Downtown Abingdon’s first public mural was dedicated on August 16, 2014. A two-year project, the mural was designed and painted by regional artist Ellen Elmes. Entitled “Celebrate! A Social History of Abingdon,” the mural depicts six banners waving in celebration of Abingdon’s unique cultural history. The mural is located on the western facing wall of 301 West Main Street.
Ms. Elmes has prepared a descriptive guide of the mural banners that is available below, or in printed form at the Abingdon Convention and Visitors Bureau located at 335 Cummings Street.
Abingdon Main Street is proud to acknowledge the following organizations and individuals who contributed $500 or more in support of the mural project:
Dr. John and Mrs. Sheila Patterson
Sincerest appreciation for the many individuals and local businesses that gave smaller gifts, but are too numerous to mention here.
Image descriptions, starting at the top:
- First trails blazed by buffalo and ancient Indians, and later, Cherokee and Shawnee Native American tribes.
- Thomas Walker surveying piece of 800.000 acres of land in southwest Virginia acquired by Loyal Land Company in 1749. Excerpt of page of Walker’s diary: April,1748, met Stalnaker at Reedy Creek on his way to the Cherokee Indians. Elks are Very Plenty on this River. Sunday: It Rained most of the day. 4th: I blazed Several Trees four ways on the outside of the low Grounds of a Buffalo Road, and marked my Name on Several Beech Trees.
- Daniel Boone on exploration in 1760. The legendary attack by wolves on Boone and Nathaniel Gist while they were camping near a cave here gave Abingdon its first name, “Wolf Hills.”
- Above Boone: Reverend Charles Cummings overlooking a map of Black’s Fort, serving as minister to settlers living there in mid-1700’s for protection from Indians.
- Below, to right: Rev. Cummings cabin that he was trying to reach with Wm. Henry Creswell when they were attacked by Dragging Canoe (shown in the chinquapins) and his men. Cummings survived but Creswell’s tombstone and the Cummings cabin reside in Sinking Spring Cemetery today as a reminder of that fateful day.
- To left: Abingdon Bicentennial commemorative coin. Above: Early children’s game and a young colonial woman turning flax into fibers, among many daily activities practiced by early Black’s Fort settlers.
- Writing in blue: 1775 Fincastle Resolutions written and signed by early settlers gathered near Fort Chiswell calling for freedom, liberty, and popular sovereignty. (preceded Declaration of Independence)
- Writing in brown: An Act of the Assembly of Virginia in 1777 proclaiming the first Court for the County of Washington, with Black’s Fort established as county seat, 1776.
- Breckenridge Cabin built in 1769 by Alexander Breckenridge and his family. Today it is the oldest known documented standing structure in Washington County, re-situated adjacent to the Washington County Public Library. In front of the cabin is a postal carrier on horseback representing the establishment in Abingdon of the first post office in 1793, which remained the postal station furthest to the west in America for 25 years.
- Opposite, right edge: Honey bees depicted to point out that “a bee tree was worth more than a hog” in colonial southwest Virginia.
- Lower tip of banner: The Muster Grounds (today a National Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Abingdon). Here in Sept. 1780, 400 men heeded the call to muster by Colonels Arthur and William Campbell (portrayed here). After more mustering at Sycamore Shoals, they marched to King’s Mountain where the battle that ensued became one of the significant turning points in the American Revolution.
Image descriptions, starting at the top:
- Corn and hemp plants, staples of early settlers for food and trade in southwest Virginia.
- One of many taverns/ordinaries in the early 1800s, this one owned and operated by emancipated slave, Fincastle Sterrett, who provided meals and lodging, and entertained guests playing tunes on his fiddle.
- Stagecoach driver Mary Tate, “Old Moll,” who, in the mid-1800s, braved the weather, robberies, and rough roads as the only female driver of travelers to their lodgings in Abingdon and beyond.
- Left: This building was used by William King as an office and counting room before 1808. His home on Court Street was the first brick house built in Abingdon and he served as the first Master of the town’s first civic organization, the Masonic Lodge. Upon King’s early death at 39 years of age, he had amassed 19.000 acres of Washington County land and saltworks in Saltville VA renting for $30,000 per year.
