Glasgow, Virginia nestles between the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, bounded by the James and Maury Rivers in Rockbridge County. Early settlers, filled with dreams and hopes, arrived in this land of promise as early as the 1730s.
The Natural Bridge of Virginia, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, is just six miles down the road. Over the years, natural and economic disasters often forced the dreamers into reality laden with tragedy and devastation. But the sturdy Scott-Irish immigrants preserved, and so does the people of Glasgow today. Glasgow, once thought to have become the City of the South with its two rivers, improved water travels to the state capitols at Williamsburg and Richmond and the Tidewater ports. The Kanawha Canal, built along the James in the first half of the 19th century, and the North River Navigation Canal (along what is now the Maury River) permitted shipping to and from Lexington, 20 miles to the north.
In 1881 two railroads converged here, making Glasgow a hub of transportation. Today two railroads, Norfolk Southern (once the Shenandoah Valley Railroad) and CSX (the old Richmond and Allegheny) switches freight between their lines at Glasgow. The mountains surrounding Glasgow, with deposits of iron ore, manganese and natural cement also gave promise of industry and development. This promise gave way to the great boom in the 1890's.
John Peter Sailing was the first to settle in what is known today as Glasgow around 1741. He and his brother, Peter A. Sailing, settled and farmed the prime bottom land. Around 1760 John Paxton II acquired a great deal of the Sailing property and acquired more in 1768 from heirs of Salling's family.
A battle between the colonial militia company and the Iroquois Indians took place near the mouth of the North River (Maury River) on December 18, 1742. Captain John Buchanan and Captain John McDowell commanded the local company. In those days, every able-bodied male was part of the militia. That was a way of survival.
The story has it that 33 Iroquois Indians were passing through the Borden Tract on their way to fight with the Catawbas. They were making trouble for the settlers, taking whatever they wanted, shooting horses and scaring women folk. Complaints were made and Colonel Patton gave the order to move the Iroquois on elsewhere. McDowell and 34 other men overtook the Iroquois just beyond the Sailing Plantation. A 45-minute battle ensued and in the end the Iroquois took to the mountains. The death toll was 11 settlers, including McDowell, and eight to nine Iroquois.
A historical marker commemorating the event is located beside Route 130 in Glasgow.
Three brothers, Robert, Joseph, and Arthur Glasgow settled in the valley in 1768. In 1782, Arthur Glasgow received a grant from the McNutt family for the land. He never settled there, but he willed it to his son Joseph Glasgow in 1822.
Glasgow received its name from Joseph Glasgow, son of Arthur, the first member of the Glasgow family to live in Glasgow. Joseph and his wife, Nancy Ellis McCullough, built their home in 1823. The house was known as Union Ridge and it stood at 1005 Fitz Lee Street until 1986. Union Ridge consisted of a house and 641 acres and was willed to Elizabeth Glasgow Johns who sold most of the 641 acres to Rockbridge Company in 1890.
In the mid-19th century, Glasgow's natural resources and convenient location attracted men who dreamed of development. A cement plant was established. The Kanawha Canal opened commerce east and west. Railroads arrived and businesses began to flourish. In 1848, Charles Hess Locher came to Balcony Falls and founded the James River Cement Works. At the time, construction of the Kanawha Canal on the James River was going to improve the river transportation. The James River Cement Works produced natural cement for most of Virginia until Portland cement, much superior in quality and strength to the natural product, became widely available. Charles Locher's two sons, Harry and Eben, ran the company after the Civil War until it closed down in 1907.
After the factory closed, Charles's forth son, Charles Hunter Locher, began acquiring several thousand acres in the 1920's in Glasgow and the surrounding area and incorporated it under the name of the Glasgow Company. Part of this land was sold to James Lees and Sons Company as a factory site in 1934. Locher also founded the Locher Clay Products Company producing brick. General Shale later took over the Locher Company.
