A September 2005 trip
to Weston by kjlouden
Quote: We tour Stonewall Jackson’s boyhood home, two mills, and log cabins and
learn about flax near Jane Lew; walk the historic district and battlefield at Bulltown; and hear stories of Indian massacres, Confederate mistakes, and recent preservation projects of the Army Corps of Engineers in West Virginia.
Our guide at Jackson’s Mill helps maintain log buildings, wooden mill machinery, and
furnishings. He explains, as we follow him from site to site, what the WVU forestry
department has done to restore the incredible traditional carpentry work here, referred to
in guidebooks as a "shrine of yellow poplar."
The attraction is admired for its folk traditions and craftsmanship, as well as for its
famous pre-Civil War family. He points to photos of dozens of volunteers who have
helped with restoration projects; all are old-timers proud to preserve West Virginia’s
Because Jackson’s were millers and also active in politics, this farm with gristmill, sawmill and blacksmith shop became a popular meeting place and ensured that the area
would develop as a community. Along the West Fork River, grain and other products
were transported to Fairmont, where the river joins the Tygart to form the Monongahela.
From there, some products reached St. Louis via Pittsburgh. Products were transported
north and west, and cattle were driven east to Baltimore.
We linger on the porch of the General Store (visitor center) and hear more history of the
area as our guide waits for another visitor who wants a tour. It’s a pleasant spot beside
the pond created by the Army Corps of Engineers.
They’ve rerouted the West Fork River, now a creek here and hardly deep enough to run huge mill
wheels, so the pond feeds the old Blaker family mill, moved here piece by piece from
Cummins Jackson’s mill isn’t operable, but houses the Jackson family
Farming, milling, and logging were important industries here in 19th-century
central West Virginia. We want to learn more about them at Bulltown, south from
Weston on Route 19.
At Bulltown Historic District, we tour the original Cunningham Farm, plus historic
structures moved here from the area that was flooded to create Burnsville Lake. Bulltown
Historic District is, materially speaking, partially a creation of the Corps and is still
owned by them (and free to visitors).
Original Bulltown, named after Captain Bull, a Delaware Indian convict exiled from New
York, had plenty of history too, including the Stroud family murder, a massacre of
Indians by whites, a Union fort that protected Weston-Gauley Turnpike, and plenty of
Confederate bad judgment on Bulltown Battlefield.
We follow every movement of soldiers as we walk turnpike and battlefield with our
excellent guide Judy. Like other guides we’ve encountered on the Civil War Heritage
Trail, she stays late to make sure we get a proper tour. We could walk the
battlefield ourselves, even if she left at closing time, but she won’t
Just south of Weston, we take Exit 91 from I-79 and drive south on Route 19 for at least
20 minutes before we see signs for Bulltown Historic District and adjacent Bulltown Battlefield, which share the same visitor center. The road, mostly two lanes, is relatively straight and wide, with excellent pavement.
As a boy, Stonewall worked in this mill and lived on the property until he left for West
For twelve years of his life, ages 6-18, he worked with his uncle Cummins, whose home
was a gathering place for folks discussing "border affairs" (translate "Indian problem"),
development of the area, and other politics. The farm was run as a self-sufficient
plantation with about a dozen slaves, who were probably treated kindly and were
educated. Our guide walks us through the two floors of artifacts, some of which belonged
to the Jacksons, but most items conjure up stories of the area and form a kind of regional
museum of the milling industry and rural life in nineteenth-century West Virginia. From
rows of artifacts, we get an idea of Stonewall’s early frame of reference. I’m surprised at
how much the place resembles a mill village I visited in the Czech Republic.
A few log cabins have been moved to the area by WVU. Among others, we visit
It’s much like Stonewall’s grandfather’s log home. Inside, I am mysteriously captivated
by a pair of woven flax trousers casually thrown across the bed.
They seem to jump up and demand my attention. Many interesting items, including
spinning wheel, loom, and kitchen utensils are displayed, but my attention is drawn to the
fine weave of these britches! I’m sure I’ve never seen a looser, finer weave of linen, and I
realize how cool it would feel on a hot day. When our guide sees how enticed I am, he
takes me to the garden to show me what flax plants look like. He apologizes for not
watering them enough, and yes, they aren't perfect specimens.
