Yesterday, P and I drove past an old store in the town of Rochelle here in VA. The building still held the huge front windows and that overhang that we would not think was for automobiles but was built for open wagons – a chance to load and cover before clicking the horse hooves the mile to home.
The store sits at the corner of Jack’s Shop Road – named for the workplace of a local blacksmith – and if you are a Civil War historian, you will recognize the Battle of Jack’s Shop as a bloody encounter, where no one could really claim victory.
So when I see this old store, I imagine wounded soldiers carried to the steps and laid on pallets amongst the flour and stacks of rope. I see local women with their long skirts tucked into boots as they tend these men – soldiers from both sides. I imagine the stately houses nearby set up as hospitals, too, a small town’s life tossed into the turmoil of muskets without warning or request.
There are facts in these places – the Battle of Jack’s Shop was fought in September of 1863, for example – but facts do not make stories, and it is stories that turn our human hearts.
This is why I love history. Not for the dates or names or the maneuvers on the battle field but because of the story. This is the reason I studied both Literature and History in school. This is the reason I write history-based stories – because the facts need to be given breath in the flesh of human story in order for them to reach us, to change us, to walk amongst us.
Near P’s parents’ home, there’s a road called Link Evans Lane. For years, P and his parents drove past that road, reading the sign, memorizing it but having no context. So it was a true thrill to see them learn that Link Evans was a blacksmith who had his shop and home on that road. He was a member of a thriving community of formerly enslaved people who called the town of Earlysville home.
We stopped and saw the Evans family cemetery on that road, and we talked to a neighbor who had gathered materials from the surrounding land, pieces of metal that perhaps Link himself had held.
History made story, given life, and handed to us to carry.
Buildings, roads, town names – they all have stories behind them, stories crafted by the days of people. For me, there’s nothing better.
What about you? What cool stories are written into the landscape and buildings of where you live?