Thursday, January 11, 2018

Natural Bridge and Lexington circa 1957

I am sharing today's post on my travel blog, too, since that blog entertains a different audience and this is kind of a travel related post.


A very interesting film made in 1957 about my family's American home... Special thanks to my friend, Joann, for posting this fascinating video about Natural Bridge and Lexington, Virginia.  

I have mentioned before that I come from Virginia. My family has been in Virginia since the early 1700s.  The earliest relative I've found in Virginia was a man named Johann Tolley, who came to Virginia from Hamburg, Germany.  I don't know if he was German or had come to Germany from somewhere else.  Most Tolleys are of British extraction, so I think it's possible he had a German mother (because of his first name) and a British father.  But there's no way to know for sure.

Johann Tolley eventually fathered the people in my family who later settled in Rockbridge County.  Rockbridge County is kind of in the west central part of the state, in the Shenandoah Valley and Blue Ridge Mountains.  Although I have been visiting Natural Bridge and its environs my whole life, I did not grow up there myself.  I was born and mostly raised not far from Williamsburg and Jamestown, Virginia, clear across the state.

Because my dad was an Air Force officer, the family he made with my mother was nomadic.  My parents spent the first 24 years of their marriage moving to different towns, mostly in the southern United States, but occasionally in other countries.  I was born during their fourteenth year of marriage, so I missed a lot of the moves and didn't have any sense until the bitter end of my dad's military career.

The one place that has always been a constant in my life has been Natural Bridge.  I'm pretty sure my family has lived in the same creekside house since the 1940s.  I'm not sure what's going to happen when my aunt and uncle pass on.  I hope someone in the family will keep the house.  It's a special place that is mostly full of wonderful memories.


Granny's house... where my dad grew up.  There is a creek that runs in front of the house and another one that runs perpendicular to it on the left.


Down by the creek...


After a rare November snow in 2014... when I last visited.


Another shot up the hill.  I pray this house never leaves our family.  The street it's on was named after my grandfather.


My family as of 2014.  Sadly, a couple of the people in the photo are no longer with us.  I think we're missing about twenty people, too.  The Mormons have nothing on us.


The family church, High Bridge Presbyterian.  This is where we held my dad's memorial service.


Many of my relatives are buried here, including my dad, who was moved about two years after he was initially buried at Granny's house.



Goshen Pass, mentioned in the video and very close to Lexington, Virginia.  It's where Bill and I honeymooned and sort of fell in love the weekend before 9/11.  That's another story, though.

My friend, Joann, who originally posted the above video, lives in Lexington, Virginia.  Lexington is about ten miles from Natural Bridge.  It has sort of a special place in my heart because not only is a super cute town, it's also where many of my family members went to college or worked. It's also where Bill and I got married in 2002.  Before the area was taken over by transplants from up north and out west, it was mostly settled by Scots-Irish Presbyterians.  According to 23 and Me, that is surely enough the lion's share of my genetic makeup.  I was raised Presbyterian, too.  

The video is interesting viewing for me, since my parents who are/were both from that area got married the year it was made.  Mom was 19 and Dad was 24.  They had lived in Rockbridge County their whole lives.  My dad finished his degree at Virginia Military Institute in 1956 and immediately became an Air Force officer.  The following year, he married my mom and they left the area for good, only to come back for visits.  My dad is now buried in the graveyard at the family church.  Originally,  he was buried on a hillside at the house where he grew up with his eight brothers and sisters, but my mom had him moved.  I guess she realized that house might not always be in family hands.

Another reason why that video is interesting is because it basically reflects the ethos of the 1950s.  The story is told from the Natural Bridge's viewpoint.  It explains how the area used to be populated by "red men", also known as Native Americans.  The Bridge explains that it tried to explain to the natives that it was created by God.  Alas, they worshiped the Bridge as a Pagan God, even though the Bridge tried to explain that it was the Christian God who created it.  The Bridge sounds almost grateful as it explains that white Christian settlers eventually moved into the area in 1737.  The white Christians "got it right'.  (I'm being facetious, here.)

Based on the video, a lot of great people came from Rockbridge County.  Even Sam Houston, who eventually went on to be the namesake of Houston, Texas, was born in Rockbridge County.  I never knew that.  It's actually pretty interesting, given the impact Sam Houston had in Texas.  In fact, reading about Sam Houston is uniquely fascinating, given his family history in Scotland and Ireland.  I was just in Northern Ireland a few months ago and we stopped in Larne.  There is a plaque there commemorating the history of the Houston family before they moved to Virginia.

Sam Houston also moved on the Maryville, Tennesee when he was fourteen years old.  I have not been to Maryville, but I do have a couple of friends who attended Maryville College and one who moved back to the town after she retired from teaching at my alma mater, Longwood University.  I also lived in Texas for a year... and Bill spent several years there and graduated high school in Houston.  I'm amazed at how all of these places are interconnected with Rockbridge County, which even today is still pretty rural.  Although a lot of new people have moved there, there is still a core of people descended from the original settlers.  

I'm not sure why, but somehow when I was growing up, I never realized or appreciated the deep connection my family has to Virginia, especially Rockbridge County.  I think it's because I was a military brat, even though I spent most of my growing up years in Gloucester County.  Gloucester is another one of those places where people settled and stayed, much like Rockbridge County is.  

There were several last names there that would always come up at roll call in school.  A lot of them were the children of people from England who had stayed after the Revolutionary War, which was won in nearby Yorktown.  In the early 80s, Gloucester was still so rural that people who moved there were "come heres" and never really got the sense of community that the locals had.  My parents owned at house in Gloucester for about 30 years, but it still doesn't seem like home, even though it's probably the one place in the world where I feel sure I could get help immediately if I ever needed it.  I still have a lot of friends who live there.  

I didn't appreciate Virginia when I was younger.  I used to fantasize about moving somewhere else, where the people and the scenery were different.  Now, as much as I like Germany, I'm starting to think about going "home" to Virginia.  Maybe I would only go there to visit, though... I'm not sure if I want to die in my home state or even if circumstances will allow it.

Anyway... I wasn't actually planning on making today's blog post a trip down memory lane.  In fact, I think I had an entirely different idea before I saw the video Joann posted.  I may come back later.

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