Family History Travel in Wytheville, Virginia

I caught the genealogy bug more than ten years ago, and as soon as I heard about Ancestry.com, I knew I wanted to create an account, upload the genealogy information I had and explore more about our family’s history. Over the years, I’ve discovered so many interesting stories about my ancestors and have learned that most of my family came to America in the 1600’s and early 1700’s, including some who arrived as early as 1619.

My maternal grandfather’s family, the Crowder’s, originally arrived in Virginia in the early 1600’s. After slowly migrating from Charles City County to Mecklenburg County, my grandfather’s great-grandfather and his family settled in Wytheville in the early 1800’s. As we learned from exploring census records, he partnered with his next-door neighbor to run a tailor and shoemaking shop. Today, the original building that housed his shop still stands and is a boutique and gift shop called The Farmer’s Daughter.

I had determined the location of several of my ancestors’ graves in a couple of Wytheville cemeteries, so we visited the cemeteries and located them.

On the Saturday we were in Wytheville, we decided to search for the site of a terrible event that happened to several of my ancestors, an Indian massacre. On our way, we went up Big Walker Mountain and visited the Big Walker Lookout and Store. For a small fee, we were able to walk across a suspension bridge to view an overlook, then climb to the top of a more than one hundred foot tall former fire tower. We also got to speak with a local author, Joe Tennis, who has written a number of books on the area, including books on hauntings.

 

We came down on the other side of the mountain near Sharon Springs and Ceres, locations mentioned in accounts of the Indian massacre that killed several of my ancestors. In the summer of 1774, my sixth great-grandfather, Jared Sluss, was working the land near his home. His wife, Christina, had just put their newborn baby, Mary, into a cradle and pushed it beneath a tall bed so the flies wouldn’t bother her. Ever since the European settlers had pushed into the region, various native tribes had taken exception to the treaties in place between the settlers and natives, and had carried out occasional massacres of area settlers.

On that morning in 1774, Jared Sluss had heard his neighbors warnings that marauding bands of Indians had been seen in the area. Needing to harvest his crops and work his fields, and not necessarily believing the rumors, he and his sons continued their work and didn’t even notice when a band of Shawnee or Cherokee Indians worked their way down the mountain and between Jared in the field and Christina in the house. Father and mother were both killed, as were all the children except two daughters who were in town at the time, one son who escaped the massacre to get help in the village and the baby daughter in her cradle, who was not discovered by the natives. This story is memorialized with a marker at the Lutheran church at Sharon Springs, and the graves are marked with stones from which the engravings have long since weathered away.

We also visited the Wytheville Farmer’s Market and had lunch at the Log House 1776 restaurant, both in downtown Wytheville. According to Mr. Tennis’ book on hauntings, the Log House 1776 is haunted, but it was also a great lunch spot with yummy sandwiches and a kids’ menu. For dinner, we enjoyed El Puerto Mexican restaurant. According to locals, this was the best Mexican place in town, and it did not disappoint.

We stayed at the Ramada Wytheville, which was a great choice for families. It had an outdoor pool and a delicious breakfast buffet, with affordable, clean rooms and a great staff. This was a great summer weekend getaway to explore our family history!

 

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Yelp Helps Again

My husband and I recently took off to Miami and West Palm Beach, Florida for a quick pre-holiday weekend getaway. When we were planning what to see and do, I relied heavily on Yelp to guide us to some unique and fun locations, and Yelp did not disappoint!

When I use Yelp, I don’t necessarily just search for “restaurants” or “bars.” I tend to use more search terms like “Cuban jazz” to pull up places known for specific things. Yelp told me that a club called Ball & Chain was the place to go. On the night we visited, a Thursday, there was a three-piece jazz group performing in the outdoor courtyard at the back of the club. The atmosphere was relaxed and elegant. The courtyard had couches and chairs and an outdoor bar. We grabbed some drinks and checked out the band, which was actually playing on a bandstand that was designed to look like a giant pineapple!

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After that band finished their set, we moved inside to the large, open main room. The club dates from the early 1930’s, and throughout its history it has hosted interesting personalities – from local criminals and their business associates to black musicians and performers in the 1940’s and 1950’s in the pre-Civil Rights-era South, including Billie Holiday and Count Basie. In the late 1950’s, the neighborhood surrounding the club became a Cuban enclave, as Cubans fleeing the political upheaval in their homeland came to the U.S. By the late 1960’s, the location had transitioned to a furniture store, then later sat vacant for years before being purchased by a local real estate investment group. After extensive renovations, Ball & Chain reopened as what it had originally been intended to be – a nightclub offering the best in live music.

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Inside, after a rather interesting performance ON THE BAR TOP involving a scantily-clad woman and a gentleman in a three-piece suit – sparklers and confetti were involved – another band set up in the front corner of the bar. A raucous salsa dancing party ensued, with amazing afro-Cuban music and old-timers stepping in to soft-shoe for a few steps. It was an authentic Little Havana experience that I’m glad we got to experience, and it’s all because I used Yelp to do a search for “Cuban jazz.”