GUEST COLUMN: Letter from Dogwood

Remember folding paper maps? I suppose in the age of GPS, most of us don’t think of them, and if we do, it’s to recall just what a pain they could be. Unless you pulled off the road, they were impossible for the driver to use. If your shotgun partner was your navigator, he’d take up most of the front seat unfolding a map. Then he’d have to partially refold it to highlight just that part of the country you really needed to see. And of course, he’d have to shake it out to full size to begin refolding it. It wouldn’t take many openings and closings before it would begin to tear along the creases, and that would create new problems.

But I’m the guy who still likes old-fashioned maps. Remember how you could trace along country roads looking for the little church symbols? People could always orient themselves by churches …there seems to be a small one every few miles.

I love finding unusual road names. Who recalls how Chalk Level Road got its name? (I’ve heard one story …) Is “Dirt Road” really a dirt road? (It was the last time I was on it.) Who was Haden Martin and why is there a road named after him? And how about Beer Can Alley? What’s the ancient history that warrants naming a road “Bear Tree”? Did “Bannister Town Road” actually lead to a “Bannister Town”? What happened to that odd church on Octagon Church Road?

Often they reveal some ancient bit of local business activity. There’s a Goldmine Road in Fluvanna and another in Louisa. Fluvanna still has a Kidd’s Dairy Road, though the dairy is long since gone.

And what is it about “mills”? There are Something-Mill Roads scattered across every county in Virginia. That tells you something about the era when people grew their own corn and grain and – as my dad did as a child – tossed a couple of sacks onto the back of a mule and rode to a local mill to get it ground. It was there he learned to tie a “miller’s knot” to secure the top of the bag of meal or flour – a trick he taught me when we still threshed wheat the old-fashioned way.

Such mills were more common than we moderns imagine, though most have disappeared. Fluvanna history records seven mills in a seven-mile stretch of Ballinger’s Creek – all gone. Some of my ancestors ran Kidd’s Mill on the bank of the Hardware River. That mill is long gone, too, but I have some irises from a bed at the home place nearby. 

I confess I use GPS for most navigation these days, but it’s not the same as sitting at home with an old map, looking at nearly lost bits of history that linger on, trying to see things as they used to be.

David Black lives in Louisa County.

Recommended for you