- Right: Michael Shaver’s signature connotes his notoriety as Abingdon’s only silversmith. The blacksmith at work, a tin-hammered cabinet design, and the tooled door latch of the boyhood home of circuit rider William Sheffey all signify the beauty of skilled craftsmanship in the 1800s in Abingdon.
- Below: Landed gentry life in early 1800s and the slave labor that supported comfortable living for residents of homes that are now town landmarks, as well as the dance cotillions at places such as The Virginia House hotel. Left: The stately home of Montcalm built in 1827 by Governor David Campbell (portrayed). Right: “Retirement,” built from 1813-1815 by Capt. Robert Craig, (daughter Amanda portrayed). During the Civil War, a wedding party was “crashed” here by Yankees.
- Below: 1859-63 ledger page of Abingdon’s H. & Co. general store showing the purchase of a wide range of goods by Abingdon residents.
- Lower banner depicting Civil War period: Ordinance of Secession for Virginia signed by Abingdon residents John Arthur Campbell and Robert E. Grant. To left: Bugler’s call to war and melting of local church bells for cannonballs; this sculpture from the McKee monument in Sinking Spring Cemetery symbolizes the sorrow of early death, both to members of this family and soldiers in the Civil War; makeshift hospital care with numbered beds in the attic of The Tavern (today a restaurant). Right edge: The original County Courthouse during the Civil War when, after Stoneman’s raid on the town in 1864, Capt. James Wyatt lingered behind to burn the Courthouse down. Above: Abingdon native and Confederate commander Joseph Johnston who contributed to the victory of Chickamauga and the fight against Sherman’s troops. Lower edge: Excerpts from the Abingdon Virginia published by Charles Coale during the Civil War; former slave and Abingdon resident Landon Boyd serving on the petit jury in Richmond appointed to try Confederate President Jefferson Davis for treason.
Image descriptions, starting at top:
- Abingdon Male Academy founded by William King and chartered by the Virginia Legislature in 1803. Constructed for the Academy in 1827, it was later a Civil War headquarters and hospital, and was then replaced with the William King School building, a high school still in the memory of Abingdon graduates. The building stands today with its founder’s name, the William King Art Museum. An excerpt from Academy alumnus Gray Gilmer’s poem, speaks of the long daily journey of many students to the school.
- General Frances Preston and his wife Sarah Buchanan Campbell Preston depicted in front of their private home built in 1832, today known as the Martha Washington Inn. As the Martha Washington College for women from 1860 until 1919, (and as part of Emory & Henry College until 1932), the building served as an educational institution for 350 graduates from many states. A 1922 varsity basketball team is depicted here in typically modest uniforms of the day.
- To the right: The beloved “smoke trees” that were later cut down by hotel owners are depicted behind a modern day portrait of longtime Martha Washington Hotel employee, greeter, historian, and storyteller, Pete Sheffey. On his right: one of “Martha’s Girls,” alumnus Doris Aven Minton.
- Below, left: The Stonewall Jackson Institute, and a graduation procession of two students in 1920. (The students walk across a poem by Betsy Owens imagining life at the college.) Behind them, students wearing their Confederate gray dress uniforms assemble in 1900 in front of an original Main Street building, which later burned. To the right: A hand-carved table made by the Institute’s woodworking instructor Mabel Kreger, now residing in the Sinking Spring’s Presbyterian Church foyer; a Holy Bible symbolizing spiritual instruction at the school.
- To the right: Typical spellers, readers, and math books that would have been used in the early 20th century at the Abingdon Public School, (depicted here), built in an Italianate/Greek Revival style in 1892. It was torn down and replaced with the Central Elementary School in 1925 (entranceway depicted here). After this building burned down in 1964, the present Washington County Library was built on the same location. A step which led into the elementary school can still be seen on Valley Street today.
- Left tip of banner: Mother Superior Mary Borgia gazes through a telescope on the grounds of the Catholic boarding school she founded, Villa Maria. It was established by General Robert E. Lee in 1867 “for the impoverished gentle ladies of the South,” and operated by the Sisters of the Visitation on Abingdon’s Main Street until 1904. It closed due to lack of sisters to staff the school.
