3. Barley Mill
Rosemary’s driver, Jerry Eliot, slowed down as they entered the town of Barley Mill on the way to the federal court house in Landover, West Virginia. For much of its history, Barley Mill has been a nondescript little Appalachian country town in Dare County, West Virginia resting effortlessly in a set of green and rolling hills just a few kilometers west of one of the smaller and least impressive ranges of the Appalachian mountains. It rests near the northern end of the Adena National Forest. County Road 26 runs southwest out of Barley Mill for about two kilometers and then curves south for another three kilometers to the smaller village of Gaine’s Crossing on the shores of the Green Reservoir which twists through the coves and valleys for ten kilometers west to the dam at Buckland. Sheepshank Bay, which was originally only a creek which ran through Sheepshank Cove, was linked by the Army Corps of Engineers to the artificial reservoir five decades ago to provide the principal water supply for the city of Huttonsville twelve kilometers to the north just outside the national forest.
Huttonsville had originally been a small town much like Barley Mill, even founded the same year. In the early decades of the 20th century it had grown into a mining and manufacturing center of regional importance. There were two or three small neighborhoods (blocks, actually) near the original factories in Huttonsville where European immigrants and African Americans in roughly equal measure had come to work during those early decades. Later, the town expanded to absorb three smaller company towns originally established by one of the local mining companies that were eventually bought out by Mueller Mining and its chief competitor in the region run by Enoch “Digger” Profitt.
Barley Mill was founded in colonial Appalachia, more than a century before the forestry and mining industries wrecked so much corporate havoc on the region. In the early 1790s farmers moved south from western Pennsylvania hoping to escape the “whiskey tax” imposed by the administration of George Washington. Thus its somewhat anomalous name: They came as a group, approximately two dozen German and Scots-Irish families most three generations strong, with the original intention to establish fields of barley and a mill for processing their crops into hops, for commercial use in what are today called micro-breweries.
During the colonial era, the area had seemingly unlimited supplies of clear, fresh water and so fields were cleared on the hillsides. Unfortunately, the soil was not very conducive to grain farming of any kind and the brewing industry in the region disappeared completely with a few years. Even so, illegal production of beer, a variety of whiskeys and assorted other alcoholic beverages — “moonshining” — continues to the present day as it does in many parts of rural America. As the commercialization of farming in the rest of the new nation accelerated later in the 19th century, the farmers of Barley Mill remained in “family farm” subsistence mode until their timber rights were purchased and their beautiful, tree-clad hills of virgin forest were denuded by clear-cutting during the first decades of the 20th century. Shortly thereafter, men and boys all over Dare County began disappearing into the mines and factories that appeared across the landscape.
Decades later Huttonsville and Barley Mill both succumbed to the deindustrialization of the region that occurred just as suddenly as they had been previously deforested and industrialized. The entire county had since settled into its present respectable, if less affluent, condition as a network of service centers for the backpackers, canoeists, whitewater rafters, campers and the other tourists attracted to the national forest in all seasons. Drivers on State Highway 58 could if they wished drive through the center of Barley Mill on their way between Huttonsville to the northwest and the county seat of Landover to the east, stopping for the single stop light at the intersection with County Road 26. Most, however, elect to skirt around Barley Mill completely on the by-pass that runs part way up the north side of the ridge the formed the northern border of the town. In doing so, the sole impression the outside world gained of Barley Mill was a quick glimpse of the roof and part of the back fence of Gordon’s Auto Body shop.
Anton Gordon, father of Jim, who currently runs the family business painted an elaborate sign on the north side of the fence when the north bypass first opened in the 1960s, but as far as anyone knew the sign had never brought in any business off the highway and Jim has been content to let it fade so that now only the letter A and a small part of the company logo were visible from the road. The occasional child passing by in the family car was left to ask, “Daddy, what does that A on the fence over there mean?”
