One Of Outstanding Families in County-Bibles Show Names Of Descendants
From the 1938 centennial edition of The Times-Register
There seems to be no definite knowledge of when and where the first settlement in what is now known as Roanoke County, was located. Certain it is, though, that Poage’s Mill on the Bent Mountain Road was one of the first communities that could boast of sustaining industries.
Among the early grant lands, was that of 1000 A. from King George to Colonel Robert Poage, said to be the only survivor of that name, of the Indian massacre near Staunton.
Robert was 11 years old when the massacre took place. There were three children, and the baby, the youngest, had its brains dashed out against a tree. The father was scalped. Robert and his sister Emily were taken as captives on the trail to Oregon. After several years, with the help of friends, they escaped and finally landed back in Jamestown, from where their family had started. The boy, Robert, walked much of the way, and Emily rode on mule back. She died while still a young woman.
Little could be learned of this founder of the house of Poage, established in that beautiful spot on Back Creek, which spreads out at that point in a fertile little valley between the mountains, and on a mountain stream where the wildlife came in from the forest, for water. A rock, within view of the Poage’s home is often pridefully pointed out to visitors, as the rock on which salt was placed by early settlers, to entice the deer, whenever there was a hunger for venison.
Just when Col. Poage built the first log cabin home in the wilderness seems not to be on record but was probably at about 1750. He was one of the hardy Scotchmen who first felled the native timber, clearing space in the virgin forest, and began laying the foundation for civilized life in the far western section of what was then West Augusta County.
Was Big County
Back Creek was then somewhere within the confines of West Augusta, which was described as reaching to the Mississippi River, and which in 1763, by the Treaty of Paris, was given further territory to take in Michigan and Missouri. With so little knowledge at that time, of the vast extent of this great American continent; and in those days of daring deeds incident to pioneering, as one historian has put it, “men made history then, they did not write history.” So, it is only as one meets with an elderly descendant of one of those first families of Virginia, who has a fine memory coupled with a yen for preserving memoirs, that he is able to connect up a live story with the meager record of dates and events.
Mrs. Mollie C. Poage, widow of Charles Poage, is one of those valuable connecting links between the past and the present.
Recently, visiting Mrs. Poage in her roomy, comfortable modernized and it must be added, traditionally hospitable old home at Poage’s Mill, she fell into a reminiscent mood, and talked much of the past as the family’s story has been handed down through the generations, from father to son.
Mrs. Poage’s story began with John T. Poage and William Poage, first cousins. Of the original 1000 A. grant, 600 A. had come to John as a legacy, and 400 A. to William. John had a son Elijah; and William a son, William. The descendants of these two men formed the nucleus of the settlement about Poage’s Mill.
Birth Of John Poage
The oldest date given in the family Bible, is that of the birth of John Poage, June 24, 1769. His wife Margaret was a native of York County Pennsylvania. The log house built by John Poage, the original portion of the present residence occupied by Mrs. Mollie Poage and her son James Poage and his family, bears the date on the chimney, of 1833. It was the son of John and Margaret Poage, Elijah, who married Mary Sloan, that reared his prolific family here and established at Poage’s Mill what was for half a century or more, an industrial center of the county.
Squire Poage, by which he was familiarly known, having served as Justice of the Peace for a number of years, was a most versatile and resourceful man. A skilled mechanic and fine cabinet maker, he had a furniture factory equipped with a turning lathe and which did a flourishing business before the Civil War. From his factory was turned out practically all the furniture used in the homes of that section, supplanting the crude log-hewn articles of the earlier period. This furniture was made from walnut and maple cut from the virgin forest of the nearby mountains. A number of these pieces, beautifully finished, are still in use in some of the fine old homes of the neighborhood.
Squire Poage soon realized that there was a demand for coffins, so he manufactured caskets of durable black walnut. Mrs. Poage stated that there is record of these having been made to sell from $1 to $20 each. Those priced at $20 were considered to be mighty fine and were for “the rich folks”. They were lined with black velvet and had handles attached with silver screws.
Was First Embalmer
As one thing calls for another, the Squire soon became the neighborhood undertaker, and it is said that he had his own method of embalming with a fluid preservative, claiming to be the first undertaker in this section who embalmed.
Elijah Poage, the man of business, and the undertaker was also a miller. He built a roller and sawmill, where farmers from up Bent Mountain way and from down in the Roanoke Valley brought their corn and wheat to be ground, and their logs to be sawed. The mill was at first of the old “sash” type, but later, when the circular saw came in to use, he, with his usual enterprise, installed a circular saw.
In due time, the thriving little village needed a post office, and this established by Uncle Sam, was, by common consent of the neighborhood named for the Poage family.
The Poage home was the stopping place of many a traveler who came along about mealtime, or at nightfall, the welcome guest, always. It would greatly enrich the history of southwest Virginia, had the tales those travelers exchanged about the big open log fireplace in that mountain home, been preserved to posterity.
Some reminders still remain of that early time, when it was all mud roads along a steep mountain side, that halted stormbound travelers; when the stage coach and the occasional mail coach bringing news from the outside world, were eagerly looked for.
Had Much Meat
The loom house, in which linsey-woolsey and rag carpets were woven has been moved down the creek a way and is now being used as a tenant house. The meat house, a big sturdy log house, in which hung great quantities of cured meat to supply the many hands employed on the Poage farm, is just behind the Poage home. On the walls and inside the heavy door, are notations of accounts as they were kept, then. There are records of sausage-good pure pork sausage at that-charged up at 5 cents per pound. The biggest winter kill of beef and pork, is recorded to have been a 5,000 lb. weight.
So, summing it all up, there must have been in the Poage Mill hamlet strung along the pike-the mill, the furniture and coffin factory, the mortuary, the slaughterhouse, the storehouse and the post office; all with the substantial backing of grain, vegetables and fruits grown on the fertile fields along Back Creek, and in the coves of the mountain sides.
Ox carts drawn by oxen were a familiar sight as recently as 20 years ago; and it is only since the new hard-surfaced road has been put through over the mountain, that trucks have supplanted the covered wagons. It is said that the first automobile was driven into Back Creek by “Tish” Fishburn, from Roanoke, and the whole village turned out to see the sight.
The main part of the mill still stands, a familiar landmark on the old mud road, but the big overshot water wheel has disappeared.
At the Harvey Poage place there is a level spot of bottom land, said to have been an Indian racetrack.
About 1882, Squire Poage remodeled and enlarged the old home. The children raised here are the older generation who with their families-children and grandchildren-still reside at Poage’s Mill. They are, besides Mrs. Mollie Sloan Poage, widow of Charles Poage, Miss Laura Poage, David Thomas Poage, his wife and family; Harry Lee Poage, James W. Poage and family; Arthur Sibert Poage and family.
The original grant land of 1,000 A., is now held by 18 owners.
-Prepared by Lisa King