The Muse: August 2003


Dear Members,
Spring and summer Museum events have gone well – thanks to our may volunteers! YOU have been absolutely wonderful to give so many hours, and YOU have enabled us to keep the museum open.

During Meghan’s leave, Holly Wilhelm has been a superbly capable interim director who has given much more than her compensated hours 9:00 – 1:00. We cannot thank her enough for all she has done.

Our Historic Homes Tour in April was most successful in spite of rain, and we thank the homeowners and all the people who helped. The Museum realized over $1200, and visitors really enjoyed the day. We are planning another house tour for 2004.

The Village Garden Club celebrated their 50th anniversary with a tea here on May 31. This wonderful group maintains the flowers and decorations all year, and we appreciate their beautifying the lawn. It adds so much!

The Yard Sale in June went well throughout a tremendous downpour and raised over $1200. All donors and hard-working volunteers are appreciated as YOU make it all possible.

The Van Tour in June to Coffeytown, Sandidges and other places was enjoyed by all who attended. We are learning more Amherst County history all the time!

We look forward to continued growth and accomplishments, and we welcome your suggestions for exhibits, programs and projects.

Please join us for the General Membership Meeting on September 13. It will be a treat!

by Kathryn Pixley


Mrs. Wallace has returned to the Museum after a maternity leave. Meghan and her husband, Tom, are the proud parents of Erin Wynne Wallace who arrived on Mother's Day, May 11th. Erin Wynne made her first visit to the Museum recently and may have been our youngest visitor. We are very happy to have Mrs. Wallace back!

by Susan Mays


Annual Meeting - Members Only

Another exciting annual membership meeting is planned for September 13th. It will begin with a visit to The Glebe, home of Lynn and Ned Kable. The Glebe was built in 1763 and housed one of the first ministers for St. Mark's Church. It is located near the corner of Routes 29 and 151. See the sign there. The group will then gather in the sanctuary of St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Clifford for a short and interesting program covering a brief review of past, present and future activities of the Museum.

After the meeting we will adjourn to the Parish house of the church for great food and wonderful fellowship. We guarantee it!!!

Prospective members may join by calling the museum for a membership form or by using the form included in this issue. They may also join on the day of the meeting.

Call the Museum office at 946-9068 for your luncheon ticket reservation ($8 per person). We can accommodate the first 80 members who respond.

by Lynn Kable


The Amherst Genealogical Society met at the Museum on Sunday July 6th at 2:30 P. M.

The focus was on the Hudson and allied families. Information was shared during the informal meeting and new family connections were discovered. The Society will meet again on Sunday September 7th at 2:30 P. M. and will focus on the Gillespie and allied families.

by Susan Mays


I am trying to find information on the following people. These names are inscribed on the stained glass windows in the Amherst Presbyterian Church. There are ten windows, and I am in contact with six of the families. The other four families are:

  • Emma D. Davies, Born March 29, 1859, Died July 10, 1921
  • Zelzah P. Davies , Born Feb. 15, 1858, Died March 16, 1919
  • George Armstrong Gibson, Born April 17, 1845, Died Feb. 12, 1921
  • Genetta Elizabeth Gibson, Born June 6, 1843, Died Sept. 9, 1918
  • Houston Hamilton Thomas, Born June 16, 1902, Died Nov. 1, 1914
  • James Robert Ware, Born May 22, 1859, Died Nov 17, 1919
I am trying to write up a short paper on each of the families. Please contact Edna Armstrong at (434) 946-7529 or write to P.O. Box 1253, Amherst, VA 24521. Thank you.


The Museum and board member, Holcomb Nixon, working in conjunction with Mike McCormack, resident engineer with the Virginia Department of Transportation, recently obtained a rare highway milepost.

This past May the cast concrete obelisk, approximately 2 ½ feet tall and 10 inches square, was moved from its original location on Route 130 to a new setting near the back of the Museum building. This artifact, dating from the early 1900s, has L5 set in it because it was five miles from Lynchburg. Only two milestones of this era survive in the entire state. The other milestone, known as L1, is also in Amherst County located at its original site on Main Street and Golf Road in Madison Heights.

A dedication for the L5 roadmarker is planned for the future so that members can see, firsthand, this rare milepost. Please notify the museum if anyone has information pertaining to the milestones or the locations where others once stood.

by Doug MacLeod


  • Elizabeth Watkins Barner, Owasso, Oklahoma
  • Roderick Bryant, Monroe, Virginia
  • James A. Hendrickson, Stuarts Draft, Virginia
  • Theodore Hudson, Silver Spring, Maryland
  • Louise Tobler, Amherst, Virginia



(Part Four)
compiled by Douglas MacLeod

Plat of Bethel Community
Plat of Bethel Community

In 1840 the lock and dam system of navigation known as the first division of the James River & Kanawha Canal reached Lynchburg from Richmond. Mules towed freight boats 92’ long by 14” wide supplanted bateaux and carried six times their cargo weight. Work on the canal extension above Lynchburg entailed rebuilding and enlarging the seven and a half mile Blue Ridge Canal and necessitated stopping all boat traffic using the old canal. Above Lynchburg, bateaux reverted to using the dangerous river passage through the Balcony Falls gorge as they had prior to 1824. Then came freshets in 1841 and 1842, prior to work stoppage because funds dried up. Bateaux continued transporting cargo down river to Lynchburg, as they had for sixty-five years, but now it proved more dangerous than ever.

