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A History of Fayerdale, Virginia


Jack Williamson

In 1827, George Hairston Senior died . His 20,000 acre tract in Patrick and Henry Counties, known as "The Iron Works", passed to his eldest son John (Henry County Will Book #3, page 159) who resided on the property and operated his father's various business interests in the area . This very large estate extended east along the Goblintown Creek watershed from about current State Route 704 in Patrick County to the Smith River, and south to Blackberry Creek. It included much of the northeastern corner of Patrick County and the northwestern corner of Henry County, as well as most of what is now the furniture town of Bassett. After their fatherís death, John and his brother George II united in partnership with Peter Hairston, their first cousin and husband of their sister Ruth, to continue and expand the small scale iron industry begun by their father from a rich vein of magnetite in and about Stuartís Knob, a craggy hill rising five hundred feet over Goblintown Creek on John's property. On 10 November 1836, the partnership was formally recorded under the name "Union Iron Works Company" (Henry County Deed Book #9, page 395). In this record, the three Hairstons agreed, " become copartners together in the art or trade of manufacturing of iron in its various branches and all things thereto belonging and also in buying and selling all sorts of wares and commodities belonging to the said trade, which said copartnership shall continue so long as majority of the partners may deem it profitable and upon the death of either one of the partners the copartnership is not to be dissolved but to be continued by the survivors ... each put in as stock four Negro men and two Negro women slaves a piece namely ...".

Those slaves and others dug the rich ore from shallow pits and caverns with pick and shovel, broke it by hand sledge, and carried it by ox or mule cart a quarter mile or so to the flat top of a low hill above the furnace beside Haleís Creek. They also cut great quantities of hardwood logs and stacked them in large, rounded, pyramidal piles which they set to burning and then covered with dirt to smolder several days into almost pure charcoal. With the furnace at temperature after several days of slow heating to prevent the granite structure stones from shattering, it was continuously kept "in blast" for weeks and months at a time by periodic charging with batches of mixed charcoal, iron ore, and lime stone fed into the top by hand cart as the liquid iron drained from the crucible. A large bellows driven by a water wheel at the end of a flume from above the Furnace Pond dam forced air into the burning charge to increase the combustion temperature within the crucible. The smelted liquid was run from the tap hole into molds formed in a bed of sand. The primary molds were a set of large bulbs off a common header which when filled, looked like a litter of suckling pigs, hence the name "pig iron" for the primary product of a blast furnace. On Haleís Creek, other molds were probably carved into the sand to produce crude cookware, stove tops, fire backs, plow shares, and similar wares. The cast pigs were worked by local iron smiths, including Lewis Turner whose smithy was just two miles to the west on Little Goblintown Creek, to forge gun barrels, horse shoes, wagon wheel rims, and farming tools of all sorts.

Peter died in late 1840. Shortly thereafter, John transferred his interest in the partnership to his brother George, making George the sole owner of the Union Iron Works Company. About 1850, George obtained a fifty acre parcel known as the "Forge Tract" from Jacob Prillaman on the north side of the Smith River in Franklin County opposite the Iron Works tract in Patrick County. That facility had a small dam in the river and used water powered sledges to forge pig iron from several neighboring mines and furnaces. George enlarged the dam to increase the available water power, bought or had made the tooling required of a modern forge and smithy, and constructed the various buildings and ancillary facilities essential to the processing of pig iron. Concurrently, George's newly formed Smith's River Navigation Company was attempting to establish transport of iron and other products down river via batteau from the Forge Tract area to Martinville. Unfortunately, that effort failed because of the great difficulty in moving the barges back upstream, according to W.E. Trout III of the Virginia Canals and Navigations Society. None the less, after completion of facilities there about 1851 all raw pig iron from Union Iron Works was hauled to the Forge Tract by mule or ox cart over tortuous dirt and log roads, which fortunately were mostly down hill, for processing and marketing.

Early in the 1850's, George's son, Samuel William Hairston, took over management of the Union Iron Works Company where he had built a substantial manor house. Samuel expanded and consolidated the various parcels in Patrick County associated with the Union Iron Works into a single holding of 4,840 acres which he had surveyed by Madison T. Lawson on 6 October 1857. On 15 January 1862, George transferred the Forge Tract to Samuel "for affection and one dollar" (Franklin County Deed Book #27, page 106); and similarly on 8 June 1862 the 4,840 acre Iron Works Tract (Patrick County Deed Book #17, page 297). On 17 January of the following year, 1863, Samuel sold the Iron Works and Forge Tracts for $150,000 each to John P. Barksdale, Jonathan B. Stovall and Elisha Barksdale. Other than some local legends of Stuartís Knob iron being used by the Confederacy for various military uses such as girding the CSS VIRGINIA (ex USS MERRIMAC), no records could be found indicating what activities occupied the settlement around the Union Iron Works from then until 16 June 1903 when the Barksdale heirs sold the same 4,840 acres, then known as the "Iron Works at Union Furnace", to Frank Ayer Hill, Herbert Dale Lafferty, and their wives, Alice and Mary respectively, for $40,000, with $13,333.33 in specie and the remainder to be paid in three annual installments of $8,888.89 with unspecified interest (Patrick County Deed Book #32, page 403).

