Wednesday, September 7, 2011


As Irene ground her wet way up the east coast, four of us hillbilly descendents of E. Scott Felton, circuit judge, farmer, and great-(great)grandpa headed west to Preston County, WV.  Our destination was the Whetsell Settlement for the 90th annual Whetsell-Felton Reunion.

The Settlement is a farm community, the directions to which involve "turn off the paved road".  Sort of.  Repeated efforts to pave the road past a point have proved unable to withstand the winters and so eventually the pavement, such as it is, just peters out as you go up the mountain.  Then you just keep going until you reach Beatty Methodist Church and the grove across the road. 

If you don't have a higher riding vehicle I wouldn't recommend driving up into the Reunion Grounds. Just leave it at the church and haul the coolers over.

I don't remember when the pavilion was built.  I'm not sure why either - there's only been one day when it was wet enough to force a move to the Community Building down the road.  And I don't know what the arrangement is for use - the property technically belongs to the church.  Uncle Walter explained it to me a couple years ago but I can't remember stuff like that worth dooky.  All I know is that the reunion has been held there since 1923 so I guess it's been working out OK.

For several years a photographer was hired to take a group picture.  He used a panoramic camera that allowed Uncle Harold to be photographed at one end and then run around behind to appear at the other end of the group as well.  The last pic of that sort was taken in 1963, and I'm one of the kids seated in front.  I suspect I wasn't happy about it - we were probably dragged out of the woods for it.  This year a photographer came again.  Slightly more advanced technology.  But still difficult to corral the kids for a few minutes.

Come to think of it, the adults were as difficult to corral as the kids, 'cause we were HUNGRY.  And after we squirmed and shifted and said "cheese" for what seemed like the upteenth time we made a beeline for tables that are always amply loaded.  By the way, that lady in yellow sitting in the front row is 99 and perking along just fine. 

Yes, yes I did take antacid before heading out that morning.  Aunt Lottie's apple pies may be missed, but it's not like younger generations aren't stepping in to offer other options.  And the Russian contingent makes a mean pot of hot kielbasa and peppers!

We did have an unexpected guest who delighted kids and adults alike, but not as part of the menu.  Obviously a pet, and very tame and inquisitive.

There's a very important part of this reunion that hasn't been lost, thanks to people like my cousin Bud and my daughter.  We are a gathering of three specific lines who have been on the mountain for nearly 200 years - Feltons, Whetsells, and Calverts.

Bud gives a lesson every year, and every year we work on expanding what we know about the family histories.  Corrections are made, and now pictures are being added.

Seventeen year old Nathaniel Felton arrived from Great Yarmouth, England, in 1633 and eventually established his family in Salem, MA. His house and that of his son by the same name still stand in Peabody, MA, as part of the Brooksby Farm recreational area.  The family was prominent in the area - Nathaniel Felton, Jr. was one of many who protested the unjust accusations against their neighbor John Proctor during the Salem witchcraft trials.

The Felton family owned that property into the 1920s, and has left its name on the local geography in the form of Felton Hill. But at some time sons started moving south, probably along the King's Highway, and records start showing up of births and deaths in the Taneytown, MD, area in the mid 1700s. Then westward, where they settled for a time in the Ryan's Glen area in the western mountains of the state near what is now Oakland.  Finally, they settled at Whetsell, and there some stayed, leaving descendents who still reside on the property that is just over the hill behind the church.  Eventually, E. Scott, my paternal grandmother's father, arrived in the world in 1854, and when it came time to establish his own family he built one of several houses that have stood on the property.

His grand-daughter Gaye, a spry 93, still lives in the house today.

Eventually, a growing family required another house to be built - in 1909 the house that would become "Old Aunt Annie's Place" went up a little way over from "The Homeplace". Aunt Annie, spinster sister to E. Scott, was always Old Aunt Annie and lived out her very long life here (1874 - 1963), using an outhouse, carrying water from the spring up the hill, cooking and heating with coal and wood. The place now belongs to one of the family historians, Bud, her nephew, and he and wife keep it comfortable and welcoming.

The first Reunion was held here, under a favorite oak tree.

I can remember visiting Old Aunt Annie, sitting in front of her fireplace as she and Grandma chatted.  She had two pictures pinned over the mantle of what was then just an open fireplace:  Abraham Lincoln and Robert E. Lee.  She told me once that they were the two most brilliant men the country had ever produced.  Years later that is so intriguing, since several of her uncles served in the Army of the Potomac, seeing action in every major engagement including Antietam and Gettysburg.  Two were killed. One had safely served one hitch but was killed in battle after re-upping.  Another was too old, but dyed his hair and lied about his age in order to get in.  When his ruse was discovered he was allowed to serve on supply trains for the duration.  He was returning home after being mustered out when he was killed in a train accident. My grandmother remembered the stories her uncles who served and returned would tell her.

And no visit ends before a walk up to the place where I want to lay down at the end of what I hope will be a long life - the Felton family graveyard.

The first headstone there is 1844, but there is a row of stones that we believe are unmarked graves, so we don't know for sure if there are older graves than that.  The last burial was Uncle Worley, my grandmother's brother, in 1970. 

The last stop in the Settlement for the day is Grandma's house. It's the house where she and her new husband "went to housekeeping", as she used to say, in 1911, and it is a house full of memories. The property was sold after the last of my uncles died, and now largely serves as a deer cabin. For me, it's rather painful to return because without a full time resident time is clearly taking its toll on the old farmhouse.

So many memories, of sounds, smells, tastes.  The screen door slapping, the happy sound of the chickens pecking in the yard, the creak of the porch swing chain.  Coal smoke, fresh bread baking, Aunt Anne's stuffed cabbages cooking.  Buckwheat cakes, irony water from the spring, hot dogs roasted over the bonfire the night before reunion.  So many memories.

And then home after a long and tiring day.  This trip used to take 8 hours.  Now I can do it in 3 1/2, even with the winding roads off the interstate.  I'll be doing it again soon, probably, since I've taken on the responsibility of scanning the reunion ledger once this years entries are made.  But it's a pretty easy drive considering the roots the trip gifts me with.


  1. That church (2nd pic) and grounds look pretty much like our family reunion grounds in NE KY (not far from Huntington. Ashland's the "big city" for the folks).

    4th picture could be one of ours - along with the next few of food. Good eats and REAL Kentucky fried chicken.

    Visiting the old graveyards is part of the reunion - tracking down graves from 1800 can be challenging

    Missed ours this year. Forgot the day until too late to get over there in time. Homesick for a place I never lived but all my male ancestors from 1775 to my grandfather are all buried within a few miles of each other. Dad's still around but will be there in his time as well.

    Looks like y'all had a good time.

  2. Super post! It's GOOD to have a long family history and the family be interested in maintaining it! We have a similar thing with our folks down in Louisiana... but we only go back to 1853... At least down there :-)

  3. Wonderful post! That last photo looks like my maternal grandparents' farmhouse in southwest Missouri. They left the farm in the '60s, but the house is still occupied. (Lesbian hippies turned it into a commune-slash-horse ranch.)

  4. @quizikle - "Homesick for a place I never lived but all my male ancestors from 1775 to my grandfather are all buried within a few miles of each other." Yes. I lived there but have been away many years. But I think we all long to have a home place where the earth feels just right under our feet.

    @NFO & Rev - Thanks. I'm grateful that my daughter's generation is stepping up to preserve the history.