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The Online Magazine FOR and ABOUT Southside Virginia







July '09 Contents

July '09 Cover


Home Remedy By Gert Slabach

Shadows On The Roanoke
(William Byrd & Buffalo Springs)
By Auntie Bellum

Charlotte Courthouse
(Three Centuries - Three Statesmen)
Charlotte Courthouse - Photos

Keeling Fly-In '09
Event Coverage
Photo Gallery



South Winds
(Just Thinking)

Southside Gardener
(July "To Do List")
By William H. McCaleb

Ask Bubba - Advice
Bubba the Contractor


Editor's Page
(CARS & Fool Economy)
V & B Comics
(Verrnack & Blupirk)

Farm &Ag Info

Farmers Markets Listing (FMs in or near SSVA)

Festivals & Events
Sept & Oct Events

SoBo Harvest Fest

Press Releases


Past Issues

Past Issues are available from June 2008 through the current issue.
Select the desired issue from the drop-down box below.


Shadows On The Roanoke II

William Byrd II - Buffalo Springs


 By Auntie Bellum

   The Byrd family of Virginia did not leave a shadow on history, but rather an imprint! They created a dynasty that helped shape the early history of this country, and their legacy is like scatter-shot emanating from their stronghold on the James River. The first William Byrd made his mark as a trader and planter. His trading post at the falls of the James River is now the City of Richmond, and his stronghold at Shocco is still a focal point on the waterfront.
Portrait of Col. William Byrd II
William Byrd the elder was able to give his son, William Byrd II, a traditional education, studying, then reading law in England, and later working as a successful planter, Militia leader, and legislator here in the colony of Virginia. He is probably best remembered for the informative, insightful, and amusing, accounts of his life as described in his diaries. He cast his practiced eye over his world, and wrote his observations and viewpoints without apology.

   This portrait of Col. Byrd II is a not the portrait of an English Nobleman, though he certainly looks the part, but rather a Colonial Gentleman, a man of culture and fortune, secure in himself and his place in society.

   In 1728, Byrd undertook the surveying of the line between the Colonies of Virginia and North Carolina. The months it took to make the survey gave him ample time to acquaint himself with the early settlers of Southside, and his travelogue recounts the residents by name and the circumstances in which he found them.

   No matter the economic condition of his hosts, he was always given the best hospitality that could be afforded. He was so taken with the charms and amenities of what is now Mecklenburg County, that he bought a choice parcel of land on the eastern shore of the Roanoke and built a hunting lodge that he named Bluestone Castle.

   So often the history of Southside is associated with tobacco, and with good reason. For two hundred or more years, goods, commodities-- and even people-- were all bought and sold in terms of pounds of tobacco. Paradise Lake and Campground - Keeling Virginia A century earlier-- when Richard Crocker was fined for libel in 1626, he was sentenced to having his ears nailed to a pillory, and to forfeit all of his tobacco. This was a harsh sentence, which left him both sore of ear and reduced to penury. Without this cash crop, the Colonies would have been a different place altogether. Even today, vehicles carry bumper stickers that proudly declaim, �This vehicle was bought with tobacco money�.

   But look into the shadows of history, and other equally important sources of income come to light. One in particular is as modern as a hybrid car or the i-pod, and this is water. During Col. Byrd�s survey, he came across a glade of springs where there was recent evidence of a herd of buffalo. With his usual knack for naming things (the Great Dismal Swamp could not have been given a better moniker!) he decreed that this was now Buffalo Springs, and that the springs provided fine water. His words are better than anything I could paraphrase:

   We had no other drink but what Adam drank in Paradise, though to our comfort we found the water excellent, by the help of which we perceived our appetites to mend, our slumbers to sweeten, the stream of life to run cool and peaceably in our veins, and if ever we dreamt of women, they were kind.

   Has anyone ever said that about Perrier?

   The 18th century owners of this land capitalized on this opinion of Col. Byrd�s, and established an ordinary. The early assays made note of Lithia in the water, a substance thought to cure any number of ailments, and, over time, the official name became the Buffalo Lithia Springs.

   By the 1820�s, a health spa had grown up around the springs, and with it a reputation for good water, good food and comfortable lodgings. By the mid 19th century, the accommodations reached 400, and a wide range of entertainments became available to visitors. A ten pin alley was put in, and there were newspaper reports of balloon ascensions. A local artist made regular visits to paint for the guests. There are references to balls on the premises, and it takes little imagination to picture the fashionably dressed guests lined up for the dance craze of ante bellum society, the Virginia Reel. This dance was so popular that Julia Tyler, wife of President Tyler had an entire wing added to their James River Plantation, Sherwood Forest, just to accommodate the dancing of the Reel.

   A doctor became part owner in the Springs in the 1840�s and used his professional credentials to laud the virtues of the cures that could be accomplished with the aid of the springs.
Old Ad for Buffalo Springs Lithia Water
Springs is plural, because there were actually four springs, and two in particular were noted for their curative powers. An 1834 analysis of spring No. 1 shows sulphur, magnesia, iron, nitrogen and potash, supposedly good for conditions of the stomach, bowel, kidneys, bladder, liver and skin. The waters from Number 1 were particularly noted to be good for women�s ailments, and one can just imagine how anything would have been welcome. Before the days of our modern drugs that dispatch migraine and other such pains with alacrity, their only remedies were herbs brewed by local specialists, usually black women, whose recipes harked back to their African roots, or the other readily available substances of laudanum and opium. These worked well, but could cause withdrawals or addiction. Col. Byrd is always referring to the womenfolk as �being out of sorts, restless,� and other such terms that would probably be summed up today as just bitchy!