After a brief population explosion in the decade following its founding and before its eventual destruction, Barley Mill had settled into a long period of slow but steady population growth. It least we aren’t shrinking, locals would say to one another, the way that Huttonsville, Landover and all of the other towns in the county are. In fact, the population of Barley Mill had reached 1,900 in the first year of the twentieth century, and had continued to expand ever since at the remarkable average growth rate of one new resident for each new year. For every four people who die, the locals would say, six young people move away, and eleven babies are born. For a few years in the middle of the previous century, the population had fallen one or two behind the calendar year while right after the war it had gone several ahead, but during the period of the events reported here the population of the town and the number of the year continued to be one and the same.
Jerry Eliot like to think about such things as he drove through the Appalachian countryside. Rural communities in the U.S. are mostly crossroads towns, built on or near highway intersections. For Jerry, there are only a few basic types of intersections around which towns have been built. The most fundamental of these is the classic Midwestern crossroads town in which a North-South highway crosses an East-West highway and the town grows up around the junction; first a few scattered houses, then some businesses and storefronts, followed by a central business district and eventually a complete town including churches, schools and whatever else.
Jerry had been a cartographer’s assistant in the Army. He knew that one important variant of this “four square” town plan occurs east of the Ohio River, where towns were laid out before the Mercator projection and the famous “metes and bounds” surveying system took hold; especially in mountainous regions of the Appalachian chain. In cases like Barley Mill a crossroads town may have sprung up earlier around the crossing of any two major routes; an overland trail and a river, for example. Earlier native American trails are often cited as the sources of many such routes, which twist and curl up and down among the hills. In some places, a crossroads junction may take the form of a St. Andrews Cross (X), a fork (Y), a T or some other geometric permutation, but the point remains the same: Two roads that cross enter and just as quickly leave this place, our town, and lead us away to other towns or cities. Whether the other places are lesser or greater in the general hierarchy of place is less important than the fact that they are somewhere else. They are not here.
One important variant on road designs and their influence on towns, Jerry mused this clear morning, occurs at the crossing of greater and lesser highways (e.g., a state highway crossing a federal highway, a county road crossing a state highway, or even a single, narrow country lane crossing a county road). In such cases, it is important to remember each road’s place in the pecking order of roads and act accordingly. As Huttonsville grew into an industrial center, Highway 53 on the outskirts of Barley Mill became a state and later still a federal highway while the road to Gaine’s Crossing which formed the Main Street of Barley Mill remained a simple county road once it left the downtown area.
A variant particularly common in the mountains is the Y intersection, where two roads converge and flow directly into the third, usually flowing out of three or more converging valleys. Or, when coming from the other direction, a single road splits in two and the traveler is forced into the famous Frostian choice of which road to follow. Similar patterns are also found in nature, as with the famous Three Rivers intersection in Pittsburgh. First, the Youchiogheny flows into the Monongahelia and then the combined newly formed river flow joins the Allegheny at Point Park to form the Ohio River in what is, from this vantage point, a serial pair of Y’s. In small towns, there are any number of permutations of the Y including two equal roads joining to form a single new road, a lesser road flowing into a major one, etc. Topologically speaking, such Ys are identical with the simple T intersection, but in small towns, when the angle is other than perpendicular (or very close thereto) the look and feel is different.
Along with the various X and Y intersections is the T where a lesser road simply terminates at a greater one. This may be due to some impediment beyond the termination point like a cliff, or an unbridged river or even railroad tracks. In such cases, the town is likely to have sprung up along the major highway on both sides of the minor road in which town folk seldom show much interest, with the High Street or Main Street of the town distributed along the major road and spilling onto the other and lesser side streets and avenues, without any evident enthusiasm.
The final pattern among crossroads in Jerry’s considered opinion is the convergence (or close proximity) of several roadways, in what he called the cocklebur intersection. Although he had seen only a few of these in mostly square Ohio, he was seeing more and more here in West Virginia. On the way to Landover, Jerry noted with some amusement that one intersection had a sign below the stop signs that read “Four Way Stop”, but as he looked around he noted that there were six roads converging at the intersection, and three or four more had already converged a few hundred feet further back. These types of intersections often have local names which represent some variant on the functional theme like “five corners”, “seven corners”, or else some some more colorful name like Dixie Crossroads. The major example of such a cocklebur intersection in Dare County was in nearby Huttonsville, where no less than five roads down from the mountains converged into a single intersection in separate pairs all within 50 yards of one another. Unbeknownst to Jerry, there had been talk from time to time of putting in a traffic rotary to sort out the mess at that intersection, but most people agreed with the County Commissioners who had concluded that there just wasn’t enough traffic on those particular roads to justify the necessary bother and expense.