Today the brick company remains closed. (For more information on the Locher dynasty see ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF DREAMS by Lynda Miller.
Glasgow had planned to be the City of the South because of what it had to offer. In the 1890's what else could a city ask for, two rivers, two railroads and an abundance of natural resources. Glasgow was prime real estate. Three Companies were to lead Glasgow's development; The Rockbridge Company, The Glasgow Improvement Company, and the West End Company.
In early 1890s a real estate boom hit the country, two towns, Buena Vista and Glasgow, were laid out and chartered with the speculation that they would become an important part of the country's great industrial movement. Glasgow was actually born on March 5, 1890, the day the Rockbridge Company held a drawing of lots. At that time only two houses, Union Ridge and the Salling home, stood in Glasgow which then boasted a population of no more than 20 people. The city, which was to have been three miles long, extending up to present day Natural Bridge Station. It was laid out with broad avenues, well-graded boulevards, and handsome drives. Seven miles of streets were graded, with Rockbridge Road (today's Route 130) being 125 feet wide. Plank sidewalks were placed along many streets. Glasgow attracted investors from all parts of the country and abroad, as well as local folk. The growth of Glasgow was phenomenal. Houses and buildings were built and occupied.
An investment of 1,500,000.00 by a British syndicate, to be used in improving and developing this city, in addition to about an equal amount already realized by the Rockbridge Company from sale of its stocks and lots, gave it an impetus second to no other new town of the south Fitzhugh Lee, President of the Rockbridge Company and grandson of General Light Horse Harry Lee. Fitz Lee became Governor of Virginia in 1886. During his last year in office, Fitz Lee was asked to serve as President of the Rockbridge Company, while in Glasgow, the family lived in the home now known as Virginia Manor. By June 1890, 55 houses stood in Glasgow. By October 25, 1890, there was a population of over 800, with 12 factories and industries operating or under construction.
A shining symbol of the anticipated success of the Rockbridge Company was the Rockbridge Hotel, a glittering reflection of those exciting times. Also shimmering at that time was the Arc lighting that was installed on some town streets in 1908.The pick, shovel, the trowel and had and hammer and saw were busy from one of the end of the city to the other, as the birth became the boom. It is interesting to note that the developers of present day Buena Vista was consider naming their town Glasgow or Green Forest, but finally decided to honor the Jordan's family Buena Vista Furnace on South River. As in other county boomtowns, the local promoter gave first priority to building a hotel to cater to the visiting businessmen and their families. The Rockbridge Company constructed an elaborate structure high on a hill dominating the beautiful rich valley but clearly away from all threats of flooding. Its tall towers and wide window bays, sweeping piazzas and impressive stone cut fronts and pillars made it the Queen of Virginia's Hotel. It covered over an acre of land.
On September 17, 1892, a procession of fine polished carriages began to arrive through the newly lighted street lamps of Glasgow's mammoth Hotel. People from all across the nation and from more than a dozen foreign countries attending the opening night gala. The hotel boasted more than 200 rooms and suites n the Queen Anne style. A roof garden, a daring architectural innovation in the 1890s, reflected the dazzling mood of its creators. The Rockbridge Hotel was to be known as the Glasgow Inn when it opened, but was generally referred to the Rockbridge Hotel for the company that built it. A bank of long-distance operators kept the telephones buzzing. Over the wires, money was doubled and tripled; Paper profits compounded and went out of sight. The murmur of great fortune and success filled the air over Glasgow. As if by magic, business contracts appeared, were signed and whisked away. But the fairy tale did not end happily ever after. That night, soon after the guests departed, a small group of men known as receivers, arrived to burst one of the biggest bubbles ever blown. What began as a beautiful and wonderful night is remembered as the night of doom and devastation.