Mr. Hill purchased several small parcels in the Goblintown area and leased 7,500 acres of John A. Hairstonís former lands from Ann M. Hairston and others for the lumber thereon. In 1905, the Virginia Ore and Lumber Company was incorporated in the Commonwealth of Virginia with principals Frank A. Hill, Herbert D. Lafferty, Junius B. Fishburn, Edward I. Stone, and Thomas W.Goodwin. On 25 August of that year, the Hills and Laffertys sold their 4,840 acres, then called "Union Furnace Iron Works", to the Virginia Ore and Lumber Company in exchange for payoff, with interest, of the final $8,888.89 installment on the note held by the Barksdale heirs of the Hills and Laffertys (Patrick County Deed Book #34, page 193). Mr. Hill also transferred his other interests in the area, including the 7,500 acre leasehold, to the VO&L. The area was given a new name, "Fayerdale", concocted by Alice Hill from her husbandís first initial, his middle name, and Herbert Laffertys middle name.

Beginning soon after the Hill and Lafferty purchase, Fayerdale blossomed into a booming mining and logging town. The mining operations in Stuart's Knob were mechanized with pneumatic drills, electric lighting, iron cart railways, and a tramway, all powered by steam driven generators and winches in a new power house. The confluence of Hale's and Goblintown Creeks was scooped out to form a log storage pond serving a modern bandsaw mill. Twelve miles of standard gauge rail was laid along a snaking right of way along Goblintown Creek and Smith River ravines to the Norfolk and Western main line at Philpott, and stretches of three foot narrow gauge track were run from the log pond dump ramp to cutting sites in the surrounding forest. Other construction included a company office building , freight station, blacksmith and carpenter shops, an ore tipple, a warehouse to handle whiskies and brandies for the DeHart Distillery in nearby Woolwine, and numerous dwelling houses, stables and other ancillary buildings. This drawing illustrates how Fayerdale was probably configured about 1910, the heyday of its brief existence. The light weight logging track followed the cutting sites as they migrated through the rapidly wasting forest.

All of this activity was financed by a mortgage of all VO&L property, including the leasehold and rights of way, to the Southwest Virginia Trust Company of Roanoke for $300,000. On 1 January 1906, the VO&L procured, on a lease-purchase agreement, one narrow gauge (three feet) 35 ton Class B steam engine, shop #624, from the Climax Manufacturing Company of Corry, Pennsylvania, for $6,600, with delivery to be at Philpott by N&W railway (Henry County Trust Deed Book #2, page 317). About the same time, the VO&L purchased outright a used standard gauge Baldwin Consolidation 2-8-0 from the N&W. These engines were of the types shown in the following photographs.

All VO&L rolling stock was constructed at the company shops in Fayerdale using wheel sets and other parts from foundries along the New River. The standard gauge roster probably included a combination passenger/freight car ("combine"), box car, flat car and several shallow gondolas. Narrow gauge cars consisted of skeleton log lorries, and perhaps one or two flat bed tool transports. The following photographs show the actual VO&L trains and their crews. Note that the logging rail ties are laid directly on the ground with no ballasting.

Engineering drawings of the mine complex could not be found, but surmising from published recollections and pieces of surviving hardware, a single large boiler in the power house provided steam to power an air compressor, electric generator, and double drum winch. Compressed air was piped to a riveted iron tank near the main mine adit to drive drills for boring dynamite blasting holes to break out iron ore. Generator output provided electric lighting in the mine tunnels and office building, power for a magnetic separator belt in the ore tipple, and charging of batteries for the telephone system which connected the office, freight station, and train depots in Fayerdale and Philpott. Cables from the winch ran an aerial tramway which delivered buckets of raw ore to the tipple and its separator machine at the foot of the knob. Clean ore from the tipple chutes filled gondolas which carried the ore via VO&L and N&W railroads to smelting furnaces around Pulaski, Virginia.

In those days, a typical train out of Fayerdale would include: a combine carrying several passengers, a bag or two of US Mail, a few kegs of "stamped" legal whisky and brandy, a half dozen barrels of dried apples or peaches, a few bushels of chestnuts, a small barrel of black walnut meats, and a barrel or two of ground tanning bark stripped from chestnut oak trees; a gondola of iron ore; and a flat car of rough cut railroad ties and other lumber. The return trip might carry, besides a few passengers, boxes and crates of merchandise for the general store, US Mail, kegs of liquor for the warehouse from stills along the Smith, and forge iron in various forms for the VO&L shops. The Climax dinky engine busied itself toting lorries of workers to cutting sites in the hills about town each morning, and saw logs, strips of tanbark, and tired workers back to its home base, the log pond at the bandsaw mill, each evening.

