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April 11, 2016 / Joanne Yeck

Buckingham County: 1874, Part I

James River_Fluvanna_ii

Courtesy Harper’s Magazine

The period of Reconstruction was an extremely difficult time across the southern United States, Buckingham County included. Much in society changed, while the land stayed put and the James River flowed on. In 1874, this reflective article appeared in The Farmville Mercury and was reprinted in at least one Richmond newspaper, The Whig. Signed anonymously by AN OBSERVER, it is a pity that we will never know who wrote this evocative and persuasive prose.

ALBEMARLE AND BUCKINGHAM COUNTIES.

Having just returned from a visit to Albemarle, I thought your readers might like to hear of the state of agriculture in that county, and at the same time I thought I would contrast the two counties, Albemarle and Buckingham, their present and past condition. I crossed the James at New Canton, then up the tow-path to Scottsville. The scenery along the route is extremely picturesque, that canal winding around the base of immense bluffs of solid granite on one side with waters as smooth and quiet as if oil had been poured upon their bosom, while upon the other rushes the headlong James, in its impetuous course to its ocean home. Up and down the river flying slowly but noisily were large flocks of ducks and geese. These last mentioned birds when in flight so nearly imitate a pack of hounds in full cry that it is difficult to divest yourself of the idea that you’re not in close proximity to a fox chase.

About 3 or 4 miles up the tow-path and you reach “Bremo,” the former residence of General Cocke, who many years ago created quite a stir in Virginia by his strenuous efforts in behalf of the cause of temperance.

His temperance fountain, which is an immense iron pitcher, still stands and pours a clear stream of pure water into the canal. It was a

SAD REMINDER OF DEPARTED WORTH,

and standing at the clear James which afforded a very refreshing draught to wash down a good dose of old Bourbon which my companion and I had just taken to keep off the rheumatics, we felt deeply gratified. The estate formerly owned by the General, and now in possession of his son, is one of the most magnificent tracts of land upon the James; the low grounds, five hundred acres, a mile in width and soil of endless depth are worth forty miles rides to be gazed upon. From “Bremo” up the canal bank is dotted with barns loaded with hay, oat stacks greet the eye on all sides, and wheat straw is to be seen without limit; the fields of wheat along the route were green and much more forward than ours; corn and tobacco lands already plowed, and everything indicated plainly that the people of Albemarle had found the “open sesame.”

A mile from Scottsville and you reach the residence of Col. Henry Gantt, who is justly held to be the most energetic, successful and enterprising farmer in the county. His residence crowns one of the largest river bluffs and from his porch you can always hear the booming of the river constantly reminding us of those beautiful lines,

“Men may come, and men may go,

But I go on forever.”

The Colonel’s farm contains only six hundred acres of land. His hay crop alone last year netted him seven thousand dollars; his crop on hand will bring him ten thousand. This, when we consider the small surface in cultivation and the number of hands required to manage the crop (he only works four by the year), convinces us that for the capital invested it pays well. His barns just upon the brink of the canal, his bales of hay go directly from barn to boat. When we glance back forty or fifty years and take a peek into the condition of Albemarle, how did she appear? As Buckingham is to-day, no railroads, no canals, lands grown up in briars and broom sedge; to her internal improvements alone her success is due, and until the people of Buckingham put their shoulders to the wheel, and push manfully, never tire and or stopping, until they have built their narrow-gauge railroad, or at least revived the old Willis’s navigation to Curdsville, they must not, cannot expect to succeed. Men who never think are always saying: “A railroad for this county to Charlottesville won’t pay, we don’t make enough to support one.” When I hear a man talk such nonsense is this, I set him down as an old fogie.

Coming Next: Buckingham County: 1874, Part II

2 Comments

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  1. Larry Lamb / Apr 11 2016 9:04 am

    Joanne,Great story thanks for sharing it here.I had the pleasure of touring Bremo with Ed Lays class a fews years back and Loved the place.It quite like it was when John Hartwell Cocke lived there.

    • Joanne Yeck / Apr 11 2016 9:33 am

      Larry, Thanks. Watch for part two on Thursday. Bremo is indeed a wonderful spot and Ed Lay is the perfect tour guide! Joanne

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