in their 3 room house. They put pallets on the floor for the women and girls and the men slept on the porch, and fed us until we got a house the next day. It was hard to sleep because we wanted to see the lights and wondered when they would turn them off. You should see these lights.

My love,

December 8, 1914
5 Jefferson Ave.
Schoolfield, VA

Dear Walter,

We had a right good trip considerin' ... Cousin Henry took us and our trunks from the cabin at Maple Shade to Meadows of Dan in a flat bed oxen cart. The children was so excited that a couple of them rode on the tongue out of the back of the wagon. We went from Meadows of Dan to Stuart in a spoonbowl dray wagon and 6 mules. Of course the 6 mules wasn't needed just to take us and our belongin's but it would be needed for bringing produce back on the return trip.

In Stuart, we caught the Dick and Willie. Harriet said it sounded like a dragon. The coal smoke rose as the train rounded the curves and the cinders blowed back into the windows of the cars with the red velvet seats.  We got off at Stokesland and walked down the track to the mill gate. Ike had already spoken for a house so the company had one ready. It was fumigated - that means they burn a candle or something to kill lice, fleas and germs before a new family takes over.

I arranged credit with the company furniture store the first day. Four of my folks already had jobs waiting when we got here and they went to work the very next day. Nancy and Ella weren't quite old enough but they are large and wear long dresses so they looked old enough to me and so I told the man they were old enough. We need the money. I told them that our house had burned and the Bible with the family records burned, too. Anyway, after a few days we had beds, a table, a wood stove, a cabinet, a dresser, and some iron pots, vessels and few dishes (soup bowl plates mostly). Before we got it all together we just had boxes and barrels in the kitchen.

We have 3 rooms.


50 Madison St.
[Now Hughs St.]
March 25, 1915
Schoolfield, VA

Dear sister Mary,

I am sorry not to write lately but I was taken very ill with typhoid fever. They have a hospital and nurses and doctors in Danville and they saved my life. Lucy had it too. The hospital is on Jefferson St. in town.

And best of all there was somebody to take care of the two youngest children. Putt got scared because of the shots and him and the boy took off to the mountains. The girls got the shots.

So the Schoolfield Park Nursery of the mill company took care of the two youngest children for me until I could get my strength back. Oh Mary, it is so wonderful what they can do. This nursery is a home for little folks while mamas work in the mill. Babies are fed every two hours and bathed once or twice daily. Older children are given dinner and an afternoon lunch as well as changes of clothes as necessary. All for 5 cents a day. I tell you, I am so grateful!

The girls like this house in Madison. It has 4 rooms and green outside shutters. Inside, we have small wooden slats varnished brown.

I will try to write more later. It is hard to work in the mill and keep house but we have more than we had back in the mountains and it eases my mind that no one goes hungry. Tell Leahvanna so she can tell mama and papa about us.