On the very night of the gala opening, the failure of the Baring Brothers International Bankers, touched off an alarm that was soon felt across the Atlantic. The economic panic of 1893 put the Rockbridge Company out of business. This panic, caused by the Reading Railroad, a major eastern line, going out of business was soon magnified by the failures of hundreds of banks and business that were dependent upon the railroads. The United States Treasury experienced a drain on its gold reserves, which developed into a full-fledged panic in 1893. The Rockbridge Company's stock and land values plummeted, and the company failed. The boom had busted! The stock market reacted with a dramatic plunge and European investors started pulling their funds from United States Stocks.
With the end of the Rockbridge Company, plans for Glasgow's development ended. The hotel sat vacant and was the subject of court actions for over 14 years. It was finally sold to a group of businessmen for a mere ten thousand dollars - barely enough to the pay the watchman's wages. Part of the hotel was initially torn down, another part of it was used for housing, a Negro school, and then as a barn. After many years of rotting away from neglect, the land was purchased from the Glasgow Company (Locher's) by James Lees and Sons whose plan was to erect homes on the site, which it did.
The failure of local businesses was just a sign of the depression that gripped the nation from 1893 until around 1897. Glasgow survived as most all other towns did, by just doing the best they could. James River Cement Works, one of the area's major industries, survived the bust only to close in 1907. Later came the Locher Clay Products and then later becoming General Shale Brick Co.
The Virginia Electrical Power Company (VEPCO) built a hydroelectric plant at Balcony Falls in 1915 to meet the electric needs of the area. The plant was in operation until 1969. The dam provided many recreational opportunities on the James and Maury Rivers. Citing concerns that the devastating flood in 1969 probably would not have been as bad if the dam were not there. Citizens of Glasgow petitioned to have the dam removed. In 1974 VEPCO removed the dam.
In 1934, the Blue Ridge Company (James Lees & Sons) built a carpet weaving plant on about 100 acres of land that boarded the Maury River. Production of carpet started in July of 1935 and the first order was shipped on September 10, 1935. By the end of 1936 the weaving mill had doubled in size and James Lee & Sons began construction of Axminster Mill in 1941. With the United States entry into World War II construction was not completed until 1945. During the war years, the plant went from producing carpet to producing canvass duct for the armed forces. Four hundred women had to take the place of the men who left to fight in the war. During that time the plant ran 24 hours a day seven days a week. After the completion of the Axminster mills in 1945 the company began building the yarn mill and the dye house. Both of those were completed and started operation in 1947. James Lees & Sons continued to expand the facility.
From 1948 to 1953 additions were added to Wilton, velvet and Axminster mills and an industrial waste plant was built to curb the pollution flowing into the Maury River. In 1954, the plant doubled the size of the yarn mill. In 1960, James Lee & Son became part of Burlington Industries, which, at the time, was the largest textile manufacturer in the world. In the 1980's, Burlington Industries had to fight a hostile take-over in which resulted in downsizing of the company.
In 2002, Burlington Industries filed for bankruptcy and Mohawk Industries purchased the Lee's Carpet facility. This 1.5 million square feet (that's 34 acres) facility is the largest carpet manufacturing plant under one roof in the United States. Mohawk Industries employs approximately 1300 people, and operates 24 Hours a day to design, test, market, produce, and distribute The World's Best Looking, Best Performing Commercial Carpet.
Heavy rains in late January, 1854 left the James River and the treacherous Balcony Falls in full flood. On 21 January, the canal boat Clinton and its passengers became stranded in the raging waters. Frank Padgett, a skilled boatman and slave, led four other men to rescue them. In a heroic attempt to save the last passenger, Padgett drowned, unable to fight the rushing current.
Captain Edward Echols, who witnessed Padgett's act, was so moved he commissioned the construction of a granite obelisk monument beside lock 16 of the Blue Ridge canal. It now stands here in Glasgow's Centennial Park. The text above is from the historical marker erected in 2003 in Centennial Park on Blue Ridge Road. The wording was written by local high school student. Frank Padget, an African American resident, saved many lives before losing his own. His story is one of selfless action in the face of grave danger.