Image descriptions, starting at top:
- Swedenborgian Church spire and supporter Anna Eliza Hickman Campbell’s gravestone. Followers of this Christian sect believed in freedom of worship and social reform; recently-built labyrinth on the old church site, carrying on the Swedenborgian tradition.
- Below, continuing spiritual heritage: A family tree quilt segment by Nancy Johnson’s mother, Carrie Hill, expresses the “ole-timey” religious belief to “Wait a little longer. A good time is coming boys.”
- Steeples of older established churches in Abingdon, l to r: Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church, Charles Wesley United Methodist Church, original St. Thomas Episcopal Church, Methodist Episcopal Church South (today Abingdon UMC) and, in foreground, Abingdon Baptist Church. To left: Stained glass window in Sinking Spring Presbyterian Church and, in St. Thomas Episcopal Church, detail of one of the Life of Christ Icons created by Mary Jane Miller. Middle: Excerpt of 1878 Dedication Program for the original Methodist Episcopal Church (Charles Wesley UMC).
- Right: Joseph and Ray Hagy with their Hagy Wagon Company (est. 1904) wheel display. The industry was one of Abingdon’s oldest.
- Below: Cavalry enlistees of World War I in Abingdon, among the 2,563 Washington Co. men who served. To right: Washington County Courthouse Tiffany stained glass window, dedicated in 1919, honors the soldiers who served in World War I.
- Left edge, below: Ethel and Minnie Baugh on their house porch, next door to which Minnie ran an apothecary shop, and later a bookstore. The sisters were one of several founders of the Washington County Historical Society, and the Booklovers Club.
- To the right: Lewis Preston Summers standing before several acclaimed regional histories that he authored, and his quote about the important duties of the mayor and councilmen in his time. Below: Andrew Rowen Summers, musicologist inspired by local folk musicians to revive and record traditional plucked dulcimer music. Further right: One pattern of many famous Cumbow China designs created by Mabel Cumbow Ruskin, who was patronized by the Lord Mayor of Abingdon, England.
- The original Abingdon Hospital (est. 1905) was rebuilt in 1916, then dedicated to founder Dr. George Ben Johnston as Johnston Memorial Hospital.
- Right: Barn and horse stalls of the old Fairgrounds on Trigg Street where horse races and a grandstand linger in childhood memories. Below: The Jockey Lot behind the Courthouse where horse trading and other business went on during Court Day each month.
- Banner end: Barter Theatre history featuring founder Robert Porterfield and actor Ernest Borgnine overlooking the early days of bartering “Hams for Hamlet,” as well as icons of the contemporary Barter: The Barter Players children’s theatre, the Appalachian Festival of Plays & Playwrights, and Charles Vess’ A Midsummer Night’s Dream sculpture.
Image description, starting at the top:
- Men employing hard, manual labor constructed the railbeds and laid the tracks for early steam transport from Abingdon to Damascus. The huge logging industry of the Hassinger Lumber Company was aided by the extension of the Virginia, Carolina and Southern Railroad connector line in 1906.
- Abingdon Depot, 1909, from which travelers embarked and to which tourists arrived, hailed by excited children greeting the “iron horse.” Below: The Abingdon Produce Company, on Depot Square, shipped produce and livestock to major eastern markets. The last steam run of the Virginia and Carolina Railroad was in 1957.
- Eleanor Roosevelt is escorted off the train by Abingdon Mayor Hagy in 1933 for a visit with friends of her late father and former Abingdon resident, Elliott Roosevelt, (depicted with Eleanor as a child), and for a tour of the Martha Washington Inn, the Barter Theater and Cumbow China Decorating Co. She is also depicted as the guest of honor at the White Top Mountain Folk Music Festival of ‘33, with a backdrop of the family Bible she left at the Episcopal Church in memory of her parents.
- Far right border: During World War II, Abingdon residents established the Victory Exchange Store where women sold war bonds and other items to raise money for the war. Victory Gardens were also grown as part of the national effort to be resilient at home.
