Weekly Newsletter: A Family Memory Uncovered

Dear Shoppers,

joandbill.JPGA few weeks ago, when I was on my way to the mountains on the far side of the Shenandoah Valley for our family 4th of July celebration, I mentioned that Rawley Springs was once the site of a fabulous old hotel that had burned to the ground early in the 1900s. I promised then to come back with more of the story and now I have that — and more. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction!

First of all, a little more on Rawley Springs. At one time, Virginia was home to more than a dozen fine old hotels that were operated as resorts, and one was in Rawley Springs. On the 4th of July when we were in Rawley at our cousin Bev Appleton’s cabin, I asked everyone what they knew about the old hotel that had once stood just below the cabin at the spring house. Bev then handed me a framed copy of an advertisement that we figure was circulated after the first of two fires that ravaged the hotel during its existence.

“THE RAWLEY SPRINGS HOTELS Will be Open for the Reception of Guests June 10th [1886],” the ad reads. “A Brass and String Band of six pieces for the Lawn and Ball Room has been engaged for the season of 1886. The table will be good in every respect, supplied from the rich valley of Virginia. The air pure, bracing, and very dry. Riding, Diving, Bathing, Fishing, Billiards, Ten Pins, Lawn Tennis, Archery, Polo, etc., are among the amusements. As a remedy in Anaema, Scrofula, Neuralgia, Dyspepsia, Liver disease, Maladies peculiar to females, and in general for all diseases caused by poverty of the blood or debility of the nervous system, the Rawley water is unrivaled.”

After the second fire, Rawley Springs was not rebuilt. This website offers more information about the history of the area. The website was created by a developer who is building new homes on the side of the mountain — much to the consternation of the folks who have owned cabins in Rawley Springs for many generations.

But now for the rest of the story: My cousin Bev had a story of his own to tell. In preparation for our reunion on the 4th, he had taken it upon himself to clean up the spring house that stands near the bottom of the mountain where the narrow and treacherous road forks to climb the mountain. As he was cleaning the wooden framework around the top, he uncovered the carved letter J and then an O, and knew then that he had found something of great meaning to our aunt JoAnn, who was always called Jo. The rest of the carving was not so clear, but Bev kept cleaning and uncovered a “+ BILL.” “JO + BILL” had once and forever been carved there — and that same Jo and BIll were on their way to the reunion unaware that the carving still lived in the old cedar wood of the spring house.

JoAnn is my aunt — my father’s sister — and Bill is her husband of nearly 60 years. The carving was done when they were dating — and this is just one example of Bill’s persistence in wooing her. What is the chance that this carving would ever have been uncovered at all, and by the nephew of the people who carved it? And that the next day, Bill and Jo were there to see it again in person? As fiction it would be considered contrived; as reality it’s just a plain old miracle — and a great memory.

I’ll be back to rant next week. See you at the market!