Colonial Danville Virginia For Lease in A.D. 1771 “Palm Tree Springs”

        Is there global cooling or what?  Does “Palm Tree Springs” sound like Danville, Virginia?  John Dix, of Dix’s Ferry fame, seems to have had quite an imagination in describing his property where Danville was later established.  Here’s a much later Palm Springs in California, but it had another name in the 1800s: 

          Before the Revolutionary War began in 1776, Virginia was just a colony of Great Britain.  The following 1771 description is from the time when we were subjects of the King of England and what became Main Street in Danville was just an old Indian path leading to the ford across Dan River. There seems to be no record of anyone taking a lease on these two tracts and the ferry where, just a few years later, John Dix transported hundreds of soldiers, wagons, and horses across Dan River during the War, he made this advertisement in Williamsburg. 

       The Town of Danville, Virginia was established by the General Assembly in 1793 on 25 acres along the old road to the “Great Falls of Dan River.”  The small town was toallly surrounded by the 165-acre previously owned by John and his son Larkin Dix.  The valuable water front on Dan River was not a part of the original land-locked town. For a long time the 30-acre tract between the mill race (and later the Roanoke Navigational Canal) was separate from the nearby town.  The race began near the present Union Street Bridge and was about 3,000 feet in lenght to the grist mill between the present Bridge Street and the river.  Early records refer to this area as “Wynne’s Falls” for Col. William Wynne who, with his sons, owned thousands of acres in the area. 

This old undated map shows the area which was later Danville, Virginia.  The center line is the dividing line between Virginia and North Carolina (Pittsylvania and Caswell Counties).  Lower Saura Town is the site of an old Indian village down stream of Eden (formerly Leaksville, Draper and Spray).  The double line at left is the old Indian trail which became the Berry Hill Road (SR 863) west of Danville.  The town of Danville was formed in the center here between the river and North Carolina.  Like New Orleans, Danville could be called the “Crescent City.”   

       The original town was along a hillside surrounded by a tract of 165 acres granted to Col. William Irby in 1755.  William Armstrong bought the land and then sold it to Col. William, who received an adjoining tract of 2,000 aces in 1760.  

        Col. Wynne gave this tract to his son Thomas who later sold it to John Dix on March 28, 1770.  John Dix operated his ferry four miles downstream on Dan River. 
         On March 9, 1771, John Dix offered both his ferry tract where he lived and the Great Falls tract on terms for a five year lease. Dix said that the falls tract was “known by the name of Palm Tree Springs.”  This tract is the 165 acres previously mentioned.  He described about half the plantation as “fine low grounds with a good plantation and orchards.” 
         On this tract, in 1771, was “a water grist mill on the falls of the main river, and inferior to none in the colony as to having plenty of water, a pair of fine Cologne stones and a bolting cloth.  These mill stones were imported from the area of Cologne in Germany.  The mill stones were dark bluish gray and mined from a quarry of lava.  Both George Washington and Thomas Jefferson comment of the quality of these German mill stones in their writings.     

          Although these millstones sound exotic, the stones from Cologne are of black cellular basalt, a volcanic lava rock.  They are not as hard as the French Bur millstones and wear out quicker.  They cost of the “cullens,” as they were sometimes called, from Cologne was from half to two-thirds of the French stones.  It is an interesting fact to know that colonial trade with the Rhineland and colonial southern Virginia was established at this early date.  After a long vogage by sailing ship, they would have been brought 150 miles form ports on the James River.        

John Dix, in terms of the proposed lease, “reserving to himself the privilege of grinding and bolting his own grain, toll free.” 
         John Dix gave this tract to his son Larkin Dix in 1778.  In November of 1792, Larkin petitioned the court for permission to build a water grist mill on his land.  For a long time, I have believed that this was the original grist mill at this site.  It now appears that the old mill which was operating in 1771 was probably destroyed by either fire or flood and Larkin was rebuilding it at the same location.
         The area herein described was in Halifax County until 1767 when Pittsylvania County was formed.  There seem to be no applications for a mill on Dan River during the first years of the new county.  This mill was probably built by the Wynnes who operated a mill on Rutledge (Pumpkin) Creek which was operating in 1754.  When John Dix bought the 165-acre tract in 1770 he paid 150 pounds which is an expensive property for that time.  The mill probably accounted for most of the value of the tract.          

          Also up for lease on March 9, 1771, was John Dix’s “noted and well accustomed Ordinary and Ferry” on Dan River.  John Dix established his ferry in 1766, a year before this area became Pittsylvania. 
          In 1768, John Dix was granted a license to operate an Ordinary at his ferry.  Also in 1768, his son Larkin Dix was granted a license to operate an Ordinary (tavern and sometimes lodging place for travelers) in Pittsylvania County.  This Ordinary may have been on the Palm Tree Springs tract of 165 acres which was four miles north of the ferry.  The ford, just below the present Main Street Bridge in Danville was probably used instead of the ferry when the water was not too high.  This tavern was also near the old grist mill where farmers could be refreshed while waiting for their flour or corn meal. 
Along with the 600-acre land lease other privileges include:
(1) A good dwelling house with three rooms and a passage below and two above and a cellar underneath.
(2) Every convenient outhouse.
(3) Stables for 24 horses.
(4) A garden newly paled in 160 feet.
(5) There is a good (weir?) where shad and other fish are catched in great abundance.  Dix reserved the liberty of fishing one day each week during the season.
(6) A new seine.
(7) Vessel (ferry boat).
(8) Tailor Shop.
(9) Blacksmith’s Shop with a set of blacksmith’s tools.
(10)                 A good still.
                                 (Article and maps copyright 2008 Robert D. Ricketts)
John Dix’s five-room house, on the north side of Dan River from the ferry is shown here in 1779.  Southwest is the old road from John Dix’s Ferry to “Salisbury Town.”  Before Greensboro became a town this road was called the Salisbury Road.  A south branch led by Walters’ Mill site to Caswell Courthouse and on to Hillsborough, North Carolina, the Orange County seat.  A note reads that Dan River is the dividing line between North Carolina and Virginia.  The ferry was very near the line at this point where the river is flowing out of Pittsylvania into Caswell County.  Apparently the mapmaker was on a stage headed north.  They “took in a passenger for Jersey.”  As John Dix stated, the present Main Street Bridge in Danville, was four miles upstream of this ferry crossing.   
                                 (Article and maps copyright 2008 Robert D. Ricketts)    

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