Montgomery--Blacksburg

A Lecture Delivered by Prof. Conrad.

The county, from 7,405 population in 1840, increased to 8,251 in 1860. In 1870 the county increased in population to 12,153, notwithstanding the losses of the war-an increase of fifty per cent. Then our present condition is 23x32 miles; population, 15,158; churches, 40; school houses, 80; graded school, 2; colleges, 2; fashionable watering places, 3; a railroad full length of the county, a McAdam road and turnpikes traversing it, and mines of ores and coals underlying it. This is our present. The yell of the savage, which once sent terror to our forefathers, has been changed to the shrill whistle of the locomotive, whose column of receding smoke marks the line of advancing progress. The rude hut and thatched wigwams of the Indian have been supplanted by comfortable farm houses and handsome dwellings. The wild beasts of the mountain have been compelled to retreat to the gorges and fastness before the woodman's axe and the farmer's plow. The timid deer snuffs in the breeze the advancing footsteps of the hardy pioneer, and with bated breath hies itself to the distant glen. And now a future opens up to our people, full of all that can stimulate energy, develop prosperity, secure success.

God has favored us with land adapted to grazing, to plants and cereals. Our river bottoms which skirt New river, the North and South Forks of Roanoke; our meadows which border Tom's Creek, Meadow creek, Plum creek, Crabb creek, Elliott's creek, and Craig creek, with alluvial deposits an inexhaustible soils; our mountain slopes, so well adapted to grazing flocks and browsing herds; our new lands which yield the tobacco of such desirable texture and marketable color; in fine, our diversified country and desirable soil in itself constitutes us a world of wealth. The waving harvest of our lowlands, the grazing herds of our uplands, the fruitage of our hillsides and the commercial leaf of our new lands, point us to a future to be envied by an Eastern Monarch, to be courted by a king.

The iron horse, which traverses out county, stands ready with its metal muscles, electric nerves and steam-inflated lungs, to bear with lightning speed to the distant market the products of our annual labor and bring back to our doors the comforts and luxuries of city life. By it Lynchburg is brought to our threshold and Richmond to our outstretched hand. Baltimore is made as near as a neighboring country-town, and New York is a mere pleasure trip. The two weeks' drive of the drover is now a two days' ride of the grazier. The crop of the year is borne away in a day and the labor of a season is realized in a trice. Prior to the building of our railroads our lands were a burden, our fertile soil of little avail. Labor found little remuneration and enterprise no outlet. In our mountain fastnesses were we encompassed, and few could be induced to come "up into the hill country." A journey to Richmond was the visit of a life time; a ride to Lynchburg the journey of days. Our cattle left our pasture fields with the gloss and rounded proportions of fatted bullocks, to reach eastern markets with guanted sides and haggard haunches. Corn sold for twenty-five cents and wheat for fifty. How great the change and how magical the effect! Upon the completion of the road our land rose a hundred per cent., visitors frequented our region, capital sought investment, and the future of Montgomery was no longer a doubtful question. The market became accessible, our products were clamored for and eagerly purchased, our people lifted their heads in sunlight and felt the exhilarating inflatus. The plow moved faster and the arm struck bolder, the eye flashed keener and the heart beat stronger. We became a market going people.

As time passes our availability becomes more profitable. Years will only add to the advantages of our situation. Whilst counties to the south of us and counties to the north of us are constrained to drag their grain for miles, we in Montgomery can ship in a trice and scarcely lose a day. Farming thus becomes in Montgomery much more profitable, as markets can always be reached upon a tide before an ebb.

Having this and other internal improvements, besides home industries, &c., within the borders of our county, great elements of power and profit are at our control. Counties within them cannot be made so attractive. Counties within them are always desirable. They not only become attractive to out siders, but profitable to natives. Keeping money at home is as great a blessing as capital from abroad invested in our midst. Money which would be expended in other communities spent at home must enrich. Hence factories, foundries, colleges, springs, hotels, &c., are sources of wealth. With [...] we are pre-eminently blessed. [...] county in our end of the state is so [...] blessed. The Yellow Sulphur; White Sulphur and Alleghany Springs; the male college and female college; the railroad and coal banks; aggregate an income of quite a quarter of a million annually to the county. Think of this, citizens of Montgomery, and study the inevitable effect upon our future. Half a million annually poured into the lap of Montgomery by internal improvements and home industry! And of this immense amount little of it need leave the county! The spring companies expend their money largely in the county for supplies; our poultry, butter, eggs, mutton, cattle and vegetables constitute their purchases. The many little wagons running in every direction scattering the money of the visitors throughout the county thereby contributing to the comfort of the frugal farmer's wife and the farmer's home, are so many grangers' banks where middle-men come not, heavy commissioners enter not.

The colleges, besides giving us an opportunity to educate our children within our county, and thus spending the money with neighbors, must be supplied with food and fuel, for which the cash is paid. The railroad, besides giving many of our citizens employment and salaries, carries off our grain, and brings back our profits, buys our acres of wood and ties, expends thousands in our midst. Thus, ladies and gentleman, we are blessed in the lead of many counties with a historic past, an auspicious present and a promising future. Add to this all our natural resources, our coal banks, our water power, our iron and silver ores, our forest timbers and our mineral waters. God in His providence has blessed us with a prodigality equalled only by the munificence of a God. And these natural resources are inexhaustible. Who can say when our mountains shall cease to distill these mineral waters for the healing of the people? Who can say when our mountain streams, which burst from the iron-ribbed hillsides and in their nervous leap and rapid rush seem eager to whirl the wheel of the honest miller, shall cease their flow and lose their outgush? Who can fathom the coal beds of Tom's creek and the adjacent mountains, and estimate the tons of fuel awaiting the miner's shaft and the collier's muscle? Who dare say the day is far distant when colonies of colliers shall dot our valley and troops of miners shell swell our population? As the great iron [...] followed close after the flinty muscle of McAdam; As the Congressional College sprang from the bosom of * * * * & Olin; as attractive cottages have clustered about our mineral mountain springs, so perchance villages of miners and colonies of colliers at no distant day may nestle about the foot of our mountains above our coal beds and about our ore veins. Such a picture is not the dream of an idle fancy nor the Utopia of a poet's brain. Such a future may be but the development of a decade, the outgrowth of a generation. For this we should look and despair not. Throw your hands from the sling and burst the withes which bind your energies, rush into the fight with the will of a gladiator determined to fight to the death, leave not your homestead for the deceptive pictures of prairie life or for the fancied fortunes of the far West. Economize your forces, energize your agencies, utilize your facilities, develop your surroundings, and my word for it Montgomery will become the Arcadia of the Southwest, the wonder of the people and the glory of the Commonwealth.


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