By John Conway – March 2023
When I was a boy up until I turned 18 years old, there were only two creeks (Pamunkey Creek and Terry’s Run) and where they came together was known in those days as the “Fork Field”. From that area the “river” became known as the North Pamunkey which ran onward to what was known as the “Splits” where it met the North Anna River. My father referred to that area as “Miss Molly Gardner’s home place.” These creeks and rivers all became part of Lake Anna, little known to many as the streams before Lake Anna was ever established.
The story that I am about to tell would not have been possible without my father and mother’s love and commitment to their three sons. They always felt being good stewards of the land was particularly important.
Helen Lucille Brogdon and James Ashby Conway met at the War Department (now known as the Defense Department) in Washington, DC. During WWII. In the latter part of 1942, my mother and three girlfriends came by train from Birmingham, Alabama to seek work and, of course, adventure. My mother had gone to a small business school in Birmingham and found a clerical job which, during WWII, was in high demand.
My father, being born and raised in Virginia, thought that he would finish his basic training and do his part either in Europe or the Pacific. Dad had gone to a technical school and had experience in electronics and radio before the war. When the time came for him to be assigned for duty, he had another physical exam, and it was found that he had a heart murmur. He was told he would not be allowed to go overseas. My father always said afterwards how disappointed he had been, but in the same breath would tell us that he would not have met our beautiful mother if he had gone.
My two brothers and I spent our summers on our 188-acre * property. Pamunkey Creek was on one side with the Woolfolk, Goodwin, and Harris Farms on our borders. On the other side of our property was Terry’s Run, where we bordered the Baker Farm (where we always got our fresh milk from cows Mr. Baker milked by hand) and the Woolfolk Farm (Southwind Shores and Sunrise Bay). * Because our property bordered on both streams and both sides of the Pamunkey (where Kelly’s Landing is today), approximately 91 acres ended up under the water when Lake Anna was established.
My mom would pack up the old Studebaker and come to “Conway” as it was known the day after school was out for the summer. We lived in Waynesboro, and my father worked for General Electric and would come down to “Conway” on the weekends. Note: My dad and mom bought the homeplace known as “Conway” in 1954 from siblings and cousins.
This peaceful and very rural area seemed to me like a place to run and play with no boundaries, and it teemed with adventure. Fishing was one of the many adventures where I would catch chub or sun perch or an occasional small mouth bass. It seemed every morning for breakfast my mom would have fried fish and jelly toast and MAN, was that good! My mom always made homemade grape jelly from our grape arbor and picked wild blackberries and black raspberries for making jam.
Sometimes, I would go fishing from Dillard’s Bridge (where the Cove Restaurant is today) to what we called the “Swimming Hole”. There was a bend in the Pamunkey with a large sandbar. A large white oak tree had fallen across and made a nice deep hole for swimming. It was over 6 feet deep for it was over my father’s head and he was 6 feet 1 inch tall.
When I was little, my mom would go with us to the swimming hole. She would have sandwiches and candy bars for lunch for us. Mom would relax on the sandbar while my brothers and I wrestled on the big log to see who would end up as “king” of the log. I was the youngest so most of the time I would be tossed off the log. Today where that swimming hole was located is across from Kelly’s Landing about 150 feet west from a large outcrop of rocks on our property that we call “the fishing rock”. Those rocks visible today were under a large canopy of mixed hardwoods (hickory, poplar, oak and river birch) and were not exposed until the lake was created.
Other fishing trips began at the swimming hole where I would walk and fish along Pamunkey Creek until I got to Andy Bennett’s Bridge going in a northwest direction (Runnymeade). For much of the fishing I would wade in the water as it was much easier to get to the “good fishing holes”.
On the north bank of Pamunkey Creek before Bennett’s Bridge, Henry Holladay had a team of work horses that he was still using for his farm. When I was very small, I remember he would come to our place with his team and mow a small field with his sickle mower. I was fascinated by this. When he was finished, he would stop to rest his horses and he would pick me up and place me on one of the horses. I can still feel the horse’s sweaty back while I was hanging on to his collar. Little did I know, I would have my own work horse to plow on our farm in West Virginia in the mid-70’s.
There were two freshwater springs on our land, both on the Pamunkey Creek side. One of them came pouring out from a rock about the size of a 55-gallon drum. My father kept it clean by digging it out so we could go there and drink the cool refreshing water. He kept a metal ladle hanging on a tree to use for dipping. I can still taste that water and how good it was. This spring was approximately 200 yards downstream from the swimming hole.
The other spring was located upstream from the swimming hole in what is now a small cove. That spring was a good place to play. The spring bubbled out of the ground under some large rocks. On one rock, (a boulder about the size of a pickup truck), there was a place in the top of the rock that was scooped out. In my mind, I wondered if it had been where early native Americans may have used it to grind corn, or most likely, acorns into meal to make Appone or Ponop cakes. Native Americans lived in this area thousands of years ago. I have no proof of the use of this rock, but it seems probable. As a boy, I was fascinated by that area, and the mystery of its origins.
There were many lost historical features on our property. One such feature on the Terry’s Run side was a huge (4 to 5 feet wide) beech tree that we referred to as the “initial tree”. There were initials carved into the tree from my family on back to those of my grandfather, Raleigh Travers Conway, great uncles, the Mansfield’s (of the Baker Farm) and Raleigh Dillard’s initials and many more that I did not know. It was a remarkable piece of history. I wish it was still there but, unfortunately, the lake swallowed it up. What a loss.