Two major rivers, the Maury and the James, and Sallings Mountain surround Glasgow, making the Town prone to have problems with flooding. The earliest recorded flood that occurred in 1877. Damage was recorded to the railroads, the Kanawha Canal, and the James River Cement plant. Other recorded floods include 1936, 1950, 1969,1972,1985,and 1995. With the floods of 1936, 1969 and 1985 being the worst, with the Maury and the James overflowing their banks.
The flood of 1936 was particularly devastating because there were many new residents living in the Town at the time due to the opening of the new carpet factory. The flood was caused by rain from the remnants of Hurricane Hazel. More than four inches of rain fell in a two-day period on already saturated ground. The James crested 11:00 pm on March 17th. Lochers brick plant was several feet under water as was the Greenlee Bridge in Natural Bridge Station. In Buchanan, the James crested at 26.8 feet, 9.8 feet above flood stage. There was no report of the Maury River leaving its banks in Buena Vista during this flood.
The flood of 1969 seems to be the flood that most Glasgow residents say was the worst in history. Remnants of Hurricane Camille dumped an average of 12 to 20 inches of rain in a 3 to 5 hour period in the mountains of Virginia after making land fall in Mississippi two days before. The ensuing flash floods took the lives of more than a 117 Virginia residents. Seven of those that were killed came from the Glasgow area. This was the worst flash flooding event that Virginia has ever seen. The James River in Buchanan, crested at 23.4 feet, 6.4 above flood stage, and the Maury River crested at a record 31.2 feet in Buena Vista, 14.2 feet above flood stage.
The flood of 1985, known as the Election Day flood, was caused by the remnants of Hurricane Juan on November 4th. Roanoke recorded a record rain of 6.63 inches in a 24-hour period and it rained continually for six days. Even though many polling places were relocated throughout the state, flooding was a major issue to many voters. Glasgow recorded one of its lowest voter turnouts in years.
In Glasgow, both the James and the Maury were rising. The James flood level in Buchanan was a record 38.8 feet, 21.8 feet above flood stage. In Lynchburg the watermarks were 7 feet higher than the previous high water marks. In Buena Vista, the Maury crested at 26.3 feet, 9.3 feet above the flood stage.
Flooding in Glasgow, although causing significant damage was probably reduced by the removal of the Balcony Falls dam. The citizens of Glasgow have endured a lot during each flood, but each time the residents come back stronger than ever, and striving to improve. It was pressure from the Town that led to the removal of the Balcony Falls dam in 1973. The Town has sustained more than $30 million in flood, damage since 1969, with more than $20 million in the 1995 alone. In the 1995 flood event, Lees Carpets sustained more than $10 million in damage and was closed for several days.
Repetitive flooding has caused a great burden for many residents in Town as they rebuild their homes and their lives.
After the June 1995 floods, Glasgow embarked on an ambitious project to address the problem of properties that are damaged repeatedly by flooding and yet repaired or rebuilt in the same unsafe locations. The problem has cost the Town and residents hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years and has had tragic consequences for individual families and businesses caught in the cycle of flood-repair-flood. Fifty-six (56) houses were identified as receiving substantial and recurrent flood damage and were slated for elevation, relocation, or acquisition (and demolition).
Funding for this $2.5 million project was provided through FEMAs Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development, the Virginia Department of Emergency Management, Rockbridge County and the Town of Glasgow. As a result of this project, which was completed in 2003, more than 100 persons will be protected from future damaging floods. This project, administered in Town by Mayor Sam Blackburn, was the result of many hours of hard work from members of Town Council, county officials, town officials, citizens, and made possible by assistance from the staff of the Central Shenandoah Planning District Commission. Planners Rebecca Joyce and Bonnie Riedesel worked tirelessly to see the project through to completion. Engineering Concepts, Inc. of Fincastle, Virginia provided Professional engineering services.