A Child in Stringtown


The Pocatalico River at Stringtown.

In my latest Charleston Daily Mail column, I write about our visitors who came the day I posted about The Strange Case of the Box Mix. The visitors that day were the two daughters of my Great-Aunt Oshial (who was the sister of my Great-Aunt Ruby–of the slanted little house fame–and my grandfather Romeo).

That’s Barbara Vineyard on the right, and her younger sister Janet on the left.

Barbara grew up in Stringtown. (The family had moved to town before Janet, who is much younger, was born.) Stringtown is the long-ago lost oil boom town that once existed in the area surrounding our farm. Our farm was once the beating heart of old Stringtown. We named our farm Stringtown Rising Farm in its honor. My great-grandfather’s house stood on the bank across the river from our farm. My father was born on the hill across the road from my great-grandfather’s house. He grew up in another house a mile down the road. Across the river is an old schoolhouse (now used as a residence) where my grandmother was the one-room schoolhouse teacher.

There’s nothing here now but wild woods and a few scattered farms. Forests have overtaken hills that were once cleared and dotted with little homes.

This photo was taken from the hill on our farm and shows the clearings and the houses that once stood on the hill across the river.

The derrick in the picture stands off to the side of our house, in what is now Beulah Petunia Land (not far from the milk stand). I wrote about our old derrick here and you can see photos in that post of what it looks like today. Notice the numerous oil derricks in the photo. This was an OIL BOOM TOWN. (Our best guess is that this photo was taken in the early 1900s, probably no later than the 1920s, possibly quite earlier. By the 30s and 40s, the boom was dying. The end of WWII spelled the Great Exodus from Stringtown as young men like my father returned from the war only to leave again to find their futures in the big world outside these hills.)

This is what the hill across the river looks like now from our porch, just a little to the side of the perspective of the photo above. The hill in the center of the photo is the same hill. (It’s just covered with trees now.)

There was a town here once. It’s gone.

I was surprised and delighted recently to receive in the mail an account, written by Barbara, of her childhood in Stringtown. What an amazing piece of history, but beyond that, it brings our farm and the area around it to vivid life. I can see Barbara as a little girl looking for tadpoles in the ditches along the road, see her little red house and her dolls she hid from her brother, see her playing in the river, catching minnows and catfish in her hands. Oh, how I feel her pain when she talks of walking up the steep hills.

And the food. Oh, the food. Her descriptions of food on the farm when she was growing up make me drool.

I excerpted some of her account in my Daily Mail column today, and I’ve posted her entire account on my website. Barbara’s account, in all its delicious detail, is fascinating just from a historical perspective, but from a personal perspective, the places she writes about are all within a few miles of my farm (and much of it directly across the river). The Olive and Romeo mentioned in the account are my grandparents. My grandmother Olive was the one-room schoolteacher. I love the bits Barbara includes of the scandal when Olive courted and wed Luster. (My grandfather, Romeo, died when my father was four.) Luster was the same age as my father. Olive’s house, which is just a mile down the road from our farm (Skip lives in that house now), was built on one of my great-grandfather’s farms. He was so mad at her when she married Luster that he fenced off her house from the rest of the farm. It was a huge scandal of the day, in this tiny rural community, for the schoolteacher to marry a young man half her age. (Note: My mother’s father, my other grandfather, died when I was five. Luster was pretty much the only grandfather I ever knew growing up. He was a really good grandfather and my grandmother was so devoted to him.) Olive, by the way, was the one who taught my mother (her daughter-in-law) to make Grandmother Bread.

You can find Barbara’s full account (laboriously retyped–no, I don’t have a scanner–by me with Morgan’s help) here on my History page.


  1. glenda says:

    Suzanne, I am so glad you are getting these stories now…before it is too late and everyone who knows is gone. Just the historical facts of how they lived is wonderful but the personal stories make it come alive for us. I know it ties you even closer to your home place.

    I love reading them and am now heading to the full account from Barbara. Bless her for doing this.

  2. wvhomecanner says:

    What a gift Barbara has given you and the rest of us now since you and Morgan have taken the time to type it all up! I really enjoyed reading her memories and it’s especially interesting to me, knowing a little more about life then in Roane County where my paternal roots are. Thanks Barbara! (and Suzanne and Morgan!)


