The Battle of Kabletown and Other Lurid West Virginia Stories

 

On a cold, bright, day-after-Christmas, I fired up the trusty Z4 roadster and headed, once again, for that awe-inspiring state of West Virginia. My hopes were high that I would find all the places I’d planned, and a whole lot more. And in the process, I got to exercise the BMW on a great collection of interesting roads.

I’d put the trip together by painstakingly checking the little W’s on the Wikipedia layer of Google Maps and connecting the most interesting ones. That process can take hours, as opposed to just using a RoadRunner Magazine, Mad Maps, or other canned route, but it usually proves to be worth the effort. My first destination was Kabletown Road, south of Charles Town, WV. My car-racing buddy Larry Priore lives out this way, so I was on familiar turf. This little waterfall sits back a ways, and the dam used to supply a regulated flow of water to a mill.

When I arrived in Kabletown, I realized that I’d been there once before on my R1200GS. This once-proud mansion, which had suffered a devastating fire not long before my prior trip, was now all boarded up. The last time I was here, I was run out of town by an overzealous Girl Scout. (Honest! Check out Testing the Piedmont Loop.)

But the large statue was still out front. As best I can tell, it portrays Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, dressed as an American Indian and fending off a lion attacking his horse. If you have a better idea, be sure to let me know! Sadly, vandals had been at work, and Lenin’s spear has disappeared. (Where were the Girl Scouts??)

Once I recognized the mansion, I remembered that there were some other ruins just up the road. Sure enough, I found the walls of the Old Stone Church right where I expected. In the late 1700s or early 1800s, a log church stood on this spot. It was replaced in about 1850 by the stone church. It served as a hospital during the Civil War but was replaced by a larger brick church in “downtown” Kabletown in 1920. It’s been abandoned ever since.

During the Civil War, the Union Army frequently sent scouts into Virginia and West Virginia to raid towns and keep track of the Confederate Army’s location and movements. At the same time, a much-feared band of partisans known as Mosby’s Rangers regularly patroled the same areas and became widely known and feared for their ability to strike rapidly and effectively—and then disappear. Led by Colonel John Singleton Mosby, the “Gray Ghost” of the Confederacy, it was officially the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry. By late 1864, Mosby was determined to put an end to the Union scouting raids on Virginia towns. On November 18, his cavalry met up with Captain Richard Blazer and his Blazer’s Scouts. The battle did not last long. The Scouts were badly outnumbered and more than half were killed or wounded in the horrific shootout. Captain Blazer was forced to surrender, and his Scouts were never to reform. In this photo of a small group of Mosby’s Rangers, John Mosby is sitting in the center. Interestingly, John Mosby was small as a child, and in poor health. He was regularly bullied but fought back every time and is said to have never lost a fight.

An intriguing first-hand account of the battle is available from the excellent Cenantua’s Blog at Robert Moore post. During the fighting, the Scouts’ Lieutenant Thomas K. Coles was shot at point-blank range by Ranger John Puryear—who, days earlier, had a noose around his neck and had been lifted off the ground several times by Lt. Coles in an effort to force Puryear to talk about Mosby’s plans. Perhaps that was origin of the expression “Payback’s a b—-“…

My next scheduled stop was the town of Rippon, WV, where I should have spent much more time exploring. As it was, I hustled on through with just enough time to wonder what this odd, semi-circular-roofed building was. A barn, I suppose?

As should be evident from the photos, it was a beautiful day, despite being not quite 40 degrees. It was perfect top-down weather, so long as the Z4 was going less than 60 mph or so! Many of the historical houses I saw on this trip were in excellent shape, such as this one just outside of Rippon:

Others were rather less so, such as this example on Burnt Factory Road.

Back in the 1500s, Catawba Native Americans discovered sulphur-loaded healing springs not far from present-day Winchester, VA. By 1843, the first hotel was built and White Sulphur Resort (now Jordan Springs) quickly became very popular. A second hotel was added in 1855, but the Civil War brought the resort’s operations to a halt, with the hotels used as hospitals for both the North and the South. The present brick building appeared in 1895, but the resort closed in the early 1900s and was more or less abandoned for several decades. After a brief revival in 1949-1950, it has served as a monastery, drug rehabilitation center, technology training center, and site for weddings and parties. Local lore tells of the ghost of a young girl, who can be seen and heard playing in the attic.

My route towards Capon Bridge, WV took me through downtown Winchester. The town’s train station is still standing proudly…

…and several diesel locomotives were idling nearby, awaiting their next run.

As usual, I seem to have ended up on the wrong side of the tracks.

Winchester’s Handley Library opened in 1913 and remains an imposing building.