   The resort grew from a simple Ordinary to a great complex of buildings, starting with the main hospitality house and dining hall, which served meals, apparently at most any time, as the attitude of the spa was one of do what you want, when you want, with whomever you chose to do it.
Old Postcard - Sycamore Row - Buffalo Springs, VA
The grounds held cottages in long rows; somewhat reminiscent of the accommodations that one would see on US1 during the early years of last century. Accommodating several hundred guests at a time entailed kitchens, laundry, quarters for staff, both free and otherwise, dairies, stables, a carpenter shop and probably a blacksmith. The most fabled accommodation of all was a series of cottages allotted to �bachelors�, and suitably named �Rowdy Row�. While the official drink of the springs was WATER, spirits were brewed out of sight in the woods, and could probably account for a good bit of the rowdy in Rowdy Row.

   The guest lists include many notables, particularly during the Civil War years, as Buffalo Springs was considered a safe haven. It was well within the defenses of Richmond, and offered safe, comfortable accommodations for families while their men folk were out soldiering. Mrs. Stonewall Jackson was listed among the guests, as was Generalissimo Santa Anna of Mexico. This would be an interesting story to unravel as to what brought him to the interior of Virginia.

   Other guests, whose names would not raise a suspicious eyebrow then or now, were gentlemen who came for more serious business. Morningstars Bed, Bath & Curtain Outlet - Click for more information Buffalo Springs held one of the few ordinary licenses issued during the war years, and was used as a spy school by the Confederacy. The spa was a wonderful cover for this necessary, but unspoken activity.

   Transportation to the spa played a big part in its success and expansion. Stage lines ran thrice weekly from Virginia and also from nearby Raleigh in North Carolina. The railroad added a spur line to Buffalo Junction, where the train backed down to the station to discharge passengers, and to pick up freight, mainly bottled water that came from the springs. The water was receiving a good bit of PR, not only from those who visited, but also from the entrepreneurs who owned the spa. Buffalo Springs water was shipped all over the country, and after the Civil War, they broadened their range to Europe. You could order a bottle of Buffalo Springs Lithia Water in London, Paris or Berlin.
Bottle of Buffalo Springs Lithia Water

   By the turn of the twentieth century, the spa had taken on the sophistication of the pre-war society. They put in a 9-hole golf course, and brought in bands every weekend for well-publicized dances. Actor Buddy Ebson spent several years at the springs as a teenager during his father�s tenure there.

   The societal changes brought about by the Great War trickled down to even a fine retreat such as Buffalo Springs. The high life continued into the 1930�s, but lifestyles changed as the depression pinched even the upper middle class, and the growth of the modern pharmaceutical industry put an end to the fashion of curative waters. The old fashioned accommodations became quaint, and the age of this once fine resort and watering hole waned. The hotel closed, and the buildings were dismantled or fell into disrepair.

   Probably the most destructive force in the fate of the Spa was the creation of Kerr Lake. As the waters encroached, three quarters of the land attached to the spa were inundated. The Corps of Engineers have built a spring house evocative of the original around Spring #2, the most famous of the four springs, but the vast, exciting, and busy years can only be experienced in the writings of contemporaries, and in the shadows of time. The Clarksville Museum has a lot of information which has been donated by people who scrap-booked stories, advertisements and souvenirs. I hope that one day a complete history of the Springs will be written.

   The Springs today afford a lovely spot for a picnic, and local folks still swear by the curative properties of the water. I fancy that under a full moon on a warm summer night the lovers of long ago spark in the shadows around Springs 1 and 4, and the music and laughter of many generations linger just out of reach. On recent visits up there, friends and I have heard the chatter of long gone guests. I found it reminiscent of a busy railroad station, lots of talking, but not really anything that can be understood, and to anyone who cares to listen to the stones and the trees, there is much to learn about this extraordinary place. The waters from Col. Byrd�s springs have beguiled generations of visitors with their curative powers and entertaining surroundings. Now they are just another long shadow on the Roanoke.


Editor's Note: This is the second article in a series about the early days of the Mecklenburg County region, focusing on the area including Clarksville, Buffalo Junction, Chase City and Occoneechee State Park.
Read Part One as it appeared in the May Issue.


 Image Credits:

 Portrait of William Byrd II
 Wikipedia William Byrd II

 Office Building Buffalo Lithia Springs
 VaGenWeb's Mecklenburg County Virginia Genealogy Project

 Buffalo Lithia Water Bottle
 WPBS-TV's Antique Auction Buyer's Guide

 Buffalo Lithia Water Ad
 Townsend Library, New Mexico State University
 The History and Bottles of the Soft Drink Industry

 1913 Buffalo Springs "Sycamore Row" Postcard
 ebay  Item number: 350226519330






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