- Wall Street in the 1950s: The Belmont Hotel, built and owned by H. H. “Hop” Scott, (depicted), filled the block between Main Street and the train depot until its demise in 1981, after which a new post office was constructed. Besides providing rooms for travelers, the building housed a barbershop owned by Oscar Brown, a Black & White Cab service, and a café, pool hall and bar. Left side: This commercial hub in the ‘50s included stores on the east side of Wall St. such as People’s National Bank, Large’s, the Ben Franklin, West End Pharmacy, and the Hattie House.
- Main Street hosted the annual Washington County Burley Tobacco Parade for over 50 years, evolving into the Washington County Fair. Doug Patterson’s Photographic Services on Main St. documented many of the Abingdon downtown street scenes such as this parade with the Burley Twirlers in the foreground, and Fire Chief Nelson Berry and Town Manager Bill Cook riding the town’s first fire engine. To the right are buyers examining tobacco in one of the Abingdon tobacco warehouses owned by the Cozart family.
- Left edge: Entertainment provided in Abingdon by annual circuses, carnivals, and attractions at the Zephyr Theatre. Pharmacy soda fountains enabled conversations over coffee, depicted here with Margaret Craig, Murial Vance, and Sheriff Newt Boardwine at the Corner Drugstore. Sweets for special occasions, natural remedies, and warm greetings from “Pop” Ellis (depicted) were offered for many years at Ellis Pharmacy, now an Ellis family-owned restaurant.
Image descriptions, starting at the top:
- Well-to-do-households engaging children in full-costumed roles in plays. Right: Kings Mountain School Park on original site of Kings Mountain School commemorates the heritage of members of the community who attended the school. Below: Children loved sliding down the granite bannister of the town’s federal courthouse and post office building torn down in 1950s. Newer Abingdon Police Dept. building reflects elements of the old post office’s architecture (both at right). Earlier era of postal delivery depicted by foreground figure of Joe Estep. Above: Many boys over the years ignored parents’ warnings against exploring “Wolf Cave,” as evidenced by stories told of cave adventures by grown men of Abingdon today!
- Right: Cave House Craft Shop Crafts Cooperative originated by local artisans to market area crafts for 40 years+. The co-op continues as Holston Mountain Artisans on Pecan St; hands demonstrate craft of early members and work on building repairs by all.
- Below: Originally William King Artists Association – today, William King Art Museum. This organization is born of diligent efforts made for years by community members. Bunny and Dan Caldwell’s idea and support of showcasing resident local artists at work in their studios became reality after extensive repairs on the old school building. The Museum now features high-security exhibits, the Cultural Heritage Project, a Virginia Museum of Fine Arts Affiliation, the annual From These Hills Juried Exhibition, and educational outreach throughout Southwest Virginia.
- To left: The Arts Depot Artists Association (in old Baggage Depot), developed by several founders of the William King Artists Association; supports regional artists with studio/exhibition space, sales, and classes.
- Left border: Landon Woody, a friend to artists, beckoned passers-by to sit awhile in front of his shop, “Woody’s Goodies.” Right border: Abingdon poet Lou Crabtree urged friends and strangers alike to her front porch for conversation; a passage from one of her poems featured here. Middle: George the Giraffe character created for a children’s book by longtime Emory & Henry College art professor and Abingdon artist George Chavatel.
- Lower left: Dorothy Buck Boucher, first female lawyer in area who worked for Abingdon’s designation as an historic district; First Ladies Lady Bird Johnson and Bess Truman, both town visitors.
- Lower middle: “Parade” of contemporary trail-makers in Abingdon, including an Appalachian Peace Education Center activist, an Abingdon Farmer’s Market shopper, a Virginia Highlands Community College student, a Virginia Highlands Festival piper, and the late Alice White enjoying, as do many others, the Virginia Creeper Trail with the old N & W “Mollie” Engine 433 behind her.
- Right banner tip: Valley Street residents enjoy a summer porch party, as a Martha Washington Inn horse and carriage passes by in the night.