In fact, the city was just brimming with interesting-looking buildings and homes everywhere I looked. Having driven through without stopping on many occasions, I think I’m overdue for a proper tour.

A mile or two from Capon Bridge, I ran across my old friend, the Abraham Kackley house from about 1800. Despite Nature’s best efforts, this well-built dwelling refuses to give in.

A little further west sits the Hook Tavern, which was built starting in 1790 and served travelers along the old Northwestern Turnpike (now Route 50) for many years. During renovations in the 1950s, a number of interesting inscriptions were discovered on some of the walls, beneath the wallpaper. My favorite is “Too much snuff. McCauley” with a date of May 1853. The building is currently for sale along with 3 acres of land, just in case anyone’s interested.

Upon arriving in Capon Bridge, I immediately went to visit my friends the Polimenis. Dottie greeted me warmly and expressed interest in joining me for one of my trips. (She’s quite a photographer.) You’re on, Dottie! Alex was working (on the day after Christmas, imagine!) but Ron and Nick were out in the garage, of course, working on a vintage Volvo P1800E sports coupe. Ron raced Volvo sedans back in the day, including events such as the Sebring 12-hour where he kept a close eye on the rear-view mirror for Mario Andretti and others approaching in their Ferraris, Alfa Romeos, and Porsches. (He now races his PV-544 in vintage events.) Nick is an SCCA racer and is working with a vintage race team, helping keep their clients’ cars in proper order. This family lives and breathes racing, and it was great to catch up with them.

Next up was a short detour to see if I could find the Capon Baptist Chapel. (Got to keep Kim and Cathy happy, don’tcha know!) It was a pretty little church, with a large cemetery. It even had Christmas decorations that complemented the Z4, which had to wait patiently outside the fence. The Chapel was built of logs—in 1750, according to one account—and, underneath the white wooden siding, the original logs are still there. If that date is correct, I believe this would be one of the oldest church buildings in the country.

Somewhere near the chapel lies the grave of one James Caudy. I’ve been fascinated by the story of Caudy’s Castle, ever since I first climbed to the top of this stunning rock formation on the Cacapon River at age 12, on a canoe trip with my father. James Caudy was born in the Netherlands in 1707 and showed up in this part of America in perhaps the late 1730s. Other than Fort Edwards, the entire area of Hampshire County was largely deserted in the 1750s, with most of the settlers having fled for their lives during the French and Indian Wars. James Caudy remained, however, and as the legend goes he was set upon by Indians and had to run up Castle Rock to escape. At the very summit, approachable only by a narrow ledge along the cliff, Caudy pushed each of the warriors off of the path with his rifle. When the fight was over, 15 Indians lay dead by the Cacapon River, 500 feet below, and James Caudy lived on to the ripe old age of 77. An excellent two-part video of the legend was put together by Greg Larry and is available on YouTube at Caudy’s Castle Part One. (Photos courtesy of HistoricHampshire.org in Hampshire County, WV.)

I knew that Caudy’s grave was on private property, and I had narrowed down its location to a few acres. I was hoping to catch sight of it, even if at a distance. Well, somewhere in this field is the gravesite. It was the best I could do with Serious Trespassing (which, on rare occasions, I’m not above—but this was out in plain sight!) I’ll find it the next time, for sure…

On my way back to Capon Bridge, I was a bit startled by this farm building. Initially, I wasn’t sure if it was tilting that much or whether I was off-plumb. (I’ll leave it to you all to decide… 🙂 )

The Capon Bridge Museum wasn’t open, but it looked like a fun place.

Frye’s Inn sits right across Route 50 and met the needs of stagecoach travelers starting in about 1800. Did I mention that it was built by Margaret Caudy and her husband? James had both a daughter and a granddaughter named Margaret… The inn is now a private residence.

Heading north out of Capon Bridge, my path followed the Cacapon River and Bear Garden Mountain. The day just became more and more glorious, and the temperature even rose above 40 degrees for a while.

While planning this trip, one of the spots that caught my attention was the village of North River Mills. The Great Wagon Road from Winchester to Romney ran right through North River Mills, and, at one time, at least three mills operated here. (Little is left but their foundations.) I spotted the 1893 Methodist Church as I entered town. It is still used for services twice a month. (Historical photo of Sunday School class courtesy of the North River Mills Society for Antiquarian Arts and the Diffusion of Knowledge.)

Before I knew it, local resident Steve Bailes appeared and happily told me all about the village and its history. He graciously offered to open up the church for me, and there I discovered the impressive ceiling stenciling that has survived largely intact after all these years. Such stenciling was very common at the end of the 1800s, but it has faded away in almost every old church that I’ve seen.

Steve had an appointment, so he hopped on his motorcycle and was gone, leaving me to close up the church. What a nice guy! After one more inside-looking-out photo, I locked the door behind me and set off to see the rest of North River Mills.

