From The Massacre To Softball

From The Massacre To Softball

MILLER’S MILL is shown as it appeared in 1928 in this photo by Rockbridge native William D. Hoyt. An artful modern day photo of the mill wheel by Jennifer Law Young can be seen during this Sunday’s presentation at New Monmouth Presbyterian Church.

From The Massacre To Softball

AT LEFT are Dunlap family headstones in the McKee Cemetery in the Kerrs Creek area.

From The Massacre To Softball

ABOVE, this 1883 map by John Carmichael shows the locations of the families in Kerrs Creek area as of the late 1800s.

Clayton, Young To Present History Of Kerrs Creek

In December 2015, nearly 300 Rockbridge residents and descendants ascended to House Mountain Inn at for a multimedia program on “The Haunts of House Mountain,” jointly presented by Sarah Clayton and Jennifer Law Young.

This Sunday, Nov. 10, at 2:30 p.m. at New Monmouth Presbyterian Church, this pair of journalists will once again lead an audience on a virtual trail into fertile terrain of Kerrs Creek, as they continue to craft a range of historic materials into a book and a documentary film.

For this Rockbridge Historical Society program, entitled “Chronicling Kerrs Creek,” they will present the history and culture of Kerrs Creek through stories, still images and film, drawing on the voices of newcomers, old-timers, and generations of families that began living in this western stretch of Rockbridge in the 1730s.

After the hour’s presentation, and before refreshments and fellowship, RHS counts on audience members to extend these narratives by sharing family stories and insights at the microphone, or showing mementos and artifacts at display tables focused on the area.

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For millennia, indigenous peoples had lived and moved through the Kerrs Creek area. Kerrs Creek established itself as one of the earliest communities to populate what would become Rockbridge County in 1778, anchoring four centuries of continuous settlement.

RHS Executive Director Eric Wilson noted, “Kerrs Creek remains one of this area’s more commonly recognized ‘county crossroads clusters.’ It was one of many once-thriving villages that dotted the county through the 19th century, and the kind of site our community-based programs have worked to illuminate again.”

Genealogists, as well as museum visitors and current residents, regularly contact RHS for information about nearby cemeteries, their neighboring roots there, and new angles on a half-known place.

Yet for many, Wilson continued, “Kerrs Creek remains anchored in the distant past, and singularly identified with the phrase, ‘The Kerrs Creek Massacre.’ Even that familiar, singular moniker tends to blur the deadly attacks and reprisals of both 1759 and 1763, and simplify the range of interests and outcomes for those involved.”

Clayton will open the program, chronicling those early, dramatic incidents beyond the reductive cues of roadside historic markers.

But Kerrs Creek has had so much more to witness. In the 19th century, it became an active center for farming, milling and distilling; for schools and churches; a social and commercial crossroads connecting the western passes of the Alleghenies to Lexington, points east, and northern and southern turns through the Valley. Family trees root back into the era of the 1739 Borden Grant, many still maintaining that local heritage today, living in long-held family homes and farmsteads.

Young and Clayton extend a particular program welcome to descendants of families whose names cluster in the Kerrs Creek District of Carmichael’s 1883 map of Rock-bridge, many of whom shared oral histories for their research: Bane, Dunlap, Hall, Kirkpatrick, Miller, McKee, Moore, Teaford, Tolley and many others.

Lifelong residents of Kerrs Creek twin sisters Patricia Miller Hall and Pauline Miller Tolley recorded their own oral histories for the project (Patricia died in December, while Pauline turned 93 in October). Quite literally the Millers’ daughters, they were 3 years old when their father, Heiskell Miller, bought the area’s most notable mill-works from H.W. Wade in 1929.

Originally named “Lowman’s Mill” for its founder in 1816, “Miller’s Mill” soon closed its operations in the 1930s with the deterioration of the dam and mill race, and the continued rise of Midwestern grain production. The since-ruined mill lies overgrown today, its four-story grandeur now marked only by old photographs and anecdotes. Young has artfully rendered a photograph of the once-commanding mill-wheel that can be seen during this Sunday’s program.

Across all these centers and centuries, the running narrative of Clayton’s creative nonfiction, Young’s photography, and a sampler of vivid oral histories, will provide the footholds from which to travel into the Rockbridge past. Many of these materials are already richly chronicled and illustrated on their still-growing interactive website: .

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Clayton has her own memories of the area.

“I spent my fourth to sixth grade years living in the 1832 Madison Dunlap house on a bluff above Kerrs Creek, attending the newly opened Highland Belle School, hiking and camping on House Mountain, playing softball in fields with cow-pies for bases, going to cakewalks and turkey shoots at the firehouse, attending the first funeral of my life, and becoming friends with many there,” she said.

“What I thought was going to be a purely journalistic approach to telling the story of Kerrs Creek has expanded to include memoir; rare was the house I entered, or the person interviewed, that didn’t open some personal link,” she continued. “I’d been to school with them, or one of my brothers had. I’d taught a few in ‘my school,’ that I put together in the smokehouse on our property, gathering desks from the early 20th century Highland Belle School that sat grandly on the hill above the store, old mill, bar, firehouse and garage that made up the heart of the community. Most of that’s now gone now, but the families are still there. Their story became my story, or at least an important chapter of it.”

Young reflects on her own personal stakes in these histories, and the process of recording them: “I love history, and so much history has been packed into that one little valley between Hogback and the House mountains.

When my own family came to this country, the settlement that would become Kerrs Creek was on the far western frontier of European settlement. I often wonder what hardships those early settlers were leaving behind that made the raw frontier seem like a better option for their families.

“With my film, photography, and media projects, I try to capture a sense of what might have been going through our ancestors’ minds,” Young continued. “They saw the same mountains, creeks, and wildlife that we see in Rockbridge County today. When I’m out in the field shooting images, I really try to get lost in the past and bring that sense of time travel to my creative work.”

For more information, see or RHS Face-book. Those attending are asked to consider carpooling with others, to maximize parking at the historic church and its cemetery at 2348 W. Midland Trail.

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