Donnie Walker saves Indian Rock records that tell a business history about Botetourt in early 1900s

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This period photograph of Indian Rock shows part of the community on the James River east of Buchanan. The limestone operations and N.R. Moomaw’s farm equipment business here and at Rocky Point made it a busy place.
Donnie Walker

When Donnie Walker agreed a few years ago to help clean out an old house that belonged to the Moomaw family, he didn’t know he’d wind up preserving what some consider an important part of Botetourt’s business history.

As requested, Walker started burning some of the hundreds and hundreds of papers that were boxed up in the house. As he was doing that, he started thinking the papers might have some value because they were from the once prominent N.R. Moomaw’s wagon, farm machinery, mining, timbering, sawmill and other businesses.

So, he started carrying the boxes home instead.

As he went through the boxes, he was fascinated by much of what he found— in particular, letterheads of some 100-year-old businesses that Moomaw dealt with and the many railroad-related bills of laden and correspondences.

To say Moomaw was a good railroad customer would be an understatement.

His farm equipment and wagon business was part of the once-thriving community of Indian Rock and nearby Rocky Point where double-sidetracks on the C&O Railroad downriver from Buchanan were in constant use.

Moomaw’s business ventures dated from the 1898 until the 1940s, and the boxes Walker salvaged paint a picture of an experienced businessman with a thriving operation.

Walker and his daughter Margo sold some of the colorful letterheads from companies that Moomaw dealt with after an article ran in “Farm Collector” magazine and on its website.

The article tells the story of how Otto Moomaw, N.R. Moomaw’s son, got Donnie Walker to help clean out his father’s home, and about some of the correspondence from manufacturers with details on orders, answers to pricing queries and information on product lines.

While that’s fascinating, from a local historical standpoint, it’s the many orders, letters and rail shipments with Botetourt businesses that give a picture of what drove the economy here in those early years of the 20th century.

And, it’s the upwards of two dozen railroad companies that companies around the country used to ship farm equipment, wagons, buggies and a plethora of other goods to  Moomaw at Indian Rock and Rocky Point which were right on the C&O Railroad along the James River.

The rail lines read like a geography lesson: Chicago, Milwaukee & St. Paul Railroad Co.; The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad Co.; Baltimore & Ohio Railroad; Western Maryland Railroad Co.; The Pittsburg & Lake Erie Railroad Co.; Lehigh Valley Railroad Co.; The New York, Chicago and St. Louis Railroad Co.; Southern Railway Co.; Pennsylvania Railroad Co.; Washington Southern Railway Co.; Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co.; Michigan Central Railroad Co.; Cincinnati, Hamilton, Dayton Railroad Co., and Chicago Great Western Railway.

They are among the many bills of laden that Walker salvaged from Moomaw’s records— many dating to the early years of his business between 1898 and 1920.

They tell how important the railroads were when horses, buggies and wagons were still the main mode of personal transportation.

The railroad stops at Indian Rock and Rocky Point came about because Col. Edward Dillon started mining lime and iron ore in the 1870s in the hills above the James River along the James River & Kanawha Canal.

When the canal failed, he was instrumental in getting the Richmond & Alleghany Railroad built along the old canal path. The C&O bought out the Richmond & Alleghany and it became the James River Division on the C&O.

Dillon and Moomaw did business with each other, and in the 1909 were involved in forming the Buchanan National Bank.

The dozens of letterheads from Botetourt businesses that dealt with Moomaw tell their own story about the county’s economy— much of it farming and mining related.

Walker and his daughter put a number of those correspondences in sleeves and notebooks they titled “Botetourt County Vintage Letterheads.”

Some of the businesses:

Hotel Botetourt in Buchanan, Hotel Central in Buchanan, Garland Bothers General Merchandise, E.S. Lipes Fruits and Vegetables, Old Dominion Packing Co. (Foods Fit to Eat) in Buchanan, American Can Co. in Buchanan, Walnut Grove Farm in Lithia, Bank of Buchanan, N.B. Crawford of Waskey Mills Farm of Buchanan, R.H. Thrasher, who manufactured Buhr Corn Meal and packed Old Mill Stream Tomatoes; G.G. Harvey Iron Ore and Limestone in Buchanan, Buchanan Farmers Club, Buchanan Foundry Co. (grate bars, plow points, stove grates, mold boards), Pulaski Iron Co. of Buchanan, Wickline Farmers and Stock Raisers of Buchanan, Halfleigh & Co. (bone buttons, rings, bone meal), U.H. Hyde Building Materials of Buchanan, W.P. Barley Fruits and Vegetables, and the list goes on.

Those were mostly Buchanan-area businesses. Others Moomaw dealt with along the C&O include:

The Moore Lime Co. in Eagle Rock, Cash & Allen Roller Mill in Eagle Rock, Jno. D. Myers Department Store in Eagle Rock, Lyle Bros. Farmers, Stock Raisers and Producers of Honey in Salt Petre Cave; H.K. Allen Flour, Meal & Chop in Salt Petre Cave, O.M. Bowyer Foundry and General Repair Shop (canning factory outfits) in Botetourt and Roanoke Valley View Farm at Lick Run; Eagle Rock Milling and Manufacturing Co.; G.A. Buhrman Fertilizer, Machinery & Farm Products at Lick Run; J.D. Myers & Co. (dealers in hardware) at Eagle Rock; Rose Island Poultry Farm at Gala; R.G. Lemon General Merchandise at Lick Run, J.S. Persinger General Merchandise at Salt Petre Cave; Union Tanning Co. at Iron Gate; W.E. Circle General Merchandise and Real Estate at Glen Wilton; Huffman Brothers Lumber, Stavs and Heading in Arcadia, James Pullen Hardware Man at Eagle Rock, and this list also goes on.

This isn’t the only county history Walker is helping preserve. He’s been spending time with Carole Geiger of Fincastle, who has been working with him, Bobby Falls and a number others in an effort to record how Buchanan has changed over the years.

— Ed McCoy