For our guide, the flax plant is proof that Jackson’s Mill needs more employees, for he
"can’t water plants and attend workshops at the same time!" One member of our group
theorizes that a change of administration in Washington may make more money available
for help at WVU’s Jackson’s Mill. I’m not complaining about the plants, and even if I
were, the restoration carpentry here is so impressive that it dwarfs the slight agricultural
neglect. Still, I would like to see a mill working. What we have here is a mill
village, and a crew of expert guides could demonstrate the complex wooden mechanism
On special occasions, demonstrations are staged. Consult the calendar of events and learn
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on September 27, 2005
WVU's Jackson's Mill
160 WVU Jackson Mill
Attraction | "Cunningham Farm at Bulltown"
In the museum, we see a collection of arrowheads, some of which date from the Early
Archaic Era prior to 5,000 B.C. Some are from the Adena people, West Virginia’s
famous mound-builders, and some are Huron. More recent ones are Delaware. A huge
salt box carved from a single log is from the Cunningham Farm, and brown-and-white
photos are of early residents of Bulltown. There are also artifacts recovered from
Bulltown Battlefield and other farm implements. I admire the handiwork on this
At the height of the tourist season and for special occasions, guides are in historic garb,
but Judy dresses normally today. On October 8th and 9th, a full crew of volunteers will dress
for the annual wedding reenactment and battle reenactment. Find more here.
Beginning in the early 1800s, seven generations of Cunninghams and no other family lived on
Judy tells us about the sided log home, how it was constructed and added to, and how the
family lived. The house is of two-pen construction, which I think means that one
couldn’t get from one end to the other without going outside. The breezeway was later filled
in, but still the upstairs remains two separate parts. The design is referred to as dogtrot, a
folk type of structure more common in the Deep South. Chimneys at both ends are of
Judy elaborates on cooking, the post office the Cunninghams ran in one room, and
candle-making, conducted weekly as a social event similar to a quilting bee. So we get
an idea of what life was like in Bulltown prior to the Civil War, when Captain Mattingly
confiscated the home. Outside again, we can almost see Moses Cunningham, son of
Henry, running out of the house shouting "Hurray for Jeff Davis!" This is when he
was shot in the back. The front door, too, is distinguished by a bullet.
Several structures are still on the property. The granary is the oldest and most
Gourds and such were hung from the overhang, where animals couldn’t reach them. The spring house is where the family got cold drinking water and stored food that needed
refrigeration. The home never had plumbing.
As we walk, we enjoy property that is more like a woodsy retreat than a
It is bordered by the Little Kanawha River on one side and Mill Creek on the other.
Camping is available and self-guided walks are allowed. Plenty of literature is posted,
and everything on the Corps’ property is free.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on September 27, 2005
Bulltown Historic Area
The turnpike is now a dirt hiking path through second-growth forest.
Overlooking the turnpike, Cunninghams’ farmhouse was commandeered by Union forces
under Captain William H. Mattingly. From the house, one could see the fort on the hill in
the 1860s, when the land was cut for farming. Forts were usually constructed along early
turnpikes, just as they were along rivers before roads were cut into the area.
Transportation routes had to be protected, first from Indians and then from Confederates.
All around the fort, we see trenches dug by one of the Cunningham boys himself, and
those trenches were instrumental in Union victory here.
We walk from the farmhouse to Mill Creek and the Johnson Cabin. Its cat-and-clay
chimney (wooden slats dabbed with mud) is an anomaly in this area, and Judy surmises
that Jesse Johnson must have seen it in a book. I wonder if his ancestors brought the
technique from their old country.
Signs near several cabins explain different methods of cutting and joining logs, so any
lover of traditional log construction would enjoy a visit here. For example, Fleming
House is representative of the "saddlebag" style common in central West Virginia. Judy
explains that clay, horsehair, and straw formed the mortar. Other signs record where the
Army Corps of Engineers moved structures from land they flooded to create Burnsville
Lake. In addition to home and cabin structures, there are spring houses, barns, granaries,
root cellars, and a church, all perfect 19th-century specimens, some 200 years
Judy could talk indefinitely about the area. She points down Mill Creek in the direction
of Captain Bull’s Indian village, started in 1765 about 1.25 miles from Cunningham
Farm. The earliest settlers, both Delaware Indians and Europeans, came here for rich salt
deposits, and the two races coexisted peacefully until five white men murdered seven of
the Stroud family and blamed the Delawares. The Indians were massacred the next day.
