Big Laurel

     About the year 1820, young Rafe Kilgore, of the Rye Cove section of Scott County, VA, went over to neighbor William Wheatley's place to court William's daughter, Milly, who had just killed a bear with a skillet. Rafe admired both her courage and beauty. So it was not long until he claimed the bear-slaughtering
lassie for his bride; and soon after the wedding the two young people bundled up their duds and struck out tofind a home for themselves where it was not too crowded.

     Over High Knob they came; down through the laurel-locked bottoms on which the town of Norton now stands; turned up Guests River; and, just above the point where another pioneer woman, Mrs. Benjamin Bolling, had slain a panther with a piggin, some forty years before, they took the right hand fork of the stream; almost hewed their way through laurel and grapevine thickets for a distance of three miles to a little bottom a hundred and fifty yards up a hollow to the left of the watercourse they had been following, where they unloaded
their budgets and packsaddles and built themselves a 
home from hewn beech logs.

     And that was the beginning of Big Laurel.

     Soon thereafter, Milly's brothers, Jack and Arter Wheatley followed the Kilgores across Stone Mountain. Jack established himself on Greasy Branch of Rocky Fork and Arter built his house in Grassy Gap from which point he could look almost straight down on his brother-in-law's home on Rotten Hollow.

     Along with the Wheatley boys came Joseph Addington, who chose a site above the Kilgores for his home, with Billy Bond settling in between. Some years later, Joseph Addington's younger brothers, Charles and William came over and married two of Rafe's daughters; and they, too, settled nearby. 

         The years rolled on. The settlers and their children and grandchildren built more homes and cleared patches of fertile ground, leaving the deep rich bottoms lying on both sides of Rocky Fork of Guest River, the way they found it; and, with little change, these Big Laurel Bottoms are in about the same unspoiled condition today that they were, back when the young Kilgores cut the first trail along the banks of the stream.

     This wild, unbroken wilderness of spruce pine and rhododendron is visited by hundreds of people every summer and fall, some coming from as far away as California, and all pronounce the drive from US 23, over State 626, to Big Laurel, one of the most beautiful stretches of mountain road to be found in the country.

     In the year 1912, James Taylor Adams, who had on a previous visit in 1908, married Dicy Roberts on the edge of the Big Laurel Bottoms, came over from Letcher Co., KY and settled down near the place where Rafe and Milly Kilgore had built the first house on Rocky Fork, nearly a hundred years before.

     Adams, who was doing freelance writing even then, when he was just 20, saw the need for a post office in the community. He carried around a petition form and got twelve signers. The petition was sent off to the Post Office Department which granted a post office and asked for a name. Adams suggested "Big Laurel"
which was accepted and thus Big Laurel came into official being.

     Big Laurel soon became known from one end of the county as a news gathering center. Two years later a big Chicago newspaper carried a streamer headline announcing that James Taylor Adams had put Big Laurel on the map, with a subheading which read, "This is the place where a dead mule kicked a man." This was an odd, but strange story, one among many which have appeared under a Big Laurel dateline. One Daniel Gardner's mule died. He loaded it onto
an old fashioned standard sled, pressing its hind legs between the standards. He was taking the dead animal off to bury it when one of the legs slipped from behind the standards and the foot struck Gardner on the shin, snapping the bone of his leg.

     The first public school in what is now Wise County was established at Big Laurel about 1830, soon after the Rocky Fork and Beaver Dam Fork of Guests River was settled. The first school was taught by Shadrick Roberts, father of Dicy R. Adams, the postmaster at this time, a soldier in the Mexican War and in the Confederate Army during the War Between the States. It is said that Mrs. Adams, at 61, is the youngest daughter of a Mexican War soldier in the U. S.

Later, Kendrick Purkey taught school here. He lived about
seven miles from the schoolhouse, was a cripple, and rode a sled to and from his home, turning his horse out to feed on the wild grass while he heard lessons in the log schoolhouse. The Big Laurel school has been one of the few schools in Wise County never to miss a term. It is now called Rocky Fork School and is located in Pinnacle Gap a mile west of the original site. The high school bus turns on the very spot where the first schoolhouse stood.

     Big Laurel boasts of the most law-abiding community to be found anywhere. In its 125 years there has never been a murder, an attempt at murder, or even a serious quarrel or fight between its citizens. It also boasts that, although surrounded on all sides by areas infested by copperheads and rattlesnakes, no poisonous reptile has ever been found within the bounds of the community.

     The reputation of Big Laurel as a literary center, several books having been published here, spread far and wide and in 1951, a writer's school was organized and incorporated here under style of Big Laurel College. At this time the Big Laurel College Library possesses over a thousand volumes but is still waiting the construction of a building in which to house the library.

     In 1925, James Taylor Adams began a research on the Adams families. His collection had grown to be the largest owned by any one family in the world by October 25, 1952, when fifty Adams' met here and organized the Adams Family Association to take over Mr. Adams' collection, preserve it and add to it by
research. The Library is now housed in a fireproof stone building.
     Also, there are two other genealogical organizations with headquarters at Big Laurel. In July, 1953, more than 200 Davis's met here and organized the Beales Davis Research Society and two months later the Romans met here to organize The Romans in America. All these associations are growing daily, both in
materials and membership.

     In 1952, the citizens organized the Henry Hopkins Addington Memorial Park Association, with James Taylor Adams, Jr., Ray Addington and John Addington, as trustees. A tract of land was acquired and a park established which is open to the public and is the site of many public meetings and picnics. One man who had traveled in every country in the world pronounced this little park the most beautiful spot he had ever seen.

     During the last ten years, some twenty homes have been built here. One man has erected twelve, among them a chapel, now under construction, free for all religious meetings. James Taylor Adams, Jr., conducts a general store and operates a job printing plant. He now has under onstruction a modern masonry building in which another industry is to be housed.

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