First Posted: 5/16/2009
I began my newspapering career working for a little weekly paper in Appomattox, Va. Many of you will recognize that as the place where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union commander Ulysses S. Grant, effectively ending the Civil War.
Modern-day Appomattox is several miles from where this event took place. Once the railroad came through town and bypassed the older Appomattox, the town gradually moved to where it stands now, and the site of the surrender become little more than a decaying village until the National Park Service took it over and restored some of the Civl War-era buildings.
The historical park, where one of the most significant events in United States history took place, has been kept low-key in its development. The courthouse, general store and a few other town buildings, along with some homes, have been rebuilt or restored, but it is a quiet little place, far off the main highway, not too unlike it must have been 150 years ago.
Way back when I worked there two decades ago more than a million visitors a year journeyed from all over the world to that little out-of -the-way place. Yet, if you went out into the county and asked around you would be hard pressed to find many of the countys 12,000 residents who had simply driven down the road a few minutes to check out the site.
I never understood that, and I wonder about today, here in Surry County, how many local folks really take advantage of the chances to view history right here in our own community.
Last year I visited the village of Rockford for its annual Memorial Day observance. My colleague here at the paper, Tom Joyce, told me beforehand when you visited Rockford you could almost feel ghosts from the past.
He was right. I went to the service early and strolled around for a while. When no cars were within earshot, the hot, quiet stillness and the 19th Century buildings made it seem as if I were standing there in 1880 instead of 2008.
Ive attended plenty of Memorial Day services, but this one made me feel as if we really were paying tribute not only to the men and women who have lost their lives in military service over the past century, but that the tribute really was for those from the Civil War, the War of 1812 and the Revolutionary War.
This year the service, slated for May 23, will feature a living history interpretation of scenes from the life of Mildred Childe Lee, the youngest daughter of Gen. Robert E. Lee. This would be an excellent chance to take in some local and national history right here in Surry County.
Horne Creek Living Historical Farm is another local treasure. The difference here is that, rather than focusing on a significant event or person, Horne Creek lets visitors take a look at what life was like for the typical Surry County resident more than a hundred years ago.
Spending some time there, especially if you take your kids, can be a fun way to experience life the way your great-grandparents, or great-great-grandparents, lived.
Of course, just across the Virginia border in Laurel Hill is the birthplace of Confederate General J.E.B. Stuart, one of the more significant figures from Civil War history. While Patrick County, Va., claims him, the evidence would suggest that Stuart, like many who lived in that area, identified with Mount Airy as his hometown and place of business and culture.
On June 13, there will be a living history demonstration there, and on Oct. 3-4, there is a Civil War encampment and battle re-enactment scheduled.
Again, low-cost, family-friendly fun ways to experience history, right here in our own back yard.
The list could go on and on there are other Civil War encampments in the area every year, and the annual Sonker Festival held at the historic Edwards-Franklin House in Lowgap every October, to name just a few such events.
Now that the weathers warm, spend a little time over some weekends enjoying and learning about local history. Its all right here, within an easy drive of your front door.
Speaking of history, I recently received a copy of Then & Now, Patrick County, compiled by local author Tom Perry.
Ive quickly become a fan of Perrys work, not only because I enjoy a good read about local history, but because Perry writes in an engaging manner.
This book, though, is less about the writing and more about the pictures. In fact, its all pictures, along with captions, and its a fun visit through the decades in Patrick County.
Taking a peak through the book you can find among the pictures a 1907 reunion of Confederate War veterans, dirt track racers in Ararat, Va., from the 1970s, family and church events spread across the decades, tobacco workers in the field, churches, barns, homesteads, landscapes, and loads and loads of groups of people working, playing and posing for the camera.
In short, this is a picture history that shows off average, everyday people going through their normal lives, and there are no doubt a few folks from Mount Airy and Surry County who can find themselves, their relatives, or friends among those pictured there.
If you want a fun, informal look at some of the goings on of the past 100 years or so just across the Virginia border, this would be a good book to pick up. I believe its available at Pages Book Store in Mount Airy.
John Peters is the editor of The Mount Airy News. He can be reached at [email protected] or 719-1931.