Captain Bull escaped to Ohio, but Jesse Hughes found him and scalped him. On his
deathbed, one of the murderers finally confessed and told the story, clearing the
We hear about families who lost their homes to Burnsville Lake. Judy knows them and
relates that one of them used to boat across Little Kanawha River to go to school. We
wonder if they find any consolation that their heritage is now deeded to posterity in the
interest of saving lives. West Virginia’s legendary floods made larger
Bulltown Historic District
Near the Burnsville Dam and Lake
Commanded by Stonewall Jackson’s first cousin, Colonel William L. Jackson, two
detachments intended to take this fort and march on to the Ohio River, destroying or
controlling railroads along the way and eventually taking Wheeling, the new capital on
the Ohio in the northern panhandle. Jackson’s plan was to somewhat copy the
Jones-Imboden raid in the spring of the year, which did little to disrupt the northern
railroad, anyway, though Imboden did blow up a rail bridge in my hometown of Fairmont
and occupied Morgantown, near the Pennsylvania border.
The detachment on this side of the Little Kanawha River (led by Major Kessler) started
up this hill to the Union fort built on Cunningham’s knoll. This hill that you can see through the trees is one of two that
may have given this Jackson the nickname "Mudwall."
Dirt flung over from the digging of two levels of trenches 3 feet deep and 10 feet
wide must have made footing difficult. Slipping in the mire at 4:30 in the morning,
Confederate soldiers had seven men killed before Jackson called for a temporary truce to
bury the dead. On the opposite side of the fort on another hill across the Little Kanawha
River, a second detachment of rebels with Jackson also found wet conditions along the
water in October--some slid into the river.
An almost magical occurrence changed the temper of the battle. During the truce, soldiers
began shouting back and forth to one another. At this point, they realized that they knew
each other, had fought together before on the same side in county militias, were in
some cases even related, and this recognition dampened the spirit of the fight. Most of
the soldiers here were from this county of Braxton or neighboring Lewis County, and all
were West Virginians. Even though the battle raged for 12 hours, not another soldier
was killed on either side. Imagining the area as a farm without trees, I surmise that Union
men must have tried to miss 700 soldiers surrounding their hill!
Union commander, Captain Mattingly, was injured, and so was Moses Cunningham.
Both recovered. (Simpson took over command for Mattingly.) Confederates even left
the Federalist men they had captured with families who would care for them. A wounded
soldier was left with Moses Cunningham to be nursed back to health at Cunningham
Farm. One wounded Confederate died later.
All this slippin’ and slidin’ and shootin’ and shoutin’ actually constituted a significant
battle for West Virginia in the Civil War. Never again did Southern soldiers venture
north across the Gauley River or attempt to take Federalist positions in West Virginia!
From this time forward, the Union retained control of the railroad and all points in the
state. Even though the new northern state was officially almost 4 months old now, it
was decided here in Bulltown that the Yankee spirit would prevail. The thirty-fifth state
was still a backdoor to the South, but never again a pathway to the north or to the Ohio
River. Just 3 weeks later (November 6, 1863) at Droop Mountain, northern forces
overcame the last southern resistance in the state, and significant battles were over in
We learn all this from Judy before we begin our walk of the battlefield. As we head up
the hill to the site of the fort, we pass the log structure, St. Michael’s Church, moved here
by the Corps. Just above it are the lower trenches, where Confederates were able to take
some prisoners--whom, you remember, they left here with local families.
We are following in the footsteps of Kessler’s detachment, but we take the least steep,
northernmost approach, an attractive wooded farm road. These soldiers were supposed to
wait for a cannon shot from across the Little Kanawha (where Jackson and his men
stationed themselves) before they attacked. One of their numbers decided to yell "Charge,"
and either wittingly or unwittingly, warned the Union army, asleep in the trenches--dug by
one of Moses Cunningham’s boys using the southern sympathizer’s own oxen and finished by
hand with his shovel.
We continue up the hill to the site of the fortifications. As both levels of trenches were
dug about 3x10 feet and the dirt thrown over the cleared hill, the scenery wasn’t as
pretty then as it is today.
The upper trenches are more clearly defined than the lower ones, and we see where
Mattingly’s men were safely positioned.
One hundred soldiers usually occupied the fort, which the Union kept manned for the
entire length of the war, but on October 13, 1863, 150 were here. Jackson had counted on
only 100 men to have to overtake in their superior position. Although he had
700 troops, his position was not advantageous, and even though they
were outnumbered, federal officers refused to surrender their position. When Mattingly
was injured and command fell to Simpson, Jackson called a second time for the enemy
commander to surrender. Simpson’s famous response was, "Not until Hell freezes over!
If I have to retreat, I will do it on the ice!"
Atop the hill, we can see all positions, as the northern soldiers could at daylight. We
walk in the upper trenches all around the knoll where the fort stood.
Signs every few feet record what buildings were here and what archaeological research
has uncovered about them. We read and listen to Judy, who knows what happened to most prisoners and wounded men after
the battle. One was taken to this house, and another
died later in Huttonsville prison when his infant son was only days old.