Claudius Crozet, the French civil engineer who had been fired as Principal Engineer for the state of Virginia and had surveyed the old Blue Ridge Canal, reported to the canal company:
“The canal has for 15 years been used by the trade of the upper country; and not only the present boatmen are no longer skilled in the navigation of this dangerous section of the river, but the former sluice, at its most perilous pass, close to the Big Balcony Rock, has been blocked up by the encroachment of the canal, a circumstance which now renders this cascade so dangerous that it is said a great portion of the boats are stove there, and lives as well as property are exposed to even greater risks than in 1824, when the legislature thought them sufficient to authorize the appropriation of a large amount for canalling these seven miles.”
“Should the work be abandoned, the people over the Blue Ridge, rather than hazard life and property, would resort to wagoning…” (Col. William Couper’s Southern Sketches #8. Claudius Crozet, Soldier-Scholar-Educator-Engineer)

Many disgruntled Amherst and Rockbridge County merchants and farmers did wagon their goods to Lynchburg and as far away as Scottsville! When, at last, the canal company resumed work again in 1847 another flood stalled work further. The second division was finally completed to Buchanan in 1851. The year before, high water damaged the Judith Dam before it was finished. This dam, which created the river level at Bethel, is the base for the present day Reusen’s dam. The stone for this dam appears to have been cut from the quarry in Bethel as well as for the Joshua Fall Dam below Lynchburg. (Canal Annual Reports). When these canal company dams were constructed during the late 1840s, the face and livelihood of the James River became changed forever. Much of the canal labor and burgeoning railroad development in Virginia was performed by annually hired slave labor and Irish workers who had worked on canals in the North.

With the canal in operation above Lynchburg, hundreds of men worked as agents for the company whose names and faces became familiar to residents of Bethel, Pedlar Mills, Waugh’s Ferry and the Big Island area. Men of importance like James M. Harris, the Superintendent of the Second Division who lived in Holcomb Rock, and William G. Mathews, the master carpenter, whose shops, tools and houseboats were quartered just above Pedlar Dam. Washington Bill, brother to Edward Gill (the principal engineer of the canal in 1846) also came to work on the canal from Ohio. Washington married Elizabeth Davies, the daughter of Mayo Davies, and the couple lived for a time at Bethel.

On the Bedford Shore, Richard Woody, previously a miller, was employed as a lockkeeper in 1852 at lock #3 – known as the Bethel Lock. (Locks were numbered 1-26 from Lynchburg to Buchanan.) Lock #3 was the first lock on the Judith Dam pond, also referred to as Cat pond.” Further upriver, the next dam was Bald Eagle and the next near Holcomb, was Pedlar Dam. (Guard locks, at dams, were numbered separate from regular locks.) So it was that the larger amount of commercial activity had shifted away from the bateau era town of Bethel across the river to the towpath and the canal in Bedford County. But the Liberty-Bethel Turnpike and ferry continued to keep the two sides of the river connected.

Great activity was still in evidence at Bethel with quarry men cutting stone for canal company structures. The ferry still in operation under Barnet M. Page and locals along with slaves and Irishmen at work as stonemasons and laborers working and living all along the river. Thomas Jones was an inspector of tobacco in the Bethel area; Sylvester L. Burford and son were carriage makers; William Cox a cooper; D.C. Blanks and wife hotelkeepers; William Lankford a carpenter; Jesse Kelly a wheelwright; Robert Daniel a blacksmith and George H. Dameron, a constable. (1850 census)

As for landowners, Edward Tinsley, the son of David (1747-1828) had bought the Bethel Tract in 1837 from Eliza F. Echols. Eliza, the executrix of her husband Joseph with Tinsley reveals that “…within the boundaries of the 403 acre tract were the half acre lots laid off for the town.” However, the town and Bethel ferry were still subject to the unexpired lease with Henry P. and Isaac Rucker. It appears Edward Tinsley (1782-1959) did not renew this lease when it expired.

