Letters from WWII: “Will Fight till the Finish”

Hello Dad and All;

They have been drilling the heck out of us and for the last two weeks I have stood it so far, so I guess I can take the rest of it.

I like it better than I did at first. I realize that it’s a job to be done. I am going to do my best. I have had 20 years of my fun in a free country; I want my brother to have his in a free country too. I am going to do my part. I will fight till the finish.

Dad, I have had some pictures made. I will send you one so you can see how I look in a uniform. They look just like me.

Well, as news is short, I will close for this time. Tell all hello and to write soon.
I enjoy hearing from everyone. All be good and may God bless you. Love to all.

Pvt. Lloyd H. Gammon.

(Pvt. Gammon writes to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lester Gammon of Chatham, Route 4.)

Published in the Chatham, Virginia newspaper on Friday, April 23, 1943.

An electric lamp

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Dear Sir
Will you Please get me a elictric [electric] lamp and send it in tomorrows mail. I guess you know what I mean I dont know the name of them but I went the bell lamp like they have hanging in the stores in town. truly
yours Russell D. Dunn [?] Java VA

[addressed to]
Mr. J.W. Whitehead
Chatham
VA

postmark Java July 9 P.M. 1913 Va.

Postcard is of Belle Grove Plantation, near Chatham, Virginia.

Electricity came to Pittsylvania County in stages. Some areas had it pretty early (presumably Mr. Dunn’s house in Java had it in 1913), and others did not get it until the 1930s (in fact, I have heard of houses being built without electrical service in the 1950s or perhaps even later).

Historical Research

This is the start of a series on the resources and “how-to” of historical research.

I have been doing research in the clerk’s office at the  Pittsylvania County Courthouse for a number of years, and occasionally research at other courthouses (including in Danville). My advice is specifically for Southside Virginia courthouses, but some of it may be applicable at other courthouses and research institutions.

I also plan to write about research online, and at some libraries and other institutions.

 

The Sandy River Powder Mill

Supposedly a powder mill was constructed near Sandy River in 1861. Does anyone know where exactly?

Obviously, a new powder mill would have been very helpful to the Confederate army. (Why the eminent opening of the mill was announced in a New Orleans newspaper is rather mysterious, though. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep the factory under wraps, so to speak?)

Belle Grove circa 1933

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(Postcard of Belle Grove circa 1913)

By Preston B. Moses (courtesy Pattie Moses Lilley)
Two miles south of Chatham and about [a] half mile off [the] main highway stands Belle Grove. To get the material for this writing I visited this old home last Sunday. As I turned up the private drive leading from the big road to the house, I saw the red brick house standing out bright and plain on the crest of the hill. Lines of blue smoke curling up from a chimney told me someone was at home.

I stopped my old jitney out in the grove and went up a wide box-bordered walk, leading to the front door of the house. On either side of the walk are the trees, oaks, lindens, elms, maples, white walnuts, arborvitaes, white pines, cedars, birches, and magnolia, leaning and bowing gently in a soft breeze as if making curtsies and welcoming me as in days of olden hospitality.

Belle Grove is a solid, square, brick house with four great rooms above and below, a hallway between, an attic under its roof and four rooms in basement. The kitchen is a three room brick structure to [the] rear of the main house, ‘the street’ or slaves’ quarters to the rear and left of kitchen are still standing, and nearby the family grave yard.

This stately mansion was built some time between 1798 and 1801 by Col. William Tunstall, who was clerk of Pittsylvania County. It was at Bell Grove that Whitmell Pue [Pugh] Tunstall, son of Col. William Tunstall, was born and grew up to be a brilliant and gifted son of Pittsylvania. He was a lawyer, served in [the] house of delegates and state senate, and through the determination of his efforts the first railroad was brought into Pittsylvania county. Today, his portrait hangs on the wall of the court house. We have a Whitmell in Tunstall district named for him.

