Friday, November 20, 2009

The Walking Tour

Longtime member and photograph archivist of the Floyd County Historical Society, Kathleen Ingoldsby, was instrumental in bringing the Historic Walking Tour to Floyd. She was the spark behind the creation of the eight panel, fold-out walking tour brochure guide, complete with sepia photos and descriptive listings of 45 historic sites in Floyd. While attending the first annual Floyd Homecoming and Harvest Festival this past Saturday, I was among one of the first groups who, with our brochures, followed Kathleen, our tour guide, around town as if she was the Pied Piper of local history.

She is also a member or my writer’s workshop and a regular Scrabble player, which is probably why, when describing a “quonset roof structure,” she pointed out what a good scoring Scrabble word “quonset” would make. After seeing the quality of the walking tour brochure and guessing at the amount of work that went into it, I understood why she's recently been too busy to attend our writer’s circle.

Because I forgot my notebook, I was forced to scribble all over my brochure during our hour-and-a half trek, which began at the Old Jacksonville cemetery, dated on the brochure as circa 1827. The rare soapstone tomb table there is especially impressive. When my sons were young they imagined it to be the one Aslan, the lion in the Narnia Chronicles, was slain on.

By following the brochure and listening to Kathleen’s narrative, we learned that at one time Floyd had a movie theatre and a hospital in town. There was likely a 10 pin bowling alley above what is now the Spessard and Boswell law offices. There were gas pumps in front of the Farmers Supply, which first began as the Thomas Huff General Store. “Many people learned to drive in the parking lot behind the building, which also sold automobiles. Without licenses, anyone could drive back then,” Kathleen elaborated.

The Headen-Howard House property, number 14 on the Floyd Historic Walking Tour list, is so historically valued that it’s individually listed in Virginia and National Historic Registers. It features an original brick well house, meat house, log stables, a separate brick kitchen, and its original ornate wrought iron fence, which was common in Floyd County in the 19th century. My Irish heritage is probably what caused me to underline the part of the description that read, “Constructed by Henry Dillon, an Irish-born brick mason.”

Dillon’s own brick home, just across the street, still stands and is also a historic site. Since the recent addition of the over-sized wooden lady on the front lawn, sculpted by artist Lanny Bean, this mid-nineteenth century brick home is an especially easy landmark.

Kathleen, a former potter and an architectural enthusiast, knows a lot about bricks. As she described their early method of manufacture and styles of laying them, I was running my hand along the soapstone wall of the real estate office that used to be the “Peoples Bank.” Soapstone, the mineral steatite, is found all along the Appalachian chain and was readily available in Floyd, she told us. I was thinking about the chimney in my own home, built with recovered soapstone slabs that were found at an abandoned house site, as Kathleen pointed to the Food Lion and told us that clay bricks were once fired on the lot. Later, I would run my hand along the quartz filled stone wall, another example of the use of local resources, on the corner of Locust and Oxford Street and wonder how I could have passed by it so many times without really appreciating it.

It was hard to imagine the oxen carts hauling building supplies that Kathleen described, or the soda fountain in the original Odd Fellows Hall (a factor in how Oddfella’s Cantina got its name) where Bell’s Art Gallery now exists. There were lots of lawyer’s offices back then, just as there are today. On court day, which likely happened about once a month, townspeople came out to socialize, watch the trials, trade horses, and do other business. In fact, part of Locust Street was once called "Jockey Street."

According to Kathleen early Floydians were a resourceful group, and the Floyd of 1860 was a bustling hub of enterprise, even more than Montgomery County at the time. The 1846 Jacksonville Academy and the Oxford Academy, a high school that taught calculus, Latin, and Greek, were important educational influences that brought new people and new ideas to Floyd.

So much about the town of Floyd has changed, but in other ways it hasn’t. During the ninteenth century Floyd was a mix of tried-and-true culture and new innovation. When I think about the Floyd I know today, it could be described the same way.

Post Notes: You can learn more about Floyd history by visiting the Floyd County Historical Society’s website. The statement on the Historic Walking Tour brochure, made possible by “The Floyd Fund” reads: The Society encourages interest in the history of Floyd County through the collection, preservation, and stewardship of significant historic materials. Educational programs include lectures, publications, community outreach, and exhibits. The Society maintains a substantial archive of historic artifacts, documents, and early photographs. Photo #3 is of our tour group standing in front of Schoolhouse Fabrics, which at one time was a high school. This post was originally posted at on September 19, 2006 and was also published in The Floyd Press.

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