Looking back at the beginning time of this lease in 1828, Merritt White and his wife Judith Tinsley were a couple of some consequence that should be mentioned. Merritt and his brother William cooperated the Bethel general store then and were shippers of tobacco to Richmond since 1820. They began with two bateaux and at least two watermen, George Lackey and Edmund. Over time, Merritt and his wife amassed considerable personal property and seven of the twenty-four Bethel lots. Lot #18 was the site for the storehouse and lumber house. Four of the lots had houses on them with the Whites living in one of them. Eventually White’s property was indentured to secure his bonds.

The offering of free land in the Missouri territory found Merritt and Judith moving west about 1838. It may be said that the Rucker lease expiring that same year was another factor in their relocation. Land tax records list the seven Bethel lots in Merritt White’s name of Missouri until 1841. That year he appointed Edward Tinsley, his attorney for selling the lots and the share of estate left to his wife from Joshua Tinsley’s estate. Edward Tinsley no doubt was able to include some of this property among his holdings. Joshua appears to have been Edward’s uncle. (p. 404, Rucker Family)

Today only three marked gravestones survive to tell of William B. Davies (1806-1846) and his two children being buried in Vault Hill. A good many of the Davies gravestones appear to have been vandalized and stolen in years past as well as some of the stones from the cemetery wall. Within an Amherst chancery file (#38) a description of a 50 acre tract owned by Edward Tinsley, from which the cemetery is surveyed apart on one acre reads “… includes the vault and graveyard of Nicholas Davies, Sr., deceased and his descendants…” And so from this document, it is apparent that Nicholas Davies and much of his family were buried in Vault Hill after all. (This chancery file also confirms that Nicholas Clayton Davies is buried in Vault Hill, too.)

The old Davies grist mill established on Salt Creek in 1775 perhaps was refurbished and became known as Tinsley’s mill. Edward Tinsley had also obtained several other tracts of land in the area making him the local land baron and speculator for this time period. Although he owned only one half acre lot in Bethel in 1846, he acquired several others by the time he had made out his will.

A list of property in 1859 belonging to Edward Tinsley’s estate (Will Book 15, page 337) included his mansion house and 396 acres of land being the Bethel Tract; Chestnut Island (23 acres); Bethel town property lots #6, 7, 12 and 13; lumber house, shop and stable; ferry lot and boat – four acres including lots #19 and 24; spring lot and house (two acres); mill sight [sic] containing two acres including house above Salt Creek; single trees, counters, ox yoke, traces, one old boat and one flat boat.

In his will (Will Book 15, page 207) Tinsley bequeathed the Bethel property to his two daughters, Judith A. Hendricks (wife of Joseph C.) and Nancy M. Powell (wife of James). Judith had previously been married to William Steen, the Bedford County landowner opposite Bethel. Other children of Edward and Sarah Jane (Dawson – the daughter of Pleasant Dawson) Tinsley were Lucy J. Rucker (wife of John D.L. Rucker), Sarah Shelton, Frances J. Scott, Virginia P. Love and sons Robert, Chapman J. and Edward M. Tinsley. (Lucy J. Rucker’s gravestone is the only one found in another river bluff cemetery down river from Vault Hill.)

A post office was re-established on Salt Creek at the upper end of Bethel in 1856. Its first postmaster was John S. Kyle who was replaced that same year by Samuel R. Wortham. That particular year was one of the coldest in the recorded history of Virginia. Several snowstorms dumped over fifty-six inches of snow in a short time which made survival precarious for humanity and livestock. The canal froze solid and closed for two months and the same conditions of freezing occurred the following year. Despite this fact, the James River & Kanawha Canal finally began experiencing some of its best years in shipping volume during the decade of the 1850s.

Over on the south side of the river, William Steen sold 55 acres to Robert G. and James P. Scott in 1860 (Deed Book 41, page 207). This Bedford tract of land lay about eight and a half miles above Lynchburg and was where the Bethel Lock was located on the canal, and was the ferry landing site. (What concessions the canal company made to accommodate the ferry up to and across the towpath is not yet known.) By December, Robert and James, sons of William Waller and Eliza Pendleton Scott, had built and were operating a new grist mill.

Back over to the Amherst shore, the young thirty-year-old Robert G. Scott cast his eye. If his new business venture prospered, he envisioned one day owning the Salt Creek property and bringing it to life as it had never known. His father William W. Scott, in 1823, had owned property some miles lower on the Amherst County side of the river within view of John Lynch’s covered toll bridge, from the mouth of Harris Creek. This is where Robert with his brothers and sisters grew up. He had always known the river well and most everyone who lived along it. In his early manhood he worked on a canal boat and thereby knew the river better on a much larger scale.

Robert’s older brother, William Preston Scott had married Frances Tinsley, another of Edward’s daughters. And so the two families knew each other fairly well as did most families of that era in any community. Captain Bob’s name would become part of life on the river for the next forty years. No one’s name held forth that long, on the beautiful Bethel level between Judith and Bald Eagle Dam, since the days of Nicholas Davies.

Muse Archives

Updated 8/27/03