Barley Mill still has one grocery store, a member of a minor regional chain of such stores. The owners do home deliveries to elderly and shut-in customers, although they were forced to start charging for home deliveries a few years ago. There was also still a small, local dairy that made home deliveries of milk, cream and butter until it was bought out by the largest dairy cooperative in Ohio and home deliveries were discontinued. There is a five-lane bowling alley first put up in the 1950s, and in the summer there is a roller skating rink operating in a circus tent with open sides, and drop-down flaps that allow for rainy day skating. They set up in a large vacant lot near the edge of town and rent skates to those who don’t bring their own. There is also a locally owned drug store, Arlen’s Pharmacy, complete with a genuine original soda foundation and a small cable, internet and security business that sells cable tv, internet and cell phone services and a range of little-used security services. Few people in town feel any need for fire monitors and even fewer for burglar alarms. Most people don’t even lock their doors when they go out or at night, except around the time of the annual county fair. The cable and internet services are mostly old and slow and the owner may be ready to retire any year now. No one in town is quite certain when that will happen or where that will leave their services.
City planners might say there is a government/public service core in Barley Mill, with a small police force (actually, county sheriff’s deputies assigned to the town and its vicinity), a volunteer fire department, public water and sewer services with a small two-man “city” crew assigned to maintain them, and a public library staffed by volunteer librarians with a community room in the basement available to any club or association willing to contact the librarian on duty for a reservation. There is also a part-time human service system, including a branch clinic open three days a week, providing a mix of family practice, dentistry, mental health services and a senior center with a recreation program operated by volunteers five days a month. Ambulance services are on call through the rural hospital in Huttonsville, although it can sometimes take the ambulance more than an hour to arrive.
Without thinking very much about any of this or even being aware of any of, Rosemary and Jerry continued on through town and out on Highway 58 on their way to Landover, without noticing the faded sign at Gordon’s Auto Service. For the travelers, this was just another uneventful part of their trip from Ohio which would still take another 35 minutes or so on the winding highway. On their way out of town, they passed a farmhouse with an obviously new sign for Amy’s Doll House, with several outbuildings including a barn at the back, although neither meant anything to the occupants of the car. Nor did either the driver or his passenger note the renovations underway there. When they reached the front of the federal courthouse in Landover half an hour later, Jerry stopped in front and came around to open Rosemary’s door for her.
“Do you have your cell phone?” she asked.
“I’ll call you when I’m finished here” she said and walked toward the front door.
“Very good, madam.”
Rosemary laughed at this exchange and Jerry winked at her. He was someone who had done occasional odd jobs around the Mueller properties and for the various Mueller business interests ever since he retired from his 30-year stint in the military. He was now very close to normal retirement age, if not a bit beyond. Some time back, several years ago really, she and Harry had set up a pension fund for Jerry to recognize his many valuable contributions and assure him a secure retirement. It made for a comfortable living for Jerry and his wife, and in return he still liked to help Rosemary out whenever he could. After he came to work for Harry years ago she had seen him occasionally, but since Harry’s death she had come increasingly to rely on him for a great many things, including driving her various places. She knew how to drive, and was still able to, but she had never liked driving. She thought of Jerry more as a friend than an employee, really. He was also a great fan of British comedies on public television, she knew, and sometimes when she would say something to him, like just now, he would do his imitation of an English butler that was as he would say “spot on.”
She laughed again at his antics and said over her shoulder, “I need to get into the courthouse so I’m not late. I’ll call your cell when I’m finished and ready to go home.”
“Very good Madam.” He repeated and they parted smiling as old friends do.