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Tinkling Spring Revisited

Looking Back with Lloyd Mathews, originally printed July 24, 1978

 

Old settlements hold a great fascination for those of us with appetites for the excitement of the past. One such settlement in the valley is Belspring. Like some of the other towns in the area it had a hard time holding onto its name.

First called Bell Spring because of a spring that tinkled like a bell as the water flowed down from the hills, this name had to give way to the power of the great iron horse, whose officials decided that a more appropriate name must be given the area that had fast grown into what was in the late 1850s called a railroad town. The new name became “Churchwood” because in its midst stood the Bell Spring.

Governor Hoge Tyler was for many years an Elder in the Presbyterian Church congregation in the town. The name Churchwood was used until around 1906, at which time it was decided that the original name was more appropriate after all, but in order to make the word slide across the tongue with more ease, Belspring was made into a single word. Nature has a way of not always cooperating, because soon after the pretty name Belspring came back, the faithful old spring up and went dry.

Two very early families in Belspring were the Siffords and the Browns, and the old Brown farm that was worked by early pioneers is still in the Brown family. From the village came Judge R.I. Brown, Pulaski’s senior attorney, who knows more about property lines and land titles in the Belspring area than any person alive. It was Mr. Brown who told me the most interesting story about the unusual arrangement the railroad company had for moving trains through Belspring in the early days of the railroad. It seems that, perhaps for reasons of economy, the first railroad through the town in the latter part of the last century was built on a very steep grade. The company kept extra engines in the area, called “pushers,” and when a train would pull into town, its engine would pull it as far as it was able to; then one or more pushers would get behind it and push it up and over the hill.

Later on, in about the year 1900, the railroad company decided it would be cheaper to rebuild the road and lower the grade than to supply the pushers, and another of America’s free enterprise innovations bit the dust.

It’s hard to believe that just a half century ago there was a railroad track crossing New River on the curving trestle near Saint Albans, and running along the area of Tastee Freeze, and past Northside Florist, crossing Route 114 to the Belspring Road. From that point it is not difficult to visualize, because for the most part, the Belspring Road is built on the old grade of the railroad, and traveling the curves, an automobile, even today, gives much the same thrill as riding the rails. This is one of the few roads in the area that until recent years carried a right-of-way width using the ancient land measure of rods and chains. The width was thirty-three feet, or two rods.

Before and after the era of the railroads, Belspring was a prosperous mining community. There were the Cloyd and Parrott Mines, the latter being on land originally owned by Governor Hoge Tyler; and the Bellhampton Mines, which were also at one time operated by the Tylers. Bellhampton once employed in the neighborhood of 125 men, and turned out approximately 250 tons of coal a day. All the mines have ceased to operate, and the sound of the steam locomotive chugging up the grade is only a memory in the storage compartment of the minds of the village’s oldsters, and in the imaginations of the youngsters.

The peaceful little village of Belspring has graduated into another of those American gems that is lucky enough to be near the end of a road that winds its way into the mountains until it finally narrows into a ribbon of a footpath, before finally being consumed by the thickening forest. It’s almost heaven without even having been touched by the hand of a county planner. Let’s hope it stays that way.

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