Memories from the Great Niece of Alexander Black
Blacksburg holds memories for many people who have lived in the town throughout the years, long ago and more recent times too. This house, the Alexander Black house, is filled with remembrances of the past also.
The house was built in 1897. Alex Black lived here with his wife, Lizzie Otey and their adopted daughter, Mary Louise (pictured left). Uncle Alex Black lived until 1935, but his wife Lizzie Otey Black died in 1926, eight years after the death of their daughter in 1918. Our grandmother, Lizzie Black Apperson, whose husband, Dr, John S. Apperson had died in 1908, moved from their home in Marion, Virginia to live with her brother in this house. Blacksburg was Lizzie Black Apperson's childhood home. She told all of us about the time the Yankees came through the town.Many of my memories during the late 1920's and early
1930's revolve around the everyday living in this house. Even though my immediate family did not live here, we spent much time with our Great Uncle Alex, our Grandmother Lizzie and our Aunt Mary Apperson. Each time I have returned to the house, it has been a time of coming home to me.
One of my favorite places in the house was the stairway and the space behind it, a perfect place for a child to hide from everyone. The stained glass window on the stairway was a fascinating wonder. Another place of secrets and treasures was the attic. I was allowed to go there once in a while with Aunt Mary when she used her sewing machine. The feeling and the pleasing odor of the attic seem to linger on.
How well I remember the living room where Uncle Alex had his reading chair and Grandmother Lizzie sat at the desk writing. It was here several years later that my three sisters and I were baptized on a Sunday afternoon. Our Aunt Mary taught music and there was a beautiful Baby Grand piano in this room. The family gathered here in front of the warm fireplace to read the mail, letters from friends and family, a rather boring situation for a little girl. I learned quite early to be quiet during this time and during the long afternoon rides in the big car.
The dining room with its long table and good food was a magical place. Grandmother had
only to press the button under the table with her foot and someone would come from the
kitchen with more hot rolls and butter and rich cold milk that was brought in from the springhouse, located at the back of the house. The milk was poured into beautiful silver mugs for drinking, Many times all the chairs around the table were occupied by family members, with Uncle Alex sitting at one end of the table and Grandmother at the other.
All during the years there were many people who came to the house at different times, family and friends. In later years, when Uncle Alex was not well, several nurses came to the house and took care of him. I remember so well Bessie Price and her daughter, Louise. They were there at the house most of the time and did so many things for all of us. All the children who were in and out of the house at various times loved Louise. She took good care of all of us, played with us and made our lives very happy. I remember, too, that Grandmother helped Louise with her schoolwork, especially spelling and arithmetic. When Uncle Alex's friends came to visit (namely Dean Williams, C.P. (Sally) Miles, and Uncle Jim Otey) they sat on the porch and discussed the issues of the day while enjoying Mint Juleps made and served by Louise. She used the mint that grew near the springhouse. When oatmeal (not my favorite cereal) was the order of the day for breakfast, Louise did a special favor for me; she helped me dispose of most of my oatmeal when no one was looking so I didn't have to eat it all.
The yard was a child's delight. With space to run and play and a stream in which to wade, find crayfish, rocks and mud for making mud pies. A beautiful willow tree grew by the stream. Walking and sitting on the stone wall, which ran the width of the yard and on along the front of the cow pasture were pastimes enjoyed by all of us and by other children and grown ups as well. Often, on Sunday afternoons the VPI Cadets walked by and sat on the wall both in front of the house and on along the cow pasture. I have a vivid memory of selling a mud pie to a cadet (he had bright blue eyes) for a stick of chewing gum.
The elementary school was close by. Sometimes my sisters and I would go to Uncle Alex's house to wait for a ride home with our father, Kent Apperson, back to our farm in the country. This farm became Apperson Park.
Nita Black Apperson Little, October 2002
The Eastern Continental Divide/Proclamation Line:
Part of Blacksburg’s Fascinating History
By Tom Sherman
The map below shows the Eastern Continental Divide which became an important part of Blacksburg’s history.
King George III issued a proclamation on October 7, 1763, that created a boundary between Native American lands and colonial settlements. Running from north to south along the Appalachian Mountain range, the proclamation decreed that colonial settlers would henceforth be forbidden to settle in land west of the boundary, which was to be reserved for Native American use. No individuals or groups would be allowed to purchase western lands without the Crown's explicit consent. Colonial settlers currently living in the western territory were ordered to vacate their lands. In order to enforce the proclamation, Britain stationed troops at forts throughout the region.
The royal decree came at the end of the French and Indian War, a conflict that had pitted the British against the French and their native allies. Although the British had defeated the French, the conflict was marked by a bloody cycle of violence and revenge on the frontier involving Native Americans and colonial settlers. As the British calculated the immense cost of putting down the uprisings, including Pontiac's Rebellion, they decided to reject a policy of mutual coexistence in favor of separating Native Americans and colonial settlers. The proclamation line thus represented an effort to placate the natives on the frontier, simplify administrative matters, and ease the cost of Britain's military expenditures in North America.
Blacksburg was a major player in United States history relative to this proclamation of 1763 and the “line” it created. The line is the Eastern Continental Divide which runs through Blacksburg. The Divide crosses South Main Street near Sunset Boulevard. A blue line crosses South Main Street there and a historical marker provides a short explanation of the Eastern Continental Divide.
When William Preston chose the spot to build his manor house, Smithfield, reportedly he intentionally chose to build West of the Proclamation Line/Eastern Continental Divide. Today, Smithfield stands where Preston built it to the west of the Divide along Stroubles Creek.
Map 1 (see below) shows how the Divide runs through Blacksburg. The southern part of Town is to the east of the Divide. Water from the pond at First and Main flow into the Roanoke River and ultimately to Pamlico Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. Stroubles Creek runs out of the VT Duck Pond to the west into the New River and, ultimately, to the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico.
MAP 2 shows the route of the Eastern Continental Divide through the south part of Blacksburg. In addition, to the blue line on South Main Street, the Divide is marked on The Hill, Blacksburg’s golf course. Margret Beeks School building sits on top of the Divide. Below is a detail of the Divide in Blacksburg. Keep in mind that the Divide runs through a very populated part of Blacksburg. Much of the construction including road building has resulted in altering elevations. This is particularly evident on South Main Street at Airport Road. Previously, Main Street ended at Airport which was the road out of town toward Christiansburg. The bulkheads on the east side of South Main indicate the extent to which elevations were altered to build South Main as it currently runs.
In the mid-18th Century, the Divide was a real flash point for people living in this area as well as for the thousands of settlers who were making their way west. Blacksburg was a main way stop for western bound settlers who made their way up the plateau and then out Price’s Fork to cross the New River. The natural fords that these early settlers used are still visible in the New River. The restrictions imposed by the Proclamation were considered to be so odious in addition to others like the Stamp Act that just 13 years later, many in this area joined the revolutionaries who declared independence from King George and England in 1776.
In his just published book, “The Blacksburg Drama” historian Hugh G. Campbell tells Blacksburg’s rich and long historic story.
The book is available for purchase HERE.