Written By C. C. Ballard
|In giving a brief outline of the previous history as well as
present conditions of Gap Mills vicinity, we will first mention the
territory embraced in this community.
We will take into consideration only the drainage area of the Gap Valley, which includes all the land fron the village of Gap Mills to "top of the Alleghany," a distance of five miles east. It extends also south of west three and seven-tenth miles, and from the crest of Peters Mountain and Gap Mountain to the Lewis place.
This basin is drained by three streams that unite to form Second Creek.
This valley is almost all underlaid with limestone. Numerous caverns have been discovered, some of which have been explored for almost a mile. The soil is of such a composition that when the timber is removed a bluegrass sod soon forms. More than thirty different native forest trees may be found here. The elevation in the valley ranges from 2200 to 2600 feet.
Perhaps the first white man to set foot on the soil of Gap Valley was Major Wood in 1671 who with four other soldiers and seven Indians as guides and scouts set out on September 1 from Fort Henry now Petersburg, Virginia by order of the British Government to explore the region west of the mountains. He discovered New River near Radford and for seventy years after it was known as Wood's River. They followed this stream to Thurmond or near there and returned through Monroe County by way of Indian Creek, Thorny Hollow, Gap Mills, Sweet Springs, and Fincastle, Virginia, where they retraced their steps back to the fort over the same route they set out on. This trail through the county was known by all Indians in this region as the direct route from East to West.
Major Wood made special mention of Second Creek because it runs in a northern direction, while all other small streams run in a western or northeastern direction.
Nothing is known as to who was the first settler of this community, but at the outbreak of the Dunmore War in 1774 there was a chain of settlements from Sweet Springs to Gap Mills.
The first mention of a county road was in June 1774 which was twenty years after Braddock's defeat.
Botetourt Court ordered the men to view a road from Sweet Springs to Second Creek Gap. When this road was built is not known, but an old record reads as follows:
"By an Act of 1819 Alexander Kitchen, near the head of Second Creek, was authorized to put up a toll gate and collect tolls for six years in order to reimburse himself for the $550.00 he had paid out of his own funds in building the road. He failed to collect the amount named and was given an extension of time to 1830. People going from Gap Mills to Sweet Springs were required to pay as follows: for 20 cattle .30, 20 sheep or hogs .15, 1 horse .08 each vehicle with two wheels .20, each wagon with four wheels .50, for each wheel of a cart and for each animal attached to the vehicle .06 1/4.
The survey for this road was made the same year that Cornstalk was defeated at the Battle of Point Pleasant, and in passing, will just mention that the entrance to our high school building sets a portion of the old road bed. Our first roads were often nothing more than widened Indian trails.
The first settlers of this valley were four families to which we wish to make special mention.
Four sisters named Maxwells: Margaret, Isabelle, Elizabeth, and Hannah married respectively Thomas Steele, Owen Neel, Andrew Crosier, and Robert Dunbar. They came here from Pennsylvania and lived as neighbors. This occurred about 1790. Owen Neel first settled in Potts Valley, but later moved to this place. All four of the sisters and their husbands, except Andrew Crosier, are buried in a graveyard on B. L. Neel's farm. Andrew Crosier died while visiting relatives in Tennessee, and was buried there.
Being of Scotch descent they were all Presbyterians. In the year of 1835, feeling they were strong enough to support a church of their own, they petitioned the session to allow them to establish a church at Gap Mills.
The following is from the records of the church of Union, Volume 2, Page 48:
"August 1, 1835 the session met. Present: Rev. Wm. Campbell, Moderator, James Glenn, James Curry, Thomas Irons, James Young, Jno. Dunbar and J. B. Hogshead, elders.
The following petition from members of the church in the Gap was presented by Mr. Dunbar, viz:
"We, the undersigned members of the church of Union, residing in the Gap Valley, believing that it would be for the spiritual interest of our neighborhood for us to be organized into a distinct church respectfully ask leave of the session of the church of Union to be dismissed from that church for the aforesaid purpose. (Signed) Abner Neel, Robert Dunbar, John Steele, Thomas Dunbar, Rebecca Bland, Hannah Dunbar, Adam Crosier, Wm. Dunbar, George Steele, James Crosier, Sarah Steele, Elizabeth Crosier, Mary Neel, Elizabeth Dunbar, Agnes Kitchen, Julia Smith, Rebecca Neel, Mary A. Dunbar, Owen Neel, Jno. O'Neel, Jno. Crosier, Margaret Neel, Nancy Dunbar, Margaret Dunbar, Alice Patton, Wm. Crosier, Sarah Crosier, Jane Steele, Margaret Jarvis, Isabelle Gilchrist, Samuel Steele, Edith Steele, Wm. H. Neel, Margaret Bland, Thos. Steele, and Jno. M. Dunbar.
"Resolved that the above petition be granted and that the persons there in named be and they hereby are dismissed from the church for the purpose stated in the petition and in obedience to an or from Presbytery. And so soon as they shall have organized a distinct church their responsibility to this session shall terminate as being no longer under its watch and care."
All signers of this petition except two were direct descendants of the Maxwell sisters.
It was left the oldest member of this petition to name the church and Thomas Steele was the oldest and he named it Carmel. This building: was erected near where the present one now stands on land given by Andrew Summers.
The first sermon preached in this valley by any minister, so far as any record shows, was at the home of Wm. Haines where Mr. Burice Dransfield now lives, by Mr. McElheny and it was also his first sermon.
The Methodist Episcopal church, South, here was organized 1871 with three members. Dr. Martin, Mrs. Martin his wife, and Miss Martha Ellen Teass. The first sermon was preached by Lewis Lynch in the Temperance Hall where Mr. J. A. Bates now lives He was pastor for two years. Services were held in the Campbell school house till 1880 when the first Methodist church was built on the site where the present structure now stands. The land was given by Mr. R. C. Appling and was built by a number of men. Among whom were J. E. Loudermilk, J. W. Hull, Wm. Blankenship, J. R. Teass, R. C. Appling, J. P. Patton, and C. E. McGuin.
It is quite interesting to note the appraised value of the most common articles found in Gap Mills Community in 1800 by the assessor, Adam Bowyers: pewter plate .25, goose .24, cowhide $2.50, hog .70, mould for pewter spoons $1.00, sheep $1.68, spinning wheel $2.00, men's saddle $1.00, flax hackle $2.00, kraut tub .50, cattle per head $5.35, negro boy $200.00, and for still and vessels $26.33.
In the village of Gap Mills there are twenty-seven homes including four colored families. The present population of the town of Gap Mills is ninety-six white and twenty-nine colored people.
We have two flour mills (roller process) in this town, and a third mill is nearby, three churches - one of which is colored, a first class high school, a graded school, a one room school (colored), three stores, one hotel, one garage, one blacksmith shop, a barber shop, a harness shop, a cobbler shop, and a post office.
The Gap Mills Community consists of 507 persons with 114 homes and an average of 4.44 people to each home.
Ninety-one homes are owned by their occupants, and twenty-three are occupied by renters. Of the present population 297 were born here, 155 came from other communities, and 48 were born in other states.
In recent years we have had two county superintendents of schools, two sheriffs, two deputy sheriffs, two attorneys, five doctors, and forty-three school -teachers.
Col. Andrew S. Rowan of Spanish American War fame was a native of this community. First Lieut. Percy Pharr of the World War and W. J. Humphrey, Physicist of the Metearological Bureau, Washington, D. C., were born in Gap Mills village. L. R. Neel, manager of Middle Tenn. Experiment Station was born and reared one mile from the village of Gap Mills.
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