Archive for April, 2009

Excursion to Whitlock Post Office/Barksdale Station Halifax Co., VA

Monday, April 20th, 2009

     On April 16, 2009, my son Bobby and I set out in search of Barksdale Station in Halifax County.  A couple of weeks ago our cousin Bill Pruett (Bill’s branch of Ohio put in an “i”.  The Preutts spell the name at least eight different ways) came to explore the area where his Pruett (our way of spelling) ancestor departed for Cincinnati, Ohio in 1898. 

//PLEASE NOTE: The Barksdale Depot porperty is posted.  Be sure to obtain permission from the land owner Jack Butler before you visit the site.//

     On that day we went to the Pruett graveyard on the Mercy Seat Church Road where my 2nd great grandfather William Pruett is buried.   (Research is difficult because the same family uses Pruit, Pruitt, Preut, Pruett, Prewet, Prewett, Pruiet, and Pruiett.  The computer doesn’t like you leaving a letter out or having too many.)

     Bill and I walked down where the timber was recently cut and found the old cabin where my grandmother Annie Pruett Jones may have been born in 1880.  Bobby and I found that at the chimney end of the short logs, there were railroad spikes holding the logs in line. Below is one of the forged iron spikes from the old 1850s cabin placed in an old iron tie plate from down by the railroad track:.  They seem to match perfectly.  The plate may have been for the early U-Rail track.

Cousin Bill Pruiett took this photograph of me at the old Pruett cabin on Mercy Seat Church Road.  The back side has completely caved in.  Each of the short logs behind me had a shop-made railroad spike holding it in place.  The logs are oak and hand-hewn.  The cabin seems very small but was typical of all, except the very wealthy, even for those with large and extended families living together. 

The graveyard is between the cabin and main road. When my 2nd great grandfather William Pruett died in 1880, he left the “Mansion” tract to his son Zachariah Taylor Pruett.  My grandfather Nathaniel Pruett, his brother received 50 1/2 acres which he still owned in 1898.  Taylor Puett’s son Morton lived in the homeplace until he died in 1946.  He built another house, but lived at times in the old cabin.  My aunt and uncle, aged 87 and 89, remember visiting “Mo’en” as they called him. 

Angie Morton Pruett was a son of Zachariah Taylor Pruett.  They remained on the Pruett land which today is owned by Ann Tingen, a direct descendant. 

This is the early tie plate with a spike from the cabin.  My grreat grandfather William Pruett (father of Nathaniel Pruett who was my grandmother Annie Pruett Jones’ father) mentioned his “shops” in his 1876 will.  William Puett moved from Pittsylvania to Halifax in the 1850s, so we believe that he may have had a blacksmith shop and forge to produce iron products for the railroad.  At right is a modern 132-pound/yard rail which is just over seven inches tall.  At right are rails used during the Civil War, which are less than four inches tall.  At left is a U-Rail and center another early rail.  We believe that the U-Rail may have been inserted in the iron tie plate about.  During the Civil War, the Richmond and Danville line had 61 miles of 52-pound U-Rail.  This is almost half of the 140.5 miles of main track. Here is another well worn old railroad spike from the railroad bed near Barksdale Station.Here are more iron spikes from the area.  The ones at upper left are probably 50 years old.  The others are much older. This gadget was by the railroad tracks near the double arched Double Creek bridge trestle.  We haven’t figured out what it was used for.  (update: Experts tell me this device clamped underneath the track on either side of the wooden tie to keep the track from shifting lenthwise.  It is not a old as it looks.)Here is the area from an 1895 map: The line from Ringgold to Barksdale, then on to Paces, News Ferry, and South Boston is the Richmond and Danville Railroad.  The 140 1/2 mile line was completed in 1856. 
Just over a mile due south of the old Purett cabin is the old Mercy Seat Presbyterian Church, which was organized in 1847.    The Mercy Seat Presbyterian Church probably looked about the same when the railroad was being being built in the 1850s.  The Pruetts probably went to church here, but I don’t know if they have old records.  The original church of the same name was located in the Brooklyn and Elmo.  In 1847, a church was reorganized and built in this location near Barksdale Station. The woodwork in the church is beautiful.  I wouldn’t be surprised if the famous Black cabinet maker Thomas Day made these pews.  His shop was only about eight miles up Dan River. 

Old lock inside the front door of the church.

The iron fence and gate was made by a company in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

Continuing south past the old Achilles Whitlock (died 1811) house and cemetery, less than a mile from the church, is the site of Barksdale Station.  Here is a shot of the beautiful valley and the double arched railroad bridge across Double Creek:     Construction of the Richmond and Danville Railroad reached Barksdale Station in September of 1855.  The 140.5-mile railroad was completed to the depot on Craghead Street in Danville in May of 1856.  From Barksdale Station to the Danville Depot is only 13 miles.  Before the railroad, the bateaux route through Milton, North Carolina was almost 24 miles.  A freight and passenger depot was constructed at Barksdale a few hundred yards east of the double arched trestle across Double Creek.  The trestle is a work of art, with very large cut stones forming the graceful arches above the fast-flowing creek below.  It is interesting to note that when the trestle was flanged out to make it higher and wider, some of the old metal tract can be seen jutting out of the concrete above the original top of the bridge.  On towards Danville, crossing Sandy Creek there is a trestle with five arches. 
The depot building was located on the south side of the tracks, because most of the freight came mostly from the river.  That would seem strange today since there are no roads south, east or west from that area.          Between the bridge and the depot site we picked up shop-made railroad spikes of varying sizes.  They appear be original to the 1850s. From the area where we believe the depot was constructed, we found a path on an even grade to the southeast to the Dan River.  At the river, where a small branch enters, there was a deep cut out back in the bank.  We believe that this may have been the landing for the bateaux, which carried freight to and from Barksdale Station and Milton, North Carolina, which is eight miles upstream.  Here’s a ten-minute quick sketch of what we found.  Improvements are coming when I get in the  mood. 
The Whitlock Post Office was located in a store on the east side of the road a short distance across the tracks from the depot. Here’s an old hand molded brick from the building which we believe was the old store.  This is an old hand-molded brick from the ruble of the old store.  This is typical of the hand-made brick of the area from the 1700s to the mid 1800s.  Note at the bottom there is a flange on both sides, which is unusual.      The Barksdale Depot was especially important during the War Between the States.  The Gen. Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia required large amounts of food and supplies, which came from the south by the Richmond and Danville Railroad.  From Milton, in North Carolina, the bateaux could bring tons of supplies from the counties of that state to be transferred to the railroad and hauled to Richmond.
Tons of freight was handled here until the 1870s when Maj. William Sutherlin of Danville built the Milton and Sutherlin Railroad.  This narrow gauge railroad was constructed from the Richmond and Danville near the line between Pittsylvania and Halifax counties.  The large Sutherlin Mill was built about the same time on Barker’s Creek.  Milton was seven miles south from this point.  With the railroad traffic, the bateaux became soon became obsolete. When the railroad was abandoned here, the area became remote and untraveled.  


We did not find this, but the best artifact of the day was a fragment of a Richmond and Danville Railroad signal lamp globe.  The glass was red as this one with some of the fancy logo “R & D RR.” 


Bobby found in the the spring branch south of the tracks, not far from the iron tie plate. 

We believe that it came from a railroad lamp similar to the one above.

Thanks to Bobby for all the great photographs.

Copyright 2009 by Robert D. “Danny” Ricketts