Belle Grove with its thousand acre plantation passed into the hands of Jane Jones Saunders, the daughter of Col. Peter Saunders. She left it to a relative by name of Payne, and John B. Crews bought the place from him. Since his death the property has passed into the hands of his heirs. The original thousand acre plantation was divided and sold, but the Crews kept the beautiful Belle Grove and three hundred acres. Misses Annie Laurie and Mary Virginia Crews are the only members of the family now residing at the place.

Going into the house, I was struck with the quaint, old-fashion atmosphere made realistic by the wealth of old mahog[a]ny furniture and other antiques. The rooms are large, the ceiling vaulted, and the wainscoting reaching high up the wall. I was told the plastering was the original put up with the house, and so was some of the paint work on the interior. The mantels, door frames and cornices are beautifully hand-carved. The massive doors with huge locks swing on the old heavy H wrought iron hinges. The floors are broad planks of hard white pine nailed down with wrought iron nails. All the heavy beams and frame work being hand hewn. Each room has a deep fire place, and one or two tall, narrow windows. Each window has its blinds and shutters. All the walls are about a foot thick. There is not a closet in the house.

The Crews added a small kitchen on the left side of the house and widen[ed] the porch, but the essential solidity and simplicity of the original house have been kept unharmed. However, the snow drop, sweet shrub, lilac, syringo, japonica, wistaria, and magnolia still stand to moan the passing of the beautiful garden.

Part of the large grove of trees in front of [the] house have been cleared away, but Belle Grove still raises its proud head among the old trees and commands a wonderful view of White Oak Mountains rising above the rolling hills.

As I went out to my car there was a lull in the breeze, little lines of blue smoke from the chimney curled up almost straight into the heavens and faded away; the trees seemed to stop their whispering and gesturing and stood perfectly quiet. My mind wondered what tales of happiness and sadness those old trees could tell about in those days of hoop-skirts, mint-julips, distinguished sons of another age, and southern hospitality — if only they could speak.

I drove away, leaving Belle Grove in its proud old age standing and waiting for doomsday.
– article from Preston Moses, “Prying ’Round Pitt: Old Homes,” a column published circa 1933 in a local newspaper. This was the first of a series on “Old Homes of Pittsylvania County.” Photograph from the J.W. Whitehead collection, Pittsylvania Historical Society.

“Pals”

pals

Another negative from the Dearing family collection — unfortunately, we don’t know who the individuals were, but evidently they were pals! Probably the photograph was taken somewhere in the Chatham/Pittsylvania County area; if anyone recognizes the youths, please comment.

Someone (presumably Mr. Dearing) wrote on the bottom of the negative; when I scanned it and made a negative of the negative (does that make sense?), the word appeared in white.

From the Dearing family collection, courtesy the Virginia/North Carolina Piedmont Genealogical Society, Danville, Virginia.

Puppy Love in 1932

Operetta to be Presented

“Puppy Love,” an operetta, will be presented at Callands High School Saturday evening, April 9th, at 8 o’clock by the Glee club.

It is a three-act drama depicting the love affair of a couple and their schoolmates, while attending high school and college. New and old songs, which you will enjoy hearing, will be sung by members of the Glee Club.

– from The Tribune-Enterprise, Chatham, Virginia, Friday, April 8, 1932.

(It is possible that the Callands glee club was enacting a play by Adelaide Matthews that was popular in the late 1920s/early 1930s.)

Fashion Books

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Mr. Whitehead
Please send me May fashion book please send it at once.
Yours Sincerely
Mrs. Almeyda Shelton
R.F.D N.1
Gretna VA

[addressed to]
Mr. J W Whitehead & Son
Chatham
VA

Postmark unclear, perhaps Gretna Apr? 1914 or 1919? The postcard depicts Ninth Street in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Mrs. Almeyda Shelton probably wanted a fashion magazine, something like Harper’s Bazaar or others of that ilk, or perhaps a book of examples of sewing patterns.