What really strikes me is that this Union fortification was held for 4 years on the
property of Moses Cunningham, a rebel himself, with Mattingly commandeering his
home and property and his own son and equipment digging his enemies’ trenches. He
must have thought that the occupation was over when he saw the southern army on his
hill and came running out of his house yelling, "Hooray for Jeff Davis!"
I am also amazed at the ridiculous position of "Mudwall" Jackson. We see it through the
trees that weren’t here then.
Did he really think he could cross that river and ascend this hill? Cannons were fired
from here and could reach his men, and I am amazed that his force wasn’t decimated--but
then I remember that these armies didn’t really want to hurt each other anymore. It must
have been "somebody else’s war" to them. Heck, they had got along fine with the
Delaware Indians until those insidious murderers came along! In their rural home,
sheltered by mountains, neighbors were more important than abstract ideals.
The battle is reenacted each year, this year on October 9.
Robert Hockman Blaker of Wilmington, Delaware gave it to West Virginia University so
that they would preserve it for future generations. His ancestors had built it in Greenbrier
County in 1794, and his family had run it for several generations. He must have
known that WVU already owned a mill (Cummins Jackson’s second mill) that couldn’t
be made operative because of structural weakness in the building. Engineers performed
tests and determined that vibrations from the huge stones necessary to grind grain would
weaken the building further, so it was made the Jackson family and milling industry museum. WVU still didn’t have an operative mill, and they were hoping to acquire one, because they already had the perfect historic property for it, the state conference center at
In the 1940s, the university had bought another mill, the Johnson family’s, which they
moved from Barbour County, but it was 3.5 stories high, with a 2.5-story wheel and a
water race 300 to 400 feet long, too large to be used for replacement parts for other mills.
Its parts are now on display in Cummins Jackson’s mill (the mill-working museum). I
don’t know how many mills there are still in West Virginia, but I’m beginning to think
that WVU may end up with all of them at Jackson’s Mill. I wouldn’t mind at all having a
mill village just 30 miles down the road.
Volunteers dismantled Blaker’s Mill, numbered and diagrammed every piece, and
reconstructed and restored it, along with all its yellow poplar machinery, wooden nails,
and stone foundation walls. I’m thinking that this feat of restoration is as fantastic as that
of Philippi’s covered bridge! (Bear in mind that this thing runs--on water yet!)
Our guide tells us that he can grind more grain in an hour than Jackson’s Mill Visitors
Center can sell in a year. Since grain is perishable, they can’t run it but for special
occasions. My, how I’d like to see it in operation!
I don’t know why mills thrill me like they do. Perhaps I long to return to a simpler time.
Maybe a fragment of a classic English novel has lodged in my brain where digital
appreciation is now supposed to be. Did I play too much with Tinkertoys? The Ferris
wheel I made? The elevator? Whatever, I think that mills are just too perfect for words.
Yes, they belong in pictures.
I want to see those tiny wooden cogs set huge stones whirling, just as they did 200 years ago. Several different levels of machinery with their whittled wooden parts, all moving in
succession--wheels on three levels whirring . . . and it comes out here! Simple.
I step down a half-flight of stairs to a sunken plank walkway between mechanisms, now at shoulder level, and I feel as though I’m in Santa’s workshop--maybe a Scandinavian version in yellow poplar, well-oiled with linseed and beeswax. A few steps back up here and another level there—elves would have to be nimble to feed it there and catch it here (when it comes out here!). To add to our contentment with this folk industry, water would be flying, foaming from the whirring wheel beneath us. I must go down and see.
"There’s a certain slant of light," explained Emily Dickinson, and I think I hear her "cathedral tunes"!
The stonework is so satisfying that I comment on its beauty, and our guide tells us that a
Russian immigrant reconstructed the foundation walls from the same stones that supported Blaker’s Mill when it was originally built in 1794 in Greenbrier County. The place still looks like Santa’s workshop to me.
But we have yet to find the outside connection. It is a little disappointing--no big
wheel that I can see, no spraying brume dancing in sunlight. I fail to understand just where the water comes in, but this mill is somehow different.
I’m not sure that a complete understanding of the mechanism is essential to enjoying a day at the mill, but seeing it working with water swooshing and "elves" scampering all around would certainly add to my appreciation of this folk trade. I live nearby, so I’ll return for one of those special occasions when it’s running. Today, at least I’ve had a glimpse into the folk industry that characterized the prenatal "state born of the Civil War."
West Virginia, United States