Stokes County: Nowhere? Or not?
Where is Stokes County?
I thought you’d never ask!
Probably a more interesting question is: Where was Stokes County? It was on the map 250 years ago, but today (thank goodness) it’s not.
Today, the only significant road in Stokes County is U.S. 52, an old secondary road like Route 66 which runs from North Dakota to Charleston and crosses the southwest corner of Stokes County at King, almost missing the county entirely. Otherwise, roads in Stokes County are mostly winding country roads across hilly terrain of woods and fields.
However, during the American Colonial era, the biggest road in the colonies went right through Stokes and within a few miles of my land! That was the Great Wagon Road from Philadelphia to Georgia, also known as the Carolina Road.
The red arrow above points to the location of my land in Stokes.
The sign below marks the spot in southern Virginia where the wagon road crossed some of the higher and trickier parts of the Blue Ridge Mountains, then entered North Carolina in northern Stokes County.
When I was a young’un and lived near where the wagon road crossed the Yadkin River at Huntsville, I knew very little of this history. I knew there were some old towns around, but I never thought much about how they came to be there — Salem (1766), Bethania, Bethabara, Germanton. The route of the wagon road preceded the European settlers. It was a trail that united the Indians, used for trade and hunting. The Indians seemed to have rather different ideas about where roads ought to be. Even though some towns along the road eventually became good-size cities (Winston-Salem, Charlotte), modern roads through the Carolinas don’t follow the old wagon road at all. Because I happen to believe that growth is rarely related to progress, I think that that’s a good thing. The growth and suburbanization that has ruined so much of the South has largely bypassed Stokes County. A place like Stokes County apparently was of far more interest to Native Americans than the SUV-driving Americans of today.
For example, I just have to imagine that Pilot Mountain, a landmark whose granite tree-topped knob was in sight of the wagon road, was sacred to the Native Americans.
Below, Pilot Mountain looking east toward Sauratown Mountain and the route of the old wagon road:
Below, from Pilot Mountain looking down toward the west and toward the Yadkin Valley:
The old settlement which by far influenced Stokes County the most was Salem, about 45 miles to the south along the wagon road. The Moravian settlers in Salem were very high-tech for their time — German, well-educated, well-organized, well-financed. They made things and grew things that people needed. Salem merged with the little tobacco manufacturing town of Winston in 1913 to become Winston-Salem.
Below, Main Street in Old Salem.
Below, tobacco in Old Salem.
The early settlers, of course, spread outward into the forests surrounding the wagon road, cleared land, and farmed. On my father’s side, the Daltons were in coastal Virginia before 1700, but after the Revolutionary War, of which he was a veteran, my great-great-great-great grandfather, William Dalton, settled in Carroll County, Virginia, within 40 miles of the wagon road. On my mother’s side my ancestors came to the South just a little later. They were among the Germans who came down the wagon road from Pennsylvania, and they settled about 10 miles west of where the wagon road crossed the Yadkin River at Shallow Ford near Huntsville. At the time, the Yadkin Valley was some of the most coveted land in the South — rich bottom land. My mother and a brother and sister still live on remnants of the family land. My siblings, I believe, are the fourth generation to be there. Today there’s a bridge over the Yadkin River that overlooks the old ford, and on a clear day, from a high spot, you can see Pilot Mountain.
In the 19th century, Stokes County’s springs put it on the map. Today it’s hard to find even a bed and breakfast in Stokes County, but in the 19th century people flocked to the springs.
This one is gone:
But Vade Mecum still stands, as a retreat owned by the Sertoma Club: