Capon Valley Sampler: Sketches of Appalachia from George Washington to Caudy Davis
In 1968, the U.S. Secretary of Labor and his wife purchased a farm in the Capon Valley in Appalachia's foothills, a hundred miles west of Washington, and began taking weekend refuge from political aggravation. Relieved a few months later ("by popular demand" the ex-Secretary puts it) of formal obligation, the Wirtzes found themselves dropping out more and more from capital affairs and becoming increasingly attached to the little community of Yellow Spring, West Virginia, unincorporated. Wirtz, who describes himself as a "congenital scribbler," flirted only briefly with the suggestion of writing about his eight years in the government. He became interested instead in the history of Yellow Spring and the Capon Valley. Most families in the area trace their lines back seven or eight generations, but the Capon Valley hasn't been noticed much and its history is almost entirely homespun and handed down. Capon Valley Sampler pulls together various pieces of this story. One sketch pursues the report that George Washington surveyed here. Another, on the French and Indian War, raises some questions about American apartheid. Wirtz unravels the intriguing story of the Capon Valley's mixed up place in Civil War history, traceable to a ballot box fraud that historians have tried to conceal. The role of religion in the valley focuses on the Hebron Lutheran Church, probably the oldest surviving congregation west of the Blue Ridge, and the tireless service of Methodist circuit rider Francis Asbury. The hero of the piece on Mountain Spirits is Tilbury Orndorff-who may or may not have been a reformed moonshiner. The sketches follow the history of the Davis family, who started living in 1838 in the house the two intruders from Washington bought 130 years later, A fuller picture is drawn of Caudy Davis-school teacher, justice of the peace, miller, state legislator, surveyor-who helped with the research for the Sampler up to the time he died in 1985 at age 99. Wirtz ends with some questioning of whether his adopted and beloved valley can hang on to its rich inheritance of natural beauty and human values. The author has spent quite a bit of his life with pen in hand. But everything before has been written in the course of duty as teacher, government official, arbitrator, and lawyer. The Sampler, he says, has been done for fun. The result is a unique appreciation of a remarkable place and its people.
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