Remembering Mary Draper Ingles and so much more

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Here is the Wilderness Road through the Ingles Farm that transported thousands of immigrants and settlers to the Ingles Ferry across the New River and new lands west.

Steve Frey

If you live in the New River Valley, you are probably aware of the courageous story of Mary Draper Ingles, who was captured by a Shawnee raiding party in 1755 near present-day Blacksburg. She was taken west, all the way to near present-day Cincinnati, escaped, and followed the rivers back home.

But there is much more to this story, and Mary Draper Ingles Remembrance Weekend on July 27-28 celebrated everything from the settlement of this area to the Westward Movement that eventually created our nation.

Of course, you got the complete dramatic illustration of Mary’s travails in captivity by attending “Walk To Freedom: The Mary Draper Ingles Story,” as several hundred did on Saturday and Sunday. Many left with much more than a Walk To Freedom t-shirt with a depiction of Mary drawn by nationally recognized artist Joni Pienkowski, or a copy of “Follow the River,” the novel describing Mary’s trek that were on sale. Audiences witnessed a play filled with courage, love and the hope for peace among all people. By the way, if you missed the performances this weekend, you have one more opportunity on August 4. Go to MaryDraperInglesTrail.com for tickets and details.

Attending the performances were groups from right in Radford to as far away as England. One group was a Daughters of the American Revolution association from Kentucky that included Patty Hons, a descendant of Mary and the model for various Mary Draper Ingles statues, including the one in the Ingles Park near the Glencoe Museum.

But earlier in the day, hundreds also visited the Ingles Farm, a bucolic stretch of cow pastures, forests and undulating meadows nestled against the New River in Radford. Spread throughout the grounds were historical interpreters and re-enactors explaining life in colonial times and connections to today.

Dressed in colonial costume, Jeff Briggs, Kyle Griffith and Ben Jenkins displayed a variety of materials used by the people of the 1700s and demonstrated the workings of a flintlock rifle.

Lewis Ingles “Bud” Jeffries, the current Ingles Farm owner who still works it, was positioned at the burial ground where several known and many unknown people found their final resting place.

One, whose ashes are spread there is Bobby Collins, who was a member of the “Long Way Home,” the outdoor drama that was presented on the Ingles farm from 1971-1999.

Jeffries said, “Bobby Collins, he died at the age of 30 of an aneurysm, and Bobby was a deeply Christian, spiritual faith” individual who was also fascinated with the spiritual beliefs of the Indians. There is a feather sculpture in the burial ground created by Bobby’s father-in-law as a remembrance.

Jeffries also mentioned that the farm might have contained an Indian village along the river long before the European settlers arrived.

Jeffries is a direct descendant of Mary Draper Ingles through Mary’s son, John. He described the lineage of each of Mary’s children and touched on their history in his informative presentation. He also pointed out wooden crosses marking what he believes include the graves of Mary and her husband, William.

In the cabin on the grounds, which is a replica of the original Ingles homestead, Kathleen Harshberger portrayed Mary and described her story. Harshberger, in collaboration with Wesley Young, wrote the script for the current Walk To Freedom drama.

Jeffries explained that the cabin was built using, for the most part, the same materials that would have been used in 1758 to create the original.

Down next to the river, Bob Nicholson explained the creation of the ferry system that carried settlers along the Wilderness Road to new lands and lives in the West. He called the road “the interstate 81 of around 1762.”

Bob Nicholson, (second from right) explains how the Ingles family played a part in the Westward Movement by conducting a ferry over the New River on the Wilderness Road. To the left beyond the wooden fence post is the opening leading to the old ferry.

Nicholson explained that the Wilderness Road was one of two roads approved by the House of Burgesses explicitly created for the movement west. Ingles Ferry became an integral part of this movement.

Later, a covered bridge was built in the 1840s but was burned by the Federals during the Civil War. The ferry returned after the war and was used for another 100 years before it was sunk by a coal truck in 1949 heading for Pulaski County. Nicholson pointed out that many current residents of Radford and Pulaski in their youth had the opportunity to use that ferry.

Frontier settlers like the Ingles bravely fought to carve out a new home for their families in the wilderness. Ingles Farm and the New River Valley played a crucial role in the westward expansion of settlers searching for new opportunities for many, many decades. It is a heritage of hundreds of years of history that the ancestors of current area residents proudly share during events like this weekend at places like the Ingles Farm, The Wilderness Road Regional Museum, the Glencoe Mansion or Walk to Freedom.

When you walk through the fields of Ingles Farm or down the Great Road to the river, you are walking in the steps of William and Mary Ingles and their children. You can almost hear the wagon wheels of immigrants and settlers as they slowly squeak and grind ever westward.

For a brief moment on Mary Draper Ingles Remembrance Weekend, you were transported back to a time that changed this country forever, and you heard the stories of the men and women who, through strength of will and perseverance, provided new hopes and opportunities for all who followed.