Last spring, retired judge Jerry Cash Martin took his four granddaughters for a hike in Riverside Park. During their walk, they discovered something of a mystery.
The group discovered a large rock. On its face they could see a faint outline that looked vaguely familiar.
Upon further inspection, they discovered what remained of a carving the side. A carving that has withstood decades of weather.
It was hard to read with the naked eye, so their fascination with the message had them doing tracings with pencil and paper, but the rock still wouldn’t reveal its secret. Being even more determined to find out the message on the rock, they came back with chalk to discover the words, “BAILEY SHED BURNED WED MORN JUNE 20, 1923.”
They group wondered whether this was a message from a child playing with his father’s cutting tools from the quarry, because of its proximity to the rock, or the confession on an arsonist.
“It’s pretty cool — a mystery,” said Martin as he looked at the rock with two of the four grandchildren, Kaylan and Haley Martin, in tow. The other two grandchildren who were present the day they found the carving are Olivia and Camille Bokesch.
While there, the girls found more carvings on rocks in the portion of the woods where the rock is located. One rock seemed to read, “his children.” And, the name “JEB” was carved on the back of the rock where the original carving was found.
“It’s not professionally done,” said Martin.
They wondered if whoever carved this on the rock had to have done it near the time of the Bailey Shed fire, since the stone said “Wednesday morning.” The original newspaper article states that the fire started “Tuesday at one o’clock” but technically, that would have been Wednesday morning.
The rock is located at the beginning of the Riverside Greenway trail on the northern side of Riverside Park. There is a marked mulch trail on the left side of the paved trail that leads to the rock, which is located near the top of the hill.
According to an original article in The Mount Airy News on Thursday, June 21, 1923, the Bailey Shed fire, as it came to be known, started in the blacksmith’s shops and quickly spread to the office and the engine rooms.
Everything was destroyed in the fire and 50 men lost their jobs until the owners, J.W. Lovill and W.F. Lovill, could rebuild the plant. The plant was then called Mount Airy Granite Cutting Co., but was known as Bailey’s Shed because it was being managed by George Bailey.
The News article said the owner suffered a loss of more than $50,000. It said the payroll was $2,500 a week.
Local historian Esther Johnson grew up at a home that was formerly the Bailey’s Shed office off Kyle Street. The home is believed to be the one that was rebuilt following the 1923 fire.
On Thursday, Johnson took a walk down by the railroad tracks that cross Riverside Drive, past her grandfather’s store called Prince Worrell’s Grocery store.
She said granite was brought by rail up to Bailey’s Shed. She even believes there may have been a side rail that no longer exists that brought rock up through the sheds. There were several sheds that were located between Kyle and Frank streets, she remembered.
Johnson said as a little girl, she played in the woods where the rock Martin and his grandchildren found is located. She never saw the carving. She said back in those days the river looked a lot different, too. The city has since put anti-flooding measures in on the banks of the Ararat River.
She also pointed out a reservoir made of granite rocks that sits next to Frank Street. At the bottom of Frank Street where there is a water hydrant now, she said, there was a well where everyone in the neighborhood came to get their water.
To the best of her memory, Johnson said the sheds were torn down at the end of the 1940s or early 1950s.
She said the railroad quit bringing rock out of the granite quarry because the trestle between Bailey’s Shed and the quarry became unsafe. Back in those days, Riverside Drive did not exist. People drove down Galloway Street then had to cross a creek to get up to where she lived.
According to the 1923 article, the fire was so hot that it turned rocks as large as barn doors into chalk. However, Bill Joe Woodruff, who was chief of the Mount Airy Fire Department for 26 years, said he’s never seen granite do that in a fire. He said the rock is so durable, it’s used on the launch pad at Kennedy Space Center.
The article also states that the fire department didn’t have much luck battling the blaze as it had to lay a half mile of hose from the fire truck to the fire. Woodruff said it is unlikely that the fire department back then would have had that length of hose.
Woodruff said the truck used in that fire would be the 1916 truck that is on display in the basement of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
If anyone has information on the Bailey Shed fire or the carving on the rock, contact Mount Airy News Staff Reporter Mondee Tilley at email@example.com or at 719-1930.
Reach Mondee Tilley at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 719-1930.