Sometimes a student of history stumbles on a document that changes their view of the past. The following two-part column changes the history of Radford by describing the newly found, first ever Radford land plat.
The plat was discovered after the Radford Rotary club president Jessee Ring invited the columnist to speak about the history of Snowville and Radford. That invitation lead this columnist to investigate Lovely Mount.
In an earlier column, I wrongly wrote that Central Depot was the original name for present-day Radford. It is true that the Tennessee and Virginia Railroad gave the place that name around 1854, when the railroad’s depot was established there — halfway between the railroad terminus’ of Lynchburg and Bristol. But before that the place was named Lovely Mount.
Lovely Mount is named on two Radford markers today. A marker on Rock Road erected in 1992 to commemorate Radford’s centennial tells that the Lovely Mount tavern was built on that spot alongside the Wilderness Road by John Heavin in 1796.
In Radford, Rock Road follows the path of the Wilderness Road, sometimes called the Ingles Ferry Road.
Whatever its name, it was the great thoroughfare for American westward migration in the years following the Revolution as thousands of settlers traveled this route to Tennessee and Kentucky and beyond.
A second marker near Peters Hall on the Radford University campus commemorates Lovely Mount Baptist Church. The church was organized on Main Street in 1869 by the Rev. Capt. Schaffer of the Freedman’s Bureau for the area’s African American Community. In 1898 the congregation took over a Lutheran church at the marker site. This latter church was demolished in 1961 in a Radford University campus expansion, with the congregation moving again.
During an online Internet search at the Library of Virginia, evidence emerged that the first time Lovely Mount is specifically named is in a 1786 land grant signed by Patrick Henry with Henry Banks named as the grantee.
Patrick Henry served as the first governor of independent Virginia from 1776 to 1779 and again as the sixth governor of independent Virginia from 1784-1786. He would have signed the Lovely Mount land grant as a routine duty of his gubernatorial office. The Lovely Mount land grant resulted from a land office warrant dated August 6, 1783 and numbered 18,398 in a sequence dating from the establishment of Virginia’s land office in 1779. Virginia governors on average were awarding about 4,000 land warrants a year during the first half of the 1780s. Many of these warrants became land grants after surveys were made and recorded.
After its formal boilerplate opening, the grant reads: “There is granted by the said Commonwealth unto Henry Banks a Certain tract or parcel of land containing seven hundred and thirty seven acres bearing date the thirteenth day of May one Thousand and seven Hundred and eighty four Lying and being in the County of Montgomery on Connolly Branch known by the name of Lovely Mount.” It then goes on to recite the details of a survey made in 1784 before finishing with a boilerplate closing and the signature “P. Henry.”
The land grantee Henry Banks (1761-1836) was a Richmond lawyer and merchant who made a good deal of money supporting the Revolutionary War. After the war he became an active speculator in western land. The archives of the Virginia Historical Society record copies of 29 plats of land in Montgomery County totaling about 46,000 acres surveyed for Banks either on his own behalf or as an assignee during the 1780s. The archives of the Library of Virginia contain a modern 22-page document titled “A Guide to the List of surveys made in the name of Henry Banks upon which grants were issued from the Virginia Land Office.” So Banks was involved in hundreds of western land grants.
We know something of Banks’s obsession with western land from his letters to Richard Claiborne which Claiborne copied and sent on to Thomas Jefferson in an effort to get the Virginia government to pay greater attention to opening that land to settlers. Banks (in a letter from Richmond dated Feb. 25th 1787) told Claiborne that he had made a long tour of the Virginia frontier with much hardship, bad food, and cold weather, and seen the potential of the country for settlement if only the General Assembly would open roads and offer tax relief. Banks praised the Assembly’s award of 5,000 pounds for a “new road from Staunton to Kentuckie” that would save travelers 200 miles and wrote that the people of Greenbrier had “universally” offered to elect him to the General Assembly, which they subsequently did.
After his wife’s death in 1804 Banks fell on hard times and became what today we would call a troll. As recounted in a 1950 article about him by the Brooklyn College historian Joseph Shulim, Banks overreached himself in land speculation and thenceforward led an impoverished, lonely life punctuated by stormy pamphleteering and publishing argumentative anonymous newspapers articles. If Banks is today remembered at all, it is for his enthusiasm for Napoleon Bonaparte.
Part 2 of this column will detail the plat of Radford land granted to Banks in 1786, show a sketch of that land over a modern map of Radford and discuss which peak of land is Lovely Mount.
Jim Glanville is a retired chemist living in Blacksburg. He has been publishing and lecturing for more than a decade about the history of Southwest Virginia.