The iron operation produced well, and the town continued to grow until about 1910. Then, German pig iron of equal quality to that produced from Stuartís Knob ore began arriving at the Norfolk and Western shops in Roanoke at a price equivalent to the VO&Lís cost to mine the raw ore alone, before it was shipped to furnaces in Pulaski for smelting into pig. Mining operations in Fayerdale drifted to a stop, and full attention was devoted to lumbering. In 1913, the VO&L leased several thousand feet of used rail and some switch parts from the N&W to construct a turning wye straddling the general store and depot on the main line. That facilitated turning around an entire short train at once rather than just the engine and its tender on the turn table. Thereafter, the end of the line turn table and run around track were removed. In January of 1916, anticipating future profitable trade in southbound lumber and northbound granite to and from Mount Airy, North Carolina, the company surveyed and took options on right of way parcels for an extension of their railroad from Fayerdale southward along the west side of Bull Mountain to Stuart, the seat of Patrick County, and on toward Mount Airy (THE ENTERPRISE, Stuart, Virginia, 3 February 1916). However, the Southern Railroad, which later merged with the N&W, strenuously objected to competition with its Danville and Western subsidiary, the "Dick and Willie", at Stuart, and with itself at Mount Airy, so the idea was dropped and the options were never exercised. With war clouds gathering in Europe, rumors of iron ore production resuming circulated in Fayerdale (THE ENTERPRISE, 19 October 1916), but those rumors never materialized. About that time, a raging fire destroyed the bandsaw mill and the cut lumber stacked in the adjacent drying field. Evidently, that fire was not disastrous because the lumbering business continued to thrive in Fayerdale. During 1921, the Smith River Lumber Company, tenant at Fayerdale, advertised for, "... Saw Mill men for sawing and piling several million feet of hardwood lumber..." (THE ENTERPRISE, 17 February 1921). That level of effort hints strongly that the bandsaw mill and logging railway as well as the railroad to Philpott were still quite functional into at least the early twenties. There was still lumber and farm produce to haul for profit even though the iron ore trade had ceased and Prohibition had dried up the liquor traffic. But things were not well in Fayerdale. Sporadic reports from that neighborhood published in THE ENTERPRISE in the early twenties told of more families moving out, more feuding and shootings among the moonshining neighbors, and a general malaise in the populace. Fayerdale was dying while a few of its residents were amassing fortunes in the illicit liquor business.

On 25 August 1925, T.W. Fugate purchased, for $50,000, all of Fayerdale's railroad and mining equipment, including engines, rails, ties, bridges, and switches, and all mining machinery, mine rail and tools, as well as the right of way titles between Fayerdale and Philpott. The transaction was subject to the track and switch lease with the N&W which had been periodically extended through 1 April 1926. Thereafter, virtually all of Fayerdaleís railroad and mining equipment vanished, and the land was as before the Hills and Laffertys arrived in Goblintown hollow except for the ravished forests, abandoned rail beds, many abandoned buildings, and a few scattered relics of iron.

About the time of the Fugate transaction, Junius B. Fishburn bought out his partners in the entire former Virginia Ore and Lumber Company holdings. In 1933, Mr. Fishburn donated the then 4,868 acres known as Fayerdale to the Commonwealth of Virginia for use as a state park which he named "Fairy Stone" after the staurolite crystals shaped like tiny Saint Andrews, Roman and Maltese crosses abundant in the hills about Goblintown Creek. Shortly thereafter, two companies of the Civilian Conservation Corps set up camp at the foot of Stuartís Knob in the vicinity of the old ore tipple and began grading access roads along the old lumber trails. In the course of their work transforming the area, they seriously disrupted what had become Fayerdaleís principle industry, moonshining. But the CCC also provided many customers for that not so clandestine business in their squads of young workers. By 1936, those workers had completely razed Fayerdale and dammed Goblintown Creek. Before flooding the hollow, they relocated their camp to higher ground a half mile or so to the north and east, and levelled the original site to lay in a new section of the main road to Dodson and Union Bridge, Virginia State Route 623, above the flood line. By their departure in the Spring of 1941, the CCC crews had adjusted the hilly terrain to provide paved roads, a sandy beach, picnic areas, camp sites, bridle paths and walking trails. They built a bath house, restaurant, and cabins for visitors as well as a water and sanitation system. See the internet site maintained by The Virginia State Parks Service.

Fayerdale vanished into the mountain mists. Unlike Brigadoon, it will never return. In its place, however, is a delightfully pure and rustic mountain retreat where one may hike the paths of miners and moonshiners, peer into an abandoned iron mine, and swim, boat and fish in a beautiful woodland lake where once there was a town and two railroads. The following photo was taken from the CCC dam embankment looking west to Stuartís Knob, one mile away. In the lower right is the shelf of the spillway over the rock outcropping at the eastern entrance to what was Fayerdale hollow. At the other end of the spillway is a small, scenic waterfall to a short tailwater running into the original bed of Goblintown Creek which is now part of Philpott Lake constructed and maintained by the United States Army Corps of Engineers. During dry spells, when the level of the lake drops, the old rail bed from Philpott is still clearly seen from the top of the dam and spillway as it curves from the north alongside Goblintown Creek in a sweeping turn to the west and abruptly ends in the base of the dam embankment which has entombed within it, among untold artifacts of Fayerdale, the granite stones and clay bricks of Union Furnace.

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