Steve and his wife Terry Lynn live in the old inn, shown here in the distance. It is rumored to be haunted by the ghost of a traveler who died here (but Steve did not seem frightened or even nervous, so all seems to be well).

Frederick Kump was the village blacksmith and lived in this early 1800s log cabin. His son went off to fight for the Union in the Civil War; neither he nor news of his fate ever made it back to North River Mills.

I think this was the foundation of the smallest of the mills, but I’m not positive. In the distance is the general store and post office, which started life as a log cabin but was gradually expanded in all directions. The drawing of the Miller family’s mill was done by the late Janet Harlow, a local artist.

During my entire visit in North River Mills, not a single car went by. It was the perfect “peaceful village” if ever there was one. In the distance is the Croston house, which is currently being renovated.

The Hiett house is actually made up of two log homes, joined in the middle, and with the “fourth wall” of each cabin removed. Remarkably, it has remained structurally sound, even though—as is common with log cabins—the bottom logs have gradually rotted away, causing the house to settle lower to the ground. At some point, at least four new logs were added to the top of the structure to restore its height. In addition, some of the original windows were filled in with rocks from the North River, and new windows were cut through the logs. (Makes you really glad that modern homes have foundations!)

As the day was drawing on, I hustled through the town of Three Churches, WV, taking only enough time to get photos of, well, the three churches. LIke the Capon Bridge Chapel, underneath its later siding the 1837 Mount Bethel Presbyterian Church is made of logs. Next was the Mount Bethel Primitive Baptist Church. (I don’t know if Kim and Cathy qualify. And I’m afraid to ask!) Finally, we have the Branch Mountain Methodist Church.

Even in the dead of winter, the countryside was beautiful.

And, of course, there is also a sad beauty in the lost and forgotten structures of prior generations.

Those Evil Twins, Google and Garmin, once again conspired to lead me astray. What should have been a quick journey over to Route 28 and the South Branch of the Potomac River instead quickly turned into this treacherous quagmire! Next time I’ll think twice before taking something called “Buffalo Hollow Road.” (Incidentally, that’s my gloved hand in the upper lefthand corner, attempting to prevent a terminal case of lens flare.)

Blue Beach, WV is a “campsite town” along the South Branch of the Potomac. But it has a wonderfully scenic bridge. I was a little disappointed to learn that the “beach” is not actually blue—instead, the area is named after John Blue, a school teacher, politician, and store owner from nearby Romney.

Soon enough I reached the low-water bridge over the North Branch of the Potomac River, at Oldtown, Maryland. I scooted across, paid the $0.50 toll, and hurried off in search of the Town Creek Aqueduct on the C & O Canal.

I arrived at 4:17 PM, as the sun was well and truly starting to set. This lake is part of the canal and was used to hold a supply of water for feeding the canal and aqueduct.

It was tough to get a good vantage spot for the aqueduct; the historical photo is from the Library of Congress, taken before the upstream wall collapsed from flooding. (Note the water pouring from the aqueduct through the broken wall into Town Creek.)

Now, I could have gotten a good vantage spot by walking out onto this former railroad bridge. Maybe next time? 😮

A few miles further on, I crossed back over the now-combined North and South Branches of the Potomac River, into Paw Paw, WV. George Washington was a frequent traveler through town, as was General Braddock on his way to and from the French and Indian Wars. The railroad arrived in 1838 but passenger trains no longer stopped here after 1961. The depot station is no longer used and has seen better days—but at least it’s not a McDonalds…

In its heyday, Paw Paw was a thriving business center, with the C & O Canal, the railroad, and a major tannery that was the largest producer of belt leather in the world. The quality of the leather was such that, when a cargo ship carrying Paw Paw leather sank during World War I, and was salvaged 17 years later, the leather was in perfect condition. This was the mayor’s office (and, as far as I know, it still is).

The tannery closed at the end of 1951 when the workforce voted for a union. With the canal long-empty and a railroad that no longer depended on Potomac River water and coal, the town began a long period of decline.

With the daylight nearly gone, I stopped at the Camp Hill cemetery. During the Civil War, 16,000 Union troops were stationed here (thus the name) to guard the strategically critical town and railroad. During their extended stay, they destroyed the stone Methodist Church building that sat on top of the hill. (After the war, the Federal government paid for a new one to be constructed in town.) After a long day’s touring, of places once filled with strife, the peaceful cemetery seemed like a fitting conclusion.

And now, faithful readers, I am fully caught up on my trip reports. Since the last Z4 journey was on December 26, that also means that I’m woefully overdue to get out again. Stay tuned!

Rick F.

Rick

Written by Rick

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