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Early Memories of Galax

by Dr. F. Clyde Bedsaul

Galax Gazette, Thursday, July 26, 1956

(Dr. Bedsaul author of the most interesting article published below is the son of Mrs. P. Reece Bedsaul and was born and reared near Galax on RFD No. 3. At the present time, he is coroner of Floyd County and he and Mrs. Bedsaul, the former Miss Rosamond Vaughan of Spring Valley are prominent citizens of the Floyd county-seat town. Early in his medical career Dr. Bedsaul practiced for brief periods in Galax, Fries and Elk Creek. — Editor)

“Early Memories of Galax”
F. Clyde Bedsaul, M.D.
Floyd, Virginia

I have grown up with Galax and have seen this city develop from a tiny crossroads village to the thriving metropolis it is today. The first couple of stores and half dozen dwellings were scattered along a dirt road leading in from Hillsville, Woodlawn, and Wolf Glade—threading southward along the foothills on the west side of Chestnut Creek then dividing into two roads one leading up towards Pipers Gap and Mount Airy and the other via the Glades to Low Gap. This road became Main Street.

Another road winding among the Carroll County hills and knobs (out my way) descended Spivy Hill, crossed Chestnut Creek extended west across Main Street and up the hill to lose itself into roads leading to Old Town Street. There were no wagon bridges across Chestnut Creek and all vehicular traffic—pulled by oxen and horses—from the east side splashed through open fords. There was a swinging bridge for pedestrians down by the Caldwell home on the Hillsville road. A wobbly footing served that purpose on our road.

The twin-county village of Galax had an ideal location in the heart of a rich farming area. A wide expanse of fertile creek bottoms spread out to the to the creek east on the Carroll side. These bottoms merged into rolling hills and knobs. The most prominent of these was Wards knob towering higher than all other land in the area and bearing an crest of green trees above pasture fields on the steep slopes. The Grayson side climbed more abruptly from a foothill plateau with Fries Hill meeting the horizon on the northwest end of the village. This hill which later became known as “Schoolhouse Hill” was covered by a dense forest of towering pines. My first visit to Galax was to this forest. I accompanied my parents and some neighbors in a covered wagon to hear Governor Montague speak.

My young mind was intrigued by the stories my people told me about the early Galax community. My own ancestors migrated from Old Town and acquired land along Chestnut Creek. On of my great-grandfathers at one time owned much land upon which East Galax now stands. Then there was the exciting story of the two bell-making blacksmiths who operated a shop towards Wolf Glade—out the Hillsville road. These men had a secret silver mine (in the Galax area) where Bedsaul Branch emptied into Chestnut Creek. They carried the ore to their shop in buckskin sacks. Their days were spent in making bells; their nights in smelting the order and making counterfeit coins. Before daybreak, the moulds and ore were carefully hidden and the smiths again hammered away upon their bells.

Government agents finally grew suspicious and when the counterfeiters were about to get cornered they buried their “money” moulds and skipped out—carrying the knowledge of the location of the secret deposit of silver with them.

Prospectors have searched ever since but nobody has ever been able to re-discover it. The mouths of the various branches have shifted back and forth as these streams meander across the bottoms along Chestnut Creek. This mine seems almost as big a secret as that of Death Valley Scotty’s.

Galax came near not being Galax at all. Some of the founding fathers wanted to call it “Bonaparte.” Others finally won out in their decision to call it galax—after the evergreen “coltsfoot” leaves which grew abundantly in this area of the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Galax did not remain a village long. The founding fathers with foresight and faith laid out adequate streets and alleys and new buildings began to spring up all over the place.

More stores, two hotels, two livery stables, churches, and dwellings crowded out into the meadows and fields in every direction. Limber from near-by virgin forests and bricks from Wards’ Brick Yard at the foot of Wards Knob furnished abundant building supplies. Even the towering pines on Schoolhouse Hill were felled and found their way into new Galax homes.

The growth of this town was speeded up considerably by the coming of the railroad. The Norfolk & Western had built a spur line from Pulaski up New River and had reached Blair (Cliffview). It was a red letter day when the railroad was extended up to Galax, young and old alike line the tracks to hear the mellow-roar of the locomotive whistle, and to see it steam into town. Almost over night, farmers began to haul in crossties and tanbark to the new shipping center. The many packs of “ties” and bark in the railroad yards looked like a small town within themselves. Strings of heavily laden wagons rattled along dirt roads as oxen and horses strained to move the farmers products of forest and farm to market. But little could be done to improve the roads with axle-deep mud—across Chestnut Creek bottoms in winter and after heavy rains.

However, increase in traffic caused the building of wagon bridges across the creek. I remember “ours” quite well. It was a clumsy, humpbacked wooden affair with one high middle span and a steep ramp ascending from the ground level on each end of this center section. Old “Buck” and “Baldy” would grunt and wheeze as they struggled against the ox bows and yoke to pull the heavy load up the steep incline. When the hard pull was over, and the going was easy along the level span, the oxen would become frightened and pull against each other until their feet trod almost the same path.