  3. Sharon says:

    Your roots go deep in those hills, so glad that you have the memories and are sharing them. I so enjoyed reading this post and finding out more about the life in your neck of the woods. And glad too for your children, some folks don’t have all this history to claim as their own. Looking forward to more, please share. :chicken:

  4. ellen mcbryde says:

    It is amazing what changes can occur in about one hundred years time. You are so lucky to have this history passed on to you. My family possess some rare film footage and photos of my Father’s hometown..the changes are fascinating.
    That an entire TOWN can truly disappear is incredible.
    I will re-read this post and links again!

  5. Pete says:

    Reminds me of the story of my great aunt who threw out the abusive, drunk who fathered her older children and later married a much younger cousin when he was visiting from across the pond. Her oldest son was so scandalized by it that her grave is marked only with a stone which says “Mother” and she is buried between two of her oldest children.

    At least I got to know Mom’s younger cousin and her children. Mom was the only member of the family who acknowledged (and visited with) them. Very sad. I was about 6 when Mom said one day that it was about time for me to meet my cousins – then we drove across the tracks and pulled up to a little house not more than 8 blocks from ours!

  6. CindyP says:

    It is so amazing that such a large town was in that area! It looks like it has always been an escape up in the mountains with hardly anything around to see. What a wonderful gift to have written stories of this!

  7. Ramona says:

    Wow, talking about being rich in family history. How cool to have this much of your families lives documented.

  8. Jo says:

    What amazing history and roots, Suzanne! You are so blessed to get to take part in it. There’s something about history like that, that brings tears to my eyes. Wouldn’t you just love to be able to go back in time to those days for just one week? :heart:

  9. Searcy says:

    I love the stories of old Stringtown and also the article in your paper. I feel like I know the place now. If you could snatch up a few more stories and invent a few things, it sounds like the makings of a wonderful book of the buzz from yesteryear. We all have stories in our hills but we do NOT all have oil rigs and money and the productions in life that those bring us. I can’t wait to read more! :sun:

  10. Pamela in Louisiana says:

    You may want to consider having that picture of Stringtown professionally enlarged as big as possible and framed. It would be a wonderful picture to hang on a wall in your home, preferably where you could stand and look at the picture and compare it to the hill. Your guests would love that. My brother-in-law did so with a photo of a street in our states’ capitol, and everyone stands and looks at the picture, each person comparing changes and noticing something different.

  11. Miss Becky says:

    this is a beautiful story Suzanne. thanks for sharing it. I love the old photo showing how the the forests have reclaimed those hills. simply beautiful. :yes:

  12. QuietStorm says:

    I love personal glimpses of history like this!!! My favorite 6th Grade Social Studies teacher is the town historian and has written many histories of our surrounding towns….

  13. Kathi N., who could not live without her scanner says:

    Dear Universe: On Suzanne’s behalf, I throw out her need for a scanner!

  14. Jean Morford says:

    You are so fortunate to have so many good writers in your family. In reading the history of the Dye family, I saw several references to the Looneyville Cemetery. Do you know if it has ever been cataloged? I would love to read what is on the tombstones. Some of my Renfros married Looneys. Thank you.

  15. cobby says:

    I want to move to stringtown and have every since I found your blog. Looks like the peaceful place I am looking for! That story would make a great movie :jackolantern:

  16. MMHONEY says:

    I attended school with a Rex Dye – Dorothy Loonie.
    All of these names are familiar to me. They may also appear on your antique quilt. My Dad was a rig builder You call them derricks. We would go to the site when they were going to “blow” the well. This would only be meaningful to “old timers.”

  17. Yvonne says:

    Jean, I know a “very young (about 30)” Looney from that area. I’ll ask her if she knows of the cemetery and if it has been cataloged.

  18. MMHONEY says:

    Excuse ME!!!!!
    I should have typed Looney. OH WELL You get the drift…..

  19. TXLady says:

    Those are the kind of Family stories you need to write in your book..and then add in pictures just as you did in the column, and of course how to’s and family recipes etc. Have you read Bonny Wolf’s book “Talking with my Mouth Full”…I had in mind this kind of book when I responded yesterday…..

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