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Local History and Facts
The James River is the longest waterway that is completely contained in one state (Virginia) in The United States. This river is formed by the confluence of The Cowpasture and Jackson Rivers in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains and after 340 miles of meandering through the Virginia countryside eventually empties into the Chesapeake Bay. Jamestown was developed on the banks of The James in 1607 and is well known as the first permanent English settlement in colonial America. As the settlers moved west, the river was a focal point for numerous small villages, especially showing itself to be substantially productive as a food, travel, and water power source. The James is located in the Triassic Basin area and to this day petrified wood is in abundance and an occasional fossil may be found on sandbars and along its shores.
In central Virginia, The James offered such tremendous benefits to humans that the Monacan Indians made their home along its banks long before the white man appeared on the scene. Indian artifacts may still be found along its shores and include arrowheads and pottery as the most common tools (some over 2000 years old) found by lucky amateur archaeologists . Fishing for many species of fish and having abundant game nearby enabled these Indians to have a very productive lifestyle along the banks of this historical river. It has been said that at times during the annual shad run that the water was so full of fish that one could "walk across the river on top of the fish"! Since then, dams have been built in Richmond preventing the westward migration of the previously indigenous migratory species of fish. However, through efforts of conservationists and governmental agencies, new fish "ladders" have been built allowing these fish to go upstream past the dams with the last ladder expected to be complete this year at Bosher's Dam. Sometime in the near future, these long absent species of migrating fish will again abound in the upper James River. The James is nationally known for its excellent smallmouth bass fishing today.
In the 1800's, long wooden boats were "poled" in the treacherous, rocky waters of The James River, transporting other passengers and goods downriver from Lynchburg to Richmond. The passenger boats were known as "packets" while the poled boats transporting rye whiskey, hogsheads of tobacco, flour, and other trading products were known as "bateaux". Sluiceways and other evidence of this long forgotten activity may still be found while floating the river. While the bateaux and packet boats were able to float downstream at ease, the upstream move was a little more complicated. So during the early part of the 1800's a canal was built that stretched back upstream from Richmond to Lynchburg, a distance of 140 miles. This canal was originally the brainchild of George Washington who envisioned a canal stretching all the way west through the mountains of Virginia. While his dream was never completely realized, the James Kanawha Canal was an engineering marvel of its time. Evidence of the canal that may still be seen by riverside includes excellent archway style aqueducts, rockwork, and some crumbling lockstone areas that are evidenced on the north side of the river where tributaries empty into The James. More evidence may be found a little further off stream in the form of man made rocky areas built for locks used in the western movement of the bateaux. During The Civil War , this canal was so important to the Confederacy that General Grant ordered Generals Custer and Sherman to destroy this important transportation medium of goods and munitions and actually encamped 10,000 troops in and near Scottsville in 1865. The history of the bateaux is so interesting that a "Bateaux Festival" is held each year in June enticing as many as 25 of the hand made 40 foot boats to participate in a 7 day float from Lynchburg to Maidens Landing.
HATTON FERRY: Note that 5 modes of transportation are represented here at Hatton Ferry which is quite rare: travel by canal, ferry, railroad, river, and state highway. Our outfitter's shop is in the old store that was built by the original ferry owner, has been used as a railroad depot, post office, and general merchandise business and was built in 1882. Old canal lockstones, pressed tin walls, and heart pine flooring and countertops are still utilized as parts of this historic building. Located within a short drive is Monticello, Ash Lawn, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and The University of Virginia.
James River Runners,
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