All this, plus the groaning of the bridge timbers and rumbling of wagon wheels over the board floor were rather exciting to the barefoot, overall-clad boy sitting upon four bundles of oats in a burlap sack—and perched high upon the load of bark. It one would look straight ahead in stead of peering downward upon the rolling waters of Chestnut Creek—far below—the going was much easier. The scene would change. The wagon pitched forward and rushed upon the cattle down the steep ramp on the other side. The wagon tongue pushed so heavily against the ring in the ox yoke that the poor, blowing animals, seemed to fear that their heads would be pulled off. The lad had to almost stand with one foot upon the long pole, brake lever and make the wooden, rubber blocks sigh against the rear wheels of the wagon as he guided his crude craft to a safe landing—down onto the road again. After a few more minutes of pulling and jerking the single rope line which was snared about the hors of the lead ox—and after a lot of clucking and yelling of “Haw” and “Gee” and “Get up Buck”—the wagon made its way among the piles of “ties” ricks of bark and empty freight cars to reach the weighing scales.

There one was greeted by familiar odors of sap, bark, new lumber and coal smoke puffing from the freight engine shifting the cars. The coming of the railroad to Galax not only brought in raw materials, but also started the town booming as a manufacturing center. The first ones were a canning factory. The canning factory was a wooden structure, ivory in color, sprawled out along the east side of the railroad tracks. It was a series of rooms, breezeways, and sheds connected end to end. The furniture factory was located farther down—to the north–between the tracks and Chestnut Creek. It was a large brick structure.

I have head interesting memories of some of the early citizens and first business houses in Galax.

There was J. P. Carico, often referred to as the “Father of Galax.” He lived in a pretty farm house on the Carroll side of the Creek–just where the foothills of Wards Knob and Spivy Hill met at the level bottom land. He was a pleasant, friendly man who was public spirited and always looking for a chance to boost his town.

Just across the railroad tracks and near the Depot and beginning of Grayson Street was W. K. Early. He was a dealer in building materials and fuel.

Then J. C. Mathews had a hardware store in a frame building on the north side of Grayson Street. This friendly little man moved about quickly as he helped farmers select tools and farm equipment.

On the other side of Grayson street, a little farther up and about the present [1956] location of the Rex Theatre, was the first bank. Just above this little brick building was a rambling produce store operated by M. T. Blessing. This fellow was round-faced and fat. He looked much like Santa Claus with the whiskers shaved off. He was always busy—crating eggs and shifting squawking chickens from one coop to another.

Across the street and just above the present Gazette office was Bill Dalton’s dry goods story. He was another fat man. Much of his loafing time was spent sitting in front of his store and conversing with farmers as they drove by and around to the wagon yard behind his store. Little’s blacksmith shop was located about the center of this hitching ground. The ringing of his anvil served to break the monotony of the neighing horses, lowing of oxen and the occasional braying of a hungry mule and the clang of bells and puffing of locomotives down in the rail road yards.

One of the most colorful characters of early Galax was Captain J. B. Waugh. I can almost see him now—a large man, sitting in front of his brick store on the corner of Main and Grayson streets. He sat erect in his chair, wore a derby and tapped his cane against the sidewalk as he whiled away his time. The old gentleman was every inch a stalwart Confederate soldier.

R. E. Jones was a furniture dealer on Main Street. This man with a booming voice and always wearing a derby hat was also referred to as “the Daddy of Galax.”

Lute Bishop operated a livery stable on the northeast corner of Main and Old Town Streets—where Globman’s now stands. He was not only a good business man but also a grand Christian layman who concerned himself about the souls of men. Diagonally across from the livery stable on the corner now occupied by the Texaco Service Station stood the old South Hotel. It was a large rambling boarding house with a high porch across the lower side. This hotel was a favorite hang out for the horse traders.

Down farther north on Main just beyond Center Street, and where the Post Office now stands was Waugh Hotel. This Hotel was quite popular with the dummers and traveling men.

Another livery stable was located where Twin County Motor Company now stands. This establishment was owned by Thomas L. Felts. Mr. Felts was an influential business man and a leader in the progressive growth of Galax. He was a handsome man who drove the prettiest horses and buggies in town. Stories about this man’s experiences as a brave detective excited us youngsters of that day. Mr. Felts was our hero—a sort of living “Dick Tracey.”

Dr. Pless was a pioneer dentist in Galax. Doctors Caldwell, Bishop and Bolen were early physicians of the town. Their saddle horses were the pride of the community. As I continue to reminisce about early Galax many old friends pass by in review—S. E. Wilkinson (connected with the early furniture factory), C. A. Collier (cashier of the bank down on Grayson Street ad then in what is now the Municipal Building), Swift and Charlie Waugh (congenial clerks in the J. B. Waugh Store). “Doc” Him Witherow (in his drug store where the First National Bank now stands). Vass & Kapp (in their hardware store across Main Street from Waugh’s) the three Ward Brothers (in three brick houses, beyond the branch, across from Schoolhouse Hill, on South Main–the first homes with running water. It flowed by gravity from springs on the side of Wards Knob. Mr. Rhudy and Mt. Calloway (early lawyers in Galax), Andersons, Painters, Todds, Robertses, Dobynses, Harps, Reavises, Browns, Stanfords, and many many more along with their wives–have left their marks on Galax, and have helped to make it the beautiful and progressive city it is today.