Roaming the Banister Since Boyhood

Copyright © 2017 Taylor Meadows, Chatham, Virginia. Posted by permission.

Editor's note: Taylor Meadows provides a perspective on the Banister from long experience of traveling the riverbed, rather than merely approaching it from its several highway access points. Through his eyes one can begin to develop a better understanding of the river's features and early usage, before modern transportation existed.

As a boy living in a different — you might call it “bygone” — era, compared to today with its gadgets, computers, video games, etc., I had to create my own entertainment when not helping my father in the fields of tobacco and corn, and taking care of the numerous jobs on a farm. That entertainment, for the most part, was along the Banister River.

Having always lived close by the Banister River, it has always fascinated me, not only for its beauty, but for its history as well.

Indians had fish weirs up and down this river. There are two fish weirs above where the Big Cherrystone Creek enters the Banister River, constructed of big rocks from bank to bank across the stream. I'm sure Indian villages were close by, as many Indian pottery fragments and other artifacts have been found up and down the river, and in nearby fields.

Proceeding upstream on the Banister River from the fish weirs, one comes across the rock abutments of a long-ago structure known as the Robertson Bridge. I suppose it would have been a covered bridge, as most bridges were then. The old road bed, now returned to nature, led from Chatham to Spring Garden. The abutments on both sides of the river are of massive flat stones.

Continuing on up the river a half mile or so from the Robertson Bridge abutments, one finds the rock foundation where once stood a gristmill. Its raceway (overgrown but visible) and scattered rocks across the bed of the river (where I suppose the dam was) are also visible. The mill, known as Beaver's Mill, was owned by the same family who operated Beaver's Tavern at Blairs, Virginia. I have always thought that the products made in this gristmill between 1801 and 1860 — flour, cornmeal, bran, etc. — were most likely used in preparing the food served in Beaver's Tavern. John Calhoun of South Carolina (1782–1850), Vice President of the United States, is said to have often stopped for lodging and meals at Beaver's Tavern on his way to and from Washington, D.C. On his overnight stays at Beaver's Tavern he most likely consumed many meals prepared from products made from Beaver's Mill here on the Banister.

Reversing directions now, and going back downstream from the entrance of Big Cherrystone Creek into the Banister, one comes across another gristmill (still standing) and rock dam known as Motley's Mill, said to be the largest ever in Pittsylvania County. I remember going to this mill as a boy with my father to have corn ground. What an adventure this was for me, a little barefoot country farm boy, to see the massive rock dam with water rushing over it! It is one of my fondest childhood memories!

About a half mile or so below Motley's Mill was Clark's Bridge. This was on the road from Chatham to Halifax County. Some remains of abutments are visible.

Continuing on downstream a couple or more miles, one sees — not far from the river — the rock chimney where Col. John Donelson had his home. His daughter Rachel, later wife of President Andrew Jackson, lived here until about the age of ten, when Col. Donelson and family moved to Tennessee. Farther downstream about a mile or so is another fish weir across the stream bed, then one continues on downstream to come across the old Whitefalls Mill.

This part of the Banister River is, in my opinion, the most scenic and picturesque of the river. The stream here is known as the “falls of the Banister.” Rocks of great size go across, up, and down the river for a good distance, with rapids flowing over them and against them. To see it is an otherworldly experience.

As a young farm boy who lived near the Banister River, I roamed the surrounding bluffs on either side from the entrance of Big Cherrystone Creek into the river upstream to Beaver's Mill site, exploring, looking, swimming, searching for Indian artifacts of broken pottery and projectile points along the banks and sandbars, and just enjoying Mother Nature's treasures and secrets. What a beautiful river the Banister is, and so full of the history of Pittsylvania County!

I often think about what the Banister River means to me. It is a very special place for me, in particular its quietness and remoteness — the Beauty of God's Creation at Its Best!

This website is sponsored by Mitchells Publications, Chatham, Virginia.