A Thousand Words

He had been too young to serve in the Great War and when the fighting was over Uncle Sam was in the business of cutting his payroll and so James Dawson, eighteen years old and done with school, looked for work elsewhere. There were factories everywhere in Baltimore, but he didn’t like the way the men looked who worked there in the dark grind. He knew a boy from school whose father was an engineer for the B&) and he applied there and found that they would take him on temporarily as a fireman and see if he had the stamina to keep the engine boiler fed over a ten-hour shift. It was a daunting proposition and the men he met there acted as if the job was almost impossible and could never be filled by such a young man as he was.
And the work was hard, when it came. The first few trips west out of Baltimore to Pittsburgh and then to Cleveland were quite a test, but his body immediately hardened to the work and he found that the days, the shifts, allowed more than enough time for rest to allow recovery. You see, there was no boss there to tell him to do more when he had already done enough. When the boiler was full and the engine running at top rate, there was nothing to be done for the moment. And the moment might last twenty minutes or so and he would step out the back of the cab of the locomotive and stand at the railing between cars and look at the land as it passed. Standing there and rocking up and down as the train clickety-clacked over the silver rails.
In the winter he could still feel the hot glow from the engine’s boiler as he stood there and the comfort that afforded allowed him to withstand the wind and to relax and wait to leave the closed and muddy city outskirts and fly like on a magic carpet into the green Appalachians with the forests and meadows and running rivers. In his first year he volunteered for a train that would take him south to Richmond and then West back through Virginia, to Roanoke, Lexington and Charlottesville. That is when he fell in love. It was late spring and every creek was running full and the meadows and pastures were lush and the cities he saw there were not dark and muddy, but red brick with long green hillside lawns and avenues lined with great trees.
He knew nothing of farming, but nonetheless looked for land sales in Bath County. There were newspapers in the little, local stations where they would stop for passengers and he was surprised at how cheap this land was and surprised again at how willing the bank was there to grant a mortgage to a man so young and foreign as he was, because he had a railroad job. He did not want so great a tract at first, but the thousand acres along the supper stretch of the Cowpasture River was for sale and the owner would not divide it and, if he was careful and if his work with the railroad continued, he could just afford it.
There was no house on the land – the Gregson’s had separated the few acres surrounding the old mansion and continued to live there. He bought the whole section with the understanding that some of the neighbors would run their cattle on his pastures and mow his meadows twice a season. The Simpsons, on the north, cheated him, reporting that their cattle increased at a rate slower than actual, but the Gregsons, from whom he bought the land, made sure that his boundaries –which had been their ancient family boundaries – were not moved. James Dawson did nothing to check the honesty of his tenants and the Gregson’s, who still had pride in their old estate, made sure that Dawson got the reputation for liberality rather than negligence. With these steadily-growing revenues, and a little help from his salary, he lived comfortably in inns along the rail routes and made every payment for ten years, and then left the railroad at the age of 28, with enough money in the bank to support himself permanently.
He was also surprised at how easy it was to meet women then. The families who lived about knew, like he did, that this was a fine place to live. It was a land that paid for itself and afforded them all a happy life outside of the cities which seemed to them to be convulsed with crime and to consume the men who went there for jobs. There were eligible men native to the county who had land, but James Dawson had land and money. Thus, there were plenty of pretty daughters who he learned of at church and at the stores and fairs.
He married Suzanne Davis and with a generous gift from her father, they finished their house in 1938. Bricks from a local kiln and the finest hardwoods, all cut from the estate – cherry trim, oak flooring, birch cabinets, walnut hearths and mantles – they built a stout and grand farmhouse that still stands today. They chose a site not far from the artesian spring that spouted water every hour of every day of the year, always at 55 degrees. Year by year they added stables and barns and at last donated ten thousand dollars to establish Warm Springs College.
James Dawson died in 1979, then father of five and grandfather of nineteen. Suzanne lived until 1996, aged 79.
One grandchild pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Warm Springs for thirty-one years, another served in the United States Congress.
Water from the spring is now bottled at a plant outside of Warm Springs and is shipped to markets worldwide. Revenue from these sales continues to underwrite and support the work of the college.
Their house is opened for tours at Christmas.

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