02 July 2012

Herman Melton. Southside Virginia, 1750-1950: Echoing Through History. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2006.

From Mitchells Publications.
Reading Herman Melton's latest book about Southside Virginia is almost like spending an afternoon with someone who experienced the events firsthand. You get a good overview of episodes in our history, but without the heavy, intricate details that often (but not always) weigh down those stories. These clips are valuable because Melton expounds upon occurrences that may be little known to most people.

Melton uses a definition of Southside Virginia that is less broad than the one that we use in this blog (see Southside Virginia map here). As a Chatham writer, many of his stories are in or around Pittsylvania County. Bedford, Campbell , Franklin, Halifax, Henry, Patrick, and Pittsylvania Counties are the settings for many of Melton’s tales. As a Charlotte County native, the exclusion of my beloved home is surprising, although Melton explains that he left Charlotte and Mecklenburg out "for practical purposes" (p. 12). Charlotte County does get mentioned in a few instances, especially for Melton's account of the battle of the Staunton River Bridge (which is special to me since I worked at the Staunton River Battlefield State Park as a teenager and lament the decline of Clover).

Melton's collection of fifteen Southside Virginia stories over two centuries is as interesting as it is broad. From fascinating people and important landmarks to multiple war stories and terrifying crimes, Melton captures snippets of history of which many people may be unaware (myself included). For example, I never knew of the Lanier mass murder in Pittsylvania County in 1840 in which four people were brutally murdered or that Sandy Level, also in Pittsylvania, was the site of a German prisoner of war camp in 1943. Did you know that "Old Joe Clark," the subject of an old bluegrass tune, committed his crime in Chatham? There are many more interesting aspects of Southside Virginia for you to discover in Melton's concise book.

Love Southside Virginia but can't make it there today? No problem! The cover of Melton's collection highlights Danville native Carson Davenport's 1938 Harvest Season in Southside Virginia that can be found in the Chatham post office. Murals like Davenport's are not uncommon throughout the United States; they were part of the New Deal art projects commissioned by the Section of Painting and Sculpture of the U.S. Treasury Department. To see pictures of other Southside Virginia post offices boasting New Deal era murals, check out the New Deal/WPA Art Project website.

Happy reading, and happy Independence Day!


Read Southside Virginia, 1750-1950: Echoing Through History online using GoogleBooks.

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