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RHS Website: RHS Quarterly Program, June 18, 2017

Collierstown: Rockbridge’s Gateway to the West

On Sunday, June 18, the Rockbridge Historical Society will present a talk and slideshow by Dr. Horace Douty, highlighting the people and past of Collierstown. The free program at the Effinger Firehouse will begin at 2:30 PM, followed by refreshments and an opportunity to browse local displays and artifacts, along with RHS books and maps. Residents and those with family ties to the area of western Rockbridge are particularly welcome, and encouraged to share the personal stories, papers and photographs, and artifacts that have given voice to the community over time.

Collierstown sits tight against North Mountain, and has long offered a route for people traveling west or east through the steep hills. Near the turn of the 19th century, early Rockbridge developer John Jordan built a wagon road through the area to move iron from his Lucy Selina Furnace on the west side of the ridge toward markets in the east.  That primitive track grew into a more heavily trafficked artery, and commerce moved in to supply travelers with lodging, clothing, and tools.  Five general stores opened, five water-powered mills turned out flour and lumber. Boots and rifles, hats and wagons, leather and liquor: all were manufactured and sold in Collierstown. [READ MORE]

As churches and schools sprang up along Collier’s Creek, the village became nearly self-sufficient, mining and harvesting the materials it needed, while attracting physicians, teachers, and farmers drawn to the fertile soil. A courthouse and Temperance Hall, singing schools and the Commoran finishing school boarding ladies from afar: all brought cultural life and refinement to Collierstown as it grew and flourished in the 19th and early 20th centuries. While the town sat squarely in the path of the “Lexington and Covington Turnpike” (part of the longer route between Richmond and Charleston, WV), the coming of the Midland Trail (Route 60) greatly impacted Collierstown.  As the Turnpike slowed, commercial activity began to dwindle and disappear.

But along with long generational ties that continue today, other dramatic stories of notable residents catch attention. In 1809, native Jane Todd Crawford would become the first woman to survive an ovariotomy – without anesthetic, no less – when Rockbridge physician Dr. Ephraim McDowell removed a 20 pound tumor from her abdomen.  In another milestone, Dora Armstrong studied medicine at The Johns Hopkins University before serving as a nurse missionary in Congo, saving thousands of children’s lives with a peanut-based nutritional cake she invented.  William Armstrong, author of the best-selling novel “Sounder,” was also born and raised in the heart of Collierstown.

Though not native to Collierstown himself, presenter Horace Douty proudly notes that his first pastorate was at the Collierstown Presbyterian Church, living there for five years. Born and educated in Rockbridge, he graduated from W&L, followed by post-graduate studies at Wake Forest University Medical School.  After earning his doctorate from Union Theological Seminary, he served a long pastoral career across Virginia and North Carolina.

Dr. Douty retired to Rockbridge County, and currently serves as pastor of the Oxford Presbyterian Church. At the age of 70, he turned historian, publishing “History Lessons from a Country Church,” (a second volume, “Rockbridge Heroes,” is soon to come). Reflecting on his own stakes in the area, Douty remarks that when he first lived in Collierstown, “I loved the scenery so much that I bought land here over the years.  Collierstown provided rich, uncommon experience to smooth the rough edges of a greenhorn preacher.  I made lifetime friendships.  I know about haunted houses, unsolved murders and unrequited love because I lived in Collierstown, an enchanting section of Planet Earth.”

For more information, see facebook.com/rockbridgehistoricalsociety or 464-1058.

The Rockbridge Historical Society extends its thanks to the many volunteers, members, and donors who help continue its 75+ year mission to “preserve and promote the history of the Rockbridge area.” The funds and the educational efforts of so many help RHS continue to celebrate where we live!

 

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Annual Fund Drive

The Rockbridge Historical Society, one of the oldest and largest county societies in Virginia, has launched its Annual Fund drive. To review the appeal, click here.