The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge


By John W. Stoneberger © 1988

Issue: November, 1988

John W. StonebergerJohn W. StonebergerI was born July 17, 1924 on Lewis Mountain, centrally located in the Shenandoah National Park.

Lewis Mountain gets its name from a surveyor from England named Thomas Lewis, who got the land from the King through a grant. He sold it to a Slaughter family who owned it for five generations and sold it to my grandfather, John Michelberry Roach for 50 cents per acre in the late 1800's.

The Granary was the largest industry in the Shenandoah Valley in the early 1900's, one at Star Tannery, Brown Town, and Elkton, Virginia. Grandpa lived in a good mountain home on Lewis Mountain near Devils Ditch, with 90 acres of beautiful blue grass in one field on the east side of the house. He had enough men working for him in the spring of the year to peel enough chestnut oak bark to haul two loads per week for a year to the tannery at Elkton with a four mule team for $27.50 per cord. I believe with the special bark frames on the wagon, he could haul two cords on one load.

The trip was 30 miles and took two days. One night was spent in Elkton each trip. Wednesdays were spent hauling bark up the steep east side of the mountain where only one cord could be pulled due to steep incline. At top of mountain, he always topped out with the second cord.

Some large trees were cut for bark as well as the scrub oak. William B. Stoneberger, about 1914, put a steam engine saw mill on Lewis Mountain with the permission of Grandpa to saw the huge logs into lumber to build houses for the tannery workers.

William B. Stoneberger said, "He had good strong, good natured workers for $1.00 per day and a good steam engine and saw mill, the best of timber and good teams, but the long haul to Elkton and the low price of lumber forced him to give up a job he loved and go back to Dravo Construction Company where he worked and listed his occupation as a miner, because he had sawed lumber from Spring until Fall and when his books were balanced he had made $30.00."

His misfortune in business had brought him good fortune in love, because here, at the saw mill on Lewis Mountain, he had seen Mr. Roach's daughter Elizabeth, who was 14 years old at the time. He came back when Elizabeth had developed into a 5'6", black wavy, raven haired beauty, who had acquired a reasonable good education and had graduated from nurses training at Hagerstown, Maryland, and married her when she was 20 years old and he was 30. This couple became my father and mother.

Dravo Construction was the largest construction company at this time, and his work carried him over much of the eastern U.S.A. and as far west as Illinois. Mama being raised in the mountains was thrilled beyond expectation at the joy of life and loved to travel. Dad was always foreman. After the start up at field jobs, a large tent was used as mama cooked the food and fed the crew who lived in tents or shanties, and worked on the job.

My dad and mama bought 65 acres, a little one horse farm, in a secluded area of North Rockingham County, and built a new five room house.

He was soon sent by Dravo to Detroit, Michigan to sink a salt mine shaft deep in the ground. There on June 15, 1924, he was killed by chlorine gas a month before I was born.

Mama returned home by herself with a two year old boy named William, and the second expected soon. In this secluded home by herself, she asked a neighbor man and wife to take her to her home in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Mr. Will and Nellie Michael put her on a two horse wagon and went up Jollet Hollow as far as the wagon could go. There she was transferred to a mule to ride the rest of the journey to her Blue Ridge Mountain home, where I was born in the same home she was born in.

Most all the writing that I will do will center around this Lewis Mountain home where life was joyful, love was real, food was good, rest was peaceful - before I went out into a world of trials and troubles, to be tested to see if my anchor could hold.

I have been blessed with a mountain heritage that I wouldn't trade for all the silver and gold in the world.

For every hill I have had to climb,
For every stone that has bruised my feet,
For all the blood and sweat and grime,
And blinding storm and burning heat.
My heart sings a grateful song,
For these are the things
That made me strong...