Jonesville, NC: History and Heritage
From its origins in the mid-1700’s, the town that is now Jonesville was one of the largest settlements west of Raleigh. The area was initially called Allen’s Settlement, presumably for David Allen (and a son by the same name), who owned a bloomery forge (one method for processing iron ore) on the Big Elkin Creek.
Fred Hughes’ 1977 Land Grant map indicates that Allen’s forge was supplied ore from an extended area that included the Brushy Mountain range to Fox Knob (now called Star Peak — for which Yadkin County’s Starmount High School is named) to across the Yadkin River (either by ferry or at the Old Ford near the Indian Fish Trap), up the Big Elkin Creek to contemporary West Elkin and Pleasant Hill and into the mountainous woodlands later named Wilkes County.
Ore mines or “pits” are still found within the Town of Jonesville, especially adjacent to West Main Street, which was then called Iron Works Road. Near the River, Iron Works Road forked left to the Ford Road which trailed Mineral Spring Branch to the shallows across the River at the Indian Fish Trap. Until a ferry was built near the mouth of the Big Elkin Creek, ore-laden wagons and travelers crossed the Yadkin at the shallows.
Readers may want to locate the site of Allen’s Iron Works or the Jonesville ferry or the Old Ford Road between Jonesville and Elkin. It may be possible to identify the routes visually or with scanning equipment, but don’t expect to find accurate references on early maps. As found at the Island Ford Ferry site, remnants of ferry cables near the Big Elkin Creek will someday be found. A section of the Old Ford Road is preserved in Mineral Spring Park … But unless the county or state specifically authorized a ferry or road, or an early cartographer witnessed it, the attribute may not appear on early maps.
History relies on what is written, what is said and what is preserved — which includes public records, personal letters, journals, oral accounts, and artifacts. Critical companions to history are heritage — i.e., the customs, values, legacy or cultural traditions associated with a region — and humanity, a respect for the common bond between all humans. One of our region’s primary sources of historic discovery is Moravian journals and documents — of which thousands are yet to be translated.
In journals, we have one person’s interpretation of their observations and experiences. For example, we will later introduce a journal of one local family’s work with the “Underground Railroad” (an unlawful and secret network of people who aided fugitive slaves) through Jonesville to “stations” along the route to freedom. Did the journal present an accurate reflection of events and perspectives in the early and mid-1800’s?
This writer attempted to validate claims made in the journal by reviewing public records, other letters and journals, interviews, local topography, alleged escape routes and regional history. Did an Underground Railroad most likely run through Jonesville? Yes. Will others be as convinced? Most will; some will not … Why? Because when the topic is as emotionally charged as is the topic of slavery, what is accepted as highly probable and likely true must also be affirmed by a sense of humanity and heritage.
But back to the subject of Allen’s Settlement …
For clarity, let’s look at the operational word “settlement. A settlement is a gathering of homes and families … a small community ….” The settlement of Allen’s was established behind the protective bluffs that once stood on the south bank of the Yadkin, above contemporary McNeill Bridge at the junction of Elm Street – West Main Street and River Road. We know that businesses developed eastward, toward the center of the original town, along the Mineral Spring Branch (note locations of the Tannery, the Academy and the Soap Factory), away from the River, up Iron Works Road — to an extended “Town Square” that included the Benham Hotel, Thompson’s Store (and later Fletcher McBride’s), the Van Eaton and Hunt-Thompson homes, Hardy Jones’ home, the Tobacco Factory, the old Post Office, Swaim Oil Company, the Pepsi Distribution Center and later the Town Hall.
Early circuit riders and Moravian clergy who came to Allen’s (per journal entries), described the Settlement and homesteads on the south bank of the Yadkin. Many traveled up the River from Salem (approximating the route of current highway 67) to Allen’s. When referencing services at Michael Bacon’s Brush Arbor and meeting house, located at the confluence of Beaverdam and Cobb Creeks (to be described later), early ministers also traveled either of two early routes from eastern North Carolina: The Old Salisbury or the Old Hamptonville Roads. Early travelers from the west may have followed the Yadkin or one of the larger streams or possibly taken the Old Wilkes Road along the Yadkin’s south bank to enter the Settlement. In addition to the common trail-ways cleared by early settlers and wagon trains, less-traveled wilderness paths were often used by hunters, trappers or area farmers who came into Allen’s to trade.
Allen’s Settlement and early Jonesville were surrounded by wilderness, small isolated farms, and an occasional plantation. Surry County included Wilkes and Yadkin Counties and extended from the Virginia State line southward to the town of Winston and the Salem colony. Current towns such as Yadkinville, Boonville, and East Bend, etc., were identified on early maps and in documents as “meeting houses” or plantations — if they yet existed.
Although our histories overlap in many areas, the neighboring Town of Elkin did not develop until well after 1840 when a Jonesville businessman left to tend his expansive plantation on the north side of the River. Enterprising Richard Gwyn soon established grist and woolen mills on the Big Elkin Creek. From these ventures evolved the Town of Elkin and the famous Chatham Woolen Mill.
With an influx of strong business leaders and the arrival of the railroad, the Town, chartered in 1889, began to thrive, earning global prominence as a 20th-century textile center for technology, woolen products, blankets, and upholstery. Chatham Manufacturing Company provided the region and employee-families with numerous outreach services, including youth programs, scholarships, and recreational facilities — many of which continue to impact the contemporary Elkin-Jonesville community.
But even before Allen’s Settlement and early Jonesville, the Valley was home to native tribes …
Drawn to the fertile Yadkin River Valley, nomadic tribes and early settlers were especially aware of the protective river bluffs which harbored them from rising waters and potential marauders. Only one partial bluff now stands as a memorial to that era, and from its precipice over twenty historic sites are either nearby or can be seen. We’ll be discussing these sites later, but first, let’s consider the significance of the area in which our community is located.
|Early settlers in the Yadkin Valley:
History and Heritage continued: Early Life, Landmarks and Legends