Green Springs Weathers a Drought, 1838
[“H,” “The Drought. The Green Spring Lands of Louisa County. The Farmer’s Register 6 (Oct. 1, 1838), pp. 440-441:]
In compliance with a request in your last number of the Register, that reports of seasons and crops might be made to that journal from the different sections of country in which it circulates, I give you one which I am sure cannot be surpassed in melancholy of detail by any that may appear from other quarters. Confining myself to the section of country between the James and Rappahannock rivers, parallel with, and extending thirty miles below, the South-West Mountains, I can say from ocular proof and certain information, that no drought has ever come under the observation of the oldest inhabitant, that will compare in severity with that which has visited this country since about the middle of June. Within this range, I have heard of but one neighborhood, (about New Canton, on James river,) in which the corn and tobacco crops have been at all benefited by rain. On other water-courses, and on good highlands, they have been curtailed from more than half to nothing on inferior grades of soil. Pastures and meadows are burnt up, and the most luxuriant green-sward turf in our yards destroyed even to the root. To add to these grievances, the little fodder that had escaped being entirely blasted by drought, and a sirocco-like wind, which has prevailed throughout the summer, was killed on most flat lands by a frost, which occurred on the night of the 3d instant biting also, and in some instances destroying, a portion of the tobacco on low situations, particularly in those wanting sufficient circumambient moisture to protect them. For a week past, there has not been a mill within fifty miles of my residence that can grind more than a few hours in the mornings, and very few of them at all. Indeed, such is the impracticability of procuring meal, that I keep a man constantly beating coarse meal and hominy for my negroes, having neither potatoes nor peas from large plantings, to substitute for bread. I shall not want another such season to admonish me of the importance of a horse-mill on every farm where water-power cannot be relied on. Wheat crops have been fine throughout this country, but for want of corn the small farmers and planters and many of the larger ones will be compelled to use from the whole to a part of what is made, for bread and horse feed…. On a late visit to the Green Springs neighborhood, in the county of Louisa, I found that this truly green and fertile country had been visited by the same desolating evil, to a degree which an acquaintance with it of nearly thirty years had not allows me to conceive. Still, it was refreshing to one whose sight as well as hopes from the soil had been seared by the presence of a universal desert, which had taken the place of luxuriant fields and green meadows at home, to witness even the partial contrast presented to the eye by the more flourishing appearance of vegetation here, where, superadded to the superiority of soil, there had been one shower more than was general in the parched region, which is the subject of my remarks. Had other evidence of the favored condition of this delightful country been wanting, the comparatively fat herds of improved cattle and flocks of Bakewell sheep with their creased backs and well-covered ribs, were enough to satisfy me of the superior richness of its grasses. By-the-by, sheep delight in and will fatten most kindly on grass partially killed by drought.
It may not be unacceptable to you, Mr. Editor, who feel, I know, a fostering interest in all that concerns the agriculture of Virginia, to receive some accounts of this garden-spot of it., which I believe you have never visited. The cognomen, “Green Springs,” is, I suppose, derived from the mineral springs in the heart of this tract of country, on the property of Dr. James M. Morris. They were once very much resorted to, and with great benefit to invalids. Their constituent properties are said to be, (as the flavor of the water indicates) sulphate of magnesia, iron and sulphur; the springs are as bold and salubrious as they ever were. The wealthy proprietor has thought fit to suffer the improvements to go to decay, or they would doubtless be again the fountain of resort to many of the thirsty pilgrims who now seek health and pleasure in our mountains, where I think the waters little or no more salubrious, and the mutton, certainly, not as fine as at the Green Springs. This valuable body of land is, so to speak, a basin of about 10,000 acres, which seems, by a sport of nature, to have been dropped into the midst of one of the most barren districts of Virginia. Its upper margin reaches to within about ten miles of Peter’s mountain—the tallest in the south-west range—is watered by five creeks and the river South Anna; the latter bounding its northeastern extremity. One of the creeks, (the south-eastern,) and a barren ridge, in which most of the creeks rise, reaches across the north-western boundary. The fine character of this soil, is doubtless owing, in great part, to these watercourses, which all (but one, and on that lies very little of what is called Green Spring land,) disembogue into the South Anna at one point, in the farm of the late Major Watson, sen’r. In further proof of the intensity of the drought, I will here remark, that the beds of all of these usually bold streams, including the river, are now as dry as their banks, except here and there a stagnant pool, scarcely sufficient to slake the thirst of the cattle, which depend on them for existence. The principal farms in this tract belong to the descendants of Major Watson, dec’d., to Dr. J. M. Morris, and to the descendants of Mr. William Morris, dec’d. Of these, the Watson estate is considered the best; containing in all about 3,000 acres. Dr. Morris’s may be rated next; and I cannot overlook, in this classification a small, sub-divided tract, belonging to a family of Branches, equal, by nature, to the best. Mr. Wm. Ragland’s, and a small portion of a farm lately sold by Richmond Terril, Esq., include nearly the whole of this body of land. The most interesting, and by far the most important feature in these lands, is, their remarkable adaptation to plaster, which has produced in the last ten to fifteen years a change in the face of this country, that is really miraculous. Dr. George Watson, of Richmond, owns, I think, the most beautiful and fertile farm, (with a few exceptions on James river,) that I know of in Virginia. He has been the most liberal user of plaster and clover, as well as improver in the exclusion of stock, in the neighborhood, though all are now reaping, in the fullest sense of the term a rich harvest from these measures. There is no part of Virginia on which plaster acts more powerfully than here. The soil is generally of a dark-gray color, intermixed with small, round, ferruginous gravel, lying on three varieties of clay, red, yellow and blue—all tenacious. It has been analyzed, I understand, by Professor Rogers, and found to contain a large proportion of lime. On the surface of the country, is to be seen a quantity of grayish-black hornblende, the disintegration of which gives a very rich yield of lime. In conclusion, I cannot say more for this delightful body of land, and its peculiar susceptibility to improvement from clover and plaster, than that the Watson estate and Dr. Morris’s have produced this year 19,000 bushels of wheat, at 23 bushels to the acre, when, 15 years ago, one-fourth of that quantity would have been considered a very fine crop. The crops of corn and tobacco on these estates are sufficient for their consumption—tobacco better than I have seen off of James river—and one of their great staples, (the finest bacon and mutton in the world,) as promising as can be.