Spring Garden, Sweeting's Fork, and George Washington

By Henry H. Mitchell.

A Reminiscence

My growing-up years in the 1950s and 1960s were spent at our home in “downtown Spring Garden” at the intersection of (now called) the Spring Garden Road and Mac Road in Pittsylvania County, Virginia. Spring Garden was a quiet country village, its downtown consisting of a few homes, a school, a Presbyterian Church, and two country stores: Bryant's and Cox's. Two store buildings sat unused: Conway's on the west side of the Spring Garden Road at the Mac intersection, and Terry's a couple of hundred feet south on the east side of Spring Garden Road. We, the J. T. W. Mitchell family, lived in the former Terry home beside their old store building.

The Two Roads

The Spring Garden Road led from Spring Garden southward toward U.S. 29 at Blairs and thus on to Danville, our favored shopping spot. It was an ancient road, now paved, skirting the east flank of White Oak Mountain, and in its early days had been called the Mountain Road.

We knew the intersecting Mac Road as the unpaved Sweeting's Fork Road, because it led southeast to Sweeting's Fork Creek, my favorite exotic natural wonderland for exploration. The creek's name has been through various changes through the years. In the 1700s it was known as Sweeting's Fork of Sandy Creek, because it passed through the land grant belonging to Robert Sweeting. By the 1950s locals were calling it, in our Southern drawl, “Sweetin' Fork.” Somehow that was translated on official maps to “Sweden Fork,” with the road named accordingly. Seventy years have passed, and now it is called Mac Road.

Along Sweeting's Fork

Well-known plantation owners in early days along Sweeting's Fork included Nathaniel Terry, Jeremiah White, and Matthew Clay. (Herman Melton's Pittsylvania's Eighteenth-Century Grist Mills discusses this topic in detail.) By the time I arrived on the scene, landowner surnames in the valley included Dodson, Cox, Shields, and Thompson. When I was a youngster, an imposing old house remained, abandoned, on the bluff above the creek, on the right side of the road leading down from Spring Garden. The house was struck by lightning and burned in the mid-1950s. The stone-walled family cemetery behind that house contained markers from the early 1800s displaying the surname Johnson. I never have learned whether any of Spring Garden's twentieth-century inhabitants were their descendants.

Originally the Road to Milton, North Carolina

During the 1980s my family and I were living 10 miles away in the county seat town of Chatham, and I happened to have a conversation with my former Spring Garden neighbor Julian Thompson, a generation older than I was. I was surprised to learn from Julian that during his youth the Mac (Sweeting's Fork) Road was known as the Milton Road, because it led directly southward to Milton, North Carolina, about twenty-five miles away. Julian told me that in the early 20th century the section of the road that crossed Sandy Creek, the next valley beyond Sweeting's Fork, was abandoned, so now Mac Road dead-ends into Dodson Road on the ridge just beyond Sweeting's Fork creek. When I looked at a state highway map, I was surprised to see that yes, that old roadway continues on the far side of Sandy Creek (now using several names along the way) and eventually becomes Highway 62 across the Dan River bridge into Milton.

George Washington Slept…

And then Julian continued with a story that really caught my attention. He said that his grandfather James Conway had told him the following Conway family lore. Julian's great-great-great-grandfather James Christopher Conway, seven years old, was at the intersection of the Mountain Road and Milton Road on the evening of June 4, 1791, when a magnificent entourage approached coming up the Milton Road from the direction of Sweeting's Fork creek. As it passed close by him he excitedly realized that the coach bore none other than George Washington, the father of our country. The party continued a very short distance up the Mountain Road, and then made a right turn toward “Halifax Old Town,” which later became known as Peytonsburg. There Washington, who was on his famed “Southern Tour,” spent the night at a tavern. (More local detail of Washington's journey is seen in Frances Hurt's book An Intimate History of the American Revolution in Pittsylvania County, Virginia}

A century later the spot where James Christopher Conway saw George Washington was the location of Conway's store, owned by James Christopher's Conway descendants. The spot where the Washington entourage turned east was in the mid-1900s still called “Conway's Barns,” because of the cluster of tobacco barns there, property of that Conway generation. The road toward Peytonsburg is now called Abbott Place; but its branch that turned off toward Peytonsburg was abandoned many years ago in favor of the present-day Halifax Road which crosses the Spring Garden Road some distance north.