Man’s family history travels Valley Pike
Posted: February 23, 2013
The Winchester Star
WINCHESTER — Dr. David Powers has turned his computer into a magic glass to see into the past.
For years, the emergency room physician has been collecting dozens of old photographs and maps of the Valley Pike south of Winchester.
His interest was sparked because his family lived in a historic house in that area for a couple of generations.
The photographs offer images from days as distant as the Civil War-era. During a recent meeting of the Kernstown Battlefield Association, Powers (the group’s vice president) used his pictures to illustrate a talk about 1862, when Confederate Gen. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson was moving north on the Valley Pike to attack Union forces in Winchester.
“What was it really like?” Powers asked himself. What were the foot soldiers seeing as they hustled into the guns of the waiting Union troops?
His photographs set the scene, showing buildings that once lined the Pike. Many of them are gone, though a few remain.
The pictures Powers has gathered over the years also include his family’s farm, which became a recreation area for much of Winchester after World War II.
His grandfather James Ashby Sprint purchased Willow Lawn, a stately, rambling brick house at a place known as Milltown Mills during the Civil War.
Milltown Mills was an industrial settlement begun in the 18th century along Abrams Creek, where Jubal Early Drive now crosses Valley Avenue. (The Valley Pike is now known as Valley Avenue within the Winchester city limits.)
Powers speculated that mill owners were drawn to the area because the spring-fed creek had enough flow to power wooden-wheel water mills and it was only a mile from Winchester’s southern boundary.
An 1809 map of the area shows 11 mills on the stream, he said.
Three mills were there when Jackson’s men marched by, he added.
The most impressive had to be the Isaac Hollingsworth mill, three stories tall.
Powers has found a photograph of the structure, which burned down in 1909.
He also has a sketch by James Taylor, an artist “embedded” with Union Gen. Philip Sheridan’s forces in 1864.
“He is exceedingly accurate,” said Powers, pointing to the sketch and the photograph.
Isaac Hollingsworth was a Quaker and a cousin of Abraham Hollingsworth, who built Abram’s Delight, the oldest home in Winchester. He also owned another mill, also on Abrams Creek, east of Winchester.
Many of the millers were Quakers, Powers said, and well-to-do citizens, as shown by their imposing houses.
Willow Lawn, his family’s home, was one of them. It was built by Isaac Hollingsworth on his mill land.
“My grandfather bought the house from Nancy Pennypacker after World War II,” Powers noted.
The house, with its nooks and crannies, was a great place for a boy to play. Abrams Creek was only a dozen feet from Willow Lawn’s back door, he said.
Another perk was the Willow Lawn swimming pool.
Powers thinks the idea came from his grandfather, as a way to provide an job for his son James A. Sprint Jr. when he came home from World War II.
They built a public pool on level land southwest of the house. The cold water from Abrams Creek filled it. The pool opened in 1947 and closed in 1964.
Powers’ family lived in another home, behind Willow Lawn, that replaced a stone house built by an early settler, Isaac Parkins, between 1737 and 1747.
Parkins is believed to have built the first mill on Abrams Creek. The first Quaker marriage recorded in the Valley took place at Parkins’ home, Powers said.
These houses are gone now, he said, but he has photos to remind him of them.
Willow Lawn was razed and replaced by a car dealership (now Malloy Ford Inc.) in 1964, he said. But its namesake willow trees are still growing behind the dealership site west of Valley Avenue.
Another of the imposing homes in Milltown Mills survives: Montague Hall, just across the avenue from the Willow Lawn property.
The brick home, built after 1873 by a miller, Festus Hahn, is now on the National Register of Historic Places and a reminder of the industrial heritage of the area.
Powers has pictures of another Civil War site that Confederate troops had to pass before reaching Milltown Mills.
This was the Hillman tollhouse on the Valley Pike. It stood at northwest corner of the intersection where Cedar Creek Grade and Weems Lane meet Valley Avenue today.
In those days, turnpikes were toll roads, and in order to travel on them, riders and wagons had to pay a fee. Then the tollhouse keeper would turn or raise the pole across the road and allow them to pass through.
A part of local lore is the tale of Charlotte Hillman, who was in charge of the tollhouse when Sheridan led his Union forces south on the Valley Pike.
When he reached the tollhouse, young Miss Hillman demanded that the toll be paid.
Sheridan paid for himself and his officers, but not his troops.
While they passed through, Miss Hillman kept careful count by notching a stick for every 10 soldiers.
After the war, she submitted the bill to the federal government.
“And they paid,” Powers said.
Another feature Civil War soldiers would have seen, for miles on end, were the stone walls that lined the Valley Pike.
Powers’ photos show some of those walls. Gone now, they helped to prevent livestock, as they were moved to market, from straying into the yards of residents.
Farther south, Powers said, marching troops would have passed through Kernstown.
Another sketch by Taylor shows the village at that time, with many houses crowding the pike.
That area now holds Creekside’s retail shops.
At the point where the pike takes a turn to the east, just past a stream, stood Beemer’s Tavern.
That building, shown in Taylor’s sketch, is still standing, Powers said. It was most recently an art gallery.
Just north of this area is the lane leading to the Pritchard House, a centerpiece of the Battle of Kernstown, Stonewall Jackson’s only defeat.
That area, with its historic house, has been preserved by the Kernstown Battlefield Association, giving everyone a chance to see the land as it looked to soldiers 150 years ago.
As vice president of the KBA, this preservation project is close to Powers’ heart, and he knows how it all ties together with Valley Pike.
The area of Milltown Mills, now mostly buried by commercial progress, played an important part in the First Battle of Winchester — the “Rodney Dangerfield” of Civil War clashes, Powers said.
Limestone Lane, leading to the mills, was used by artillery trying to reach the heights of Bowers Hill, he said.
Jackson had sent part of his infantry on a flanking movement to the west and his gunners reached the hill without backup.
A native son, artilleryman Marshall Barton, lost his life there, less than a mile from his home.
Powers has acquired an aerial view of Bowers Hill, taken in the late 1940s, showing how open the land was to the west of the Valley Pike, with Handley High School standing prominently to the north.
Powers is hoping that his photograph collection, which brings the past to life for him, will bring home local history to more people, especially the pieces of it that still remain.
He also hopes that the pictures will inspire anyone with old photos of the area to take a close look at them.
Many times, he said, people are posed in front of structures that no longer exist — ones historians would love to be able to see.
He certainly would.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com