According to the genealogical records, land deeds, and Craig County history, our property was bought and settled in 1780 by Alexander McPherson. He was the son of Daniel McPherson Sr., a Jacobite rebel who was one “of about 300 Scottish rebels captured at the Battle of Preston, Lancashire, in 1716 and transported variously to South Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Jamaica, Leeward Islands, St. Christopher and Barbados,”(SMITH, CLIFFORD NEAL. “Transported Jacobite Rebels, 1716.” In National Genealogical Society Quarterly, vol. 64:1 (Mar. 1976), pp. 27-34). The story of our farm really starts here, during a revolutionary time when people were fighting not just for land, but for truth and for freedom. It was the time of puritans, rebels, pioneers, and explorers. Tracing this history made me realize that while our land regularly gives up little messages from the past – an old shoe, some ancient horse tack, broken bottles, hand hewn beams – quite often, history comes full circle.
Alexander McPherson came to the valley from Botetourt and built the log cabin that stood on the property until 2009. “The house was a small two-story log structure, which had been weather boarded over and had additions to it over the years. Although the WPA Inventory lists Jacob McPherson as the original owner, it’s believed that the house originally belonged to his father, Alexander McPherson and his wife, Mary,” (from an article in the New Castle Record). A forester who came to talk with us said it was obvious that the land had once been all pasture. Most likely, the McPherson family farmed cattle and records show that Alexander owned at least one slave. It is believed that Alexander died in 1824 and was buried somewhere on the property.
His son, Jacob McPherson, was born in the cabin in 1781 and went on to establish it as the first place of worship in the Sinking Creek Valley. A school was also added just above the property which still stands today as a neighboring vacation cottage. Jacob later founded and became the first elder of Gravel Hill Church which stands just 1 1/2 miles from our property. You can read more about that history here.
Before we bought the property in 2014, the cabin had been torn down and the logs had been disassembled and restored by Antique Cabins and Barns out of Lewisburg, WV. The logs were then sold and rebuilt into a new structure in Tennessee. (These restoration specialists are the same men who star in the reality TV show, Barnwood Builders on the DIY network. We talked to the CEO, Mark Bowe, about building another antique log cabin structure on the place where the old cabin stood. He wanted to film it for his show, but new septic regulations and building codes wouldn’t allow a family dwelling on the site.)
The property changed many hands, of course, over the years with the last owner being the late Dr. Mansell Hopkins, an electrical engineering professor at Virginia Tech. A funny thing happened while we were having the property surveyed. Our surveyor needed help to complete the job so he called his friend in Blacksburg, a fellow surveyor, to come out and help him. When the friend arrived on the property, he realized it was the place where he used to live – in the cabin owned by his college professor, Dr. Hopkins. He had cared for the property while a student at Virginia Tech in exchange for a place to live since Dr. Hopkins only used it occasionally for a little vacation spot. It was great to hear his stories of roughing it in the old cabin, of having an outhouse, and of having his girlfriend (now wife) over for dinner during which he had to shoot a rat that had come up through the floor boards.
We bought the property in April, 2014 after finding it on a random afternoon drive in December the year before. Dr. Hopkins had put it up for sale before he passed away that September. We were looking for 15-20 out-of-the-way acres with water, half-pasture, and half-wooded. That’s exactly what we found. The land runs between two slopes, one facing north and one facing south split by a little gravel road. The mountain spring that runs along the bottom of the property is nicknamed the “million dollar spring” by the locals who for generations have never known it to run dry. The walnut, maple, poplar, oak, and locust trees all added a great deal of value being mostly old hardwoods. And the apple trees, though seemingly ancient, still produce some usable apples. My first batch of applesauce from them felt like a real historical accomplishment. It was truly the fruit of the hands of some long-ago industrious homesteader right out of the history books.
Our plan is to restore the property to a grass-based sustainable farm. In time, that restoration will include a house; a barn; an apiary; an orchard; sheep, pigs, chickens, and cows in rotational grazing; vegetable and herb gardens; composting; sustainable forestry; spring development and protection; and soil management. That’s a lot for our little family to accomplish. But like so many before us, our daily prayers for strength and wisdom and provision continue to be answered in some of the most unexpected ways. I believe God has great things in store for this little valley, and as we rely on Him in everything we do, we are trusting that He alone will accomplish it.