Area History, Chapter 9, by Beverley Bittner [guest post]

Vene Potter’s Trip to Dixie.

By Beverley Bttner.

Vene Potter left Bloomfield Township with two horses, a dog, and a loaded wagon weighing 2,735 pounds. He was bound for a farm in Virginia and a new start in life. His letters home indicate the hardships of the journey and the indomitable pioneer spirit that makes America the greatest country in the world.

Well to begin:

I left Bloomfield for Dixie the 23day of October, 1877. The first day I went 18 miles to the Johnson House. I followed the plank road down nigh Pithole to a large stream, there I turned to my left leaving Pithole to my right hand and went to President where I crossed the river.

The ferryman did not want to take me for fear I had glycerin in the large box, but finally took me over. After we got started Frank started to bark and sure enough I had left him behind. Well I called him and he swam across.

When it got dark I turned the horses in a field and took our coats and made a bed under the wagon and covered up with the sheep skins and went to sleep but it got too cold so I got up and started a good fire close to the wagon and was all right then. Well it commenced to rain at 2 o’clock and rained slowly until 8 in the morning. …

…I found that when they said the roads were good they were bad, if bad they were very bad. I met a man that said they were bad till I crossed the Big Savage. That scared me a little for they had told me they were good and they were bad and now they were savage. …

…Well we got to Johnstown all right, the largest railroad iron manufacturing city in the United States, hemmed in by mountains. There is a large iron furnace at the foot of the mountain with a railroad to fetch iron and coal which is brought direct from the mines to the furnace. It is so steep that a dog could not go up or down. Each mine has a railroad to fetch iron and coal, also a road running on around the mountain where they carry their cinders to get rid of them. I tell you it is a sight worth seeing. …

…I crossed the Potomac at Cumberland, into West Virginia and on to Springfield on the best roads I ever travelled on but I had some very long hills on the mountains so I only got 18 miles or to Springfield that day. Springfield is about as large as Riceville. Two stores, a post office, and one hotel and one barbershop, all of logs. Here it snowed a little.

In the morning Fred would not eat any grain. I asked a man how far it was and he said about 200 miles further. Didn’t that make me open my eyes and ears. A horse that wouldn’t eat and both of them so foot sore that they acted like frozen-footed chickens.

(Potter left the wagon to be shipped by railroad later and continued on to Goochland Court House in Virginia where he met up with the rest of his family who had come another way. It was now November 15, 1877. They continued together to his new farm near Richmond.)

December 31, 1877

I wish you all a Happy New Year and I hope it will be happier for me than one year ago was. One year ago tonight Doc Paine stayed with us all night. Em was sick, the snow was two feet deep and the roads were almost impassable, but here we have not seen snow enough to fill a teaspoon yet although rather cold. It has not froze (sic) enough but what we could plow any day yet this fall.

We finally got the wagon, got it to the store, roads were bad, left part of the load and came on, got here Saturday night and Monday morning we moved one load and the women on to the farm. I had come on ahead and started a fire. Mother got here in time to see the chimney fire which caught in the leaves as the house stands in a grove, there was lots of leaves which burnt pretty lively, but we put it out but had hard work. Well when it got cooled down I kept smelling something and sure enough I had singed my whiskers so that there was one inch of a curl and crisp ring around them; smelt bad.

Well if you are coming box your things and ship them by all means for they will cost you more to buy here than it does there. …

…The team stood the journey well except they got foot sore and leg weary for I had pike roads and very rough at that. The roads after I got to Cumberland was (sic) good but hard as stone for they are small stone and smooth as can be, crossing creeks there are not many bridges but when they can’t cross them they ferry. …

…Now mind me and what I have said and don’t come here and get homesick.


About Beverley:

bevBeverley Bittner (1930–2006) was born in Dunkirk, NY, a daughter of Paul and Doris Blakeslee. She was raised and educated in Spartansburg, Pennsylvania where she graduated from Spartansburg High School in 1948. She moved to Corry, Pennsylvania in 1960, and resided there until 1979 when she moved to Cleveland, Ohio, for several years. She was the Associate Editor for the Union Gospel Press in Cleveland, and was a free-lance writer for various religious publications. She had a special interest in history, wrote about veterans of World War II, and wrote and published a series of five novels about the history of western Pennsylvania and the origins of the local oil industry. She founded the Writer’s Block in 1999 after moving back to Corry and served as a mentor to other writers until her death in 2006.

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